Tuesday, April 9, 2024

How Art Saved My Life


2/1/24 The downtown Seattle skyline view (including Space Needle) from Apt. 320, sketched on the day Greg moved in.

We’ve all seen the memes, T-shirts and stickers: “Art saves lives.” (I didn’t realize it came from a foundation.) It’s usually used in a metaphorical sense, though I’m sure there are stories in which art has saved lives in a way that could be more literal. Here’s mine:

1/5/24 Aegis Living entrance

In 2021, my sweet spouse guy was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia. (Although the disease manifests in a different part of the brain, many symptoms resemble the more common Alzheimer’s.) That was the formal diagnosis, but we had known for a long time that he had some form of dementia, which runs deep and wide in his family.

His symptoms seemed to worsen significantly around the beginning of the pandemic. Was it isolation that steepened his decline? Or was it just that I noticed it more because we were together so much? In any case, my steadily growing anxiety about Greg’s condition was suddenly multiplied tenfold by this worldwide plague.

One day I experienced my anxiety in such a physical way that I thought I might actually have a stroke or heart attack. I grabbed a pen and sketchbook and drew the closest thing “at hand” (I didn’t know it then, but that sketch was
the first in my pandemic hand series). I felt so much better afterwards. When I was overwhelmed by anxiety the next day, I drew my hand again. And again, I felt better afterwards.


That’s when I started learning how effective self-administered art therapy was for me. Having to focus on rendering my subject, even if only for a few minutes, quieted my mind long enough to allow myself to breathe again. A long-time yoga practitioner, I had always felt that drawing could be a form of meditation, but that was how I learned to practice it in a direct, self-caring way.

Long after my anxiety about COVID gradually subsided, my greater anxiety about Greg’s condition continued to escalate. Many, many times when I felt I would succumb to stress, I turned to drawing to ease myself back into a functioning caregiver. Usually my only time of full respite was late at night after he was safely asleep. That’s when I often took time for myself to sketch an Earthsworld portrait or scribble with new media – things I could do easily and immediately at home; things that took me quickly outside of my agitated mind so that I could sleep. Along with walking and yoga (my self-care trifecta), drawing saved me repeatedly, regularly, daily.


In recent months, Greg’s needs began to overcome my abilities as a caregiver. In February I moved him to an assisted living facility that could provide the care he needs much better than I could.

Maybe because I don’t have children, I have never had to make a life-changing decision for someone else, especially alone. (When each of my parents had needed professional care toward the end of their lives, my siblings and I shared that burden.) Making that decision for Greg was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Although I still had anxiety, it was now mixed with many other feelings – guilt, doubt, sadness. During that time, I was working on my series of pet portraits, which had begun purely from a desire to practice drawing animals. But the more dogs and cats I drew, the more they helped me. Like real pets give to their humans, drawing the sweet faces of animals gave me comfort. While the exercise had the same meditative quality as other sketches I made to combat anxiety, the subject matter had the added benefit of cheering me up.

3/3/24 Since I visit regularly, I'm starting to get to know other residents.
This is Max, who sometimes shares a table with Greg in the dining room. 

After a rough initial transition for both of us, Greg is now doing very well at Aegis Living (and therefore, so am I). The facility is only a 10-minute walk from home, and I look forward to my regular visits. I am immensely relieved and grateful for the wonderful care he is receiving there.

I’m also endlessly grateful to have my own life back. You may have noticed that I’ve been getting out more lately and a bit further afield than Maple Leaf; Greg’s move to Aegis has allowed me this.

Although I haven’t usually shared too deeply about my personal life here on my blog, it was important to me to write about how making art has helped me. Secondarily, I wanted to bring dementia out into the light. Like so many devastating, cureless illnesses, people are afraid to talk about it. One of my biggest regrets as a caregiver is that I waited too long to start talking about it to those who might have helped me. I finally realized it’s OK – and important – to talk about it.

(Shown in this post are sketches I made at Aegis the past few months as I prepared for his move and during my visits after he moved in.)

3/31/24 I joined Greg for lunch at Aegis on Easter Sunday. The thing at lower left is a fountain, not a cake.

4/2/24 My sweet spouse guy still enjoys gluten-free treats at Macrina. We
still take walks together and occasionally end up there.


  1. Tina, this is a very heartfelt post. I very much appreciate your blog (one of the ones I check on daily) and your posts about Urban Sketching. I will now look on Art in a different light, as a way to help during times of transition & stress. Hugs to you & Spouse Guy

  2. He indeed looks like a sweet guy. Caregiving really does take a toll and it is helpful to hear how drawing has helped you through this traumatic time. You always seem such an upbeat person, but I only know you here, through your sketching so it must be working! Best of everything to the both of you as you traverse this development in your lives together.

    1. I appreciate your support and comments! Thank you!

  3. There is a new space to enter now that you are moving away from the caregiver role. You get to move back to partner now that someone else has assumed caregiver status. Among the grief and loss, I admire the resilience to talk about how hard it is. My dad has been in care for a year and my mom did not really let us know how difficult things became as the man we knew changed and slipped away. Dementia sucks!

    1. Yes, dementia is a very cruel disease. Thank you for your support!

  4. Tina, your news about Greg is such a sad surprise. I always love seeing posts with the two of you together. It must have been extremely difficult to make the decision to move him into a caregiving situation. It is important for him to get the additional care and important for you to be able to be with him in a different position than as a caregiver. I know it must be so hard to see him change. I hope there are many days where you and Greg can share happy times together. I'm so glad you have art to keep you a bit more grounded. It is a great stress reliever. ((Hugs to you both!))

  5. Wishing you both many sweet times together ! Your entries have been a delight over the last couple years - i think i found you looking up something about caran d ache May your drawings keep inspiring you as much as they have me :)

  6. Tina, I wish you solace, strength, and continuing enthusiasm in this life so well-saved by art. I discovered 'Fueled by Clouds & Coffee' in my search for reviews of art materials, and initially followed your blog to observe and often learn from your journey through the world of art and drawing. None of that has lost its value for me, but each daily post has come to feel like a visit with a friend. Thank you.
    Wishing happiness for you and Greg,
    ~David Miller

    1. Thanks so much, David! I appreciate your readership and support!

  7. I am, as often, a day late and a dollar short. Since you told me about Greg's dementia I have watched, and celebrated in my heart, every post where you were sharing at the bakery. I hoped that meant the progression was slow. I didn't know that was behind #washyourhandthendrawit but puts your anxiety in perspective. It warms my heart to see you still take walks together. I understand your guilt, but I know it is also a relief that he is safe and well cared for. With warmth and great affection, Anne


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