Kevin's story: anxiety, Tourette's and painting

I have had Tourette’s tics since the age of 12 and as I grew into my later teens, I developed anxiety attacks. I want to tell you about how art and painting has helped me through this.

Feeling self-conscious at home

I remember, on occasions, watching TV from the stairs in my hallway, looking through the doorway into the front room where my family would sit. Watching from here made me feel more comfortable, as I wouldn’t feel like everyone was focusing on me, which in turn would reduce the tics. 

Taking a whole year off school

I had to take a whole year off school because my tics would disrupt other children in class - I was picked on and developed a reputation for being able to handle myself. Strangely, this brought a group of kids closer to me. I then made good friends and started to stick up for the weaker kids, the kids being bullied. 

Accessing psychological support

After being treated for asthma in the first year or so of having tics, my doctor referred me to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. I had regular visits to the Psychology Department for several years and then transferred to St Anne’s Hospital as an adult.

Drawing to help my anxiety

I always enjoyed drawing as a child, the escapism was magical, I would drift away into my own perfect world and it would relax me, ease the anxiety and the tics. No one staring, whispering, asking questions, it would just be me. Family and friends would pass compliments on my sketches and this in turn started to build confidence in me and an acceptance that I was good at something. This made me feel good and positive. 

Losing art as a coping strategy

As an adult I chose a career path outside of art which gave me an element of being able to control my surroundings. If I had an anxiety attack, I could remove myself from the situation without being questioned. This meant I could hide it to some degree - and it kind of worked.

I still wanted to paint, and I wasn’t. The longer I didn’t paint the more anxious I became, and the more anxiety attacks I had. I started to use alcohol to cope as it would relax me. I eventually started to paint again in my spare time. 

The relief of painting again

As soon as I pick up my brushes and create, I feel an enormous amount of relief, all the tension, all the angst, all my anger disappears. The feeling of being a coiled spring begins to straighten and I become a gentle flowing stream, fluid and fresh. 

Translating my thoughts and feelings into art

I have faced some dark personal times, at points questioned my existence and I have got so angry with myself, the anxiety and all the people around me for not understanding me or my condition. Painting now allows me to translate my thoughts and feelings where I have no words to describe. It is my platform to express to others my past, my current and my future. 

View more of Kevin's work by visiting his website or Instagram page.

How arts can help improve your mental health

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