There was a post in a bipolar support group the other day that asked “Am I the only one who loves coloring?” The response was a resounding “I love coloring too!” Nearly every commenter expressed the same interest, with many talking about coloring as the best part of their inpatient experiences.
On my first inpatient stay, I used some dull colored pencils. When they were beyond usable, I could go to the desk and, with supervision, use a pencil sharpener. I sharpened a couple of pencils that I needed to finish my current picture, and was tempted to bring the whole box full and sharpen them all, just in case anyone else wanted those colors.
On my second inpatient stay, I didn’t do much coloring as I wasn’t there long enough. Had I known what would happen in the next week, I’d have colored to my heart’s content.
On my third inpatient stay, a week after the second, the colored pencils were all dull and we were no longer allowed to sharpen them. In that intervening week, a client we’ll call Stefanie had managed to get the pencil sharpener away from watchful eyes, break it open, and use the razor to make a deep cut along her whole forearm. It required many stitches and staples, a big bundle of gauze wrap, and her placement on one-to-one supervision – someone staying with her and watching her at every moment.
The irony here is that Stefanie was more interested in coloring than any other client. She was constantly having the staff print off new coloring pages for her. At first she used crayons, and then her husband brought in the Crayola Twistables colored pencils. Her only lament was that there were only 12 colors.
Upon my discharge, I found a package online that had 30 different colors. I ordered them for Stefanie, and attempted to go visit her as she was still in inpatient. The staff wouldn’t let me in. Something about being too recently discharged. I was disappointed, as I had fought past a lot of anxiety to even make the trip, but I did have the staff member deliver my gift to Stefanie.
Recently when I’ve been stressed out, I’ve remembered how much coloring relaxed me in inpatient and pulled out my colored pencils. It still helps in the outside world as well. It helps so much, in fact, that when my therapist assigned the task of creating a “self-soothe first aid kit” I promptly ordered miniature coloring books and my own pack of Crayola Twistables to include in it. Then I had to brainstorm a while in order to figure out what other items it should contain.
The idea of self-soothe is to use the five senses to comfort oneself when in emotional distress. Coloring is obviously sight, and I also have photos of family and index cards full of inspiring quotes. For taste, a pack of chewing gum. For hearing, an iPod shuffle full of upbeat music. For smell, a roll-on of scented oil. For touch, tiny knitted swatches in a variety of soft yarns. As a bonus, there’s also a pill container with a few of my anxiety medication.
My therapist loved the kit. She spent forever looking at it and said she just wanted to play with everything. My only dilemma with the kit is that I can’t actually have it handy when I need it. I can’t carry something like this into my workplace, where everything I bring has to be inspected by security on the way out. At this point in the year, it’s too cold to leave it in the car, and I wouldn’t really have access to it in the moment of need. I’d be waiting until lunch or after work to go out and fetch a soothing item. So while the kit was fun to create, it doesn’t fit my current life circumstances very well.