Dark and light; they are frequently used metaphors. It’s the bad versus the good, the hidden and the exposed, pain and relief, sadness and joy. The list goes on. God separated dark from light. These two circumstances are clearly defined as opposites, yet one cannot be understood without knowing the other. My own darkness came in the form of restless anxiety. The light finally returned to me through painting and led me to a new series of work and some lingering questions. Without our challenges, would our rewards be as great? Without darkness, would there be light?
Watch any musician’s documentary, and you’ll find an expressive person who has tapped into some deeply personal emotions, releasing them through his or her art. But, more often than not, the hardest part for that artist was not the actual work. The hard part was shining the light on what feels more comfortable kept in the dark. It’s the most personal feelings and the subsequent art that is so humbly created released for all to see and judge as they will. And, in just about any artistic profession, you’ll have to get over that discomfort or find a different job. What is art if not expressing true emotion? The fact is, an immensely talented person will remain unknown and unappreciated until he or she comes to terms with vulnerability. Until we are bold enough to first accept the truth and then be totally real by exposing the full spectrum of ourselves, including the shadowy struggles or insecurities, the art will lack authenticity, quality and value. Therefore, it is crucial that I accept and admit my own darkness in order to draw the light.
My new series, Drawing the Light, is established on a revealing foundation. The art stems from from the darkness I experienced. As part of the creative process, and in order to let my work have purpose and strength, I am standing under a spotlight. It’s not to glamorize anxiety (celebrity style) nor is it attention seeking. This revelation is to describe my artwork, but it also addresses the many conversations I’ve had with women who find themselves in similar shoes, who also feel tirelessly challenged to do it all in today’s world. So, I determined, it’s time to stop pretending everything is peachy when in reality, no one is actually doing it all, even if they seem like they are on Instagram.
I delivered my third baby, Josephine, on August 17th 2018. It was a beautiful experience that I wrote about on my last blog entry. Then, while on “maternity leave”, I allowed a seed of anxiety to plant itself. I knew I needed time to recuperate, but I wanted to get back in the studio ASAP. In my head, I was going to pick up right where I left off. After all, it was just painting. I also knew from experience that I don’t do well when I am not painting regularly. If you’re a runner/athlete, maybe that’s a feeling you can relate to. I had determined that sometime in October would be the end of “maternity leave”. Well, that proved to be quite difficult. The whole ‘three children and a job on little to no sleep’ routine wasn’t working in my favor. (hmmm…I wonder why?!) But, I was determined, no less, and so I was back in the studio part time according to my self-assigned deadline.
The thing is, maternity leave does not actually exist for the self employed. It’s a period of time when you are intended to be focused on the baby and your recovery, but it’s not a clean break from the job. At the same time, you can’t make a human and pretend you didn’t….especially on your third human. I tried. You can’t. So as it turns out, no matter how determined, I just could not do it all, and that’s what my darkness boiled down to.
In hindsight, but without going into too much detail, I let anxiety grab a hold of me. By the end of November, I felt paralyzed. Then there was so much to be done with Christmas around the corner and a ton of painting to catch up on so things just continued to get worse. When the baby finally started sleeping through the night, I stopped. In addition, I felt a depressing awareness that my favorite time of year was feeling like the materialized chaotic race that defeats the purpose of Christmas. I couldn’t stand that I allowed myself to get there, but I was stuck. It was a cycle of swirling anxiety, and I could not get my hands on the light switch. I could not see in the dark.
All I needed to do was paint. Something like this happens almost every time I go without painting for too long. Art is the best form of therapy I have found. Even though I knew what I needed to do to get out of it, the darkness misconstrued self-care into selfishness. It seemed that there were just too many people counting on me. My needs were irrelevant. And, then, it was Christmas time; the season of love that gets disguised as mass hysteria focused on so many of the wrong things. The worst time ever to be dealing with a bout of postpartum anxiety. What I needed was more time….time to paint and time to be with my family and close friends. But, time is the one thing I did not have……what with all the Christmas events and parties and school programs and shopping. (Hello? Priorities?!?!)
I can say all this now because I have spent two weeks in my studio painting every single day for hours at a time. I feel like a new person. Thankfully, the light within me is relit. Honestly, I didn’t know how dark it had gotten in there until I used painting to turn on the switch.
Now I’m feeding off of those challenges. The very thing that drug me out of the darkness is teaching me about why it got dark in the first place. I was/am a basic human trying to be super-human; unrealistically trying to do all the things and be all the people and fill all the needs, except my own.
I do feel that women can play two major rolls, like provider and mother, but there is a lot in between that has to go, and so much of the stress we find ourselves under is a result of trying to fulfill unnecessary/impossible standards chased by the fear of judgement.
By the end of December, feeling like I wasn’t going to pull off Christmas as we know it, my sister said to me “2019 is the year of self-care.” She is capable of gathering the perfect handful of words like that, right when I need them. It was all she had to say to remind me that other people are struggling, too. So, here I sit, using my scarce time to write this post because we all need to hear this. We need to cut loose from impossible standards.
What came of me trying to do it all? Nothing. I was frozen with anxiety. I lost the ability to nurse my baby. I could not even finish Christmas shopping.... not my peak year of gift giving. I missed the whole month. My favorite month. I didn’t want to leave the house to celebrate our 9th anniversary or my (actual) 34th birthday.
Past generations of women have had their struggles, but here we are creating our own struggle. Much of my female generation is doing a hell-of-a-lot within a short period of 24 hours which is setting the bar just out of reach, and that’s not something we need to be proud of. We gotta take a breath! We need to get better at making confident choices on what’s working and what’s not. Then, we need to pat ourselves on the back, or for that matter, let someone else pat your back. Get a freakin’ massage because we deserve it even when we can’t be everyone and everything all day, everyday. There is no reasonable reason to feel guilty or judged when we need to say “no” to parent involvement at school or sitting on a committee or attending every Saturday morning birthday party and Wednesday night church meeting. And, we do not need to have any particular excuse other than the fact that we should not have to push ourselves all the way to the limit in order to be adequate. Maybe, like me, you don’t even recognize that all of our choices are just that, a series of choices...decisions.
So, is it necessary to go through dark in order to know light? My own darkness forced me to find the light, but I’m not willing to believe that we have to fall into a dark pit in order to know where the edge is.
Do you ever worry that you’re missing the glorious light of your life for fear of the darkness, for fear that you won’t be able to do it all and be it all? Do you think, maybe, if you safely tread in the middle grey area of the spectrum, where you know you can still play all the rolls, everything will work out better? Do you wonder how you’ll feel about all this towards the end of your life? Will you be glad you chose to do what you felt you were suppose to be doing versus what you wanted to be doing? Or will you resentfully wish you had said “to hell with it” to all that shit that brought you nothing but stress while keeping you from real contentment ...real light?
We do not have to push ourselves over the limit in order to find the happiness that we have a right to pursue. Happiness is wherever/however you find light(...within healthy and moral reason). I write this to caution you on where the darkness lies. It lies on the other side of overwhelming yourself.
I knew going in, a third child would not be easy, but I also knew it was going to be worth it, and I simply could no longer ignore God’s suggestion that He still had another someone for our family. I had to choose; remain in the safe grey spectrum of light where I could handle it all, or take a leap of faith and listen to His voice in my heart. Yes, my choice led me to a period of darkness, but the light, such light! And, now I know the darkness was my own doing, but God alone brought me the light.
Little story; Two years ago exactly I had a surprise pregnancy that caught me totally off guard and had me freaking out with, you guessed it, anxiety. I miscarried very early and felt a surprising relief. I took my response as a sign from God that our family was complete, and we were done having babies. A few months later, with my husband’s surgery approaching to seal the deal, I fell into a pit of depression, sobbing for a week, all day, all night. My heart felt broken like the time I miscarried years before when we were trying to have a second baby. I could not explain it, or understand it. I thought I knew what I wanted, what we wanted, but God was speaking to my heart about different plans. I was mourning the loss of something He intended for us. The night before the surgery we canceled it. About 16 months later, Josephine was born, and I can’t imagine how our family could have been complete without her. This little tale was worth including as yet another example of those heartfelt tugs leading me down His path.
I paint from that heart felt intuition. My recent art is very different than what I was creating before. I establish layer after layer of intuitive markings that flow out of my hand like a faucet. I just draw on and on, fulfilling it all. When I start a painting, I am doing it all; anything and everything my heart wants to release onto the canvas. It’s unorganized and overstimulating like the tangle I let myself get into this past fall. Then I come back to the painting honing it into an organized composition. I make choices by eliminating what is not working and further developing what is. It’s proof that I can handle all the energy in my life right now. It’s proof that faith leads to the light. Through painting, I saw that darkness is to light, as fear is to faith; competing opposites.
I believe that my artistic gift came with an objective that’s bigger than filling your walls with art. I have heart felt faith that these children of mine and my painting and my writing are all components of a great purpose. On the tip my tongue, there is an alternative way to connect, support and encourage the women of our generation and anyone else who can relate. I continue to write and share, even though every time I post to my blog, I get nauseated with the paranoia of what people will think of me. Even though it feels like standing under a spot light buck naked, I have to write, and put it out there in order to keep working towards this illusive purpose.
Light is not tangible; it cannot be outlined making it hard to know exactly what it is that we are reaching for. Only in abstract art can you draw the light. I used my art to lasso the lightness pulling it closer and closer until I could reach out and feel it. In recognizing the dark, the light became something I could grasp and tug; something I could draw.