From Madness to Mosaics, Written by Nancy Gilbert

Mosaics rescued me from the hellish world of depression, anxiety, addiction and anger. I became so involved in the process of making them that I focused only on that and nothing else; it became my art mantra. All anger, anxiety and distorted thoughts dissipated while I was working on them. I've generated hundreds of pieces in what I would call a frenzy of heavenly inspiration. At times, I can't do enough of them, each one inspired by something deep in my soul which filled my heart with inspiration and energy - an extra added benefit. It started to consume much of my time, keeping me busy and distracted from the depression that haunted me. The more I produced, the better I felt. I've kept prized pieces, given many away as gifts and sometimes people would see them and offer to buy one. This only served to validate the goodness of what I was doing.

Mosaic by nancy gilbert

Over time, I graduated from smashed glass and random patterns to fine stained glass and intricate designs, mostly reflecting my love of nature. My life evolved to where my depression, anxiety and anger slowly subsided. Art became a tool that helped me focus on the here and now. I could create rather than tear down. I came to see the world from a new perspective; a healthier, more satisfied existence. Like me, my mosaics are more refined today then 30 years ago.

The dark sad world of depression and cognitive distortions are always a part of who I am, but I have managed to lift myself from that world. As I made my mosaics, I found I was in a world unto itself. It helped elevate my spirit and give me a sense of purpose, confidence and patience. I have learned to focus my energy on the here and now and let go of, or soften past hurts. I developed talents I didn't know I had and gained a sense of love and respect for myself as well as for others, something I had never done or felt before. This change has been profound.

Here is my story:

About 30 years ago, I realized I was suffering from depression and an anxiety disorder. I was involved in a family dynamic that were unhealthy; one might better describe it as toxic. I too engaged in toxic behavior and was sinking into a pit of deep despair. The people involved included my immediate family (husband and children), my parents and sister (and her children). My father was a lovable and reasonably agreeable fellow until he retired. His behavior subtly and insidiously degraded and we all followed his liege. I sometimes call it a ‘La folie de deux’ or folly of two. His ability to cope with those negative feelings and thoughts degraded and his anger and distortions infected all of us. The toxic behavior was overwhelming, but I was addicted and unaware of the dangerous place I had found myself. I credit my children, wise beyond their years, who implored me to get help. Their wisdom astounded me and I realized it was time to make a decision about the path I would set for the rest of my life. This, of course, was easier said than done. I made a conscience decision to change my life. I wasn't quite sure just how I was going to do this. Without them, my loving (and patient) husband, good friends, cognitive therapy and art, I could not have succeeded.

About this time, I was introduced to a book called: Feeling Good- The New Mood Therapy, written by Dr. David Burns. He uses cognitive therapy to help treat depression, drug abuse, addictions, etc. I started reading and applying these strategies; I had to learn to recognize distorted thoughts and turn them into rational ones. I had a long road ahead of me!

I knew I had to change or the madness I was living was going to destroy my life and the life of my precious family. I had some new strategies to work with and I finally had a place to start. I knew I had no choice; I would not commit the rest of my life to this bitter, angry existence. I wanted a better life for all of us. Now all I needed was something to keep me focused and occupied.

While visiting a friend, I saw a mosaic art piece she had made I admired it and thought that would be something I would like to try. I was still in a dark place and needed something that was, in my mind, easy to do with quick results and was beautiful to boot. I was inspired. I went to a thrift store and bought ceramic plates, bowls and vases that I could break up into pieces. I would then have my tiles. All I would need to do then was reassemble the pieces into some pretty design. I had a small, round yard table and decided to use that as a surface to make a mosaic tabletop. All I needed was some glue and I was on my way.

Mosaic by Nancy Gilbert

Well here is where the story gets interesting. I had to smash the ceramics so I would have my tiles to work with. Yes, I had to smash them; that sounded exciting already! Being an angry person, I could think of nothing more satisfying then smashing something. But I had to be careful here, I had to control the force of my anger as to not shatter them into bits that were too small to use. I needed to control my anger and yet still get my aggression out. I proceeded with a rubber mallet and began the work. Aw, that felt so good. After an exhilarating session of shattering the glass, what I had left were usable sized and interesting shaped tiles; this is what I needed to make my tabletop mosaic. The next task was to sort the pieces, decide on a design and start gluing. This began a new phase of focus and a new task to accomplish

As I sorted the pieces, I became absorbed with the variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and started imagining ways to put them together. I could synthesize something beautiful out of an act of anger; the possibilities were endless. While I worked, my only focus was on the next step. Now I had the task to create something pretty and something whole (and wholesome). As I added tiles, the pattern changed. When all the pieces were glued in place, it was exciting, but I knew I was not done. The picture was not complete yet. One last step was required.

Now I had to grout the tiles in place. Seeing the tiles glued in place intrigued and excited me, but I still could not envision what it would look like with the grout. The picture was incomplete. I felt excited anticipation and needed to continue. The grouting process was another part of the process that delighted me. As I smoothed the wet mixture of grainy colored material between the tiles, a clearer, more defined picture emerged. The mosaic was coming alive and my excitement grew.

Mosaic by nancy gilbert

Grout is messy stuff but feels cool and soft in your hands. The action of smearing the grout into place is very soothing and meditative. As it dried, a clearer picture with more definition emerged. Once I had grouted the entire tabletop I had to patiently wait for it to cure. As it dried, the design began to stand out. As each layer of dried grout was wiped away, the more outstanding the mosaic looked. As I wiped, the tiles sparkled and glistened, giving it another dimension.

Over the course of the next few days, I would polish the mosaic, spraying it with a light mist of water. The grout residue stubbornly remained, but with each wipe, the more beautiful, shiny and polished the mosaic looked. The feel of the tiles, the colors, and the designs dancing before me were magical. It made my heart sing! Breathtaking, really.

All clean and shiny, my work was done. The table was gorgeous, the process enriching and healing to my soul, and the irony (or the beauty of it all) was I gave my beloved first work of art to my mother and father. Although we were estranged for many years, they kept the table and after their death and my sister still has it today.

Today my life is filled with beauty, love, family, friendship, song, art and rational thoughts (most of the time). I continue to use cognitive therapy and my mosaics to help me stay balanced, sane, rational and happy. I am no longer the angry woman I was nearly 30 years ago. I know I will have to be vigilant the rest of my life. I, like millions of others suffer from depression. There is hope, there is help, you are not crazy and you are not alone.