WHAT CAME BEFORE SELF PRACTICE?
It’s taken me over a decade to build a relationship with my creative practice that is conducive to and considerate of my overall wellbeing.
I was first admitted into a paediatric ward for a mental illness that manifested physically when I was fifteen years old. I was no stranger to hospitals. And during my first admission, I’ll admit, I was proud to be there.
My younger brother was diagnosed with leukemia when he was six and I was eleven. Three days after, my mother gave birth to our younger sister. The circumstances of his cancer, logistically and emotionally, left me on my own. My brother and the newborn, of course, became priority, and it was during this incredibly tough transition for our entire family that I myself went from being the star child, centre stage (literally, having grown up in the performing arts), to being thrust unwillingly into the shadows.
As a teenager, I navigated experiences that had me harbouring both new trauma, as well as that which was residue (and I’m sure in parts remains so still) from my earlier childhood. Comparatively, I have had such a privileged life and experiences that I will forever be grateful for. However within the context of self and mental health, our experiences and the notion of privilege, are entirely subjective.
I wished my sickness upon myself. That is no word of a lie. I saw my brother’s sickness afford him love and attention and I wanted it. A childish mentality, but that’s all I was – a sad and scared and unarguably jealous child. I also saw his misfortunate health situation bring my broken family back together. As he began to enter remission, it was my plan to be and stay sick, so the communication and kindness we witnessed between our once entirely excommunicated parents would continue. I wish I could say I put myself through hell for a worthy cause..
It was during my first stay in the hospital, having been diagnosed with anorexia, that I began to write. I was banned from dancing (ballet), the one outlet that offered my young self cathartic release. So it was words that became my output.
I still have the notebook that housed the experiences of these days. Their torture in its lined pages. Nurses, collapses, being tube fed, isolation, only one phone call a day to the outside world. It was hell on earth and one that I remained in, and out of and back in again, for years. I remember thinking to myself at that moment, whilst scribbling things down in agony and heartache, that my words would one day travel and be held by people far and wide. She was right.
During this time, along with words, I leant on visual aids to help channel my hurt and confusion. I became a young artist making things out of any medium I could get my hands on. It was a flow state that took me out of my own mind and body. I felt like a channel. I’d cut things out, stick things together and create worlds with images that curated a vision or a mood I wished I could embody.
My inability to commit to a standard school timetable had my full private school scholarship taken away from me, and so I finished my high school education through home-schooling, whilst remaining in an outpatient program for young people with eating disorders. I f***ing hated it there.
It was at around age seventeen when I realised that a career in the creative arts was what I was striving for. Channelling my hurt into a tangible outcome, that people could see or touch or relate to, was the most satiating feeling my starved self had ever swallowed. (Dark pun intended.) I set out to do whatever it took to be accepted into a design degree. And as an entirely troubled, albeit over-achieving, teen with a perfectionist mentality, you guessed it – taking no for an answer was not an option.
In 2015 I graduated a BA of Fashion with first class honours and topped my class. Within the context of this creative, academic trajectory I ticked every box I intended to. Retrospectively, and now perhaps because it’s emotionally-decharged, I’m so proud of the work I accomplished there. The trouble was that throughout my entire undergraduate experience I was perhaps mentally more unwell than I had ever been.
Looking back, I now realise that the reason I (subconsciously) refused to get better for so long was because I had convinced myself that my creativity relied on my mental illness. My pain was the fuel, blindly driving the car. I had subsided to the fact that that was just the price one had to pay for creative brilliance.
Without it, what was I? Who was I? What was there to prove or overcome?
I remember thinking to myself, so many times – ‘If I really get help, what happens to this me? Will I be able to create? I can’t not do that, it’s literally all I have!’
It’s an age old dogma – the ‘tortured artist’ – and it wasn’t until quite recently that I decided I was so f***ing done with it. No amount of any personal, professional, academic or creative success that I had during these times felt like I had accomplished anything. I was empty. Void. Unable to understand the point – of anything. I felt so much, so excruciatingly, that I was paralysed.
I had hit every milestone and gained the respect of my industry and peers but was not mentally present (nor well) or truly gratuitous for any of it. It was at this time that I stepped out of the fashion industry to finally find a relationship with my creative output that wasn’t at the cost of my health. It was a leap everyone around me questioned and I wore that. Of course they did, they had no idea how deeply I was struggling. I got scarily good at hiding it.
It’s taken years, and I mean years, to find myself in a far less painful place. A full reconfiguration of values, of goals, of relationships, friendships, the lot. I’ve mourned parts of my identity I never thought I’d be without, but It’s left space to welcome the new. I’ll never sugar coat any of it, say that it's not work, that it's easy. It’s the farthest thing from easy I've ever known. It takes such strength to hold yourself accountable for your own recovery, and it remains so still, a daily decision, to make choices that are compassionate to every aspect of my wellbeing – emotional, physical, creative. It’s practice and beginning again, every single day.
This journey is an ever evolving one. And retrospectively, founding a space such as Self Practice seemed like such an inevitable trajectory. It is today, and within the walls of this wonderful community, that a commitment to equal attention on both creative projects and the individual self is given.
When we’re in the trenches, it’s so hard to see that our experiences will one day make us the people that we have been put here to be.
It’s taken me twenty-six years to settle into the fact that I have been put on this earth to feel the full spectrum of emotion. And feel it all, in such totality, I do. My ability to feel, which once felt utterly unbearable, is now my most treasured aspect of self. It is my conduit for connection – to people, and projects and places such as this.
— This essay entry was also shared on Forme & Sens’ Transparency Journal