But caring for two relatives left Bernadette Al-Hilli on a downward spiral of depression – until she was offered a helping hand. She told STEF LACH how art changed her life...
CARING full-time for her elderly mother-in-law and a relative with Down's Syndrome, on top of being a mum of five, gave Bernadette Al-Hilli little time for herself.
She felt "worthless" and began to lose the ability to tell the difference between reality and her increasingly bizarre hallucinations.
"It was all too much," she said. "I was seeing pink elephants, literally seeing things."
Finally her therapist suggested she attend a therapy session where she was encouraged to try drama and various forms of art, such as painting and jewellery design.
Slowly, Bernadette's life changed.
Attending the Bazooka Arts classes in North Lanarkshire has helped the 53-year-old, from Coatbridge, learn to cope with her home life and now she wants to tell her story so that others in her situation might seek out the help on offer.
This week, Bazooka Arts' project directors Bryony Murray and Zoe Brook opened a temporary shop in the Quadrant Shopping Centre in Coatbridge, selling the art and other items created by the people who attend the classes.
One of the first items sold at The Art Stop was a vase made by Bernadette.
She said: "That was a lovely moment, it stunned me that someone would spend money on something I had crafted.
"I got involved with Bazooka Arts about five years ago after my occupational therapist suggested I try it. The first thing I was asked to do when I got to class was a painting, but my first effort was black and depressing.
"Eventually things turned around and Bazooka became a place that I looked forward to going to. It helped me to forget about what was going on at home and when I did get home, I was ready to deal with it.
"It has been a life-saver for me. I feel like I deserve to be here now, when before I felt that I was worthless."
Bernadette met her husband, who is originally from Baghdad, more than 30 years ago in Glasgow.
But 14 years ago, his mother fell ill and had to move from Iraq to stay with her son and his family in Coatbridge.
The 77-year-old was a full-time carer to her 47-year-old son who has Down's Syndrome, and that meant Bernadette had two people to care for in addition to her own children.
"It didn't take long to wear me down," she said.
"I remember it was just after my 40th birthday that I started to become unwell and I didn't want to go out of the house.
"I heard about Bryony's classes but I didn't think it was for me. I didn't imagine I would be able to stand up and talk about it. But that's not what the classes are about, there's no pressure to talk about your illness.
"We get into the work and it has made me physically and mentally better. My medication has been reduced and I'm happy."
The Art Stop will be open until Sunday coinciding with the running of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.
The Art Stop is selling ceramics, screen prints, jewellery, cushions and cards.
ALL profits from the shop will be invested in future arts and health projects in North Lanarkshire.
Bryony and Zoe, both 38, started Bazooka Arts in 2001 and for the last four years their North Lanarkshire Connections project has been funded by the Big Lottery.
Bryony said: "The idea behind Bazooka is not whether the person creates a fantastic masterpiece, it's about the benefit they get.
"There is such a stigma attached to mental health problems and our project works to break that stigma and help people to be seen as something other than just a person with mental health issues.
"We are interested in reducing reliance on medication and paid support and Bernadette is a great example of that in action."
Referrals to Bazooka Arts can be made by health workers and the group also accepts self referrals.