One of my top tips to people undergoing scoliosis surgery has always been to get a colouring book and crayons or pencils. In the early days of my recovery, one of the first things I’d do when I got up in the morning, was sit in my armchair with a tray on my lap containing a colouring book and pencils. My mum would sit on the floor in front of me with her own book and colours, and we’d work quietly, hypnotised by our task. I was supposed to steadily increase the amount of time I spent vertical each day (sat up, rather than lying in bed), and I found this to be a great way of distracting myself (it was 2005 – there was far less social media, general internet and other kinds of digital entertainment to keep me going). I didn’t feel much like reading a book, watching TV or movies, or even reading magazines (which is something I love and will ordinarily do for hours on end – my family knew I wasn’t right!). My friends weren’t able to visit and keep me entertained round the clock, so I had to figure something else out.
I had a pattern colouring book – I wouldn’t have minded a kiddie one, they’re just usually less complicated, and more about putting the “correct” colours in relevant places, whereas patterns can simultaneously be about accuracy and lack of thought. I’d normally colour for about half an hour before I got tired (or finished my page!) and went back to bed for a bit. Lots of people thought I was mad, but I could feel the therapeutic benefit. So in the following years, the habit continued occasionally. If I’m feeling particularly stressed and need some headspace, I’ll dig out a colouring book and some pencils – my brain will sometimes switch off, and at other times the repetitive nature of the task will allow my mind to slow down and work through whatever is clogging it up. The weather doesn’t have to be nice in order for me to get some colouring book therapy, my friends don’t have to be able to answer the phone, and it doesn’t cost much. It’s always felt to me like a very healthy outlet.
But some people still thought I was odd. I stopped caring a long time ago, though I did get excited last week when my assertion was validated on national TV. I usually roll my eyes at The One Show, but last week they had what I rated as a very good schedule – they discussed how adults find colouring therapeutic, as well as the physiology of why stroking animals is soothing. According to the show, demand for non-child colouring books is at an all-time high: publishers are commissioning more books which are related to patterns or more complex scenes, things which aren’t princesses and pirates, but flowers, graphical patterns or landscapes. This was no surprise to me, I was delighted that the world has caught on.
The only art form I’ve ever really enjoyed looking at or participating in is photography, but 10 years on from when I began using this therapy, I’m as big of an advocate for it as ever. In fact, I’m going to go and pick up my pencils now…