Develop to Destroy; Rinse, Repeat, Rise
A journey into regretting, forgetting, and rebuilding
In 2018 I tried to commit suicide. I was sent to the psych ward after having a mental breakdown at my dream job working as an on set electrician on big time movies and tv. It was my dream job and I was working with my dream crew yet somehow I was not happy. As creative as the job may seem is more about making someone else’s creative vision come to life. As much as I learned there I was not feeling creatively fulfilled and after 14-16 hours a day five days a week and sometimes outside in the midst of a brutal Chicago winter, it started weighing heavily on me.
The psych ward was such a wild and traumatic experience. I was disoriented and filled with deep sadness and disappointment in myself and resentment to the staff and doctors and therapists. Although I felt like I had created a community among my fellow patients, I still felt the need to fight to get out early and fight for our rights to be seen and heard amongst the staff. When that didn’t work and got me in trouble with the staff, I turned to art. In the psych ward I was diagnosed with bipolar II on top of my previous diagnoses of borderline personality disorder, extreme anxiety, and body dysmorphia. I have a very hard time dealing with myself and regulating my emotions and my moods shift so hard and so fast I feel like I have emotional whiplash all the time.
My first therapist as an adult was through an art therapist. She would have me work with different mediums to express myself or to distract myself from my fear of intimacy and opening up to someone about some deeply rooted traumas and mental issues and unpacking them for my mental wellbeing. It was a very freeing feeling, but it was something I wasn't able to do once I started my union job working in film. It was something I didn’t realize I needed to do regularly to unclog the emotional drain and let go of the feelings I tend to keep buried inside. It was a deeply introspective practice for myself.I would draw endless black holes with charcoal, collage and make colorful pastel lines I would smear into one another with my fingers. I would write my feelings on paper and rip them up to make new paper that I would make art out of that after. I didn't realize how tactile my creations would be. How much I needed to pour my soul and body out on paper. I didn’t know how good I had it until it was gone.
We were never given art supplies and it was days full of beige walls and fluorescent lighting and it was maddening. I only had a pencil and some paper. I began to write and draw to cope with the hours that stretched on for millenia. I felt so deeply alone within myself even though I had a motley crew of friends I had just fought for the right to a radio around me. It felt like the Goonies, but instead the treasure was our freedom and the obstacles were the mental health professionals who didn't seem to be listening to us and attentive to our needs. At the time I was in a relationship and this partner had not visited me while I was there. A relationship which quickly ended upon returning to the real world.
I had my mom living with me for two months after that. She flew all the way from home to take care of me and for some reason I still felt so alone and I felt very guilty about it. I felt even more alone than ever. My feelings of abandonment and grief washed over me like a tsunami and to cope with these feelings I went back to art. I don’t know why I felt like I couldn’t talk about my feelings with anyone. In the psych ward it felt like the therapist and psychiatrists were in charge but we were not able to express ourselves and assumptions were made about our needs instead of being addressed and unpacked. I felt like I didn’t know how I could communicate my feelings because of shame for where I had been and what I had done to myself. I felt like art was the only way I could do that. Art was the only way I could pour my feelings out on paper without the panic of writing and having someone read it and see how crazy I was. I felt like they would leave me if they did. So I worked my feelings out on paper in a way that nobody could read them. It was the only way I could feel free.
I eventually went back to work and delved into creative expression as often as I could and it was really helping me cope with returning back to some sense of normalcy. I had seen a new therapist I felt was connecting with me and challenging me. I was feeling really good about myself and the trajectory in which my life was headed. I had plans for myself and I felt like I was finally healing. Even though I wasn’t able to afford that therapist anymore she had given me the tools to work myself out and stop feeling so guilty and blaming myself for things and just accepting that life happens the way it does. Even if it took a long time, I was doing great with my progress. At the turn of 2020 I had been through so much and finally felt like my old self, but transformed into something much better than I started: older, wiser, and with the tools to keep me on this upward emotional movement and growth.
Then in March the pandemic hit and I lost my job. I lost all sense of what was going on. We all did. In those early days, I did what everyone else did: I cleaned my house, made new recipes, and just took time to rest. But as those days turned into weeks, I was losing my mind again. I was feeling so lost and hopeless. And in those times I turned back to art. I got into very experimental multimedia work. It was helping me. I had even quit drinking through my art. I was a huge barfly before the pandemic to cope with my feelings, but drinking alone was just so sad. I didn’t want to do it, but when I didn’t and had to wrestle with those deep dark feelings again, I began to make art again. It was so impulsive and so emotional to work on. At that point I knew my coping and my healing would need to be tactile.
But then my lease ended and I had to move back home with my best friend into my parents house to work for them. I was feeling...I didn’t know what I was feeling. This was a life I hadn’t been familiar with since my teens, but since it wasn’t the one I grew up in it was even more jarring, especially since the pandemic wasn’t the best time to be making new friends in a new and unfamiliar place.
I had lost my mind again and was unable to work for months in a depressive state that was worse than anything I had experienced before. I had sacrificed so much from the pandemic: friends, my job, and a city that I loved. I was working in construction now. I wasn’t surrounded by the rest of the quirky, mentally ill, and creative friends I was usually used to anymore. I had my best friend with me here, but I know she was going through the same thing
and began to work on my art. I began experimenting with so many different mediums. It was the most cathartic experience of my life and I continue to do it.
I had found a box of old polaroids of my ex that I had been meaning to get rid of but kept for some reason. I think that reason was because I couldn’t let go and because I couldn’t forgive myself for things I did or didn’t do. I also had found a letter from my first love that I decided not to read and just rip up and use for my work. It made me very emotional. I thought I had completely let go of that relationship. I was definitely over him and that’s why I put the pictures away instead of lingering with those feelings. I did what I normally did with all of my emotions: I bottled them up and let them fester until they come up later.
This time, I decided to face my fears of seeing the pictures again head on. It was very tough for me to look at. I saw how happy I had been and how miserable I was. I kept comparing myself now with my old self and feeling regret and resentment bubbling up again. With every cut of the scissors across those pictures I started to feel deep deep regret for what I was doing. I was cutting up memories. I was making sure I was cutting them in ways that made me and him unrecognizable. It hurt. A lot. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything with them for weeks. I knew it was a step I needed to take for my own healing, but it was still a hard thing to do. I don’t think there is such a thing as ripping off an emotional bandage and it just being gone. They linger. For a long time. Longer than you think they do.
I’m in between therapists right now and felt very judged for expressing myself. I don’t think she knew how to deal with someone so riddled with mental illness, but I get it, I have a really hard time doing that too. But I’ve taken out those pieces of cut up polaroids again and have used them in my art. My current series of pieces I’ve been working on has been about healing with the relationship I lost after the psych ward and all of the ones before. I took the pieces and glued them to a canvas of old art I wasn’t very happy with. I had to create by destroying. I had to rise from the ashes like a phoenix emotionally and artistically. I decided to cover them with acrylic paint so I couldn’t see them anymore. So I couldn’t dwell on them anymore. So I couldn’t go back to all of those feelings. I cried. I needed to take breaks. I had to deal with very tough questions within myself. Why did I keep them for so long even as I was moving from Chicago to the California suburbs? I made the choice to keep these. Why? Was it because I couldn’t let go of him or was it that I couldn’t bear to part with a part of me that was so happy? Did I want to keep dwelling on questions that will be forever unanswered about that last tough breakup? I didn’t have all of those answers. I’m not sure I ever will. As I cry writing this I had judgemental thoughts about getting so emotional but I guess that's another step in the healing process. But these pieces are for me and don’t need to be understood by anyone else but me. I’m not done with them yet, but I don’t think I’m done with healing yet either. But that’s the beauty of it, right?