One thing I heard often after detoxing from narcotics and leaving the hospital was give it time. Not everything would happen right away. I needed to take time to heal, to figure out who I was under all the medication. My depression and anxiety, dampened by the pills for twelve years, roared loudly and required lots of time alone with my thoughts to figure out how to navigate. I went to support groups and learned positive self-talk (still hanging above my desk), adjusted my medications, and thought I needed to dive right back into art to make my living.
I over-corrected, I think. In hindsight, I should have done art for me rather than think I had to get back to work. But when you have a chronic illness and can't do much, you begin measuring yourself against what society considers productive. When you don't measure up, you begin to get down on yourself and push through the pain to do something. I needed to make money. I needed to be productive.
I really needed to just be. But that can be the hardest thing to do.
Here's something I suggest: Don't share something you've made online when depressed unless you want to obsess over numbers and likes and comments. Because you will. You'll check back. You'll measure your self-worth against all those little icons and numbers on social media. And when you do make something that gets attention, you'll try to recreate that over and over again because people are paying attention.
But that won't help. You need the right kind of attention. And you won't get that from strangers hitting like. Texting close friends, calling people you trust, that is where you'll get what you need.
I kept working. Adding on hours. Staying late, coming in on my days off. Not resting when I should. Ignored my body. Got a tattoo. Stopped going to church every week.
I was happy. I loved - and still do! - my job. The people, the way I was never bored, the responsibility I was given. I was part of something bigger than myself. I was doing it! All that stuff I was afraid of, all that stuff I didn't think I'd ever be able to do - I was doing every single thing and couldn't believe it. I lived in a constant state of amazement and wanted to see how far I could go.
And then I felt some pain in the top of my foot. It spread to my toe. It had to be a broken toe, right? Except I hadn't stubbed it, or dropped anything on my foot, or really done anything to warrant the pain. I figured it would go away.
Several days went by. I was limping pretty badly that last shift, miserable and in a lot of pain. Looking back, I was a total idiot.
I worked for 8 days after the pain started. My friends pressured me to go to the urgent care to get my foot looked at after I texted that I didn't even want to get out of bed, the pain was so bad.
Three days later, I had a cast on my foot and a month of no weight bearing.
Here's the genius of the show Work of Art: you got to see how artists got from concept to final piece. They'd do their little confessional to-the-camera parts to fill in the gaps here and there, but mostly, you saw them working through different ideas, refining them as they asked for advice from the other artists or input from their mentor.
You learned why they added elements. You were told the emotions and reasons behind each decision. You learned how to really work through an idea -- how to use a sketchbook, how to jump out of your comfort zone, how to take abstract ideas and birth them into the world.
As someone who didn't take any art classes in high school and college, the experience of watching the show was eye-opening. It completely changed how I approach art. All of it. I'm a stronger and better artist because of it.
Finally, finally, after months and months away, I pulled out my paints and began to play.
When I'm in the flow of it, I love every single mark I make, every color mixed on the canvas. There's a feeling that comes over me when I finish a piece or page in my journal; I hold it in my hands and really look at it, marveling at the fact that I made this. I remember when my students' eyes would light up as they tied the last knot on hand-bound journals. I live for inspiring that in others.
There's magic and deep joy in that moment that makes all that lead up to it worth it. All the frustration and hours practicing and late nights are memories colored with the amber of joy, negativity re-written by the power of our own creation.