“Welcome to Marwen” and the power of art therapy

Welcome to Marwen is a film due out on December 21 starring Steve Carell (though, honestly, Jeremy Renner would have been a dead ringer). At first glance it looks like a weird film about a man playing with dolls, but don’t be fooled by that. Marwen is so, so much more than live action mixed with fantasy. It’s a story of loss, recovery, and overcoming disability. And it’s a true story.

 

    A Life Lost

Mark Hogancamp was an artist and photographer, five years in the Navy, five years married, and an alcoholic. In April of 2000, he admitted to being a cross-dresser while drinking in a bar. When he left the bar, five men beat him so badly that he spent nine days in a coma, and forty days in the hospital relearning how to walk, talk, and behave. He had permanent memory loss of everything before the beating, and severe post-traumatic stress. His entire life before that night had been erased. Insurance cut off his therapy after a year, and he could not afford to continue on his own.

Healing Himself

    Instead, Hogancamp turned to fantasy art. Outside his home in New York State, he created Marwencol, a fantastically detailed Belgian town caught up in World War II, and populated it with excruciatingly detailed 1/6-scale figures (that’s Barbie-sized, if you don’t know. Before his injury, he’d painted miniature aircraft as a hobby, but now his hands shook too much) – including both himself and his attackers. In Marwencol, a safe place populated by women, grisly acts do occur (it’s WWII), but women are the heroes. Through the scenes he set up, Hogancamp worked out a lot of his rage and anger by “killing” his attackers over and over, his own form of therapy to deal with the loss of 38 years of memory and the disabilities he’d been left with. He can no longer draw, but he can use a camera, and his artistic photos of his figures caught the eye of the right people. They were published in an art journal, then on to a gallery show, and then a well-received documentary (Marwencol). In 2015, a book was released to critical acclaim (Welcome to Marwencol). Now, Robert Zemeckis has picked up the trail, and turned the story into a wider drama for the holiday season.

Life is Art; Art is Life

    Hogancamp’s photos are a child’s dream: proof that your dolls/action figures are having a rich life when you aren’t looking, a voyeuristic peek into a place where anyone can be the hero, the bad guys always lose, and Mom is there to save the day. His photos are eerie in their realism, down to pen-tip bullet holes and nail-polish blood, a dream gone creepy where department store mannequins have replaced people but you can’t always tell at first glance. Take a look at some of his works here, and if you like them, you can purchase some for yourself here.

    Severe head trauma is no laughing matter. Not everyone emerges from a coma, and fewer still survive them without some form of permanent disability. Trauma has been implicated in everything from brain cancers to seizures to murder, and the road to recovery is long, difficult, fractured, and rarely complete. We think of therapy as being Freudian, or using a walker down a hospital corridor, and dismiss art therapy as wasting time on a hobby, but to some, art therapy may be their very salvation. Hogancamp is still shy, plagued by anxiety and difficulties, his memories will never return, but he’s found his support, and that makes all the difference in the world.

    Check out the movie this Christmas, and read up on these other real-life survivors and their determination to pull themselves through the toughest of times. You might even be inspired to dabble in a little art therapy yourself.

Ghost Boy : The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Proof of Heaven : A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander

The Long Awakening : a Memoir  by Lindsey O’Connor

Overcoming Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-concussion Symptoms by Nigel S. King

The Mindfulness Coloring Book : Anti-stress Art Therapy for Busy People by Emma Farrarons

 

 

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

ptsd

Most people associate PTSD with events suffered by war veterans, but it is very common for any one who experiences a traumatic event to get PTSD.  It can be triggered when a person lives through, or witnesses, a traumatic event such as a fire, natural disaster, shooting,  robbery, car accident, sudden death of a loved one, abuse, etc.  Many people are not aware that they are suffering from it.  Symptoms can include flashbacks, trouble sleeping, nightmares, feeling worried, guilty, or sad.  Sometimes the symptoms don’t appear until many months after the event.  Huffington Post recently featured an article that you can read here.  If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from PTSD and want to learn a little more about it, the library has books that may be of help to you.

no-1Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – The authors here provide discussions of current research in treatment, intervention, and prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to giving a historical review of PTSD, following chapters all include case studies intended to add to the understanding of the influences and impacts of the disease and its treatment and care. Topics include recognizing PTSD, its varieties, PTSD in children and adolescents, neuroscience, treatment approaches, and post-traumatic strengths.

no-2Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Scott Barbour – Describes the causes, symptoms, and treatments of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

 

copingCoping with post traumatic stress disorder: a guide for families – Cheryl Roberts – This book is a user friendly discussion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it affects individuals and families. 

 

the-post-tramatic-disorderThe post traumatic stress disorder relationship: how to support your partner and keep your relationship healthy – Diane England – Citing a prevalence in PTSD in America, a guide for partners of PTSD sufferers shares practical counsel on such topics as managing a loved one’s emotions, communicating while separated by military duty, and handling post-trauma sexual relations.

sourcebookThe post-traumatic stress disorder sourcebook: a guide to healing, recovery and growth – Glenn Schiraldi – An important updated guidebook for those suffering from a traumatic experience provides information on coping mechanisms, emotional triggers, the mental defenses that protect us from further harm, and much more.

conqueringConquering post-traumatic stress disorder – More than 13 million Americans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and one out of 13 adults will develop it in their lifetime. Recent worldwide crises and events including the Iraq war; the September 11th attacks; numerous Columbine-like events; the Catholic Church child molestation scandal; and the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans, continue to present thousands more PTSD cases each year in all age groups. This book helps victims make sense of the events that led to their illness and teaches them how to create a new reality with specific advice and action plans that put them on the road to recovery and long-term healing.

upsideUpside: the new science of post-traumatic growth – Jim Rendon -Drawing on interviews with leading researchers and trauma survivors, a journalist, delving into the study of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, uses accessible language, prescriptive takeaways and specific tools to promote positive responses to trauma.

the-body-keepsThe body keeps the score: brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma – Bessel Van Der Kolk –  A forefront expert on traumatic stress outlines his own take on healing, explaining how traumatic stress affects brain processes and how to use innovative treatments to reactivate the mind’s abilities to trust, engage others and experience pleasure.