Lego Saved My Life
Lego saved my life.
I know, it sounds absurd. Little plastic bricks made in Denmark? The kids toy?
But Lego really has saved my life.
I discovered Lego as an adult in the midst of a mental health emergency. I spent 6 weeks in Grand River Hospital’s Psych Ward because my depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidality had reached a breaking point. When I returned home, nothing was the same. I had lost my jobs, and I didn’t know how to talk with friends, share my experience, or even relate to my children. But Lego helped.
I could build Lego models with my kids. We built castles, spaceships, cars, and scenes out of the recently released “Lego Movie.” And even after they went to sleep I found myself building and playing with the plastic bricks.
My marriage ended and my kids stayed with their Mom, but whenever I saw them Lego came out. My mental illness made it impossible for me to find work, but the first thing I bought when I got my first OW cheque was a bucket of Lego off Kijiji. My roommate thought I was crazy, and honestly my psychiatrist probably would agree. But it helped.
As the years progressed, I accumulated more and more Lego. I built more models and my own creations. My kids and I still played together whenever I saw them (less and less frequently), but Lego became a larger part of my life. I kept a jar of Lego at my therapist’s office for when I needed a distraction or a calming tool. But eventually I got tired of building space colonies and pirate ships, and I decided to build something mental health related. Afterall it was a runaway downward spiral that rekindled my love affair with the brick.
As a cutter who has scars all over my legs and arms, I often found people scared or intimidated about this particular part of my mental health. But talking about it openly was often the only thing that could help myself and other self-harming individuals I supported. So, I built a replica of my arm. It took several different attempts to put something together that I liked, but when I was finished I had an arm in white bricks with streaks of red bricks across it.
Building the model was helpful and therapeutic. I cried several times, and when I was done I was extremely proud and wanted to share it. So, I posted a picture of my creation alongside a picture of my own arm and my story on a Facebook group for Lego builders. I was worried that my creation might be too controversial or graphic and would be removed, as most of the time builders posted pictures of cars or robots.
Instead I received hundreds of likes and a flood of comments from people sharing their own struggles with mental health and how they used Lego to help. I was blown away.
I also collected broken, chewed up, drawn on, nasty Lego, the kind of bricks even the most die-hard fan will throw out. I collected these bricks because they reminded me of me: broken, unwanted and garbage to society. Living in poverty on government assistance makes just about everything more difficult, and I wanted to use these bricks to show that.
I built an entire neighborhood out of the bricks nobody wanted for a big show in Toronto. It looked like a ghetto. The buildings had graffiti and were falling apart, even the people in the city had been badly abused. I set on a table beside other models that looked pristine and perfect and probably cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. Mine was quite literally worthless.
It caused more than a few raised eyebrows and questions from other Lego fans, but when I explained the purpose behind it – to raise awareness around poverty, privilege and the cost of play – they were often blown away. Lego might be a strange way to promote social justice and a more fair society, but it’s my been life-giving for me. Lego didn’t just save my life; it gave my life purpose.
Grace is an artist and advocate in Kitchener whose artwork uses Lego bricks to discuss issues like poverty, mental health, and privilege. She is the creator of “Graceful Bricks “Building Social Justice one Brick at a Time”. She also founded the Facebook support group “Lego saved my Life”, which now has over 800 members around the world. You can visit her blog here.