* The artist’s name has been changed in order to protect her identify. Poppy is not her real name. All other details are true.
As professional coaches we don’t usually coach family or friends and nor do we coach without permission. So, under normal circumstances I would not coach a person now aged 45 whom I had known since she was a little girl. I had been friendly with her parents at the time she graduated and then became a competent, successful and respected professional in her field. In addition, a prohibiting factor to me as a professional coach was that she had been disabled through Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and unable to work for the last 10 years. Her ongoing support falls in the domain of professional doctors and therapists.
However, visiting her home informally for the first time, I noticed a beautiful painting on an easel. I presumed that her mother, a professional artist, had painted the artistic portrait of her daughter. However, Poppy confided that she had painted the self-portrait and that this was the last of her own acrylic paintings, created more than 10 years ago, before MDD robbed her of the ability to paint. Prior to that she had loved painting.
I was dismayed that her incredible character strength of creativity should be wasted. As a professional strengths-based coach I know how important it is for us to energise ourselves through using our strengths. As I stood admiring the painting I spontaneously gently suggested that, to get her back to painting, she should try painting a portrait of my husband and me. (I was not coaching her, just encouraging her as a friend.)
Her face lit up as she immediately agreed. I stressed that she should use her artistic licence (do it her way!), that there was no obligation, no commitment to her ever completing it and there was no deadline. I just wanted her to pick up a paintbrush and start painting again. I had no expectation but I believed in her and in her ability to complete this task.
I provided her with a choice of photos as a starting point and wasn’t even sure which she had chosen. Twice during the six month period since that chance encounter she phoned to apologise that it was taking so long.
I wasn’t even sure that she had started painting! So, I’m not sure who was more excited, Poppy or me, when she phoned unexpectedly to tell me that the painting would be ready the next day. And it was! My husband and I are both overjoyed at the outcome. This work of art will remain a symbol of huge human endeavour and achievement and a reminder of the power of positive encouragement. She later confided that at times she had blocks and panic attacks and was not able to paint. The journey was extremely difficult. She said: ‘I had underestimated the enormity of the challenge and the extent to which my illness had deprived me of the ability to even pick up a paintbrush. Without your continued support, compassion and encouragement I would have been too overwhelmed to complete the task.’
I’m pleased to say that Poppy has motivated herself not only to paint again, but her stumbling block has become a stepping stone. She has already started on the next project!
Poppy has asked me to share her story and her letter of appreciation. We both hope that this will provide encouragement to others who are incapacitated through various mental illnesses.
From: xxx (her details have been purposely removed in order to protect her identity)
Sent: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 7:08 PM
Subject: Reigniting the seemingly impossible ....
It has now been over 10 years since I was diagnosed with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder), an illness that stripped me of everything I once knew as my life; and most devastatingly my sense of "self".
Until recently, it would also be the last time I could bring myself to paint a canvas.
And then there was you ... And to me you are the heroine in this story. Your intuition and expertise in helping others ignite and reach their true potential is a gift.
Thank you for your patience, support and unfailing encouragement; and mostly for believing in me even though I couldn't.
For anyone who is interested in seeing your practice in results, I have attached a copy of the original photograph you gave me and my resultant artwork portrait.
Fondly and gratefully,
The photo which Poppy chose was taken by professional photographer, Karen Edwards in 2015.
The above photo provided the inspiration for Poppy who then used this as a starting point to create her artistic interpretation (seen below). You’ll notice she has included my love of vibrant colours and the Aboriginal influence relevant to our children living in Australia.
I feel emotional when considering the enormity of her achievement and feel very humble that she feels I played a part. It just happened that I was in the right place at the right time. That chance encounter opened doors for both of us. She has worked at regaining her ability to paint and achieved her goal in completing her first assignment.
However, I acknowledge that the wonderful work done by the team of professional doctors and therapists, combined with the support lovingly given by her close family provided the framework and enabled her to reach the stage where she was ‘open’ to my suggestion. On her part it also took great courage for her to accept that challenge.
Poppy did not need to discover her creative strength. She had lost the ability to apply that strength. I am deeply grateful that she has regained her dormant creative strength and that she is able to paint again. Using her strength brings her joy. I’m hoping that over time, the resulting energy from her sustained use of her creative strength will provide leverage and enable her to use her other strengths to even greater advantage. I look forward to watching her progress.
My message is clear: be open to noticing what is missing in other’s lives. Encourage them in a sincere way that is acceptable to them. Continue to ‘be there’ even remotely for the person. What may seem insignificant in the giver’s eyes can be life-changing to the receiver.
My questions for you are:
- How can you be more observant so that you notice others’ strengths?
- What can you do to help them change their stumbling blocks into stepping stones?
- How are you helping others to recognise and optimise opportunities?
- How are you sustaining support, even remotely, by continuing to encourage, even in small ways?
- In which ways are you introducing positive new beginnings into your own life?
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