Hey guys! I wanted to get on and talk about some stuff that I've been thinking a lot about lately. Since it's summer, I'm currently not working (I actually took time off and I'M LIKING IT FOR ONCE), so it gives me a little more time to SIT and THINK, which is nice because this school year was insane in the "keeping Jack busy 24/7" department.
As I'm sure most of you know, I've been getting treated for Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder for about two and a half years. It's been GREAT, I had what will hopefully be my last therapy session back in April, and my doctors all say they've seen huge improvements in my self esteem and capacity to function. I probably will have to take medication for a long time, but I'm okay with it. I've personally seen myself grow so much that I barely recognize the person I was before I started treatment. That version of me isn't gone per say, she's still with me and she probably always will be, but she's quieter now. I can manage her now.
My biggest fear before starting treatment was that the artistic side of me, the side that creates stuff, was a side effect of the depression. This gets into this whole "artists have to suffer" thing that is a really uncomfortable narrative I'm not really that capable of diving into here, but the gist is that culturally we see art as a product of hardship and suffering, and my suffering was being caused by mental illness. Ergo, if my "suffering" was "cured" my art would go with it. I didn't want that for a variety of reasons, but I can say pretty definitively that I like the feeling creating art gives me (pathos from that pain was what I thought it was). Which was why I put off getting help for so long.
If you look at my artistic output over the time I've been getting treatment, it has gone down DRASTICALLY. I was afraid initially that I had been right, that the suffering was the only thing keeping me inspired to create. But as I've looked at the things I've made in this time, I've come to some realizations.
Firstly, treatment has given me energy, which means I actually want to do things besides sit at my desk and draw for 12+ hours every day. I actually want to go out with friends, or go to the store, or play games, or watch movies, or whatever. So right there I have less time being put into the process of creating art.
Second, I had noticed that when I did feel like drawing, I didn't feel like drawing my favorite old subjects. I haven't drawn the cast of COTG since August of 2014
. That is nearly almost two years! K1 has fared a little better, the last formal drawing of her I did was about a year ago
(though I do occasionally doodle her on scrap paper). It's hard to think that things I used to love drawing so much no longer interested me, but recently as I've been getting so much joy out of building Beth and Lindsey's world, I realized what had actually happened. I've outgrown these characters.
I don't mean this in a way like "I'm too good for them" or even "They're stupid and I don't like them anymore." I've literally outgrown them. The person I was when I created them is no longer in control, and the outlets they provided are not needed nearly as much. I mean, the last time I drew K1 and Ziggy, the stand ins for my ten-year-and-counting relationship with my boyfriend, was two years ago TO THE DAY
? What is different? Why do I not feel such a strong connection to these characters anymore?
COTG has, in many forms and twisted shapes, been my life since I was a freshman in high school. It's been worked, reworked, written, revised, rebooted, and wrung out so many times over the years it's kind of become a joke with me. And you can see the changes
it has gone through over the years when you look back on it as a whole. It started as a funny creative place of self expression, and slowly became a dark story about abuse, trauma, mental health, healing, and self worth. That didn't happen over night. That crept in, bit by bit. I'm not saying the story it became was bad; not at all in fact. I think it's great that I was using art as a way to work out feelings that I was having, even if I didn't always know I was at the time. Seriously, looking back on character retrospectives I've done, it's amazing how much self therapy I was doing. But the problem with using art as therapy, for me anyway, was that it doesn't resolve anything. No matter how much I tried to distance myself from her, Gabriella was an artifact of me, and as much as I tried to work out things I was feeling through her in abstraction, it didn't actually fix anything. Gabriella was never going to get out of the terrible relationships I had built for her because I was still in my own prison.
K1 is a little less complicated. I haven't made it a secret that I feel like K1 is a representation of the disconnect from humanity I was feeling while suffering with mental illness, a personification of the weird alienation and anxiety I felt. She wants to be human so badly
but she just doesn’t understand how
to be human. Everything is difficult, navigating life is a constant struggle, trying to find the right actions and words for everything. She’s human-esque, she passes for human, but she knows that she isn’t one and she is afraid of being found out. That’s what anxiety and depression felt like for me, like I couldn’t be
human because I was struggling so hard with the basic mechanics of living, and that I was living some kind of fantastic lie that someone was going to eventually call me out on.
Now that I'm on the upside of what I hope is the end of this thing, I'm realizing these characters were helping me cope at the time, but I don't really need their help anymore? I still like these characters, so I don't know if this means I'm retiring them or just putting them away for a bit or what. I don't expect I will be continuing their worlds, though. Not any time soon. There may be something to unpack there in the future, when I am stronger and smarter and better equipped to deal with their baggage. For now, I'd much rather focus on things that make me happy.
Because this was the real issue I've been having: revisiting these characters and concepts... often it just makes me sad. I don't feel connected to them the way I was, instead I just see all the little things that remind me of being unwell and unhappy. And right now, I am very well and very happy. I've been having a great time working at my job, I get a lot of fun projects done in my personal time. I've produced some pieces that I am insanely proud of, and I'm enjoying creating fan art and working outside of the restrictions I had previously put on my own universes. I'm starting to write again (badly, ploddingly, but still), I'm enjoying creating a new world for new characters to play in. I'm still working on creating my own game behind the scenes (it's so slow, but I'd rather it take forever and be happy with it). I got asked to do two more papercraft pieces for a charity auction later this year. I have been playing around with a bunch of mediums and techniques, and I actually do feel like I'm playing, not working. Not suffering.
I guess the point of all this was... I don't know? I guess that things are different but also still the same? I still intend to keep making art, whatever form it takes. But I understand now that the things that were driving me before aren't the same as what drives me now. I used to use art as a way to try to get other people to understand what I was feeling, abstracted and veiled from the reality of my situation. There's nothing wrong with that. But I don't need to do that anymore. Now I'm just drawing... because I like it. And I think that's really important to stress. I still really like drawing, painting, papercrafting, knitting... I almost like it more now? It doesn't feel as dire, so essential to my being that I'm worried about my identity being tied up in it. It just feels... nice. It feels good. I like feeling good again.