By Melissa Whitaker

Posts tagged ‘overcoming’

Between Two Elephants

“Heebie Jeebies” Digital art by Melissa Whitaker

The above artwork is strange and bizarre, but an anxiety attack can be just as strange and bizarre. For as long as I can remember this particular vision would pop up out of nowhere. I say vision because it would happen while fully awake. I would be quietly sitting in math class and then, without any warning, I would be stuck between two elephants boxing. My heart would race and my head would throb with every punch that was thrown. As a child, I had no idea what was happening but I knew the elephants were not real, so I kept quiet about it. It was not real, so I did not have to address it.

The elephants would enter the arena with their satin robes draped over their massive shoulders. The crowd would start cheering and the first punch would be thrown POW!! The crowd would roar with excitement as I would cringe in fear of being trampled. WHAM!! my head would pound with the resonance of a timpani drum. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. My heart would march along to the rhythmic tempo and accelerate as the cheering would get louder. Meanwhile, those sitting around me casually went on with the math lesson not knowing of the battle going inside of me.

These attacks would strike at some of the oddest moments. I could never be sure when the elephants would appear, but the one place they never appeared was when I was drawing, so the art room became my sanctuary and comfort.

Art to me is extremely therapeutic. There is a zen-like quality to immersing oneself into a creative state of mind. Allowing the emotion to ebb through and come out on to the canvas, paper, tablet, or the pixels of digital art, is a release of the anxiety that can get bottled up within. When my life gets chaotic or stressful and I don’t make time for my creativity to flow, that is when the elephants make their appearance and can stampede through my mind. Exercising the inner muse is my way of calming the herd of judgment and self-doubt that can accompany the anxiety.

I have a friend who is always scolding me for putting others before myself. He sees the destruction that happens to my soul and ultimately my art when I neglect myself. The anxiety builds up to the point where I feel trapped between two boxing elephants. That is the time to stop, take a moment, breathe, and realize that I am in control and not the elephants. I have the choice of crouching in fear or standing up and proclaiming myself as the champion in the ring.

I choose.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18-54 have anxiety disorders. 54% woman and 46% of men experience anxiety in some form. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sites that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety.

The Art of Disappointment

“Disappointment”

Digital Media Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Ahhhhhh.  Disappointment, the gum on the shoe of every artist.  Difficult to remove and a constant reminder of a step once taken.  It clings to your soul and gives you a feeling of inadequacy.  A nagging persistence that your art or even you are not good enough.  It is a struggle that everyone must deal with from time to time.  It has become a constant companion that is stuck to my shoe and I have learned to incorporate it into my walk.  Every now and then it gets a little sticky, but most of the time it’s just an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The artistic way of life is really quite masochistic.  The muse inspires one to create, but the creation seldom measures up to what the mind has envisioned.  Leaving an artist feeling disappointed, discouraged, disillusioned, and dejected.  Then that artwork is put on display for all the world to judge.   If the piece is accepted the brain is flooded with endorphins that will give the artist a temporary high.  A high that is desperately sought after, to the point that rejection is the price that is willing to be paid in order to achieve a personal validation.

This week I received another email that will be added to the collection of rejection letters in my file cabinet.  (I keep thinking that someday I will make a collage of all of them). It felt like I had just stepped on a tarantula size wad of gum.  No matter how much I tried to shake it off,  it would not let loose.  This was not the same as entering a juried art show where the judging was based on your work and whether or not it would fit in with the rest of the show.  This felt personal.  A judgment of me and who I am.  No matter how many times I told myself, “It’s nothing personal.”  It stuck to my soul as a constant reminder that I was not worthy.  I would be happily preparing Thanksgiving dinner and then BAM!  it would remind me and I would start crying.  (The blessing was, I could blame the crying on cutting onions).  It took a few days and a few bottles of wine to accept the fact that it wasn’t personal.  It’s not that I wasn’t worthy, it’s simply that I wasn’t ready YET.

It is extremely tempting to give up and not submit oneself to rejection over and over again, but then there would never be that ultimate high of validation.  That wondrous ecstasy of achievement that I strive for.  If we let the disappointments fester an accumulate we become stuck and never move forward.  Disappointments can fool you and stretch to make you feel like you are moving forward, but they will inevitably pull you back to where you were.  I will scrape the gum from my shoe and leave a bit of the residue to harden, to remind me that life has its disappointments, it’s what we do with them that makes the difference.  The important thing is to keep moving forward, that is the only way to arrive at where you are going.

Now then, please excuse me while I go to the store to purchase a pack of gum.  I seem to have dropped mine.

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