A colleague of mine once said that mental health nursing is both an art and a science. I have to agree.
I have been a mental health nurse for over 20 years and am only now fully realising that I am also an artist. As my nursing career has progressed, making art is both an integral part of my being and critical in me maintaining my own mental health. Drawing functions as a mechanism through which I switch off from the constant pressures of work and is also my response to the connection and responsibility I carry when attempting to move clients forward through the use of language within these relationships. Moments can be overloaded with meaning as I look for subtle shifts in thinking or behaviour that might indicate an improvement or a deterioration, sometimes a threat, to a client’s health. Small indications, easily missed by inattention can be life or death to some clients.
So I notice. I pay attention. I watch and reflect. I document, record and react.
In response, I draw. A lot. I make marks, usually with pens, sometimes with pencil. I paint. I draw again. I draw more and sometimes put paint in the spaces I draw and draw on the spaces I paint. I walk in and among and within landscapes, in places where I can temporarily get away from people and somehow connect with the land, the sky, the space that is external to me, away from relationships, from indications, from concerns, from meaning. I breathe deeply and connect with the land I am in, the space I inhabit in the place where I stand. I watch and try to see the space and place around me. I feel the wind push the trees and the rain shove the water and I notice the smell and the lines and the shapes and the marks on the stones and the walls. I see the clouds shift and smell the rain and I look for the marks made by time and water and movement and man.
And I notice. I pay attention. I watch and reflect. I document, record and react.