Using Creativity to Support My Mental Health

Art has been my therapy throughout my life, but it took on new meaning when I had a daughter with cystic fibrosis. Now creating artwork helps carry me through the stress of CF life.

| 5 min read
Erin Cessna headshot.
Erin Cessna
Cora, a young girl, coloring and smiling.

I spread a sheet over the ground under the shade of my backyard tree. I fetched a canvas, paints, brushes, a cup of water, a paper towel, and I sat my daughter in her play seat next to me on the sheet. I didn’t know what to paint, I just knew that I needed to get something from my head onto the canvas.

What had been consuming me? My daughter’s cystic fibrosis diagnosis. Every breath she takes is precious -- it’s a gift. And how can I honor that gift in a painting?

I feel like it comes as no surprise that I decided to try my hand at a pair of lungs – an image I have seen so many times since joining the CF community. I painted a dark blue background, I outlined a crude drawing of some bronchial tubes, watched my infant chew on her toys, and then I filled in my lung painting with gold leaf. When I was done, I had a sparkly, slightly abstracted set of lungs on a large canvas. I don’t know if it’s “good art.” I don’t even know if people will like it, and I don’t care. I felt better. I felt relief after directing my energy toward something creative instead of Googling, “cure for cystic fibrosis” for the 153rd day in a row. Art is my therapy. 

I have always been creative. My creativity has gotten me through my teenage angst and losing my father to pancreatic cancer. Now my creativity is carrying me through the CF mom life. When I am creating, I am not worried.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started and we were locked away in our house, wiping down our delivered groceries and denying visitors, I started doing watercolors. At this point my daughter was just shy of a year old. It’s a lot for a new parent to digest, CF and a global pandemic. It’s enough to send anyone straight to the corner crying. I got out some old watercolor paper and a cheap watercolor paint and decided to work on my technique. I would turn on a comforting 90s rom com and paint away after everyone else was in bed. I have a stack a mile high of paintings that didn’t turn out and a handful I kind of like. For me it’s not about the painting looking good, it’s about the moments of mental clarity I get from painting them. In those moments, I don’t think about Pseudomonas, insurance approvals, loss, or life expectancy

Erin with her daughter, Cora.
Erin with her daughter, Cora.

I can’t control what the sputum culture will show at our next clinic visit, but I can control what color the sky is in my painting. I don’t know when we might have our next bowel obstruction, but I do know copper and opal look good together. I choose to focus on what I can control. 

Creativity is my gift: not the human genome, biology, pharmacology, or chemistry. I cannot single-handedly cure CF, but I want more than anything for a cure to be found. I know my best chances of contributing to a cure is through donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. A few years before the birth of my child I started selling my creative works at local craft shows. I sell copper and natural stone jewelry, copper pipe lamps, watercolor prints, and wood-burned artwork on cutting and charcuterie boards. Ten percent of my profits from each show are donated to the CF Foundation. I found a way to take my gift and use it to contribute to a cure.

Cora, my daughter, is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever made. She is my masterpiece. I know that I cannot take away the pain and heartbreak that life has in store for her, but I hope I can show her outlets and healthy ways to manage her emotions. I want to help her find her center through making art when she’s having a hard time. I don’t want her to feel ashamed of feeling any of her valid, negative emotions -- I want her to use them as an outlet to do something great. 

I encourage my daughter and everyone to use art as a healthy outlet for negative emotions. Be fearless. There is always some way to pivot on an accident and still turn it into something beautiful. Like the one and only Bob Ross once said, “We don't make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.” Plenty of people don’t feel like art is for them, but there is an “art” for everybody. If you need to find some calm, I dare you to do something creative. Try writing a poem, take a close-up photograph of a leaf, throw some paint on a canvas, bake some cookies, make a TikTok video, take a glass blowing class, or hammer out your emotions in blacksmithing. Make something -- anything -- and you might feel better. 

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Topics
Mental Health | Parents & Guardians
Erin Cessna headshot.

Erin’s daughter Cora was born with cystic fibrosis. A graduate of Indiana University, Erin now works in the health care industry and makes jewelry to sell at weekend artisan markets. She likes taking classes at her local maker space to learn about new artistic mediums such as stained glass, shibori dye techniques, metal smithing, etc. Erin and her family participate in Great Strides every year. Erin lives in Mishawaka, Ind., with Cora, her partner, Stephen, and their dog, Guster. You can find her on Instagram or Cessna Designs on Instagram

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