The Gift of Giving

By Lily Fossett

During this strange and unsettling time, I have found that art really is a true form of therapy. Whilst studying at University, I really struggled to share my feelings and emotions with my friends and family. It was not until I started receiving CBT sessions that I realised that the constant overthinking and feelings of doubt I was experiencing was anxiety and depression. I found that counsellor appointments were extremely valuable to learn techniques and to overcome obstacles. However, there was still a part of me that wasn’t openly able to talk about my feelings; I think partly it was my inability to communicate my anxiety with others that was making it worse.

Studying Illustration as my degree was clearly very creative and expressive, with the self-driven nature of the course allowing me the freedom to explore my own set projects. I desperately wanted to write my own children’s book but was really struggling to come up with inspiration. I think that sometimes sitting down with a blank piece of paper and a pen with the aim of writing a story can be too forced and your mind ends up also going blank.

It was not until one of my sleepless nights, with my brain overthinking as usual, that I was able to come up with a story. At 3am, I got a notes page up on my phone and, surprisingly, the words just seemed to flow. I began to write a children’s book centred around a young girl, Elsie, who struggled to express her emotions, this in return caused her to carry a heavy weight around with her. I realise this was essentially me using my writing and illustration as an escape and a way in which I could finally express how I was feeling to those around me. 

Mental health is an increasingly important issue in today’s society, and coming into the world as a young person can be a scary and uncertain experience; so, I wanted to create something that a young audience could relate to, ultimately encouraging them to open up and avoid bottling things up. It was important for me to make this book appealing to children, using bright colours and natural imagery to create a positive environment for young readers to enter into when reading the story.

Using words like ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ can often be overwhelming to a young audience, therefore I was clear in my aims to not explicitly state this in the story’s text. Instead, I came up with a metaphor that children could relate to; this resulted in my using birds as symbols. With every burden and weight that the protagonist character gained from her family and friends, she would be followed by an additional black bird. This continued until she was overwhelmed by the number of black birds surrounding her and she hid away, no longer being able to face the outside world. One morning, when colourful birds start to appear one by one at her bedroom window, Elsie begins to feel more courageous and has the strength to open up and share her burdens with others. 

The process of illustrating the dummy book through my degree immensely helped me to release some tension. Post University, this book still lingered at the back of my mind. It seemed so important to me to share the messages I was trying to convey, and so months on I have self-published this book, titled ‘The Gift of Giving.’ 

Seeing my work in print reminds me of the place I was in a year ago, and how far I have progressed personally. I hope that this book helps to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst younger readers and also encourages others to pick up art as personal therapy. Making a mess, drawing how you are feeling, and sharing this with others can be a huge stress-reliever and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

You can find out more about Lily’s beautifully inspiring book here:

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