I find it difficult to talk about myself. I thought starting a blog on my creativeness would make it easier for me to talk about the truth. Instead, I’ve found it increasingly more difficult. That’s why I haven’t added a new blog post in the last couple of weeks. I know most bloggers write their posts ahead of time (which is the best way to do it) but I don’t do that. Which may or may not be a good thing at all, definitely not for consistency. So here is the struggle and mumble jumble of me trying to say something very real.
**This is my personal struggle with mental illness, I know others have far more severe issues than I do. This post is not to pity myself, it is simply to express and give my readers a deeper understanding of my creative process. Thank you.**
Sadness. As long as I can remember I have felt this consistent feeling people call sadness. How? Well, I have no idea. I just know that it’s real. In every scenario I am faced with, I find the sadness in it. I find the heartbreak before I find the hope or the “silver lining.” I don’t point it out because I learned around the age of ten that people don’t like that. They don’t like hearing the sad. People want happy, hope, love, entertainment. So, I learned to adapt because I couldn’t make friends. No one wanted to spend time with the girl who talked about sadness. The little girl who was always so sad. The way I broke things down was too real, too honest, too… sad. I felt so very alone. I would soon find that changing the way I spoke out was not going to make me feel any less alone.
To this day, I feel alone. Though I know I am not. I have incredible people who love me and will be there for me no matter what happens but it doesn’t make the feeling any less significant. Now, you’re probably thinking “Just get over it, you’re not alone… Get. Over. It.” I hope you believe me when I say, I have tried. I continuously try. I never knew what mental illness was until about two years ago. I mean, let me be clear. I knew what mental illness was but my concept was of the “crazies.” I thought mental illness meant you absolutely couldn’t function in society. I believed if that wasn’t the case then you must be “normal.” I used to think normal was a way to describe people. Normal was the popular people in school, the ones who participated in class, the people who knew what to say and when to say it. I wanted to be normal but I never was and I never knew why.
I have a million insecurities about anything and everything. And when I was younger, you better believe those insecurities were uncontrollable. I didn’t know my worth; hell I didn’t know I had worth. I had absolutely no self-esteem and I was certain anyone and everyone was out to get me. It took me several years to realize everyone is out to get themselves. I definitely was. “You’re your own worst enemy” is the fucking truth.
I was hell bent on finding love but I had no idea what that meant. I was certain butterflies were a continuous thing and once those faded it was all ruined. I dated some pretty insecure guys who didn’t know what they wanted for themselves and we were toxic to each other. I even dated a couple men who were good to me but even that couldn’t break me free from myself. It wasn’t until about two years ago I realized I was the only one who could save me from me. This is when I really started painting. It took me a year or so to learn how to start “finding myself.” In that time, I grew significantly. I realized life wasn’t out to get me, bad things just happen but so do good things. I found out that love isn’t about games or lies or butterflies. It takes a lot of effort and patience. I began to learn when to walk away. I started feeling a little more complete but there was this familiar feeling that followed me everywhere I went.
Depression. Have you ever felt hopeless? Not just the hopeless certainty that you failed a test you needed to pass but the sort of hopeless that makes the sun seem dimmer and as though the world is closing in on you. Where everything becomes overcast and you feel this hollowed out emptiness in your chest. I’m not talking about rainy days. I’m talking about the rain that pours in your mind. It floods your consciousness and rationality and you get so lost treading through the water that you begin to believe that you’ll never find your feet. A hopelessness so great you feel it deep inside the fibers of your muscles and in your bones. You won’t believe anything but this hopelessness no matter what you tell yourself, no matter what anyone tells you. Have you ever felt this? I have.
I’ve been told by many people that I’m crazy, out of my mind, I need help. Some of that’s true. What I didn’t know was that I was severely depressed. That hopeless sadness I was talking about has a name now. I started trying to figure it out, how to calm it, how to survive it. I was certain I could rid myself of this all too familiar feeling. I kept painting, it seemed to help. I allowed this feeling to move my paintings, I let it tell its story. It made me feel better. Hell, it was the best I ever felt. I thought, I got this. I can fight this. Then, somewhere in the midst of this new me who was ready to take on the world, I started feeling myself slip back into the clutches of depression. I fought so hard and I tried to paint even more and I attempted to block it and run from it but it’s a lot faster than I am. Before I could try anything else, I had already fallen back into the darkness. It swallowed me up. It was then I realized this was not a one-time sort of unhappiness. I realized that I have clinical depression. It didn’t matter how hard I fought or how much I tried to rid of it, this feeling would always be there. It would always be here. In this an entirely new set of growth started. I had to accept this part of myself and learn to understand it so I could recognize exactly when it was happening. I learned to catch myself. It doesn’t work every time but my mentality is a lot healthier than it was. Except one other thing I have yet to explain.
Anxiety. I feel like everyone has experienced anxiety at some point: that tight chested fear that consumes your entire body. Whatever the reason is that causes it, you know that it’s not a good feeling. Can you imagine feeling that way about everything? Some of you can because you deal with anxiety too and some of you may not be able to grasp this fully. Think of it like one of those vortex bridges you walk through at carnivals, where you walk through this tube and the bridge is straight but everything around you is spinning and you feel like you’re going to fall, vomit, or just completely lose control trying to walk through. It’s constantly turning and some of the time you can keep track of its pace and take a few deep breaths and walk normally. Imagine now that you’re stuck in this sort of state in your mind. Now, imagine that those walls start spinning faster. You feel your feet walking in odd patterns and you begin to feel dizzy and uncertain. Now you’re nauseated and feel like you’ll never make it to the door just on the other side of the bridge. Your chest is tight with fear and you’re going to throw up because of all this damn spinning. Now, imagine that you feel that way every time you have to engage in a conversation. Imagine feeling this way every time you stand in front of the mirror with the outfit you chose for the day and you keep thinking to yourself am I going to make it through that door? Imagine feeling this way walking simply walking down the street or driving in your car.
On top of the spiraling let’s go even more in depth. Now your mind brings up every interaction you’ve ever had. Every embarrassing moment. Everything you said (or didn’t say) to that one person or even just thought about saying. Let’s analyze it. Pick every little detail apart until you find a way to incriminate yourself. Until you are absolutely certain you are guilty of something. Maybe just making yourself look stupid even though you didn’t. Perhaps you said everything right but your mind won’t settle for that. You must have done something dumb. This voice in your head telling you you’re wrong, you’re always wrong; it gets louder and louder until it’s screaming so loud you can’t hear your conscience speak. You even worry about things you haven’t done. You worry about things you might do, things you’d never do, or things that wouldn’t be wrong to do. What if you accidentally wore your shirt inside out and someone noticed even though you checked four different times to make sure you didn’t (I know, dumb right?). What if’s, so many what if’s. Let’s just mush all of this together on a constant daily basis.
Now for the real fun part. Not only does every scenario make you anxious and you keep picking at each seem but now you can’t breathe. Remember how I said earlier if you could take a few breaths you could find some stability? Well, now you can’t inhale except short shallow breaths, and your chest continues to get tighter and your head becomes light, everything begins to spin faster and faster, and you can hardly stand. You just start crying, uncontrollably. You’re trying to fight this feeling. Just trying to take a breath of air but you can’t. And all you can think about is how stupid you are and how you can’t even grasp having to deal with anything. How whatever it is, you’re the problem. It’s all your fault. It’s ALL YOUR FAULT.
This goes on for hours. Sometimes, more subtly, it can happen for days. I’ve had panic attacks since a very young age. I never knew what they were though. My mother never confronted it. No one ever confronted it. I thought I was insane. I thought I was losing my mind because I couldn’t handle life. I couldn’t just go make friends. I couldn’t just go play sports. I couldn’t just be normal.
Anxiety is another one of those things you can’t get rid of. Even when I do yoga, or paint, or go to therapy, it all still happens. I had to learn to confront my anxiety and understand when it’s happening. I’ve even learned how to stop a few attacks but I can’t stop them all. The voice inside my head that’s constantly telling me I’ve done something wrong. That doesn’t go away. It has taken me a long time to come to understand that that voice is a liar.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Go get help.” “There’s medicine for that, you know.” I have gotten help. I’ve gone to therapists, each one either asked me redundant questions or wanted to pump me full of pills. I’ve taken pills, anxiety medicine, pills to help me sleep, anti-depressants but each one made me feel less of myself. I became completely numb. For a person of very deep feeling, this was a nightmare. It was worse than dealing with the depression and anxiety.
You may be thinking, “You seem so outgoing. You have such a positive attitude. How can you have mental issues?” As I mentioned before, I learned to adapt. I am still this scared little girl on the inside but I knew I had to adapt or I wouldn’t survive. I watched how people reacted to things, I learned the way people function in society, and I learned to mimic some of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much myself but when I have to speak to people when I don’t want to, when I am required to smile when I am absolutely not happy, those are mimics. I think all of us use some of these to get through the day, especially when we work. As I’ve come to understand my depression and anxiety, I’ve also been able to overcome some of it. Talking to strangers isn’t as agonizing as it used to be but some days it’s still a stab to the chest. It never just goes away but it does get a little easier.
When I stopped taking medication, I started finding ways to find a balance within myself. I continued painting. This by far helped the most. I stayed away from toxic people and unhealthy environments. I started listening to myself and trusting my gut. It’s really hard to do. I am still learning to do it. Every day is still difficult, and some days are harder than others but at least I am me. I am not masked by a foreign substance. I found learning to function for myself was the best decision for me. I know others can’t do this and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is purely a personal decision. It is a decision that defines me as a creator. I don’t simply paint because I like to paint. Don’t get me wrong, I love painting. Why I really paint is because I have to. I need to.
Photography by A. Ellison Gregg IV – aegivphoto.com