The colorful painting of a bass player that hangs in the office of Robert Pollack, MD, is typical of Cori Scheft’s work. It’s a vivid and vibrant collage of brightly dyed newspaper clippings, fabrics and strips of sheet music that believe one simple fact: Cori has been suffering from a Brain Disease know as Depression.

“It’s a painting of a blues musician,” explains Dr. Pollack, who treats Cori at Psychiatric Associates of Southwest Florida. “I love the blues and I play the blues, and since I treated Cori’s blues, she put that painting together for me and gave it to me.

“I’m actually quite proud to have it because it’s a beautiful painting created by someone who fights depression, which is often dark and colorless. Yet this painting is alive and colorful. I don’t think anyone would guess it’s the work of someone battling depression.”

Cori, 67, believes her depression dates back to her early childhood, when an emergency appendectomy forced her to miss several weeks of school and prompted her mother to request that she be held back and repeat the first grade.

From that moment on, Cori says, she often had a feeling of “being less than” others, particularly in educational settings, where she struggled to learn at the pace most children do. The Boston, Massachusetts native says she carried that feeling into her early 20s, when she first noticed depression’s grip on her.

“It was a day in October, and I distinctly remember walking along the street and suddenly feeling this heavy sadness come over me,” Cori reveals. “It was a very sunken feeling, and I didn’t understand at all what was going on with me. I really didn’t understand at the time that it was depression.”

Cori has been fighting to curb that sunken feeling ever since. During her fight, she has used about every weapon psychiatry has to offer, including antidepressants, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and an “express”version of TMS called theta burst stimulation (TBS).

“I eventually went to see a therapist, but that didn’t help me much. I was very sensitive to the medicines that they prescribed for me. They knocked me out; I wasn’t able to function well,” continues Cori. “Later on, I did have some success with taking medicine, but after thirty-
plus years, the side effects were making it very difficult for me to be with people.”

Dr. Pollack is currently treating her with a sequential combination of TMS, TBS therapy and ketamine, a drug originally introduced in the 1960s as an anesthetic agent that has also proven to be a fast-acting and effective antidepressant.

Meeting of the Minds

The combination of treatments is one Cori began receiving last September, after she was referred to Dr. Pollack by another psychiatrist after expressing her desire to seek new alternatives to the antidepressants that were causing her dire side effects. She now receives a quarterly ketamine booster as her primary treatment.

“People like Cori are the reason I’ve been doing this for the past forty-seven years,” explains Dr. Pollack. “She’s another example of why we need to treat people who are depressed, because they, too, have something special to offer the rest of us.

“For some people, that comes in the form of what they do or say. But for people like Cori, it comes in the form of what we see, because when we take that depression away, she provides us with a beautiful view of the world.”

The view of the world Cori expresses through her art is a byproduct of her childhood. She says her vast array of materials are like toys, and she uses them to be creative the way she was once creative when playing as a child.

“When I was young, I could literally play with anything,” Cori says. “I was intrigued by the shapes and textures of things. Even with something as simple as aluminum foil, I could find a way to be creative with it, and I’ve never lost that.

“What I do now are mixed-media collages using pages from vintage books, paper bags and all kinds of fabrics. A lot of it is stuff I’ve collected or been given over the years, like an old aeronautical chart that a neighbor gave me, things like that.”

The images themselves are as diverse as the materials used to create them. Though dominated by beach scenes, Cori’s works include a portrait of a Victorian-age woman, an ad for television repair and a LeRoy Neiman-like painting of tennis star Roger Federer.

The only constants in her work are the radiant colors she uses to enhance the joie de vivre that she captures, particularly in the many images she’s created of musicians, dancers and lovers. Even her still-life works have a vibrancy to them.

An Expression of Love

“My father once said to me, Cori, even though it can be painful sometimes, life is so beautiful and exciting, and I really believe that,” Cori confides. “I love people and I love life, and I try my best to express that through my art.

Despite her battle with depression, Cori Scheft sees and recreates a beautiful world.

Cori painted this image of a bass player for Dr. Pollack.

“I think what allows me to do it is that when I work, I kind of free myself from everything else that’s going on, and I just zone in on what I’m doing. I sort of lose myself in the process, and because the colors in life are so very vibrant, that comes through in the art.”

That process has what Cori describes as an addictive-like nature to it. She notes that when she gets lost in her work, she has the ability to bounce from one piece to another and produce a lot of art all at once.

“I often have ten or twelve paintings going on at a time,” she says. “Each one is a journey, but sometimes when I get stuck on one path, I just skip over to another instead of going into that black hole where you don’t know what to do next.

“The inspiration always comes when you step back from it for a minute, and of course it’s easy to keep on going when you feel like you’re good at something and it’s fun and soothing.”

Part of the fun comes from creating unique pieces, such as the cigar box Cori painted to look like a Charleston Chew® candy bar for Dr. Pollack. She created that piece after learning that she and Dr. Pollack shared a special affinity for the candy.

“The first time I met with him, he asked me if I wanted a Charleston Chew, and I was like, Wow, this guy likes Charleston Chew?” Cori relates. “I was surprised to hear that, and so I made the painting for him.

“I did it because I’m a Bostonian, and Charleston Chew is the original candy that came out of Charleston, Massachusetts. I thought it was interesting that even before he treated me, we had this connection, which I took as a sign everything was going to work out.

“The ketamine in combination with the TMS and the TBS [theta-burst stimulation] has really worked for me,” raves Cori. “I remember the first time I had the treatment, I felt a peace, a calmness come over me.”

Cori’s art is proof that everything is indeed working out, says Dr. Pollack.

“When the black clouds depart, there is a special beauty that this lady who has been tormented by depression all her life can bring to the world,” he says. “And to have a hand in giving someone back that ability, that spirit, is truly rewarding.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to continue to find a way to help people with depression. I mean, as a society, how can we not want to take that evil away from people like Cori, who can help us see the world in such a different and beautiful way.”

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