When I suffer from psychosis, drawing animals helps me

While doing art therapy I was able to come to terms with and process some complex emotions (Photo: Danielle Beck)

I fight demons every night and feel so real that I wake up panting and struggling to breathe.

It’s a phenomenon known as sleep hallucination – it can be like nightmares, but it’s much more realistic and vivid – which basically means I live in a realistic version of Nightmare on Elm Street.

Unfortunately, this has been my reality since 2019 when I was about 22 years old. I noticed that I couldn’t sleep properly by the time I was having my period.

At worst, I didn’t sleep for the blink of an eye for four or five days at a time and it was very frustrating. It caused me so much pain and anxiety about going to bed.

I now know I was suffering from debilitating menstrual insomnia which was slowly changing my reality and the doctors thought it was causing psychosis – I was losing touch with reality and conjuring up delusions in my mind.

I continued to go to work at my corporate job at the time, but wasn’t really “me”.

I was less focused, took less care of myself and then started hearing voices in my head telling me to do things. It was as if television, radio, and music were specifically talking to me and commenting, but it wasn’t like a normal conversation, it was a completely altered train of thought.

I actually had no idea I was experiencing symptoms of psychosis at the moment it was happening.

I realized that I especially love drawing animals (Photo: Danielle Beck)

It felt natural to me and, in fact, seemed “normal” on the outside to a lot of people. Strangers would say I might have been a little too quiet – if only they knew what was going on inside my head…

One day, the voices convinced me that someone was going to hurt me. I thought I wasn’t safe where I was living with my family, so I refused to go back because I was too scared and instead moved in with my cousins.

That’s when my mom became concerned and we reached out to the Samaritans for help. They have pointed me in the right direction with the resources I can reach for support and have been a huge help. After that I went to the doctors and was referred to the early intervention team which ended up changing my life.

They explained what I was going through and treated me with the medication I needed – it felt like a bright moment in my life.

Before that, I didn’t really know what I was experiencing. I’d call sooner if I knew what it was.

I was eventually referred for treatment, which I was nervous about but tried to trust in the process. In one of my early sessions, my therapist revealed my creative side and my passion for art. That’s when she suggested art therapy to me.

As soon as she said those words, I was curious because I had never heard that term before. It is essentially a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

During each session, my therapist would talk to me about how I felt that day. Then we turn that into a technician. In one session, we came up with the concept of being Alice in Wonderland, so I created collages with elaborate costume illustrations.

While doing art therapy, I was able to come to terms with and process some of the complex feelings I was experiencing at the time. Then I found myself wanting to do art at home, too.

The most important thing my technician does is help open conversations about my mental health (Image: Danielle Beck)

Gradually, I realized that I especially love drawing animals – especially my cats, Jazz and Callie. I would draw cats walking around the house doing everyday things and making me feel calm and healed.

This eventually grew into a whole series of pictures of pets and animals – including what I call my art collection filled with animals with their babies, depicting the hope and protection I yearn for in my daily life.

I started posting my artwork on social media, making live drawing videos and getting some great feedback, which led to me being asked to showcase a collection in October of last year. I was very happy and proud of myself as my technician was so well received, but also talking to others on their mental health journey as well.

The biggest thing my technician does is help open up conversations about my mental health, which helps me find common ground with other people and makes me feel like I’m not alone.

That’s why I’m now speaking candidly about all of it, because I want to be the voice I needed when I had no idea what I was struggling with in those early stages.

I want people to know that they are not alone. If I could share my story and anyone who reads it could recognize the early warning signs of psychosis per se, I would never stop talking about it.

Today, I am optimistic about my future.

I still struggle with sleep hallucinations and insomnia, but I now have tools to help me deal with it all better—and a bunch of relaxing animal art, too.

If you or someone you know is struggling this mental health awareness week, the Samaritans offer 24/7 emotional support. Anyone can call for free at 116123, email jo@samaritans.org or Visit their website here.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Contact us by sending an email to James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.

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