Around this time five years ago, I was living in Germany and I was at crisis point. I had one doctor who would listen to me and he made me promise that if and when I got to a point that I would harm myself – go to him. And I did.
He was a lovely man, he’d visited Australia many years before and brought back a whole lot of small jars of vegemite. Not because he liked it, mind you, but because he found it endearing; you Australians are the only people who eat this he would say. He gave me the last small jar that he had.
On this day that I went to him I can’t remember what I said, I can’t remember how I got myself there but I did and he made a few phone calls, told me in his calm and reassuring voice that I was not ok and it was time to do something about that. He wrote a letter, tucked it into an envelope and gave me the directions to the hospital. ( Just down the street, make a small left and walk along the canal a little bit. )
They took me in right away. I had a long conversation with a firm but kind woman. She made sure that I knew they were here to help, but she needed me to promise that if I was going to harm/ kill myself that I tell someone first – there are other sick people in here too. Which has always stuck with me – our actions affect others. And really at the end of the day – the support can be accessed but you have to do the work. You have to.
Anyway, I won’t go into specifics – it was a long time ago now and the details have faded. Things that were important are no longer, things that stung then do not now. There are things I never have to talk about again – I feel so damn lucky for that. It’s been a long, long road and I did pick up, fall down, pick up again and fall back down, again. Meanwhile life happened through all of this.
I drew and I wrote through it all. Frantically. Not all of it was very good, I even had a blog which was very public. This was my first, huge dive into social media and writing and though there were things that I did then that I wouldn’t do now – I do not regret it.
I didn’t keep the words. There were tens of thousands of them, but I didn’t want to keep them. I have some of the drawings and they are gut wrenching enough.
I felt like back then that that point in my life – the intersection of motherhood, a deeply traumatic birth and complications after that, a personality disorder and ( mild, can it be mild? ) alcoholism split me wide open. I was so damn raw and I think far out, brussel sprout I must have been ( no, I know I was ) so fucking difficult to deal with. I was so damn selfish, just trying to survive. Everything was at crisis point, all the time. I couldn’t even handle when baby got sick and cried in the night. That’s when you know it ain’t right – when you can’t even do the normal stuff of life.
My mental health has been something people have been throwing in my face and using against me for years, and the more I read about other people’s experiences with their own mental health, I know this to be common. Whatever the reason for that to be is other people’s business, but I think it is deeply reflective on them. If someone has depression, doesn’t mean they have delusions. If someone has delusions, doesn’t mean they make stuff up to get attention. When someone is mentally unwell, it doesn’t make them a bad person. These things do not need to be said but then again, they do.
Motherhood is an experience I will probably be unpacking for the rest of my life. I think that is mostly due to the barriers that are pre exisiting to my stepping into it and reinforced by people and media every day. I don’t think we are ready to deal with the truth of it because we can’t even say vagina – we can’t even talk about women’s experience of the world. There are so many things about it that make me feel isolated, I still can’t articulate it all, and I’m not sure that I want to. I see birth culture and I don’t even know where to start – I just shut down and shut it off – just fuck off.
I will never do it again, this is a deep truth I know of myself. I know many people have judged and worried over what this says about how I feel about my child. None of this has got anything to do with the child, or rather my feelings towards said child. The motherhood experince is just that, an experience. It is to do with what has come before and what is going on in the world now. The children are there, but this is not due to them.
I’m not going to add a disclaimer about my love either because that would only be there to make others feel better about this and quite honestly – only said child needs to know that.
Time to go and draw now.
I was fumbling about in the studio so I put things down and have been out and about. Autumn has been beautiful and I’ve been walking; looking at the birds and enjoying the colour of the leaves changing, watching the clouds and taking in the smoke from all of the burn offs – ’tis the season.
I’ve been reading about colour and thinking about the different was I could utilize them in artworks – all stuff I must have studied once upon a time however it has been a long time! So these thoughts have been informing the way I have been looking at the landscapes I have been trudging around in. It’s pretty amazing.
A small study of hands. In oils on canvas paper, trying to let the paint speak rather than rendering the heck out of it. The only way I am going to get better at this is I just have to keep going, keep painting, keep challenging myself.
I am feeling inspired and happy. I think happy because kidlet and I cleaned the house and it is very nice to feel good inside a space when you know winter is on its way. Holidays are usually overwhelming, but I’ve said no to things I know will freak me out and we’ve got lots of exciting things planned. I love all sorts of adventures and wanderings – no matter how big or small. Just with my small family and I.
I am making sure that I leave the house each day and that I take my camera with me. That I breathe in the air, deeply, and that I observe the world. That I make time for things that make me happy, animals. Bird watching. Being frightened by a water rat and in turn, frightening it. There’s so much life, and I need that perspective to balance out my cares and worries. Because a lot of it is just .. well.. not important.
I also make sure that each day I do one little or big thing that serves my art. It doesn’t matter if it is a five minute blind contour line drawing, adding some highlights to a painting, drawing or painting for twelve hours straight or just looking over some of my work and thinking about it.
Just keep going, keep truckin’.
I am SO PLEASED with these two – I still don’t have titles yet, I’ll come up with something soon.
They are 56 x 76cm, ink on paper.
I was working on other drawings in the same style but different subjects, however I am not too sure about them, so will sit on them for a little while longer. Working on two images at once is ideal, I think three and four pushed it a little too far for me and I got a little stressed out on the way.
I have been excited to post here as it’s been quite the week AND THEN I got a nice big fat rejection. Well, I tried! After a week of a brief but powerful existential crisis, then a break through with my work which felt like it was teetering on the edge of madness, then onto a day of a depression that felt like it was consuming me from inside out and now well I feel deeply exhausted. But human. That’s good, yeah? No. Yes. Maybe. Who can tell.
Anyway I am trying to not get too far ahead of myself and overthink things and think that I understand anything because I don’t. I don’t get it, I don’t think anyone gets it and that’s cool. There’s crumpets and there’s pen and paper and some paint, it’s all good.
I feel motivated to draw and paint and I made some things this week that really felt exciting. I made some shit things too, but that’s par for the course. Though, I am not posting the shit things here 😉
I did some small studies in oil, I have more on the way. I want to keep my painting loose, I always assumed I’d be a photo realist painter – I do not know why. Something to do with the story that we tell ourselves? Anyway I am still deeply, deeply moved by the impressionist paintings. Which I never thought much of until they came to the National Gallery of Victoria when I was working there and the paint just took me to another place. Paintings are not the same in a book or on the screen. But as much as I love paint as a medium I am so so so very bad at being ‘looser’ with it. I always find I over work my paintings, and not in a good way at all. The one time I smashed it I had done many studies – in paint and in drawing so I am going to go back to that.
These are my favourite ones that I made this week, they are all one layer with added highlights on canvas paper.
I also made some blind contour line drawings as well – these are a few of my favs
Some of these ideas I haven been sitting on for a while, I knew I wanted to paint them but haven’t felt like I could paint in a while. Now I am like hey stop thinking thinking thinking and start doing and making and working it all out with your hands. Don’t know where it’ll all go which is absolutely and utterly terrifying but that’s got to be a good thing also, yes? If they don’t work out I can just go back to what I know works, yes? Or burn it all down. Ha.
I am pretty proud of them, hope you like them also and I am onto doing some other studies that I think are lovely too.
So for this week and then next – Keep the faith, take risks, eat crumpets, pat a cat, high five a kidlet and be kind to you.