My Love-Hate Relationship with Adult Colouring Books

Dear Reader, by the time you finish reading this, my colouring book and I might have forged a lasting relationship. However, at this point, as I write this, we share a love-hate relationship – more like frenemies, I would say. My second colouring book – unfinished, and barely coloured in – and my almost-new colour pencils, lay abandoned on the vinyl of the couch. My anxiety has not dissipated, as the cover of the colouring book promises, and I’m looking for alternative ways to calm myself down.

Anxiety and depression are not new things for me, I’d confess; these have plagued me from as long as I can remember. I’ve been too conscious of seeking persistent psychological guidance, and over the years, figured out ways to camouflage the problem. Recently, though, my rigorous work schedule pushed me in ways that the anxiety problem reared its ugly head again. Journaling no longer provided respite and my reading life suffered several blows because I was always anxious. What a vicious cycle, this was! I needed to find a way out of this, urgently.

In my search for coping mechanisms, I discovered Adult Colouring Books in my favourite bookstore. I was certainly intrigued; as a child, I had a reputation of never colouring within the lines, and I was excited to see if I still viewed colouring books the same way – avenues of rebellion. With great expectations, I bought a pack of colour pencils and a colouring book of Mandalas that promised me ‘calm’ and ‘rejuvenation’. Very soon, I discovered that colouring was fun, but not really destressing. In fact, sometimes the intricate art stressed me out – “Will I be able to colour it all in one sitting?”, “This is so time-consuming!”, “Why would I buy a book without a story or words?” Needless to say, the world of adult colouring books was not a world that I happily wanted to be a part of.

The concept was overrated and also deeply flawed, I later realised. I was devoting my time to it, but not creating anything special. I was working on a pre-existing design, as were thousands of others: there was nothing exceptional about this, was there? Also, was this really a stress-buster? In a schedule that left me no time to read, how on earth would I make time for a childish activity that gave me no happiness? Only a month or two into colouring, my relationship with colouring books was already wrought with existential crises. Yet, like a jilted lover, I was colouring in it little by little – an obsession (another anxiety?) to complete things after I’ve started them, was pushing me to come back to it now and then.

At a conference, during a tedious presentation, a colleague smirked at me and began colouring in his ‘Mindfulness Colouring Book’. This thirty-something man with a mortgage and a baby had found this therapeutic after a 6-day work-week of crunching numbers, he told me. I got wistful about my own colouring habits, and once I was home, I reached out to my colouring book, only to realise that I had completed all the mandalas. Somehow, by some twist of routine, I had succumbed to the guaranteed calmness, rejuvenation and mindfulness.

Last month, I went back to my home-town after more than a year of living in another city, and my week was insane, as living with parents always is. Therefore, after another round of existential questions and vacillation, I bought my second colouring book. And, I won’t deny this but my doubts have returned – “this colouring thing seems stressful… it seems tough”, “you have to colour within the lines!”, “is this one more thing on my to-do list?”

Well, being a chronically anxious person can get really annoying, and sometimes, colouring with a vengeance can help. At other times, it feels like a fad, frankly, that has taken over the world. Yet sometimes, I wish I could be like Barbra Streisand from the 1960s, crooning fervently — “Crayons ready?”

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