This past April my mother died and I turned 40. It's a lot to learn to live with even under the best of circumstances. My mother had been fighting an uphill battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for the last decade before years of chemo finally gave her an incurable leukemia. We knew the end was coming but had seen her walk away from death's door so many times. And whether you are expecting it or not, you are never prepared for the stark reality of death, particularly the death of someone you love. And then there's what comes after death for those who are left behind in this cruel world. But that is a story I don't yet have the stomach to tell. As if losing the woman who gave birth to me wasn't enough tragedy for one day.
I never intended to take such a long blogging break. Since I started my artist blog back in 2005, I don't think I've ever taken more than a few weeks off. Blogging (and taking photos and dreaming up content, etc.) had become a natural part of my creative routine. It wasn't until I wasn't taking pictures of everything I made and posting them for the world to see that I realized how inseparably attached creating and blogging had become for me. When my camera broke, I literally had trouble creating! I guess, what's the point of making something if you can't share it with your peeps? It was an understandable connection that I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover about myself. And a little time away from the blog has helped me to rediscover that artistic center within myself, completely separate from blogging or teaching or sharing, that I desperately needed to get back in touch with.
But to be honest--and there may be no surprise here--I had lost my heart for the blog long before my camera broke or my mother died. The last 3 years have been without a doubt the most difficult years of my life. When we moved away from family and friends to this dark and hard steel mill of a town in Southern Colorado, we had a crazy dream of planting a church with our best friends. Church planting turned out to be a job that was far more difficult and would cost us far more than we could have ever imagined. In this tightly knit town where everyone knows everyone else and outsiders more often than not are kept outside, uncountable lonely days and nights piled up like walls around me. The struggles with our fledgling church and the struggle against my own weaknesses, not to mention my biological make-up, brought me to the depths of depression and despair that I had never known before, and I have never been a stranger to emotional pain.
I am not the same person who pulled into that Northside Pueblo neighborhood behind the biggest U-Haul you can rent, full of more than clothes and furniture but filled to the brim with hopes and dreams of a fresh start, of truly living my faith, of making a difference in this world, of the all possibilities for our future. It's no exaggeration to say that 3 years later, my dreams have all been shattered, I have been shattered and, though I am learning to hope again, most days I still have a very hard time believing God could or would want to use me or that I have anything left to offer this sad and broken world.
But I am hoping again--tentatively, still expecting the worst--but at least hoping. And I am creating again, after a many month break from my art. And I'm anxious to start blogging again because it has been such a wonderful experience, and I've met so many wonderful kindred souls through this blog. But I'm finding that I can't pick up where I left off. I wouldn't know how to find that place (or that person) if I wanted to. The hardest part about blogging during the darkness that pervaded my life these last few years has been keeping the negativity out of the blog. It came to feel like I couldn't be completely honest (although the focus of my blog has always been the art and not my personal life) without also being incredibly depressing. And it is impossible to encourage others to Play! and Create! when all you want to do is die so the pain inside you will end.
Certainly artists are typically no strangers to emotional highs and lows, but what I was experiencing was something completely different. And I had to come to terms with it before I could ask anyone else to. Strangely, 0ne of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that I'm not alone. Because I often feel so alone. It wasn't until I started this blog that I realized I was not alone as an artist. There were actually other people out there just like me (lots and lots!) coveting paper and fabric, obsessed with paint and color, creating and learning from each other--a whole universe of like-minded souls were as close as my fingertips (on the keyboard). It has been such a thrill getting to know some of you.
But just like I am not alone in my creative spirit, I'm not alone in my despair. I believed I was alone. Alone, to bear the burden of my pain. Alone, to figure out how to live again when everything I knew to be true and good in the world felt lost or shattered. Alone, to understand how I fit into this world that feels so hostile to me. It was remembering that I am not at all alone that gave me hope to start again, and maybe even carve out a new niche for myself where I might one day feel like I belong again.
I've always tried to be myself here, to be honest about my struggles and weaknesses so that anyone taking the time to visit would know they weren't reading about some perfectly crafted persona, as if I was somehow special and lived a charmed life that people in the real world couldn't identify with. But, mostly to keep the focus on the art, I haven't told you the whole truth about me. Because it's embarrassing and shameful and because I'd give anything in the world if it wasn't true.
The truth is that I am an artist and a homeschool mom and a Christian and that, beyond the ordinary human struggles we all deal with, I also wrestle daily with the demons of mental illness. My official diagnosis would be Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder which is just a clinical way of saying my brain has never worked the way it should, leaving me too often paralyzed with relentless anxiety and overwhelming depression. Although anxiety and depression have been my reliable companions since childhood, the unrelenting fear and absolute despair that inextricably bound my soul in chains for the past 3 years has finally broken me--I hope, ultimately, in a good way. And it has defined me for so long that I am having to relearn who I am and how to live and dream and hope again.
After a year of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and back on medication, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I still have a long way to go toward wholeness. But, again, I know I am not alone. Believe it or not, studies show that 1 in 4 Americans suffer from diagnosable mental illnesses. 1 in 4! That statistic both shocks and terrifies me because I would not wish on my worst enemy the pain I have had to endure.
When I started blogging 8 years ago, my hope was only to record and share my art with others who would "get it" and maybe give a little back to the online community of artists who had given so much to me. I've always believed that if I can do it, anyone can and have come back to the keyboard again and again to encourage others who think they aren't artistic to take that risk and discover the creative gifts I passionately believe we were all born with. When it was finally driven home to me that there were others out there struggling like I was to have a Life despite mental illness, I wanted to encourage them as well. Because I get it. And because I need to know I'm not alone.
My art and my children have gotten me out of bed over and over when I didn't think I had it in me to face another day of pain. Yet creating has given me a tangible reminder that, as screwed up as I am, I do still have something to contribute to the world. Even though I received my first official diagnosis, along with a lifetime prescription to Prozac, way back in 1997, I can count on one hand the number of people who I've had the courage to tell that I have OCD. It is one of the most shameful things I've ever had to admit. I mean, it is one thing to say "I get depressed sometimes" and another thing entirely to say "I still sing the alphabet song when I wash my hands to make sure I kill every single germ and hold my breath when I walk by strangers, because everyone knows the unknown is germier than the known, right?"
So I guess I'm coming out of the closet, so to speak. Not that this blog, let alone this world, is a safe place to do so, but because I can't forget that I'm not alone. And if I can encourage one person to tap into their innate creativity and give visual journaling or collage or whatever a try, then the 8 years of blogging will have been worth it. But if I can encourage one person drowning in their own fear or despair to see a reason to keep on going despite the pain, if only for today, then my own burden will be lifted just a little and, yes, all of the suffering will have been worth it in the end.
But don't worry, this isn't going to turn into some kind of self-help blog or mental illness sensitivity training. It's still just me and my art, trying to create a life I am proud of and that my family can be strengthened and refreshed by. Only, now I want to be a little more transparent about the nature of my personal struggles and how they relate to the creative process. It is a scary thing to expose your threadbare soul to the world, but frankly I don't have much to lose, and I'm choosing to see that as a good thing. I'm also choosing to believe that my suffering will not only bring depth to my character but to my art, and I'm excited (if I can say that) to see which way it will go. I'm excited to see which way I will go, because I'm a mystery to me. So, if you don't happen to mind having an admittedly irrational, definitely melodramatic, glass-half empty, socially awkward pessimist around for the ride, won't you join me? Maybe we'll both be surprised where we end up.
And thank you to all who have emailed or messaged me during my absence. Your concern for me and your kind words towards my blog have given me the courage to dip my toes back in the water again. So thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart!