How Cartooning Healed Me

“Creativity, like life, begins in darkness.” – Julia Cameron

I was down and anxious.

It was only a few months after our move when I started feeling like a shell of my former self.

I had never experienced anything like this.

I had no appetite and no energy.

I was in a dark space devoid of life.

Lethargy met me at every turn. I was circling the drain.

The best I could do was to get my kids off to school and climb back into bed. I had no appetite and could only think simple thoughts. My brain felt fragile.

After a few weeks, I began to wonder what was going on. Being an independent stubborn person, I decided to ride it out on my own. In retrospect, this was probably not the right way to go.

I could see the concern growing on my husband’s face. I convinced him I only needed to get some rest and I would be as good as new. After several weeks, he became skeptical.

One day, he insisted we get some fresh air and go down to the beach. I always loved the ocean but the thought of going on that day was filling me with anxiety.

I was resistant but finally agreed to go.

We packed up the car and the kids and head down to the shore. After trekking down to the water, I was exhausted and could only manage to plop myself in a chair and stare at the ocean. After several weeks in the house, this was a great feat.

While my husband and kids went into the water, I sat in a chair and stared at the ocean. I remember feeling how strange it felt to be out in the world again with all the noises, sights and smells.

I grabbed my daughter’s pencil and pad and started doodling. I started to think about life and the origins of things. As I thought about origins and the ocean, I drew three fish swimming to an egg. It was cute and made me happy. It symbolized conception…the beginning of life. I thought this was ironic since the “alive” feeling had been eluding me for some time.

For the next several weeks, I drew these little fish and eggs in different configurations and noticed that each picture started to represent different concepts in life.

For example, one picture called swimming upstream had a school of fish swimming in one direction with one fish swimming in the opposite direction toward the egg.

Another one was called speed matters with the fish in a race going towards the egg representing competition.

Another called the sound of all creation showed the fish and the egg joining.

As I drew each day I began to feel better. My energy and appetite return. The anxiety was at bay. And I returned to my former self.

It was only after a month or so that I realized that the act of creating those little cartoons daily healed me. The creative process was instrumental in creating my new found wellness.

Drawing the cartoons was a way for me to process thoughts, explore life and be in a calming state of creative flow.

This calm state of flow that results in creativity has profound effects on our health. It lowers cortisol, strengthens our immune system and gives us a way to sort through our emotions and connect with our subconscious thoughts.

I continued drawing those cute little cartoons for 3 years. The act of creating something breathed new life into me. To this day when I feel overwhelmed or anxious I pick up my pencil and start to draw.

I have drawn well over 250 fishegg cartoons and they have been used in evolutionary psychology lectures and conferences. They’ve also received positive reviews from professors at Harvard and Oxford and kudos from a Jungian analyst to boot. One fishegg cartoon even made its way onto the CBS Sunday morning show during a documentary on a rare fish.

But all of that pales in comparison to the way the creative process healed me.

To this day whenever I’m feeling down or anxious I grab my pencil and start doodling.

Has creativity, writing or art helped you to heal?

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