My journey with art therapy began in 2010 after the major natural disaster (earthquake) in Christchurch, New Zealand, where my husband and I were living at the time. Six years we struggle with an unresolved insurance claim, along with many other thousands of people in Christchurch.
Art became a ‘coping’ mechanism during that long struggle. At the time I was not aware I was using it as such. I found myself initially reluctant to talk about this topic as I did not want to give those opposing our claim the pleasure of knowing that the whole process hurts and profoundly affected our lives and the lives of many others during those long years. Seven years on and there are still thousands of Canterbury residents trying to settle insurance claims.
It takes incredible strength and determination and a survival strategy to get through such a long, arduous and deliberately slow process. At times I lost all three. So what was it that kept me going? In the down times while I was waiting for things to happen, to progress – I got to creating.
In the early days I wrote a blog which morphed into a book which two and a half years later morphed into a second edition. The research for this took up much of my time and took my mind off the awful things that were transpiring, affecting so many people in Canterbury. After the book, came the public talks and interviews and a year later, when things quietened, I found myself still face to face with the problem of my insurance claim. It was so painful at times that I simply had to find ways of distracting myself – distracting my mind from going round and round in circles, keeping me awake at night, leaving me in a permanent state of anxiety and negativity. Miraculously though, in my distress, my body seemed to know what to do, seemed to know how to find a way of coping. I found myself furiously creating.
In the process of the creation of art I am able to momentarily master, tolerate and minimize the conflict and stress. It equates to not much more than self distraction I guess. My art work became prolific. Yes, art therapy is a well known methodology for coping with stress. But my art sprang from no intellectualizing on the matter. Rather it has been more of an unconscious process – it has been my physical self’s way of surviving, of protecting my mental self. And no matter how much energy I put into expressing some of my anger and sadness about the dishonesty in the City and the insurance industry and about what transpired over the past years into my art – I cannot – and my creations remain items of joy and beauty. In that beauty which illuminates what I am creating – comes healing. Perhaps it’s a way of overcoming the terrible dualism in what was a very painful process. It was a way of obliterating the negativity and darkness I experienced when dealing with the insurance industry. I have been surprised and amazed by my own output. It flowed through me and out of my fingers. Creation after creation after creation. It leaves me thinking that it is no accident that so much art appeared in the City after the earthquakes – all expressions of people coping in whatever way they could. And what a wonderful way to cope.
So what did I make? I created handmade fabric ‘hope boxes’ and the space around me slowly filled with my ‘hope’ boxes. These boxes represented for me, at that time, my ability to compartmentalize. A place of storage for my resilience. While I paint, stitch and sew, my mind calms, my thoughts focus on what I’m doing and the disruptive world of dishonest corporates disappeared for a time. I have made artistic representations of the Canterbury Cathedral, of the Cardboard Cathedral, square shapes, hexagonal shapes, pyramids and the list goes on (see photographs)- all things of great beauty to me – items that are so removed from the world I then inhabited. These items of colour and texture bring me peace, solace and great hope – hope that one day this situation will be resolved for all of us affected by the events in Canterbury and that I and my family and that other families in similar situations would be able to move on with our lives.
Each of us finds our own way of dealing with stress – exploring and relying on my creativity is mine. Throughout those six years I was aware of my tendency to disengage from my social circles, to withdraw to lick my wounds on my own. In creating my art forms I connected to a deeper place, the true essence of myself, a place I inherently trust, in an environment where trust often seemed hard to find.
So once again I want to acknowledge the many thousands of claimants in Canterbury who still have, eight years on from the earthquakes, as yet unresolved claims– my heart-felt wishes go out to you all. For many these years will represents the battle of a life time, for others this period in their lives represents an extraordinary loss of personal freedom and financial equity. I experience the way in which the insurance industry and the National Government of New Zealand has dealt with its policyholders as a total disregard for human vulnerability.
I hope for all those still fighting, that you can each be reminded that you have other resources, a universe of beauty, that you can mobilize in order to survive, and prevail – just give it a go!
For those of you who have similar stories of finding ways of coping please share your stories – I would be happy to publish them.