So.... I'm about to get candid. I mean, I always try to be honest and forthright and to the point, but mental illness, in any incarnation, is a delicate subject that often requires tact I've been told I sometimes lack, especially as regards my own personal experience. This post is about a journey. A process that sometimes requires frank honesty and self-awareness, and it's an uncomfortable journey at the best of times, but always... always... a necessary one.
When I was a child, a toddler specifically, my mother made me a glorious quilted blanket, which was carried with the fierce determination of a soldier and his weapon. I swaddled myself in it's folds like a cloak full of magic meant to guard me from the darkness and shine light at the pain it promised And in dark moments, I found myself beginning to grab corners of the blanket and rubbing it between my fingers for comfort. I was always a moderately anti-social youth, and uncomfortable moments had me reaching for the corner of my blanket, further and further destroyed by the friction of my fingers. After six months, there was a hole in the blanket the size of my head, which should have held keen insight into a developing problem that was otherwise ignored by myself and loved ones who, despite their concern and best efforts to encourage my comfort in all aspects of life, were otherwise as much a victim to my anxiety as I was myself. Ignorance is not always bliss, right?
And even now, well into adulthood, and full of life experiences, hardships and successes, I still find myself drawn to the soft and supple invitation of a beautiful fabric waiting for it's own worried hole. A stressful day, a moment amidst strangers, and the impending sensation of failing to move forward in my life has all, always, had me reaching for my shirt tail or skirt hem, which I'd absentmindly grip between my fingers. The fabric is sometimes perfect. Thick cotton is a disappointing experiment in further frustration, but I'd find one sweet spot on my wardrobe that would allow me to exercise my stress and anxiety in a way that was soothing and mind-numbing.
It wasn't until this year that I was officially diagnosed with severe anxiety, and medicated in a well-meaning appropriate way. Clonozapam, Valium, Paxil. These were all experiments in controlling my condition. Groceries stores break me out in hives. Parties and gatherings with an excessive expanse of strangers would have me wallowing with my phone in a quiet corner.... even if that corner meant an induction to the exclusive (and these days, dwindling) "smokers circle" outside. Their faces, hidden in their own fog, was also, in a way, a sacred solitude. I could breathe and, even if breathing second-hand smoke, it was a release of anxiety that inevitably builds in my body, turns my mind in every backwards, negative direction.
I am a wreck at public speaking that isn't heavily practiced and, I admit, sometimes heavily medicated. Beads of sweat begin to puddle on my forehead, fall slowly down my nose in a trail of shameful recognition of my own discomfort. And even family, trusted friends, can (at times) fill me with a sensory overload that my body has difficulty processing. These are real struggles. Difficult ones. Often downplayed by society, as a whole, who push to "get out there" and "meet new people".
And the internet has been a wonderful avenue for this, through which I express myself in meaningful ways, while still protecting my own psyche from an ever-growing cacophony of sounds, sights, and interactions that (so my brain and body tells me) is so far out of my control they are registered as a down-right dangerous sabotage to my well-being. The internet and social media has allowed me to meet people my condition would otherwise "shelter" me from, for lack of a better analogy. And my art, my love of the creative process, and my desire to share that process with others, is the conduit through which I ventured into social media at all.
Creativity has been my adult "blanket". But in a much healthier way, I hope. I'm no psychiatrist. I have no background in counseling. I admit that I'm probably as ignorant of my own condition (save for my exact experience of it) as anyone. But I do know this.... creativity has allowed me to express my anxiety, my fears, my apprehensions and self-doubt, in a package of love, solidarity and sharing. And I've found, over the last two years, that embedding myself in this community... this wonderful, amazing, accepting community, has allowed me to, in my own time and my own way, on my terms, begin to work myself into the world again in very real and tangible ways, which extend far beyond the social media platforms from which this was born.
I don't pretend this is the answer, or the only answer, at any rate. Because I don't know. It's a process. It's a road that has, so far, been less traveled and has, so far, proven itself beneficial to me and the handle on my health I've been striving to gain. Being creative, and sharing that creativity with others, has allowed me a beautiful opportunity to bare myself in ways I would otherwise pretend weren't worth sharing. When the moments are dark, I can make something, anything and, despite it's possible lack of fluidity or beauty or significance in the world, as a whole, it's significance to me is astounding and profound. And in the quiet moments I adore so much, I can understand and fully appreciate the beautiful peace creativity has allowed me over the years, even as a child sketching Garfield on my notebooks.
I wont even pretend I know what message I'm trying to spread here, if any message at all beyond... I understand. To those who feel the same darkness and perhaps have succumbed to it from time to time. I understand, if only by my own experience of it. And I hope you find your own "blanket" to shelter you through storm until you are no longer afraid to dance in the rain.
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