When I experience psychosis, painting animals helps me through it

Danielle Beck for her artwork

In doing art therapy I was able to process and process some of the complex emotions (Photo: Danielle Beck)

I fight demons every night and it feels so real that I wake up to myself gasping and struggling to breathe.

It’s a phenomenon known as sleep hallucinations – they can be like nightmares, but much more real and alive – and it basically means I’m living in the real-life version of Nightmare on Elm Street.

Unfortunately, this has been my reality since 2019, when I was about 22 years old. I noticed that around the time my period was due, I couldn’t sleep well.

At worst, I didn’t sleep a wink for four or five days in a row and it was incredibly frustrating. It caused me extreme pain and anxiety around going to bed.

I now know that I suffered from debilitating menstrual insomnia that slowly changed my reality and doctors think that caused psychosis – I lost touch with reality and conjured delusions in my mind.

I then continued to work at my corporate job, but I wasn’t really ‘me’.

I had less concentration, I did less self-care and then I started hearing voices in my head telling me to do things. It was as if the TV, radio and music were talking and commenting specifically to me, but it wasn’t what a normal conversation would be, it was a completely changed mindset.

I actually had no idea I was experiencing symptoms of psychosis the moment it happened.

Danielle's drawing of elephants

I realized that I especially loved drawing animals (Picture: Danielle Beck)

The voices felt normal to me and actually I looked ‘normal’ to a lot of people from the outside. Outsiders would say I might have been a little quiet – if only they knew what was going on inside my head…

One day the voices convinced me that someone would harm me. I didn’t think I was safe where I lived with my family so I refused to come back because I was so scared and moved in with my cousins ​​instead.

Then my mother got worried and we asked the Samaritans for help. They pointed me in the right direction with resources I could use for support and they were a huge help. Then I went to the doctors and was referred to the early intervention team, which ultimately changed my life.

They explained what I was going through and treated me with the medication I needed – it felt like a light bulb moment in my life.

Before that I didn’t really know what I was going through. I would have called sooner if I had known what it was.

I was eventually referred for therapy, which I was nervous about, but I tried to trust the process. In one of my first sessions, my therapist discovered my creative side and passion for art. Then she suggested art therapy to me.

As soon as she said those words I was curious because I had never really heard of that term. It is essentially a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of creating art to improve one’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

During each session, my therapist talked to me about how I was feeling that day. Then we could channel that into my art. In one session, we came up with the concept that I am Alice in Wonderland, so I made collages with extensive fashion illustrations.

By doing art therapy, I was able to process and process some of the complex emotions I was having at the time. Then I noticed that I also wanted to do art at home.

Danielle Beck's drawing of giraffes

The biggest thing my art does is help open conversations about my mental health (Picture: Danielle Beck)

Gradually I realized that I especially loved drawing animals, especially my two cats, Jazz and Callie. I would draw the cats as they walked around the house doing everyday things and I felt so calm and therapeutic.

This eventually grew into a slew of portraits of pets and animals – including what I call my cozy art collection of animals with their babies, which portrays the hope and protection I crave in my daily life.

I started posting my art on social media, doing live drawing videos and getting really nice feedback, which led to me being asked to exhibit a collection last October. I was so happy and proud of myself that my art was so well received, but also that it appealed to others on their mental health journey.

The main thing my art does is help open conversations about my mental health, allowing me to find common ground with other people and make me feel like I’m not alone.

That’s why I talk about it openly now, because I want to be the voice I needed when in those early stages I had no idea what I was going through.

I want people to know they are not alone. If I can share my story and someone reading it can recognize the early warning signs of psychosis in themselves, then I will never dwell on it.

Today I am hopeful for my future.

I still get sleep hallucinations and insomnia, but I now have tools to help me cope better — as well as a collection of cuddly animal art.

If you or someone you know is struggling with this Mental Health Awareness Week, Samaritans offer emotional support 24/7. Anyone can contact free of charge at 116 123, email [email protected] or visit their website here

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