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We meet first responders in some of the worst times of our lives. They deliver life-saving medical procedures in crisis and hold our hand on the way to the hospital.
It’s a role that Calgary paramedic Teresa Coulter wouldn’t trade for anything. However, there are some especially horrific circumstances that first responders are exposed to on the job. Over time, these can take a toll.
About six years ago, Coulter started painting and found a new passion, as well as an outlet for the stressful situations she encounters. Now she heals with art as well as medicine.
A self-taught painter, Coulter has transformed her own experience with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) into a project called The Sock Drawer Stories – a series of portraits of other paramedics who have been affected by PTS.
The process has been therapeutic for Teresa as well as the people who sit for her, and has become an important conversation starter for mental health across Canada.
“They see that they’re not alone. It’s ok to feel this way,” Coulter says.
For some people, this realization can trigger a breakthrough. Unfortunately, some never come to terms with their trauma, which is why this message is so important to help prevent suicide.
The title Sock Drawer Stories comes from one of the people featured in the series. He compared PTS to coming home at the end of the day and taking off your dirty work socks. “You roll them into a ball and put them in a drawer. Eventually the drawer gets full, and all the dirty socks start to spill out.”
Coulter’s work has earned her the ATB Financial Healing Through the Arts Award at Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s Lunch for Arts Champions on March 22. This award recognizes those who harness the healing power of art to help others.
Since the launch of Sock Drawer Stories, she has started to work part-time with Alberta Health Services to dedicate more time to her art. Despite the award and gaining national attention, Coulter is staying humble. “I don’t actually consider myself an artist,” she says. “I just practice art.”
Watch this video to learn more about Coulter’s work and inspirations.