I was diagnosed with cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) in my upper gums and under one side of my top lip in May 2017. This was preceded by months of uncertainty and anxiety about my health. I had been anxious and somewhat sad since fully retiring and moving away from Sydney. My dentist took some time before he and I decided to ‘find out what was causing the problem’.
I am a retired kindergarten to year six teacher/principal and grandmother who often cared for her young charges under school age. Art and crafts were a favourite at our house and I always had a set-up for some messy creating — paints, markers, Play-Doh, cutting and pasting. Once I realised I could do this, I discovered how much I enjoyed making designs and patterns on cards and paper. I had been a scrapbooker and many albums had some creative flair in terms of my writing and the photos.
We did what many retirees do, sell up and move on, but I was alone. While my husband an I had made the move together, for some of each day I sure was lonely as he had study occupying his time and carried out renovation work for family nearby.
My GP told me the sadness I felt was more of a reactive depression and over time it would ease. I got some great help, too, from a psychologist who said one reason I was like this now, months after our big life transition, was that it takes feeling longer to catch up. This made sense to me.
As someone who always wanted to be proactive, I returned to my creative pursuits (even with no grandchildren) and found a love of it rise inside me. There were some wonderful times of mindfulness. I often listened to CDs from Tara Brach, Pema Chodron and Dr Rick Hanson as I wanted to learn more about managing my feelings and these helped, and still do. I began my daily 10 -15 minute meditation that in 2013.
I knew mindfulness was good for me and spent some time each day outside and would then create in my art area. This started about three years ago and continues today. I liked to have a play with paints, markers and art materials of many kinds as I find they soothe me and distract me from all that is going on — mostly in my mind! I made this an activity of purpose most days and enjoyed the design stage of making mandalas on paper, then adding colours.
It is what I am doing now. I use large A3 and A4 size books, quality markers, pens and paints and I ‘play’ because as I do this my mind slows, my rhythmic painting or colouring is soothing and I can become ‘lost’ for a while in a mindful encounter with some mandalas and more.
After my cancer diagnosis I had to wait seven weeks before surgery and each day, with my art materials, creating helped this anxious time pass. In hospital I used some mandala outlines made before I went in to fill and make patterns and found they aided my recovery. Since July 2017, I have had three more surgeries and numerous treatments and procedures in Sydney, and I find even a bit of mindful colouring before I leave for the hospital helps calm me for the challenges ahead.
I know there has been quite an uptake of adults colouring-in for relaxation and enjoyment. There are businesses who make this an offering for their staff. While not all may like it, for me the act of colouring gives the body and mind a chance to become fully-focussed on the creation I am completing, instead of a mind with many ideas swirling around.