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Art To Ease The Anxious Mind

Updated: Nov 23, 2019

It was two years ago when I got the call. My partner rang me at work to let me know that space had opened up and that he would need to go to the hospital within the hour to prepare for open-heart surgery. As a bit of a control freak, this was not the plan. We had planned to have at least one lovely evening together before the surgery, in case, well, to be honest, in case the unspeakable happened. But no. He was going in today, and all I could do was wait and lament the fact that what we did the night before was watch some silly show on television. This was not the plan. And I was scared.

Earlier my partner had developed trouble breathing. A series of tests revealed he would need to have an operation to repair the mitral valve of his heart. His surgery was not unexpected given his mother had a similar condition, however, what was surprising was the speed of which the operation would need to occur. We had anticipated that he would need surgery in his mid-sixties. The fact that he would need it done now had come as a shock. Despite this, he did not appear concerned. The way he viewed it, the surgery would either be a success or it would not, and if it was the latter, he would not be around to worry about it. Of course, he was teasing, but as a realist, he was aware that no amount of worrying could change something so outside of his control. Entirely unlike myself, who carries the irrational belief that relentless obsessing might magically control the uncontrollable.

I am an over-thinker. I tend to worry a lot. And so while my partner's surgery was not unexpected, the announcement of impending surgery sent my overly anxious mind into overdrive. I knew I would need to do something constructive to ensure that I could be the calm and supportive partner he would need post-operation. I also knew that I would need to find something to keep my stubborn mind placated for the next four to six hours it would take for the surgery to complete. Given this, I arrived at the hospital equipped with a knapsack full of twenty work articles, three novels, a few travel magazines, a mindfulness app, and some "chill out" tunes. On a last-minute whim, I threw in some markers and an old fold-out sketchbook I had purchased a few years prior intending to do some pre-painting planning sketches on a plane back to Canada (I think I ended up drinking wine and watching cheesy movies instead). I probably could have kept the entire hospital entertained for days.

On the day of the surgery, I remained attached to my partner's side until I finally had to leave the operating room. I walked away, teary-eyed, and dreading the hours of waiting ahead. I set up camp on an uncomfortable chair in the corner of a waiting room swathed in many shades of an unappealing phthalocyanine green. Begrudgingly, I pulled out one of my twenty work articles. I couldn't focus on a single word. The crosswords were of little interest, and the travel stories only brought me down with thoughts of what I might do should my partner be unable to join me on another journey. I picked up my sketchbook. I opened the first page and put pen to paper. Almost at once, my racing mind began to slow. All of my fears flowed through my pen and down to the page. I wasn't concerned with how things looked on paper. I focused only on my feelings at the time. As I drew, I decided that whatever I created, would become a gift for my partner. Instantly, I imagined his face as he flipped through each page. A snapshot of what was in my heart those moments he was away from this world.

For four and a half hours, I drew. I didn't even listen to music. Drawing provided me with the sense of calm I had been seeking for weeks. My monkey mind no longer swung through every possible scenario. I finally felt some peace. At almost precisely the moment I filled the last page of the sketchbook, I received a call from the surgeon. The operation was a success. I was allowed to go in and see him. The multiple tubes that ran through his nose and mouth did not alarm me. I sat calmly by his side and waited. A few more hours passed when the nurse informed me that he would likely not wake until the next day. I shifted slightly, and my partner squeezed my hand as if asking me to stay. Another hour passed, and he opened his eyes. The tubes in his throat prevented him from speaking. Instead, he pointed at himself, lifted his two hands and placed them in the shape of a heart and then pointed back to me. My heart soared. I gave him his sketchbook the next morning.

A small memento of the day I waited for his sleeping heart to wake.

Keep on shining,


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