How I Turned my Anxiety into Creativity
As an illustrator, I thought for me art was always more related to work than to therapy. I have suffered from depression in the past, and at those times I was unable to draw, because it felt too much like hard work. But when I started feeling better, images would come to my mind, which described how depression affected me. Slowly but surely, I ended up having enough images to publish my first book about depression (12 Mois Sans Intérêt, only published in French). Somehow, creating that book helped me to be at peace with my own experience of depression.
A couple years later, I had another experience involving anxiety and creation. In 2011, I was invited to Lyon, France, for a three week artist residency. I was really thrilled about the project and to be invited. I decided not to prepare in advance, to allow myself to be inspired by the city and by the travel experience itself. But when I arrived in Lyon, I was tired, stressed, jet-lagged and I realised I only had three weeks to develop a significant project. I started to worry; I felt it was impossible. For a couple of days, I felt unable to work as I was completely overcome by anxiety. So I started drawing how I felt: how the jetlag affected me, how I wished I’d find some ideas, how I was unable to work, and so on. As the ideas kept popping into my head, I started feeling better. I decided that sharing that anxiety would be my residency project. And by the end of the three weeks, I was really proud to share the result.
After that residency, I continued to make illustrations about depression and anxiety, for fun and because I felt inspired. With a goal in mind to create another book on anxiety, I started analysing the origins of my anxiety: how I can see it coming, how it comes and goes, what makes it worst, how I can try to manage it. It was a rational work.
I didn’t aim to use art as therapy, but in the end it helped me a lot. I learned more about myself and how I react to events in my everyday life. I had to dig deep into my guts, to explore my darker side. I had to admit I wasn’t perfect and, the hardest for me, I had to admit I had a fear of rejection. Saying it out loud was like saying “hey, I’m not as strong as I always pretended to be”. At first, I was not so comfortable sharing something I had tried to hide all my life. But, I also felt I had to be honest, and somehow I knew that my personal struggle had something universal.
Illustrating has helped me cope with and understand my anxiety. I am still an anxious person, but I have more tools to deal with it now.
Thin Slices of Anxiety by Catherine Lepage, published by Chronicle Books (£9.99)
All illustrations used in this post credited to: © 2016 by Catherine Lepage