How Creating Art Has Helped Me With Panic Disorder
By Jess Meacham
Panic disorder is when a person has ongoing panic attacks. A panic attack is the sudden onset of fear which can culminate in symptoms such as hyperventilation, chest pain and uncontrollable screaming to name a few. The amygdala is the part of the brain which sets off alarms in our body in case of danger triggering our “fight or flight” response. What happens with panic attacks is that the brain is overloaded with these responses which are meant to help a person survive. However, with panic disorder they are started with “triggers” usually from a past trauma and are essentially an inappropriate response at that time considering the danger is no longer present. My panic attacks are generally caused by certain triggers like spiders, bees, a person in a ski mask or beanie and the feeling of being trapped. Creating art has helped me deal with my panic attacks by giving me an escape and also helping me to view the world differently.
Looking through the lens of my camera is like looking into a different world. A world where everything is what I make it and at the same time I’m recording something that will never happen just the same again. The light will never be exactly the same. I will never see that exact same flower or plant looking exactly as it does now again. I think there are two ways that art has aided me with learning to cope with panic disorder. The first is when I take a photograph of something that is one of my panic attack triggers such as bees or spiders. I am able to think outside of myself and think how can I make this art? Looking through the lens at things that scare me forces me to not get caught in the cycle of panic because I’m thinking of the shot. It is something I have gradually worked up to. I started off taking photos at a distance. My beginning photos of my triggers were so far away the subject was barely visible. I have now worked up to taking shots of spiders and bees from a closer range. When I edit the photos on my laptop I am able to look at these pictures in a safe environment and that also helps to change my way of thinking about them. The second way is when I photograph anything that is not a trigger or that does not scare me in any way. When I do that I am capturing an isolated world in a photo. A world where only the subject and the viewer exist. The only thing that matters in that world is the emotions that the photograph evokes in the beholder. Doing this compels me step outside the cycle of panic and only think of creation.
Consequently, creating art with these things in mind I have been able to cope more effectively with panic disorder. Not only has it reduced the severity and frequency of my panic attacks it has also enabled me to begin thinking about the world in a healthier way. Creating art in this way has led me to a better state of mind.