It’s fall, the leaves are now on the ground and although it feels like I haven’t done much in the past months, I do have some new work to show you. Fall is an exhausting time for me, so I find it hard to get motivated to create when I am just so darn tired all the time. We did have some early snow (in September!) where I live and while I hoped we would get more typical fall weather for a while, I am ready for the white stuff again. Once the mould is buried life gets a lot better for me. One of my symptoms of overactive mast cells is an unexplained uptick in anxiety. I hate those moments when I feel it rising up through my body and I have no reasonable explanation for why its happening. There is no discernible trigger, just a sudden feeling of things not being right, followed by a wave that colours the world with dark shadows, sounds that no longer seem familiar and somehow tinged with a sinister edge. Thankfully those moments do not linger for more than a day and I know how to get back on track. They are a reminder to me that I always need to be diligent in managing my chronic illness. You can’t take a break, as much as you’d like to sometimes. I think it’s the same with creating. It’s important to keep at it, even if it feels like whatever you’re doing is no good, because in the next moment it could transform into something amazing.
I recently joined a group on Facebook called The WELL (Women Empowering Learning + Leading) and each day is organized by a theme. Sunday’s theme is resilience. This reminded me of a drawing I made titled “Resilience”. Prior to five years ago, I would not have considered the word resilient as a descriptor. When I was at some of my lowest points during my getting sick and being sick phases* I did what I had to do to get through my day. This often meant nothing (i.e. rest), to reduce my reactions, and make me somewhat functional later in the day when those I love returned home. In talking with my psychologist at the time, she used the words resilient and strong to describe me. I didn’t think I was either of those things. I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails and not being terribly successful at that. After some thought I decided I was resilient and strong, and those words helped me when I had bad days, because I knew that I could mentally pull myself through. (Invisible) Chronic illness is many things, and one of those is a teacher. You learn things about yourself that you never realized (sometimes with some help), you learn what is important to you, and you learn that there are silver linings to be found in upending life as you knew it.
My abstract art comes from a very personal place, which means I expose my vulnerability to the viewer. For me this is not an easy thing to do. I did not set out with the idea that I would create based on personal experiences, but it became the most natural way for me to make art. Some artists look to the outside world and others look within.
My new series is about anxiety. Something that is, and has always been, a part of my life to varying degrees of severity. When I am having a day consumed by anxiety, you would think that would be the perfect time to work. In fact, I find it hard to work on those days because my brain is taken over by the trigger of the moment. What I am starting to do instead on those days is to write. I find it helps and later I can go back and use pieces of what I have written to direct a particular piece of work. Below is something I wrote last fall, when my anxiety really ramped up before my graduating solo show:
“I’ve been avoiding myself lately. For a while I was dedicated to meditation but then I just stopped. The thought of being alone in my head was too much. It was too hard to turn off my brain, to get it to BE QUIET. I didn’t want to listen to it any more, I didn’t want to think any more. Avoidance. A temporary reprieve that does nothing to really quell the strong undercurrents of the mind. And yet I do it all the time.”*
In writing I find I take away some of the power of the anxiety. I hope that in talking about it and in drawing about it, that these things will also lessen its power. And so I put it all out there again, and not without some anxiety (it’s a vicious cycle). One of the most helpful things to me when I was first dealing with chronic illness was finding a blogger that was living a similar experience. You can feel very alone when you are caught up in whatever is impacting your life. In polite society we do not talk about these things, which makes you think when you hear people talking about their weekends, vacations, work, etc. that you are the only person having a difficult time. My hope is always that my art will connect with someone and that they will feel less alone.
I recently posted a couple of works in this new series and as time goes on I will show more. The two works today are still in progress. Not sure yet how I will finish them but I will be sure to show you when I do.
In the meantime, find that thing that gives your mind peace and keep doing it. Even when your brain fights you, just keep doing it.
“… accomplishment shouldn’t be the end of the road, just the starting point for the next leap forward.” Harvey Mackay
My solo graduating show is now up at the Extension Gallery in Enterprise Square until October 18th. I am grateful to those who took time out of their weekend September 30th to come to the opening reception and share their impressions with me. A few people asked what I would do next, now that I am finishing my certificate in visual arts. I plan to make more art! I have several different directions I am interested in exploring, and lots more learning to do. I can’t take typical art classes (chemicals, dust, etc.) but I will find a way to continue adding to my art education as I go. I also plan to become an expert art packer. All exits look the same will be at the Artpoint Gallery in Calgary in February 2018, and I plan to apply to other public or artist-run galleries. Below is a selection of photos from the exhibition.
All in all, I am excited for what lies ahead and I welcome my next leap forward.
quotes: BrainyQuote http://bit.ly/2xa7aLv and http://bit.ly/2xOJ9XD
It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet and what is sand.
When faced with challenges in life, be it health or otherwise, if you are lucky you have an anchor. That person in your life who holds fast, keeps you grounded and steady in spite of the storm that whirls around you.
Living with chronic illness can be especially taxing. In the getting sick phase* you are just plain unwell. Every day, for months or even years. If it’s not an easily identifiable illness, searching for answers can seem like a maze with endless dead ends, and no hope of ever re-establishing some kind of normal. When you get through the phases of being sick and grief and acceptance to the living well phase*, your life probably won’t be like the one you had before. Some kind of modifications will have to occur. Through all of this you are dealing with losses. While some of them may seem small, when piled one on top of the other, they can be soul crushing. Those closest to you bear the brunt of the sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration and hopelessness you feel.
I am lucky. I have an anchor, someone who knows who I was and who I am, and is ok with the difference. Someone who believes, in spite of not having an official label, that this illness is real, because they live it with me. Who is there to support me when I need it and is happy for me when I do not. Someone who encourages me to create the new life I am building. Who is willing to walk this path with me, even though it’s not what we envisioned. You’re the rock under my feet, in what for a long time seemed like a sea of sand.
*phases described in You Don’t Look Sick! Living Well with Invisible Chronic Illness, Second Edition, by Joy H. Selak and Steven S. Overman, MD, Demos Health, 2013
I completed my final portfolio review at the end of February. The panel who reviewed my work said it was ready to show. I’m so glad we agree 🙂 It was a great feeling of accomplishment to see the works as a cohesive whole. Watch my site and Facebook page in the coming months for more information. Here is a preview of a piece that will be in the show:
I read an article a while ago describing an art exhibition. The curator chose artists who looked within for their inspiration and those who looked to the outside world. While I never thought about it before, I realized I look within for my subjects in art.
Many of the subjects in my art are dark – I think about illnesses like dementia or chronic illness, loss, depression, anxiety, self-doubt… These are all part of life. While we tend not to want to dwell on illnesses or darker emotions, they are there. I feel a sense of relief when I read something or see a piece of art by someone who experienced these things because I think I am not alone. I am not the only one. Through art we can connect in many ways.
Featured piece: Hollow, 2012
I created Hollow as part of a series on dementia from the perspective of the caregiver. In my mind it can mean many things. The sense of hollowness experienced by the person watching their loved one struggle with dementia. The physical person remaining while the elements inside them connecting them to the outside world are slipping away.
Not everything in life is sunshine and rainbows and I think art should reflect that as well.
Some of you know I am preparing for a solo final show for my visual arts certificate. A part of my formal plan involves exploring materials that I may be able to use in spite of my severe sensitivities. Unfortunately, my first attempt did not go so well.
I thought I might be able to create something using fabric and thread, wrapping the fabric with the thread. I chose cotton fabric, which is pretty much all I wear these days so I know I tolerate it, and bought some thread. Two tries later I knew it was a big fail – my face was bright red and my chest was tight. Likely the dye on the thread was the problem. (It’s so fine, I thought, there can’t be enough to cause a reaction. But I guess running it through your fingers for 20 minutes overrides the fine-ness.) I can consider sourcing out a different type of thread, but I did want some colour on it, so we’ll see if I get anywhere with it. I wasn’t sold on how my half finished sculpture was progressing, and I may or may not pursue it.
To console myself, I purchased two new art apps to try and I have been having fun with that. These two drawings were created using ArtRage.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.” Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
When I say I have a chronic illness, it’s not because I am being purposefully vague, but because an official overarching diagnosis for my health problems eludes me. Doctors have not pulled everything under one umbrella. The umbrella I think I fit under is the spectrum of Mast Cell Disorders – as a relatively new area of research/focus, not much is known about mast cells so one day I may have an answer. I can say that my chronic illness affects what I eat, what I wear, what I do and where I go. Having severe food intolerances, severe chemical sensitivities and severe environmental sensitivities makes navigating the world difficult at times. It has taken me the three years I have lived with this to determine how to manage it, and I am still learning.
In the first year of my illness, I tried very hard to hang on to my life. It wasn’t until the year had passed and I was no better, in fact I was worse, that I realized things may never go back to the way they were. So what then? I did what I always do and started to research. This time my focus was chronic illness. I found a book at my local library: “You Don’t Look Sick” by Joy Selak and Steven Overman, which gave me insight into living with invisible chronic illness, and I realized there were a lot of things I needed to deal with and/or grieve. Because of my severe sensitivities to chemicals and dust of any and all kinds, I had not drawn or done anything art-related in a very long time. At coffee one day my artist friend Kim suggested I look at apps. She had just purchased one and was trying it out for fun. Intrigued I went home and started checking them out. I found a drawing app and began to draw. It was such a great feeling to access that creative part of me again. I also started seeing a psychologist who suggested I try using different outlets to release the emotions engendered by my illness and the changes in my life . I decided to draw, using the apps I had found. The drawings I made were more about the idea and less about the execution. A simple stick figure to highlight what was going on in my head. Later I would start to turn some of the ideas into abstract drawings but in the moment, it was just about getting down on paper (digital paper) my anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, all of it.
I read stories all the time about artists who say that art helped them overcome or come to terms with obstacles, issues, illness. When we can’t or don’t want to speak about what is going on inside of us, it is a way to put it out there and help all those emotions move on. The more we fight them, the more stress it causes our body. I no longer believe in ignoring and pushing down feelings. You think you it allows you to get through your day, but all it does is cause things to fester, and it will either build until it explodes or erode your health. My body has enough stress dealing with my ongoing allergies, severe sensitivities to a seemingly endless number of things, and food intolerances, it does not need a bunch of negative emotions jumping up and down in there too. (It’s a process though. Do I still do it? Yes, but much less often than I used to. I’m working on letting things go… and now I have the song from Frozen in my head!)
I encourage you just to try something creative: singing, writing, crafting, drawing, painting, knitting, quilting, sculpting, colouring, gardening, whatever! Whether you use it to help release emotions, de-stress or just as a fun pastime, your body will thank you.