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PatrickSamuel 233x300Hello everyone at Palmers Green Community,

My name is Patrick, I live in Palmers Green (since 2004) and I am autistic. My condition is challenging and complex but over the past 6 months I have been finding a lot of peace and happiness in art and art therapy. It's been reducing the irritability and aggression, along with the effects of marked anxiety and low mood, which I am also diagnosed with. I am supported by Enfield Complex Care, the Maudsley Hospital and the National Autistic Society, and was given a lot of help by my local MP to get access to advice, care and treatment.

I thought to get in touch and send you something I wrote for you about how art therapy has helped me, how it's getting me outside and helping me with my social skills too. Along with art, I have also become a spokeperson for autism awareness and have given talks at The Autism Show and I have a few more coming up. I am trying to get my story out there as much as I can and will be featured in next month's National Autistic Magazine and my local newspaper is running an interview too.

In addition to that, I also have my first solo exhibition coming up in November at the Dugdale Centre in Enfield, titled 'Escape and Return' and I'll be at the Palmers Green Art Festival in September with Starfish & Coffee (the owner is my next door neighbour).

Art Therapy as a Coping Mechanism

I’m an artist with Asperger’s Syndrome and I’ve lived in Palmers Green since 2004 when I moved here from East London as a student.

As a child I was hyperactive, and I think my mom recognized that early on. It was her who showed me how peaceful and rewarding drawing and painting could be. We did a lot of arts and crafts sessions together. There was a lot of cutting and sticking, making decorations and things to hang around the house...

Patrick Samuel - Things take TimeThings take Time (click on image for information)Unfortunately, between 1996 and 2016, I didn’t draw or paint at all. I forgot how. As hard as I tried to ignore the limitations Asperger’s placed on me, I was simply becoming less and less able to cope with the demands and pressures of adulthood. As a result, 2016 was the worst year of my life. It became much worse in September when I started teacher training. It eventually became clear that I was not getting the right support.

I let matters get worse and by December I was in hospital with an overdose, having attempted suicide for the second time in my life. My diagnosis, care plan, treatment plan, assessments and psychiatric evaluations followed. It’s all been very helpful, but I would not have gotten it if it I wasn’t willing to take responsibility for my actions. I had to face up to my limitations, accept my difference and not blindly ignore it.

The thing that played a big part in this turnaround of my destructive life was the start of my daily art therapy, which began one evening in December 2016.

On that first day, my carer placed an empty A3 drawing pad on my lap, perhaps frustrated at my endless silence. There was the complete inability to put my thoughts into words, or express my emotions and the lack of social imagination to be able to communicate precisely what I was thinking. I just didn’t want to talk anymore.

Patrick Samuel - Obelisk at Trent ParkObelisk at Trent Park (click on image for information)He told me to just draw what I was feeling. I hadn’t drawn in 20 years because I’d forgotten how... 40 minutes later I finished a self-portrait. Half of my face with rotting flesh and bone protruding. It reflected everything I was feeling, or rather not feeling. I was dead from the inside out and fed up of trying to hide it. This is who I was. In that moment, I actually felt something. A little feeling of release. And I was done for the day.

The next day I drew again. And so it went. Day after day. Slowly at first. Each day I’d complete a picture. Eventually they weren’t self-portraits anymore as I started to look beyond myself. I started to draw my dog and other animals. Forests and fields. Then other portraits. Then the moon, the stars, planets, galaxies, other universes, dimensions, portals. I was traveling, exploring...

The point is, Art Therapy is helping me to stop focusing on myself and looking inward. It’s enabling me to look up and beyond. It’s given me the power to dream again, to envision a future me who could use these experiences to build something of a life that could help and inspire others. Art Therapy is a chance to use my Asperger’s for good, rather than the harm I’d been causing to myself and others.

Art Therapy is also helping me build social skills. I don’t just want to create art, I want to share it and I want to keep doing it for as long as I live now. In a short space of time I’ve secured over a dozen sponsors. I’ve also reached out to other artists and they’ve kindly donated many of their materials! And they’re all keen to see how I’m developing as an artist and learning for the first time to manage my Asperger’s. It’s given me a topic to talk about that others can relate to and for the first time as well, I’m conversing with my neighbours.

Patrick Samuel - Corpse FlowerCorpse Flower (click on image for information)My art is now taking me to festivals where I exhibit my work and can put into practice the social skills and coping mechanisms I’d been learning during my counselling with Mind. Maybe you saw me at the East Barnet Festival or the N21 Festival? In September you can see my drawings and paintings at the Palmers Green Art Festival, and then from November I  have my first solo exhibition at the Dugdale Centre, titled ‘Escape and Return’.

What Art Therapy has also done is help me get to the bottom of problems and identify issues that I’ve been unable to access in other ways. There were a lot of questions about myself and my behaviour that I couldn’t understand or answer until I was first able to draw those pictures because that’s how my brain works – in pictures – not words.

Art Therapy might not work for everyone the same way. We’re all unique individuals with wonderfully complex brains that work in so many different ways. What works for me, might work for you, or it might not. You won’t know until you try.

People ask me what they should do and how they can get started because they don’t have the skills and abilities to create anything that can compare to other people’s work. I tell them what my carer said to me, “Draw what you feel”. Abilities, skills, technical know-how, none of this matters in that moment. Draw what you feel and what comes from that is an honest representation of what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s all the things you couldn’t say before. It’s all the thoughts that were rustling through your head that wouldn’t settle before. It’s all the pain and hurt you couldn’t let go of. It’s all the anger you’ve been holding onto. It’s all the joy that comes with that sense of release.

Patrick Samuel - The Little HillThe Little Hill (click on image for information)Lastly, Art Therapy helps me go from strength to strength and blossom with skills I forgot I had, and learn new ones too; social skills, and technical skills. And coping mechanisms. I’m still awkward and nervous in conversations, I still find eye contact painful and fidget while talking, but at least I’m talking again. I never thought I’d be doing festivals or setting up an art stall somewhere or preparing exhibitions at galleries, but they’re social exercises as well and I’m meeting so many wonderful people and am able to put forward something positive and inspiring about autism and Asperger’s with my art and the story of my journey so far.I used to say to an autistic girl I worked with for two years that I was there to help her find her super powers. Along the way I realized she was already amazing as she was, but watching her bloom with the benefits of Art Therapy, acquire so much confidence in herself and master so many social skills...the irony was that it took me so long to discover it in myself; that art and Asperger’s were my super powers all along.


Patrick Samuel with artworks

Text and images © 2017 Patrick Samuel


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