After my daughter was born in 2007, I struggled with fairly severe depression.
That summer was hot and we didn’t have air conditioning. I remember one day in particular where I felt like giving up for good. I stayed in bed almost the entire day, in my hot, second floor bedroom that faced the unforgiving sun head on.
My mind was suffocated by the worst thoughts I could possibly think. At one point, I remember looking into my baby girl’s eyes and knowing I had to do something. I knew how painful it had been to lose my mother of natural causes when I was twenty years old. I didn’t want to subject my four children to the pain of knowing their mother had killed herself.
I eventually ended up seeing a Counsellor and she introduced me to Mandela’s before they were cool. This is how uncool they were – I couldn’t find a single Mandela colouring book anywhere. Not online, not in bookstores, no Mandela books were to be found.
But that wasn’t my introduction to the Mandela. My Counsellor had me draw my own Mandela’s. It was as simple as drawing a large circle in my sketch book, closing my eyes, and focussing on a single thought or emotion. There was a larger process to it than that, but this is the bare bones version.
After my uncensored drawing was complete, I needed to journal about it. I took note of the colours I used, the pressure of my pencils, the angle and severity of my lines.
I still remember one of the first Mandela’s I drew. It featured this Christmas delicacy my Mom baked every single year:
Banana Gumdrop Loaf
If you’ve never had it, I’m not surprised. If you think it’s weird, you need to try it before you knock it. As much as I love Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, banana bread with gumdrops is equally as delicious. You need to have the right mixing technique and of course, you should not over bake it so it’s dry.
It needs to be moist. And you need to mix the gumdrops in with the flour mixture and cover them completely before adding the wet ingredients.
One of the cool things about Mandela’s is that they are most informative and healing when drawn without censorship. When you purchase a colouring book, you’re forced to conform to someone else’s lines. Sure, you’re free to colour the entire page one colour, regardless of where the lines are, but you lose the opportunity to create your own shapes.
When you can begin to draw or colour a thought or emotion, you give yourself freedom to explore your unconscious thoughts. Many times, I was surprised not only by my drawing by the words that came up as I journaled about my Mandela drawing. It ended up being one of the first steps I needed in order to realize that I wasn’t “over” the grief of my Mom’s death.
And I never would be.
And that’s okay.
Some people like Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf and will never substitute gumdrops for chocolate chips. They stay within the lines and limitations of their recipes, their colouring books, and their lives.
My mom took a chance. She basically create a whole new recipe by throwing baking gumdrops into her tried and true banana loaf recipe. I still make it for my family every year!
Why do we think we need to conform? Have we lost our freedom to explore and express? And in doing so, in refusing to stray from the clean lines and limitations set by someone else, are we losing ourselves?
Or are we just looking for someone to blame when things don’t turn out as we want them to?