Stop for just a moment, and consider how much of the world we experience, the things we know, and the parts of the world we discover – only through our senses. I mean, even looking up information and reading through an article online – just doing that I’ve tapped on a screen, or typed on a keyboard. I’ve felt those surfaces beneath my fingertips – the texture and the temperature of the keys, and the sounds as I type. Or I’ve felt how clean and smooth (or gross and sticky) my smartphone’s screen is. I can look at the information on a screen. So even though I haven’t actually physically ridden in a fighter jet, I “know” what the effect of G-forces have on the human body.
But what about things that are real but we can’t experience with our senses? What makes those things more real (or less?) than things we have experienced or taken in with our senses? If you’re wondering what point I’m trying to get to, bear with me.
What does the number 8 feel like? Is it smooth like silk and slightly cool to the touch? How much does a block of Yellow weigh? What does “room temperature” smell like?
What about a thought? If I lined 4 of them up next to a ruler, how long would that be? Does the thought of your morning coffee have more mass than the thought of getting dressed? If you think about watering your plants, what texture does that thought have – is it smooth like polished marble? or rough like the bark on an old oak tree?
The point I’m trying to make is that while so much of what we experience day-to-day is through our senses, thoughts are still very real. But yet we can have trouble expressing them, processing them, or even understanding them. Why? I can think of 2 reasons. The first is that we are creatures with some incredibly complex emotions. So much of what we think and experience has been influenced, even slightly, by our emotions. Doing a quick Google search on marketing, advertising, and corporate logos shows that millions are spent on understanding peoples “gut reaction” and creating advertising, marketing, and products that appeal or play to those reactions and emotions. It’s incredible to think that so much of what we consider “reality” is in fact viewed to some degree through an emotional filter that colors or tints everything we process. But that is another topic for another day
For quite some time I’ve said that creating is one of the best ways to help process thoughts, especially when it comes to mental health. I believe that everyone has some creative talent, so knack for making something, fixing, repurposing, painting, photography, sculpting, problem solving, and more. Usually when I say “creative” people immediately think of the arts: music, theatre, dance, paintings, sculptures, photography, and so forth. Creativity expands much beyond that!
Having said that, I really do believe everyone has some gift or talent in the creative arts too. Most of us (unfortunately) have had those gifts squashed and dismissed in one way or another, or have been told that we’re not good at it and shouldn’t be doing it. What a tragedy! Because it’s through the creative arts that so many of us experience an emotional journey or release that we cannot experience otherwise. Some people are moved by classical music, some by modern dance, some through poetry, or a painting. And it speaks to them on an emotional level that they really may not understand. In a sense, the artist has allowed the individual permission to access those feelings or emotions. The individual can vicariously experience an emotional release or “moment” through the artist’s work.
All this leads to my point. With all that’s going on in today’s society – here in Canada, in North America, and around the world – people are experiencing thoughts, feelings, and emotions they never thought they’d have to deal with, and with an intensity that has caught them off guard. And those of us who live with mental illness are no different, only that we may be even more susceptible to them, and may experience them with more intensity that most. It’s those moments when we become “trapped in our head” – stuck in swirling thoughts that seem overwhelming and impossible to separate one from the next. It’s in those times that creating something out of those thoughts becomes so incredibly important. Sometimes I grab my laptop and just type until the thoughts slow down. Sometimes I grab my headphones, tune the world out and listen to music. More and more I’m grabbing my camera and learning how to put what I feel into something I can capture. But even the simple fact of talking through things is beneficial. Why? Because we talk much slower than we think. And even the attempt of keeping my thoughts together long enough to put them into words helps me focus and separate them. And verbalizing them (or painting them, putting them into a new song, or an image on my camera) gives them a physical form. The words that come out of my mouth become a sound. A sound is something I can hear – even for a moment before it’s gone. And somehow, turning thoughts – the things that exist but we can’t experience though our normal sensory experiences – into a thing, something that has a shape, a texture, a dimension, a sound, – something that can be measured or experienced in the physical world we all exist in – those shapeless things we call thoughts suddenly have a reality. And something that we experience with our senses seems to be far easier to grasp and manage than something that we experience internally and devoid of any sensory input. And it can be anything, really. Words on a page (or screen). Paint. A block of wood and a whittling knife. A smartphone. A simple tune that you hum spontaneously. But that “nothing” has become something
Sometimes, as silly as it may seem, there are times I just need to verbalize things – not because the things I say are truth, are 100% reality, or anything of that sort. Sometimes, the mere act of verbalizing some incredibly dark and confusing thoughts, brings them into the light of day. It gives them form, a sound, a shape. And in doing so, I have done two things. simultaneously. I have broken the cage keeping them locked internally and given them freedom. And I have turned something- that-is-real-but-not-reality into an experience. And somehow, an experience is far easier to come to terms with than a vague, shapeless, indistinct, yet ominous threat.
I guess what I’m trying to say, is sometimes finding a way to turn something shapeless into something as simple as words that vanish