The Elephant in the Room: On Learning to Live with Discomfort

Anxiety, Art, Uncategorized / Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

My mind has been a jumble lately and I haven’t been able to write. I’ve started so many posts, but they have all been rambling messes. Painting seems to clear my mind, so I’ve been sticking to art.

I decided to branch out and try an elephant the other day to cheer myself up. I found one on Pinterest by Anna Brigitta. I sketched it out and began adding the colors. I worked on this sucker for almost five hours. It was gooooorgeous… can we praise the Old Gods and the New for Daniel Smith’s Quinacridone Gold? I will never not love my Daniel Smith paints. If anyone is ever wondering what to get me for a gift… Daniel Smith watercolors. They are GLORIOUS… *cough cough SPONSOR ME* 

But then it came time for the finishing touches and I dicked it up in the worst way. I don’t know if it was because my pain was flaring so high, but I just ruined its trunk by drawing a big ole tusk right in the middle of it in black ink. I’m not sure how many zoology majors we have here, but tusks do not, in fact, sprout out of the center of trunks like unicorn horns. And when I realized what I had done, I became a bit disconsolate. 

I stared at it for like ten minutes in horror, then began frantically attempting to layer watercolors over the intricately patterned trunk, thinking I could hide my flaw. What started out as this small error, that perhaps only I would have seen, soon turned into this giant black mass.

My gorgeous elephant was suddenly misshapen. I showed my partner and he said something that stuck with me. He liked it, but he knew I could do better. Not that IT could be better, but that I could do better. He still saw the beauty in it and noticed all the good, but knew why I wasn’t happy with it, and he didn’t try and tell me it was my best work and cheer me up by lying about my mistake. I realize that this makes him sound a bit like a brute… but it was actually really sweet. Because I was staring at the entire painting thinking it was ruined due to this error, and due to that error, I was in fact a talentless garbage heap as well. So, hearing that the painting was good but that I could do better was what I needed to hear in that moment. 

It’s so strange. I’ve gotten so used to not making mistakes, or being able to fix them, that when I was faced with a mistake that I wasn’t able to control, I panicked. I didn’t do what was best for the painting, I just began throwing paint over it in an attempt to regain control and show the world that this elephant was beautiful. To hide the flaws and present a perfect picture.

I’m realizing with my health, this is happening too. Things keep going wrong and I keep panicking and attempting to patch as I go— the little Dutch boy with the finger in the dike. Only it turns out that in real life the boy used a boat to plug that leak because fingers ain’t gonna cut it when a dam is springing leaks left and right.

(Credits: Spaarnestad Photo)

Unfortunately, I have no boat and have run out of fingers so I think I’m going to have to learn to let go a bit. Embrace the imperfections and the panic of uncertainty. Obviously not on all fronts. Definitely going to keep going to ER when my BP goes through the roof… that is not an uncertainty I’m willing to throw to the wind. But the smaller things, I think I need to try and learn to sit with and embrace the lack of control, before it begins to control me. 

A day after this elephant, I wanted to paint again, but I was locked in artist’s block. I was so certain I was a fraud and wouldn’t be able to create anything beautiful ever again. It took me over an hour just to decide what to paint. I finally decided upon this gorgeous little Kingfisher. I sketched it out and began detailing the eye. I felt really good about how the eye turned out and began working the smaller details. It was my first time leaving significant white-space in my work and doing detailed feathers. And it worked. It was nerve wracking to work on a piece with the fear I was going to do the same thing to this gorgeous little Kingfisher that I had done the day before to my elephant, but I breathed and let go. If it happened, I would just try again.

I know this sounds so simple and silly, but it is such a huge step for me, as someone with massive anxiety and depression issues. I let go of fear of failure in the future, and feelings of fraud from my past and just painted.

And this is my result. It is the first time I actually felt like an artist. It feels so amazing to finally have self validation. My friends say the loveliest things about my work, but it is so hard when my depression lies to me and tears me down. This is the first time I was able to fight that voice down and believe in myself. And believe that maybe I’ll be able to come out of this, a step at a time. A painting at a time. Take it a line and a stroke at a time.

I hope you are all out there creating.  It has been such a struggle for me and some of my loved ones lately. I just want to send out these words to anyone who needs to hear them: you truly matter and please keep on fighting.


XXX Brittany

(Photo credit for Kingfisher to Sandor Bernath)

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