I have been thinking a lot about this painting recently. First, I have been feeling like this lately due to several factors (pain, moods, etc.). Second, I have been thinking about it as I get back into doing some art therapy. It has brought back a lot of memories.
I painted this in 2013, what I commonly refer to as “my year of hell”. It’s when everything fell apart due to all my medical issues peaking at the same time. I had been having a lot of ear issues and could suddenly hear the sounds of my eyes moving in their sockets. I was extremely sensitive to sounds and pressure changes. I had been having terrible headaches. I was anxious and depressed. I was so frustrated! And when you combine all those physical symptoms with what I had to go through to survive, it was just all so much to deal with.
One night I was just beyond overwhelmed with everything going on. Something drew me to my art supplies and my camera. I took a few snapshots of myself in intensely frustrated poses, covering my ears like I so often had to, pressing my hands against my head really hard like I would when I got really angry. I printed a couple photos out and dug out some drawing paper. This was the first time I had really created any art of my own since graduating from college. I had been so busy planning and teaching art to children. And I surely hadn’t thought about creating any art lately during this turbulent time. I was instantly drawn to my bottle of India Ink. It was dark and black and moody. It seemed perfect for this. I sketched out the drawing and just painted on some India ink. I remember it being a fairly quick process. I didn’t stress out about details or mistakes like I had in the past. (Perhaps because I knew I had more important things to be stressed about.) I just used small amounts of water to wash on the various grey tones and a couple different brushes to make the sketchy black marks.
Once it was completed I felt such a sense of accomplishment. I had never done anything like this. I had painted self-portraits but only in oils and that was in college. And I had never NOT stressed about mistakes or details in my own work. This time I just went with the flow, just like I used to teach kids. I embraced what I created. I was finally practicing what I had preached. And I felt like the painting really did show how I was feeling. It looked raw.
I ended up making copies of this painting and putting it in the clear cover of my medical binder that I took with me to appointments. I would sometimes show doctors this (if they hadn’t seen it already) when they would ask me about certain symptoms and how they made me feel. I would start describing the symptoms and then finally show them this painting if I couldn’t quite articulate things. Then they would get it! I remember one of my ear specialists having quite a strong reaction to it. She loved it.
As I think back to that year, I realize that painting this was just one of many things I accomplished. I pushed and pushed through all the challenges. It was me who made endless calls to doctors and insurance companies and various agencies. It was me who figured out ways to get to all these places for tests and treatment. It was me who endured the exhausting travel. It was me who survived months of homelessness. It was me who figured out how to find a place to live. It was me who got into mental health treatment. It was me who did never-ending paperwork. I never gave up. But I was tired, exhausted, depressed, anxious, suffered through panic attacks, and was just generally completely overwhelmed. But I never gave up. And I couldn’t have survived without help along the way. Friends became like family and I even met new people through my newly diagnosed conditions. And I will never forget the kindness I was shown by so many people during that time. And God was surely with me. He was giving me strength, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. He already knew what was ahead for me. He was guiding my steps. And he still is.
Now I look at that painting and it’s a symbol of many achievements. I could pick up my supplies and create art, even during an extremely tough time. I could try something new. I could get beyond my perfectionist ways and learn to go with the flow, embracing any mistakes and messiness. I could convey how I was feeling through art. I could push through all the challenges that came my way. I could fight through all the symptoms and still survive. I could make countless calls and fill out never-ending paperwork and see that it achieved a purpose in the end. I could make a new beginning for myself. I could keep going! Even now when I feel like how I look in this painting, I know I can keep going!
Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. And when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.