From psychology to art

When I left school, I decided to study psychology. I needed answers. I needed to figure people out and I needed to figure myself out. I wanted to heal the world, I wanted to heal others, and I wanted to heal myself. I believed I was broken, but instead of making me whole, psychology broke me even more. Psychology kept me in a box. A box not much different from the boxes I had been squeezed into throughout my years at school. When I was told my lab report was too poetic, I knew psychology was not for me. Yet I continued to deprive my soul of what it truly hungered for three more years until I graduated. Three more years of rats and stats. Three more years of shoving textbook pages and powerpoint slides down my throat and regurgitating them on exam papers. Three more years of exam meltdowns, which, at one point, led to me being carted away in an ambulance. Three more years of arguments on the online discussion boards about extrasensory perception, out of body experiences and aliens as I tried to convince people that believing in these things was not a disorder and what’s “normal” depends on who you ask. And three more years of bullshit like this, where people with mental illness were depicted as freaks rather than human beings.

psychology textbook extract

Yes, this came straight out of my psychology textbook.

To give the course some credit, we did have some good lecturers in abnormal psychology. Still, we never got to fully understand mental health, because we never met/heard from people who actually had the illnesses we learnt about. No one ever shared their experiences in class, and it was not encouraged either. We were scientists, afterall, and scientists are to remain impartial…. no “I’s” in lab reports, no self-disclosure. Yet, by our very nature we are all biased. Psychology itself taught me that none of us, as humans, have direct contact with what’s out there, or the original stimulus. We can only experience it via our senses. It is filtered through our nervous system, and translated into meaningful form. There is no “objective” colour red, blue, or green, we each experience this differently, as Michael talks about here.

I started seeing a counsellor for the first time when i was at uni. Suddenly and unexpectedly I was cracked open. I had to confront sides of myself I didn’t really understand, and was taken to such a deep, dark and scary place which I did not have a map for. I was a straight A student yet no amount of study could have prepared me for this.

It feels like I have spent the last seven years watching people progress with their lives while I sink in quicksand. I went from being a full time psychology student to a part time student to a Cert IV student to being no student at all, and not because I had found a job. it’s a funny feeling finding out that students who were years below you are now almost qualified psychologists. Yet what I’m beginning to realise is that I’ve still been a student all this time, just in a different way. I have learnt so much more about mental health these last seven years than I would ever have learnt in psychology. There is a moment in Harry Potter where somebody, I forget who, describes the slow, agonising death Voldemort inflicts on his enemies where they’re left begging for death to finally come. This is where I’ve found myself, but I live to tell the tale. And because I know this road, this land, all too well, I like to think I might be able to reach anyone else who stumbles into the wilderness and finds themselves here.

After bushbashing for a good seven years, I feel art may be leading me home. Creating this site has been a powerful step in the journey. I am finally coming out. Art is in many ways the opposite of psychology. Writing and other forms of art follow the rule “show don’t tell”… it is all about capturing the experience, letting it be, and letting people make of it what they will. Psychology, on the other hand, wants to “tell not show”. Psychology puts a definition on our experiences, whether that be a diagnosis, psychological jargon, or naming the emotion. Psychology wants to wrap it up in a neat, compact package, and psychology wants to do the wrapping.

Psychology and art share many similarities too, however. Both seek to understand the inner world (though in my opinion, one does it better than the other), and both are routes to healing. Many people are using art to heal themselves and heal the planet. Healing was what drew me to psychology, but it was not the avenue for me. For a long time I have not known what kind of healer I am and how I want to heal. I am now realising that I heal in ways not recognised by this society. I fulfil my role as a healer through my writing, as Alethia talks about on her blog. And healing is not all about cheering people up with happy content, but going into the darkness, giving it expression, giving it company. Art is very good at that. I cannot separate being an artist from being a healer.

I also fulfil my role as healer by healing myself, as counterintuitive as that may sound. I have long known that as a highly sensitive person I am the canary in the coalmine. But what I haven’t known is that it also works the other way round, that I have the power to change atmospheres around me. What is going on within me is a reflection of what is going on in the world, and what is going on in the world is a reflection of what is going on in me. We can change the world around us by changing ourselves. I will finish with a paragraph from Paul Levy’s article, “The Artist as Healer of the World” :

“In my last two articles The Wounded Healer, Part 1 and Part 2, I point out the importance of consciously stepping into the archetypal figure of the “wounded healer” for the healing of our planetary situation. The wounded healer receives the gifts encoded in their ordeal when they are able to alchemically transform the seemingly obscuring energies of their wound into fuel for their fire of realization. Wounded healers access their gifts when they realize that their wound is itself the source of divine creativity, as well as the portal through which the highest, most individualized form of this creativity can manifest. The archetype of the wounded healer is intimately related to the archetypal figure of the artist, as both are able to creatively express and thereby be in-formed by, while simultaneously transforming, the deeper archetypal energies operating within both their own psyche, as well as the collective unconscious of humanity at large. In alignment with their mythic identity as would-be hero or heroine, the artist (arche)typically has to wrestle with their inner “demons.” The artist’s inner demons are internalized, personalized reflections of the very same “demons” that are being played out collectively on the world stage. Like all of us, the artist suffers from the spirit of the age. Having permeable boundaries and being by nature highly empathic, sensitive and intuitive, an artist is able to introject into themselves and creatively “out-picture” and express what is happening both within themselves and the world in which they live. The artist’s inner process, like that of all of us, is a manifestation of the field around them, in which they are inseparably contained and of which they are an expression.”