This interview was originally published by All Mental Health
We sat down with Cecelia Murphy, a visual artist who opened up about mental health tracking, her routines, and how she's been using All Mental Health's articles.
All Mental Health:
Welcome, Cecelia. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
Sure, I’m an artist and translator and I live in Austin, TX. What I do each day is always wildly different, but I work as a language translator and I paint botanical motifs that I then turn into fabric, bedding, and wallpaper. I also hand paint walls.
That sounds so interesting. We’ve been following your work as well as your posts about mental health and tracking (especially a great one about color tracking). Can you say a bit about how your art and mental health intersect?
Yes – I think a big part of this is that I have no “daily routine,” though I imagine having one would be a really important aspect of my mental health. A good creative routine could help me regulate my day-to-day a bit more.
I’m trying to do so much at once and it’s all self-guided. I’m translating a full workload, I’m doing the marketing, organizing, pitching, networking, and the art itself. I’m beyond maximum capacity. I tend to overwork myself to the point of exhaustion, so I’m kind of operating at 300% or 0%.
That makes a lot of sense. Most of us start searching for new routines and skills when we’re feeling overwhelmed. Can you tell us about mood tracking and where that fits in?
I think the post you were referring to earlier was the one where I tracked my mood for 6 months using color. That all started when I was doing my art and translating and volunteering on a suicide hotline – I kept running out of energy and I would get into these really depressed, exhausted states. I was trying to figure out where exactly that feeling was coming from, and what I could do to change it. I wanted to understand my mood more fully, but I couldn’t really find any methods that were subjective enough. So, I decided to assign a color to each mood, and each day I filled in the spectrum of my emotions from morning to evening. After 6 months, I had a lot to look back on.
When you looked at your mood in that zoomed out way, what did you notice?
I actually noticed that I felt okay more of the time than I would have guessed. I think my cognitive bias would tell me that a whole week was shitty, when in reality I had just had one hard day. The colors gave me a sense that a feeling could change, that each one was fleeting, and that they were in this bigger context.
My favorite part was seeing myself come out of the “black times” (I used a dark black pencil when things were really rough). First, I made a really good friend, and you can see the color change when he comes into my life. Then, I fell in love I had to introduce a whole new color – purple – to capture that feeling.
I also learned that even when things were hard, I could get through them. There was a sort of snowball effect. Like if I got through a hard day, then it was doable. And if that was doable, maybe this other hard thing will be doable too. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. Those learnings are so helpful. Are you still using that color method?
I’m using others now. When I was tracking my mood with color, there weren’t really mood trackers or apps like there are today!
I’ve got about 2 years worth of data in my Moodtrack app – it’s also colors, but you rate your mood from 1 to 5.
Therapy has also helped so much. I’d recommend it to anyone if it’s accessible.
And I’m using a heart rate variability tracker and a fatigue tracker.
It’s interesting to me now, realizing that I used to have all these intense feelings that I didn’t understand. Like I never knew how much crowds and noise affected me, and now I feel really tuned into my needs and why I feel the way I feel.
That’s such a great list. (We’ve linked each app in case anyone wants to try for themselves.) What are you currently focusing on mental health-wise when you’re tracking?
Hmm...that I need to really, earnestly pay attention at every step. I’ve had some creative success recently and now I’ve given myself permission to reflect. But in some ways it’s unfortunate that I had to get here at the expense of my body and mental health.
For me right now it’s a matter of trying to do less – trying to stop before I reach the point where I’m already beyond exhausted... paying attention to those earlier signals. Anxiety tells me that I need to be working all the time or I’m behind.
One thing I’m tracking is: what are the certain types of activities I do that really exhaust me? I noticed with my heart rate variability tracker that things I do all the time (concentrated technical artwork and translating) were giving me really high stress ratings. It helped me realize that even though I’m seated, that attention to detail and brain power can really take it out of me. Then there are other activities that aren’t as taxing. And I’m hoping to learn to balance the two on a daily basis so I can avoid that burnout point.
I’m also tracking to learn how to carve out more time for myself. I’d love to take a dance class, have a regular meetup with other artists and friends...that sort of thing. I’ve wanted to do those things regularly for years, but I’ve always been so exhausted it was unpredictable whether I’d feel like being social on any given day.
You’ve been one of our first readers and supporters (thanks!) Can you share a little bit about how you’ve been using the articles?
Of course – my favorite article so far has been about putting your thoughts on trial. It’s funny because I ended up using it for the exact example you gave in the article – I was out shopping, and wasn’t hearing back from someone. I was starting to jump to all sorts of negative conclusions. I really like the courtroom metaphor because it’s so important to have equal sides. And I’m a big advocate for writing things down, so you really have to defend things and articulate them. But I can also do this technique by visualizing – on the left side, here’s the argument… and on the right side, here’s the opposite.
Thanks again, Cecelia. I’m sure people will want to take a look at your artwork and learn about your process. How can we follow your work?