When our son was in the PTSD unit after his suicide attempt, he was encouraged to find some type of art therapy. He decided to paint tabletop gaming miniatures, and he chose the Warhammer Age of Sigmar game because he’d previously been interested in some of the stories that came out of that fictional universe. When he first started showing us his little figures of goblins and rat men, we didn’t really get it but were happy there was something creative in his life. 

The thing with tabletop miniatures is they are meant to be the pieces for a game, and in order to play you need other players. When he got out of the Air Force and moved back to our hometown, he asked if I’d be interested in painting my own army so we could play. I didn’t have the time and really wasn’t looking for another hobby, but it was the first time since his diagnosis that he asked me for help. I’d been at a loss as to what I could do, and struggling to understand why my formula for resilience (fitness, discipline, and faith) weren’t going to work for him.  

So I started painting Warhammer miniatures. Warhammer is a fantasy world, and I couldn’t quite get myself to pick a demon or beast-men army, so I ended up with dwarves. I painted my first unit of ten warriors, then a unit of crossbowmen and then a cannon crew. From there I’ve gone on to paint an entire army, enough to compete in either a thousand-point or two-thousand-point game (points are the system used to keep armies equal in size and power). We built a regulation-size gaming table in his basement, and since then two of my grandsons (his nephews) have started putting together their own armies. I currently have about a one-year backlog of painting, with maybe ten units or hero figures on the stack. He still paints every day when he gets home from work, and it’s a critical part of his self-management. I think the absorption and focus it takes are a healthy way to occupy his mind and break the cycles that can contribute to some of the things he struggles with. 

Parents will do a lot for their kids, and I always was willing to tackle something hard and scary if that’s what my loved ones needed. In this case, my son needed me to sit at the kitchen table and painstakingly paint tiny little dwarf miniatures. He needed me to take time to the play the games. He needed me to value what he valued and to put effort into the things that would let us spend time together. So I paint miniatures, and I’ve come to like it. In fact, I think I’m pretty good at it. And as a graduate of Command and General Staff Officers School and with a Masters in Land Warfare, I whup up in the games! 

Submit your own mental health story here.