Mental illness can be difficult to deal with, especially when doing it alone. However, one local Calgary artist, Stacey Walyuchow, is using her passion for visual art to encourage others to challenge the struggles of dealing with anxiety and depression, including postpartum.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2012, between 8.7 and 11.3 per cent of Canadians have been diagnosed with some form of anxiety and depression.. On top of that, 7.5 per cent of Canadian women have been reported depression in the postpartum period.
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry and nervousness about an event with an uncertain outcome, and depression as an illness that interferes with daily life and normal functioning.
Postpartum depression is when the mother suffers after childbirth due to hormonal changes and psychological adjustment to motherhood and fatigue. Walyuchow suffers from all three.
She first realized she had these symptoms when she became pregnant with her first child. It happened after child birth.
“My child was born kind of dramatically, and I slowly kind-of began spiraling downwards after she was born, and things just got progressively worse,” says Walyuchow. “I had this impending sense of doom.”
“I just wanted to protect my child, I didn't want anybody near her, I wanted everybody to go away.”
When it came to developing her recent art exhibit, she feels her art is extremely representative of those women who are suffering postpartum depression.
“I feel people are kind of left in the dark, and it's very obvious to me why close friends and family don't say anything to these women that are suffering because they don't know if they're even going to take it or accept it,” says Walyuchow.
Walyuchow opened her second art exhibit titled “Faces of Eve” on March 8, 2018. The exhibit was held at Loft 112, a small studio on 8th avenue in downtown Calgary.
The exhibit was named “Faces of Eve” due to Walyuchow being a practicing Catholic. In Catholicism, ‘Eve’ was the first woman created by God. Walyuchow takes the name of ‘Eve’ and applies it to her own situation of suffering from mental illness.
“I feel like as human beings … we are all judged whether we should be or not. Secondly, Eve is synonymous with women. I also feel as [if] I am on the ‘eve’ of feeling better, and [possibly] helping somebody else through this art.”
Walyuchow owns FosterMAK.com , a company that represents art from some of the best local artists and photographers in Calgary. Walyuchow often uses Loft 112 to showcase the work of these local artists..
“I came across Loft 112 while I was searching for locations to host art shows for other local artists with my online gallery,” says Walyuchow.
The owner of Loft 112, Lisa Murphy-Lamb, has been a follower of Walyuchow’s work since 2014.
“She's a supporter and a promoter of artists in the city,” says Murphy-Lamb of Walyuchow. “Initially, she was promoting other artists and, through her own journey, she decided to get back to her own art, and has done a couple of solo shows as well.”
Murphy-Lamb appreciates Walyuchow’s “honesty, vulnerability and willingness” to be risky in sharing her journey as a woman with others, and respects Wayluchow’s courage of sharing her own experiences of dealing with mental illness in an open and public space.
Walyuchow expresses herself through art because it is therapeutic for her to creatively deal with her struggles with mental illnesses.
“It was so real to me and terrifying in the same breath…. So, in my artwork, all of those circles that I put in are very representative of the planet that we're going to be crashing towards the Earth,” says Walyuchow.
“The things that I'm struggling with in my life now, those are my circles.”
In all of her art work, there are circles of different colours surrounding an ‘Eve,’ or just in the background of the painting. The intent is that spectators feel the presence of each circle -- which are representative of Walyuchow's experiences with mental health.
Walyuchow saw physicians to treat her mental condition, and was prescribed medications, but even on medications she never felt quite satisfied.
“It still is a constant struggle,” says Walyuchow. “Medication can only do so much. It's a tough battle too. On bad days, I still feel that kind of sense of doom just something horrible stuff happening.”
To combat her negative feelings, Walyuchow was encouraged by several artists to throw all of her emotions onto a canvas, and, luckily, the advice from her colleagues paid off . She then came to the realization art could be therapeutic.
Using art as therapy has been extremely helpful for Walyuchow when it comes to coping with her anxiety and depression.
Dr. Dustin Hrycun is a psychologist at Cultivate, a local mental health clinic.
Hrycun has recommended art therapy to some of his patients. This technique works mostly for those who are more artistically-inclined, but does not discourage others who do not possess artistic talent.
“When you add art ... those subconscious pieces come forth, and you get to express some … emotion or thought behind it,” Hrycun explains.
“Maybe you don't even know what exactly you’re expressing, or what you're thinking when you're painting it, but there's a bringing-forth of this unconscious material that just need to be brought forward.”
Walyuchow feels that, before, without art, she had no idea exactly what to do with her life, but now can’t imagine a life without it.
“It's a beautiful relaxing kind of detaching experience for me that I'm very grateful for,” says Walyuchow.
- By Mollie Smith