How art and mindfulness helped cure my postnatal depression

Sophie Walker

From successful artist travelling the world, to living in Yorkshire with no friends or family close by, Sophie Walker tells us about new motherhood, suffering with postnatal depression and how creativity and mindfulness helped to pull her out of a dark hole…

I graduated in 1999 from Brighton University and found myself at a bit of a loss as how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I didn’t have much money and when some wooden frames were being thrown out of a flat in my building I took them, covered them in a cut up blanket and used emulsion tester pots to paint a background. I embellished this with sequins and beads leftover from my degree show and stitched on with invisible thread and then showed them in an exhibition in the old Aldwych tube station in London, and sold two of them in four days. I didn’t know it at the time but this is where Attentive Art began.

I’m originally from Croydon in south London. My work and studies took me to Manchester, Brighton, Turin, Italy and Liverpool, which is where I met my husband, Jonson in 2007. Our daughter was born in 2011 and we got married in 2012. In early 2013, we relocated to the East Yorkshire coast to Bridlington, where Jonson’s family are from. Having spent three months living apart, with Jonson working in Yorkshire and me still in Liverpool, increasingly pregnant with our second baby and looking after our daughter with no family nearby we were fairly stressed out! We moved into our new house five weeks before our son was born.

A lifelong city girl, I found myself in a strange town where I didn’t know anyone, with a two-year-old and a new baby and I was totally lost. My son relied on me for feeding, he refused to take a bottle and he didn’t really sleep for months. Around this time my daughter decided to give up her daytime sleep and my husband was working full time. Massively sleep deprived, I had terrible post-natal depression and anxiety and struggled to meet other parents. I totally lost my confidence and my sense of self.

Slowly I realised I was feeling more relaxed and was experiencing less anxiety; instead of trying to get back to who I thought I should still be, I began to discover who I really am.

I realised that the only way I was going to regain my sense of self was if I did it on my own. I read books about mindfulness and sleep and wellbeing. I completed an online course via Liverpool University in Psychology and Mental Health, which was shortly followed by a Mindfulness course through Monash University. I have also taken a course through Aberdeen University on Nutrition and Wellbeing. These courses shed so much light on why I felt the way I did and that it was okay to feel this way; it wasn’t my fault.

I incorporated mindfulness into my life and began to make art again and I realised the therapeutic nature of what I was doing.

Slowly I realised I was feeling more relaxed and was experiencing less anxiety; instead of trying to get back to who I thought I should still be, I began to discover who I really am.

Interested in this process, I developed short creative exercises, which, coupled with a meditation element and my husband’s music, could give me the answers I was looking for. I set up a website to sell my art and took part in more exhibitions.

I made some friends and began to talk to other mums about how I felt. It turned out that many other mothers had experienced a similar situation and were at odds with their identity. It didn’t matter if they had babies, or their youngest had just started school or they missed going to work but couldn’t find a job to fit round their family.

Some people felt devalued as their job prospects now didn’t match the successful career they’d once had. No matter what the circumstances, we all understood a sense of detachment from ourselves; we had become lost somewhere along the way without really noticing.

I found I was able to see things from other people’s perspectives and began to see that I was in a position to help other mums in all areas of their life using creativity exercises.

I can help women to locate what is missing from their life and work out what they want to fill it with. Then, because I have experience and studies in so many relevant areas I can help to put them on course for a new career, a hobby or a part time business as well as addressing their self care needs, which can often go out of the window when we are putting our family first. I’ve learned the hard way that we need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of everybody else.

Attentive Art sells art kits, which contain a complete creativity package, including music. There is a free eBook on the website and Sophie is working on courses in mindful creativity aimed at helping women get back on track.