I can, without a doubt, say that I have been in a multi-year art slump.
I would like to blame this slump on things that are out of my control but even when there were legitimate conflicts, I always had a choice and I rarely chose my art.
I have been constantly choosing not to create. I have not pushed myself to bring ideas together in concrete ways. I have certainly not invested the creative time or energy required of the artistic process.
I have been a wader in the waters of creativity, at best.
For the first time in a long time my creative waves are becoming larger and more frequent and I find myself enjoying the feeling of this energy as it washes over me. I am excited for what comes next.
So, the question is, how did I get here? What changed?
Honestly, I did. I changed. (At least, I’m changing…)
I looked for outside solutions to my problem for a long time. I bought new supplies. I looked for inspiration online. I pinned helpful tutorials and interesting techniques into the wee hours of the morning. I read art magazines. I tried (and sometimes failed) to do various art challenges. I went on walks. I collected materials to reuse. I took photos.
None of it really helped.
I have felt disillusioned for a long time. I have blamed my situations, however realistic their effect, and prioritized other tasks rather than really sit and address the root of the problem. I was afraid to ask myself tough questions because deep down I knew the answer.
I have been depressed.
I hate to admit something like this. Despite all the efforts of modern media to try to dispel the stigma of mental illness – and my own acceptance and support of others who suffer from it – I still have preconceived notions based on personal associations that make me feel ashamed and weaker than I want to be if I have to admit that I am hurting… that I need help.
My father died in November. He suffered from bi-polar manic depression and narcissistic personality disorder. He used his illness as an excuse to adopt whatever behavior he wanted to and threw a fit when things did not go his way. He created his own narrative and anyone that did not fit into this was “written out” – including myself. He was an abusive person. But, he was still by dad.
I did not communicate with my father for the last 2 1/2 years of his life. I did not get to say goodbye. I loved him, but he was no longer a part of my life. As he pushed me away, so too did I push him. We were a little toxic when together.
I associate any personal admission of mental illness as an admission that I am somehow like the worst parts of my dad. My dad was not a bad guy. He was, on the surface, a charismatic and charming codger of an “old fart” that loved telling a good story and drinking a beer. He was someone that liked to be liked.
I feel like him in so many ways sometimes – on good days I’m thankful for getting some of his creative and analytical sensibilities, his gift of gab, and his ability to laugh at himself. On bad days I see a version of myself that I must actively suppress all the time to be the person I want to be.
My dad was a talker and not a doer, at least after my teenage years when his illness reached its high point. I was always so frustrated with him for this. His mom, my grandmother, would have said he “talked wonders and shit cucumbers”. Although I have tried to avoid making excuses for not taking action, I realize that I have done exactly this with my art and my health for many years.
It has been far too easy to ignore the signs of depression. In comparison to what my father endured, my symptoms are different and less volatile.
When your life is by all accounts damn near perfect it is easy to excuse the behaviors associated with depression as something other than what they are. After all, life is good – what is there to be depressed about? But I have begun to be more open and honest with myself of late and I have started to realize that depression looks different for me than it did for my father and there are many hidden signs of depression that extend beyond feeling sad. My depression is very much tied to anxiety and they create a negative feedback loop that continues to charge itself the longer it is allowed to go on.
Truthfully, I just lost interest in making art for a long time. On occasion when I did have an idea or desire to make something I found easy excuses for not doing it – too tired, too little time, lack of the right supplies. But when these factors were eliminated I still did not do it. Why? Because I no longer felt like doing it.
I frequently experienced a great deal of guilt and shame because of this. I told myself that I was expected to make art and so I tried to make a good show of it but something was missing for me.
The exception was when I made something for someone I cared about. In those moments of creation I touched base with the part of me that I longed for but felt such distance from at other times. It was reassuring to know that I still had this spark in me but I had no idea how to kindle it. If I tried to force this feeling, I quickly found that I snuffed it out and was back at square one.
I recently was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It is uncertain if this diagnosis is accurate or simply a placeholder while we work to get to the root of what I have been dealing with. Working to alleviate my health issues has caused me to consider the relationship between Fibromyalgia symptoms and Depression. I am adopting new behaviors that will hopefully lead to a more positive outcome and am taking steps toward a healthier life.
In admitting to myself that I have a problem – in seeking help – I am changing. I am taking control of my situation and slowly working towards real solutions.
Not a lot has changed physically for me, but mentally I feel a shift in the tide. I am coming up with new ideas. I feel excited about them. I am making time for making.
Currently, we are all being asked to practice social distancing to help contain the spread of COVID-19. This will save lives. It will not be easy but it is necessary for the betterment of humanity. We are all in this together.
During this time I will make more time to make art and pursue creative projects, even with my daughter home. I will start to craft the life I truly want for myself, even if the steps are small and hesitant. I will try to make fewer excuses while valuing my personal needs. I will practice self-care as much as possible.
If you are struggling with mental illness and would like to learn more about options and treatments, please check out the variety of free information and services available about how to live well with mental illness.
Without darkness, there can be no light. There is always hope.