I've loved art ever since I was little. For a long time, I thought art was all I was good at. I didn't think I was exceptionally smart, athletic, pretty, nice, or even a great person, but I knew I could draw. So I drew. As a teen, it gave me a means of escape. I could use it as a way to disappear and a way to be seen. It gave me confidence and a way to let my feelings out. It also helped regulate me as I drew designs and doodles on phone books, my shoes, my pants, my hands, you name it! I knew from a young age, art was important to my brain and my heart.
One other thing I did well growing up - I babysat a lot! I loved babysitting, because I loved playing with the kids. That was usually the compliment that I would get; "she actually plays with the kids instead of just reading a book!" I relate to kids so well, partially because I never want to be an old grump, and partially because they are so completely free of malice. Connecting with kids on their level has always come easy to me, so I love teaching parents the art of play. I love watching parents identify with and relate to their kids in new ways; I love the healing that can happen through play.
When I had postpartum depression, it felt like a heavy blanket soaked in cement had covered my heart. The only person who recognized my cries (because I hid them from even my husband) was a friend who happened to be a trained psychotherapist. She could tell I needed something. I had never considered that I was struggling from a mental health issue, and I felt a deep sense of shame that I wasn't stronger. She helped me separate the feeling of brokenness and shifted my perception to one of compassion for myself.
I had a baby who would not sleep, not matter how many parenting books I read. As she grew older, I deflected psychological blows from doctors, teachers and other parents who thought they knew what was best for my child. The main theme: I needed to parent with harsher discipline. I was told everything I was doing was wrong. "Stop listening to your intuition and make your kid fit in the box, or she will suffer in the long term" was the message I received.
I tried so hard, but she couldn't fit and my soul hurt from trying to change a perfect mini human into something other people thought she should be. When I finally found out she has sensory integration challenges, and that her brain simply could not process the data coming into it, she was starting fourth grade. I believed I was a horrible Mom for over a decade. I don't ever want anyone to feel that way. I wish I had met someone earlier who could have told me, "Hey, you actually are completely right!" Fortunately, I had a supervisor in the last year of graduate school who understood and offered unconditional compassion for what I was struggling with, allowing me to rediscover my own instincts that had been pushed aside. Thank goodness for her and my daughter's amazing Occupational Therapist who taught me how to view my daughter with a non-pathologizing lens.
Once I had a child I went through a transformative time of growth. I felt a need to become my best self and I had to find out what that meant. I studied for years, getting all of the prerequisites for Occupational Therapy. Years! It came down to me sitting in a very clinical classroom in Fort Collins, and hearing a bunch of red flags start to wave in my belly. I cried the whole drive home as those flags told me, this wasn't the right fit. A friend of mine asked "What would you do if money didn't matter, if the cost of tuition wasn't an issue, if you could just do what you want to do?" I blurted out, "Art Therapy!" I wanted to show people how art could be therapeutic in itself, and how creating art around specific subjects, feelings, and memories could actually help us comprehend the past and begin to heal.
When I was in grad school my family almost collapsed. My husband nearly died from a brain infection. He came back as strong as he could, but we had to deal with the aftermath. I kept going to school. In graduate school at Naropa, we were required to do quite a few studio art hours each week. I made art. My daughter had a traumatic surgery during which she wasn't able to fully go under anesthesia. A child at her school died. I kept going to school. I kept making art. I cried a LOT in my car, but I knew that I needed this work, I needed to build up my purpose in order to keep surviving. I ended up doing a practicum with children at Blue Sky Bridge (an advocacy center for children who have been sexually abused) and then an internship at the Play Therapy Institute of Colorado. I loved these kids, I knew I could help them, even when there was so much turmoil in my own family. I wanted their families to be able to experience their child like I had learned to and to understand that challenges don't define us. Pain doesn't have to ruin us. We are stronger than that.
I finished school. I kept making art.