I have a new strategy in life. Come up with life-rattling decisions and put them out in public before I have time to be scared by them. Like coming out of the closet about depression, and checking out of the world for a month. These were terrifying things that ended up changing my life. So now you’ll find me hitting “Post” “Publish” and “Send” on a daily basis. Otherwise my fear would talk me out it.
This happened again during my month-long mental health retreat. I was curled up on the couch feeling defeated by my body and the world, when the thought came to me, I am more than this. I’m more than this daily struggle to face the world (or not). I’m more than the shame and the frustration and the sadness. What about all the good stuff that’s buried in me, waiting for a sunny day to come out?
I had recently learned that a young person I know is also struggling with depression. I thought about the last time I had talked with her and I thought, I bet she wishes people knew she’s more than this too. I was drawing a portrait as I was thinking this, and I thought, it would be nice to do a portrait of her to show her.
That’s when the next year of my life came fully-formed from the ethers of inspiration into my brain, wham! An art project so timely, I couldn’t imagine that it hadn’t been there a few minutes before. I could see the portraits, the subjects, the set-up, the outreach, the name…
I Am More
Iain came home from lunch and I nearly jumped on him with my idea. Whatever I had been feeling 30 minutes before in my cocoon on the couch had been washed away by this new purpose. I started writing down names of people I wanted for the portraits. Their struggles ranged from mental illness, to addiction, to grief; all had lived with mental anguish. Some were public about it and some had reached out to me privately when I had posted my original blog post.
I imagined a piece written by each subject to accompany their portrait, each beginning with the phrase, I am more:
I am more than my depression.
I am more than my pain.
I am more than my recovery.
The next step was to share this with someone other than my husband and see what the reaction was. I emailed the first potential subject, just with the idea, not the fact that she was on my list. She replied surprisingly quickly with excitement and we met for tea. This friend also happens to be a mental health professional, a grief therapist, so her opinion meant a lot. She reassured me on every concern I had, but also schooled me on my wording and communication. She agreed to advise me on the project and also said she was honored to be a subject. One down. Since then I’ve confirmed eight more subjects of ages 17-77, with the goal of having 12-16 individuals in the show.
Along with the idea for this project came the thought, it would be nice if I could earn a living while doing this. For the past two years I’ve worked non-stop on portraits for my own satisfaction: the series “Dylan: A Childhood in Portraits,” and “Selfie,” which is nearly complete. I’ve had the occasional commission, but never enough to make a dent in the bills. I wondered if there was a way for an artist to support herself while creating art for the public good. This may seem like a dumb question, but being self-taught and in the art closet for most of my adulthood, I don’t know how it works. so I’m looking into it. Feel free to enlighten me if you know of ways to fund this project.
I’m grateful to Inspiration for hitting me on the head with this, but I’m even more grateful to all of the individuals who have reached out and shared with me their experiences with their own suffering and with the experiences of their loved ones. I’m excited that many of them are choosing to join me in standing up in public to say, “I suffer, but there’s so much more to me. Let me tell you about it…”
[Featured image: Setting up my first art show, “Dylan: A Childhood in Portraits”]