Celebrating Psychiatry Through the Arts 

In Their Shoes: Sharing Psychotherapy Stories

Below is a digital capsule collection featuring the stories of individuals from across the province who shared the positive impact that long-term psychotherapy had on their lives. All of the shoes collected for this project will be donated to Soles4Souls Canada.

Silence…parents, teachers, co-workers; so many tried to take away my voice. Who would listen? Who would hear MY story? What parts could I even share after years of trauma witnessed and experienced first-hand? Even writing this is no easy task. But being in therapy these past 4 years has given me the courage to unpack the layers towards a sense of peace amidst the chaos.

I always felt the need to be the “strong” one for my family – the rock. I could not look like I needed help. I retreated further and further away so that no one could see the pain I was in. With my life falling apart around me, my partner connected me with regular therapy. In that space, I began to realize that I was deserving of love that was independent of how I could be of service to others.

I felt suckerpunched after my divorce. I spent a long-time processing with my therapist what the end of my marriage meant to me and my family. I came out the other side feeling stronger and better able to take on each day.

I was born with bladder exstrophy, a rare, complex, congenital anomaly. I underwent numerous invasive investigations and several surgical procedures during childhood. Although I was told the male doctors were all trying to help me, cystoscopy without anesthesia is a traumatizing procedure.

I started two years of weekly psychotherapy early in the second year of my psychiatry residency. Working with a psychodynamic framework with a psychiatrist in pricate practice, I explored how such traumatic medical experiences has resulted in feelings of worthlessness. The therapeutic relationship allowed me to examine my reactions within intimate relationships and my belief I needed to be a high achiever and be loved. I came to understand and accept my scars, both physical and psychological. 

Today I am a well-respected psychiatrist with a busy clinical practice and an academic appointment. More importantly, I am in a loving marriage, and have children I’m very proud of. This is the outcome of good psychotherapy. 

As female, stranger, mother, artist, teacher in my adopted country, access to OHIP funded therapy is crucial. In crisis, turning to therapy often means compromised, limited financial power. 

A ruptured attachment with abusive mother, a father overstepping needed boundaries, impacted the integrity of all relationships, personal, professional. To heal deep wounds in the heart & gain trust in a whole self takes time; is not a linear process.

Recently after nearly 4 years of intensive weekly psychotherapy, my soul is finding its home. Diagnosed in 2014 with SVT & Atrial Fibrilation, many hospital trips, reseting my trembling heart followed. Now, 14 months later, I’ve had NO cardio-versions (a financial saving for OHIP).

Psychotherapy was integral in shaping me to be a better physician for my own patients. Despite working in mental health, I couldn’t even recognize some of my own feelings!  Only through experiencing the patience of a stable and ever-present other did I learn to become curious towards myself without judgment or shame. I became a better therapist. I learned true empathy.  I became empowered to pursue my career interests, thus making me a happier and more engaged clinician – the ripple effect is that I could support my patients more effectively, helping them reach their potential in becoming better selves, better romantic partners, better parents…ultimately creating a better world.

It felt like I was home without the lights on. Why me? Why now? Why care? Why try? I allowed the why’s to consume me for so long that I couldn’t imagine something better for myself—there was no purpose in trying to answer the why’s because it didn’t have the power to make a difference for me. The less time I could spend interacting with the world outside my head, the better. Psychotherapy; however, is what helped me turn the lights back on. While the trauma will never be erased, psychotherapy taught me that there will always be purpose in caring and trying. In any other space, my mental illness may have defined what I couldn’t do, but in psychotherapy, I am learning how to leverage my mental illness to better define all that I am actually capable of.

Psychotherapy Saves

"Indigenous Health is Holistic" by Nicole Neidhardt

“Indigenous Mental Health is Holistic” is a digital drawing that speaks to interrelated elements of Indigenous Mental Health from my cultural lens as a Diné (Navajo) woman.   As Indigenous peoples, our Lands, Waters, plants, plant medicines, animals, communities and cultural practices are all inter-connected with our mental health and well-being.  The central figure is a Diné woman, rocking large turquoise earrings and wearing a biil, a traditional Diné rug dress.  The landscape in her hair is Round Rock, Arizona – my Diné home community.  The stars in her hair point to the cosmologies, creation stories, and histories that are held in the Lands, waters, and skies of the places we, as Indigenous peoples, come from.  She holds a medicine pouch with Tádídíín, corn pollen, which is an integral medicine to the Navajo and I use it here to illuminate the importance of ceremony and culture.  The multi-coloured birds in the design come from a Diné Tree of Life weaving design, pointing to the importance of learning, practicing, and teaching traditional cultural art forms.  They can be an impactful way to connect to our ancestors, who have been practicing these artforms for generations.  The corn stalk next to her represents traditional foods and medicines and the importance of being able to access the Lands and Waters that hold these food sources and plant medicines.  Fishing, hunting, and harvesting on our traditional territories is integral to Indigenous communities’ well-being.  This is one of the core reasons the effects of climate change and extractive resource industries have such devastating impacts on Indigenous peoples.  When the Lands and Waters are healthy, we are healthy.

The histories and contemporary realities of colonialism in Canada and the United States, makes it really challenging to exist and thrive as Indigenous peoples within these white-centric systems.  For this piece, I decided not to focus on the traumas, the pain, the violence that we as Indigenous peoples face every day.  This is not to say those parts of our communities’ realities is not important, because it is, and the impacts of continual colonization on our bodies, communities, and Lands still needs more awareness in the general public.  For this piece, I wanted to focus on the beauty of my culture and center some of the ways we care for and maintain our mental health and well-being.  Our resilience, our power, our strength, comes from our cultures, our communities, and the Lands and Waters that sustain us.  Indigenous Mental Health truly is holistic in every sense. 

Website: www.nicoleneidhardt.com 
Instagram: @navabear12

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