The years of stress I’ve been dealing with (major life change, relocation, closing a business, finishing a degree) laid down so many layers of crap and a deep pit of depression that it’s taking me a while to climb out of the hole I dug myself into. On a day to day level my life now is awesome – I love where I live, the people around me, the new experiences I’m enjoying and the possibilities that are opening up – but I can still get caught out with the patterns of my past holding me back.
Typically, these will be self-sabotage (I can be a master procrastinator when I want to be!), giving up (it’s not going to work anyway so why bother) and allowing old negative input from others to cast self-doubt on my plans and dreams (maybe they were right, they had a good point etc). These can sometimes be fleeting and easy to brush away or they may last for a long time and lead me into a low energy place that feels a world away from where I want to be.
On top of that I have Jeff, my inner voice, who switches from spandex-wearing pom pom-waving cheerleader to grey flannel and cardigan clad voice of doom and gloom and back again in an instant. For many years Jeff has been my voice of ‘reason’, conditioned by the influences of my past and a rather vocal killer of my creativity. I would regularly get messages such as ‘what makes you think you can do this’, ‘there’s no money to be made in art, especially for someone with little formal training’, ‘how can you even think about making art when you have all these bills to pay – you need a ‘real’ job’.
I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about!
The longer I held my art at arms length, the easier it became to believe in the messages I was getting from Jeff and this cemented the belief that I wasn’t cut out to be an artist, I didn’t have what it takes and I’d best serve everyone by focussing on ‘real’ work and forgetting these ridiculous dreams of being a professional artist.
In doing so though I was neglecting such an intrinsic part of me that I was causing myself to slip further into the depths of depression, anxiety and disconnect. I believed that by keeping that part of me at arms length I was actually protecting myself from further hurt and upset. That it was the right thing to do that would be for the ‘greater good’ of myself and those around me.
Now I realise what I was actually doing was closing off a very valid and powerful form of self expression that would offer me a form of therapy. Painting offers me an escape – for those moments I’m mixing and applying paint it’s as though time stands still and nothing else in the world matters. If I could have understood that then and forced myself to have a go, even for just a few minutes, it would have offered respite from the stresses and anxieties that were having such an effect on my wellbeing.
Looking back at it now, I suspect much of this was self preservation – why put myself in a position that might be frustrating/embarrassing/painful when I can simply avoid it altogether and keep the peace all round. But if Jeff was saying these things to protect me, I was taking it as confirmation of my lack of artistic ability and ended up pushing my creativity further and further away, closing down my willingness to try and sabotaging my own efforts.
What I hadn’t accounted for in the years leading up to these major life events was the effect stress has on our dreams. It creeps up slowly, undetectable at first but increasing in strength. We ignore it for a bit, but it keeps getting stronger and more forceful until we realise that we no longer enjoy things we used to, the simple stuff becomes hard work and every day is a battle for emotional survival rather than joyful living.
How on earth could I contemplate making art again when I was battling every day to hold it together and not break down in the queue at Sainsbury’s?
How could I muster the energy to live creatively when I was needing an afternoon nap most days just to get me through to bedtime?
These were the reasons I gave myself whenever the urge to do art called. I shut it down, pushed it away, told myself there was no room for it. It was an indulgence I couldn’t afford and had no energy for. Jeff confirmed this with messages such as ‘yes, right decision – don’t waste your time or energy’ and ‘take care of yourself first, you can paint some other time’.
Yet, despite all of this, my art still called me.
Gently at first, quietly – I’d buried it so deeply it took a little while to actually hear it – but getting increasingly stronger. It began as a fleeting regret, if I saw a painting I loved, that I wasn’t doing it anymore.
One day I went into an art supplies shop I was passing and was a little taken aback by the emotion it evoked in me – the smells of the materials took me straight back to the studio at art college!
When I finally felt ready to reacquaint myself with my art materials, and, having spent a bit of time simply getting them out and sitting in that space without actually doing anything, I made the mistake of trying to do something big. After all, I’d been prolifically making and selling art before my block so of course I could get stuck straight back into it, right? Cue more frustration, fear and negative self-talk! Flannel-clad Jeff was back with a vengeance!
I now realise one of the main problems in this was I was trying to do it alone. I’ve always been a very independent person, able to cope with what life throws at me, so I buckled up and got on with life as best I could. I chose to isolate myself creatively because I was afraid that what I was producing was crap and I didn’t want anyone else to see it. I felt ashamed that I’d lost my talent and didn’t know how to get it back.
I would have given anything to have an art support network around me as I have now. Someone to share ideas and fears with, figure things out with, ask for help from, get and give encouragement and motivation. But at that time I had nothing, and so I had to figure it out for myself. It was a challenge to say the least, and I’m still figuring out the ways which works best for me. But I’m doing it, I’m taking the action to get back on the path towards my artistic dreams and reclaim them as mine.
And sometimes, on days like today, I realise I’m having so much fun and am in such a great energy that I can actually feel another layer of the crap disappearing as I emerge blinking into the sunshine 😊
If you like what I do, please support me!
© Natalie Day 2018