There is a reason I tend to choose abstract painting as my main mode of expression: because I don’t have to articulate what I’m trying to say. Who cares, right? The point is for the viewer to feel something. Once I release my work into the world, I can’t reclaim the original sentiments. I know what I felt when creating it, but overtime the certainty of my motivation fades and now the colours rely on the eyes of others to attach value.
But, I’ve made the attempt to seek out language to accurately convey the odd thought process that can sometimes occurs when I put paint down.
Everything starts in the same spot: what feels like me noiselessly screaming. These hushed sounds come out as red, and then an onset of horrific body shaking, fall-to-my-knees tears trickle down as blue, turning purple when it meets my soundless cry on the canvas. The intersection is a brief moment of clarity, joy if you will, where I don’t feel like my skin is crawling and my mind isn’t distracted by things out of my control. In an instant, my forceful thoughts are abstracted, stretching out across a flat visible surface; it’s all proof that those floating indefinite emotions and unclear recollections are factual. I then add white, almost in an attempt to erase the truth because who would believe me? White. Not symbolic of a clear head or heart, more so a lack of veracity. I suddenly feel dishonest and want to cover-up the mess I’ve made. These brush strokes, it’s me feeling like am empty vessel traipsing the Earth in search of meaning. Then, a splash of orange because it makes me smile and why not add on a cool off green hue, because in that soothing colour my centre holds firm. It brings me back down, grounding my senses in reality, and I no longer feel shame.
Finally, gold, because I want to believe that it does not have to go.
It is hard to revisit the past when you have worked so hard to mentally and emotionally distance yourself from it. I would like to think that even physically I am disconnected from every yesterday I have ever lived and I guess on the calendar I am. I can never physically revisit all of those yesterdays, but there are still traces of each setting sun that nestle deep into my skin, penetrating my bones. My thinned hair is a reminder of days past, my sallow skin and my aching bones can never fully recover from the torment they went through. It’s hard to explain pain, even hard to describe invisible ailments that strangers interpret as self-inflicted, and even more difficult to put into words the intangible forces that sit at the steering wheel in your mind for so long, taking you down unlit roads you and around sharp corners, all in an effort to thwart your efforts to push through, to prove you can beat this pain on your own.
I feel quite detached from the woman I was six years ago when I was at one of the peaks in illness, even two years ago when I officially sought professional help. Though my pain was still invisible back then, the effects were difficult to cover up.
It was about control. It was about something beyond my feeble minds comprehension. I still struggle talking about it, but I was anorexic, I had anxiety, I had depression, and I could barely get through the day. To be clear, these labels will never leave me, they will always be a part of my identity, but their control will not manifest the way they once did. Back then, night couldn’t come fast enough so I could go to sleep without having to explain myself. I would fall asleep each night with a promise to myself that tomorrow I would get help, tomorrow I would do better. So many tomorrows came and went and each day it would still take me four hours to eat an essentially calorie free meal. I avoided all social situations that involved food. I ate alone in my room. I went to the gym every day at 6am like clockwork, then promptly took a nap after my 8:30 am class. I don’t know how I lived like this. It seems like an impossible nightmare when I reflect back on those years. I treated myself with such disdain. There was nothing to love there, the mirror mocked me, and I tried so desperately to disappear. My hair fell out, my skin was dry and lifeless, my hips protruded and bruised, my nails broke off, my wrists were too weak to hold anything heavier than a pen, I look like I was made up of only sharp edges, and yet my mind convinced me that this was good, that this was the way of life I deserved. It was like Groundhog Day and I just couldn’t figure out how to move forward. Countless trips to the hospital could not convince me to eat and I still cannot pin point the exact moment things started to change, but I’m thankful they did.
My memories of these day are not solid, they are loose abstract formations that attach and detach themselves to create new narratives each time I try to remember. The past is hard to revisit if you cannot recall things clearly. It’s painful to think that I hated myself so much and that until 2016 I still had the same impressions of my self-worth.
I still feel like this isn’t worth talking about sometimes. I mean, who cares? There is this sense of guilt that trails you when you suffer silently for so long. You convince yourself that the voices in your head are right and that if you talk about your pain no one will believe you. They will think you just want attention. They will shut you down, turn their backs, and tell you to just get over it or else they will give you something ‘real’ to be sad about, because your current emotions are not rooted in anything visible and so they must be fake. You are a fraud. Get over yourself.
But that isn’t every day. Just some days. I know that everything I felt was real. I can still sense those urges trying to fight their way to the surface. When it feels like another creature is trying to escape through your skin and you start scratching yourself until you bleed or ripping out your hair and ripping off all your nails because the pain feels so inconceivable that you just need to distract yourself with anything. Hurting yourself always seems like the best option because they the pain becomes visible and you can see where it is coming from, only then you suddenly feel ashamed and try to hide it because maybe your pain will warrant unwanted attention, attention you don’t naturally seek but your body is screaming for it. I hate that pain used to be my way out. I hate that restricting food and killing my body used to be my way out. I hate that crying myself to sleep used to be my way out. BUT today these pains no longer manifest in self-harm and I am so thankful.
I am so happy that these are no longer options and that creating beautiful things and smiling all day is my reality. Maybe you can relate to this sense of defeat and triumph. If you do, I want you to know that your day of shining clarity will come and you’ll be oh so grateful to have stuck around to bask in its glory.