Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Scrapbooking and Mental Illness

Today I opened up the large wooden chest which houses my many scrapbooks, which has remained closed for almost two years.

For many years, scrapbooking was an integral part of my life. It was my hobby, art therapy, and spiritual practice. I even taught a class at church many years ago called "Scrapbooking as a Spiritual Practice" and was hired to make scrapbooks for other people. Yet I have let this most important part of my life fall by the wayside. It is no wonder why my bipolar disorder has gotten worse these past few years.

My lack of scrapbooking is not the only reason I am struggling so much, but it is a significant contributor. Scrapbooking was my way of lifting my spirits, lessening the negative thoughts in my mind, and helping me remember who I am and what I want out of life.

When I looked through my scrapbooks today I was shocked at how much of myself I have forgotten. I have forgotten how creative I am, how proud I am of myself, how much fun my husband, son, and I can have together, what I have accomplished, and how much I have to live for. I have felt defeated and depressed for so long and with my art form hidden away and a room too messy to scrapbook in, I have no reminder. No way to process what is hard in life, and celebrate what is good. No way to connect with the divine as art is my main mode of connecting with that which is greater than myself.

I know from experience how important all art forms are in our lives and how imagination fuels the mind. However, I think scrapbooking provides a very important medium for people with mental illness.

In my experience, when I am depressed, paranoid, or manic, I have lost touch with parts of reality. For example, when I am angry and manic, I may think my husband hates me, never loved me, and wants to control me. This is not true, yet I can not stop myself from thinking it at times. Then we fight and I might refuse to take my medicine. Things slide downhill from there. However, my scrapbooks tell me different. If I actually took the time to look at my albums I would be reminded of how much my husband loves me, how much fun we have together, and how supportive of me he is. For me scrapbooks can stop a manic or depressed episode from getting full blown.

The act of scrapbooking is also the way I process things. Through page composition, color, photos, and words I can see the reality of a situation. If you ask me today about the two half marathons I completed, I will probably tell you that I was too slow, I never trained enough, I wasn't dedicated enough, and I was a failure. However, the act of looking at the pictures, writing about what it felt like to train in the middle of the Chicago winter and what it felt like to cross the finish line with my husband and son, shows me reality. I can be proud of the work I did, how I trained, and feel like a success rather than a failure.

I know my next project is to clean up my scrapbooking room and bring back that part of my life. I also know that the first ArtCare program for mental illness I want to create for my family's foundation, the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health, is a scrapbooking program. By doing these two things I hope to help heal my mind and bring that healing to others.


Rev. Katie


  1. Sorry I've been AWOL from your blog, just dealing with some things myself.

    I love your scrap-pages, and definitely hope you get back into it, it really is great therapy and a great thing to look back over, a beautiful memory book :-)

  2. I understand having an integral part of your life that brings such happiness missing. I am just getting back into dance and the first time I did I thought "why the hell did I stop this?"

    Have fun and enjoy!