I had no hope hence the attempts at suicide. The day I entered Skyland Trail I wanted to die. But there was this glimmer of hope that I could just simply be at Skyland Trail and maybe something good would come out of it. Now a year later, I have hope in my life. I may not get out of bed in the morning to embrace the day but gone is the hopelessness.
I am so proud of what I have accomplished in my career until it all fell apart. Now I have been humbled by being forced to go into uncharted territory to embark on a new career direction. I am grateful I have a new skill I can tap into to develop. Now I am being humbled by starting over.
My possessions are important to me because most of them are inherited. I lived in my dream home and was very proud of it. But many times it felt like a prison cell since I had no one to share it with and sought out venues to leave my home so that I could seek the company of others. To be blessed with loving friends and family, no matter what you may possess, is the most precious gift.
My continual struggle concerning prejudgement and using this as a defense mechanism to protect myself as I always have from being bullied growing up. Dismissing people without getting to know them. Continually being surprised by what someone can say if I give them a chance and open up to engage.
The fear that I faced in being put into a work environment that I was ill equipped to handle. Not having the experience in being responsible for multi-million dollar projects. After being admitted to Skyland Trail, struggling to calm the fear by telling myself there is an answer to all of this.
Being thrown in a living environment with other strangers who were mostly under the age of 25 at Skyland Trail. How could I possibly relate to any of these people? Not having a place of my own other than the room I slept in. Not having any of my possessions with me other than some articles of clothing to embark on a journey I did not know how long would take. And after 14 months I am still here at Skyland Trail.
As I continue to read the book ‘Choose Joy’, I have read upon an excerpt that I wish to share:
“Like a carefully tended crop, joy grows when we take time to plant, water, weed, and wait for the harvest….But make no mistake: Joy can grow within you! Do you want it? What are you willing to do to help it take root in your soul? Remember, we have an enemy who loves nothing more than to see us in a sobbing heap on the floor-shattered, discouraged, and hopeless. If you want it, you’re going to have to fight for it. If you think that experiencing joy comes naturally, you haven’t been listening. Happiness comes unbidden and unexpectedly and can leave just as abruptly; joy can be available anytime, anywhere, anyplace-but it is a result of our decision to choose it.”
I don’t know if I can identify with joy just yet. Maybe this is my new found spiritual journey. As much as I have lamented over the loss of my job with the National Park Service and my identity as an architect and landscape architect, I find myself no longer interested, at least for the moment, in practicing those fields. I have found my strength and fortitude in overcoming my lack of self confidence through my pastel drawing. Maybe what I have been doing all along before I was taking for granted and I needed a wake up call to appreciate my true talent in pastels. This is ground breaking territory for me, discovering joy and pastels.
Choose Joy by Kay Warren asks us what is holding us back from living a life of joy. Mine is fear and the anxiety that comes with it. The book defines joy as the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things. For me I cannot trust in God that he knows what is best for me, although I am getting better about this by the day. The phrase God helps those who help themselves sticks with me. What is the balance of control? Where is the peace of knowing that I am doing my part? How risky is it that I embark on a new career direction? Do I have enough talent to be a contender and enough marketing skills and showmanship to stand out from the crowd? I do not know these things unless I try. I cannot try unless I investigate what venues would be appropriate for me. My mind is open to options and possibilities where a year ago I thought I had none. My artwork has allowed me to see options. There is joy in knowing that pastels is a gift that I have that no one can take away from me.
I have been seeing a therapist who is also a career counselor outside of Skyland Trail. In one of our sessions he threw me for a loop by telling me that I may wish to reconsider abandoning all together my former career working as an architect and landscape architect. He is concerned about me generating enough income and making sure that the down time that I may have is limited.
In my last session with him we discussed how I might better market myself to sell my artwork. He suggested that I might get into the interior design crowd and concentrate on continued development of my series. He also recommended to follow up on some well established art and antique markets. I have a friend that suggested investigating high school art fairs.
I am doing all that I can at the moment without becoming overwhelmed. If I become overwhelmed I will shut down and I cannot afford to digress so early in my recovery. I keep telling myself that establishing one’s self does not happen over night.
It was spoken at the 12 step meeting at Skyland Trail the other day that drinking one drink was never enough. After that statement I had an A hah moment. How the 12 step program can identify with my unhealthy sense of never having enough in life. A sense of contentment has always alluded me since I am constantly thinking the grass must be greener on the other side and I lack the appreciation for what I already have and fail to be within the moment. My anxiety level would diminish if I was able to be more content in the present rather than worrying about how I might be feeling in the future when I don’t have a clue what the future even will be. This is a struggle I unfortunately embody and can never remember not having. Out of all the years of therapy I have had, I cannot seem to overcome this dilemma which has gotten me into trouble several times before.
The reception for the Southeast Pastel Society 16th International Juried Exhibition symbolizes the pinnacle of my new found career drawing with pastels at this time. I was so honored to be among such talented and accomplished pastelists and that the judge thought enough of my work that I could be included in the show. Since my foray into becoming a pastel artist, I have been so fortunate to be included in all the four shows I have entered. I hope that I can continue my perfect track record. But regardless if my track record is disrupted, I now have the self confidence in my work as an established artist in pastels. There are so many variables in working with pastels and my work is only focused on just a few of these variables but my technique and style is what I am comfortable with at this time. At this stage in my recovery I must be careful not to become overwhelmed.
I wish to quote a sentence from the book, Paths to Recovery. “The fear, shame and guilt that I constantly struggled with have been replaced with courage, acceptance and freedom that enable me to live rather than just to survive”. The shame that I endured while being bullied in school always made me feel less than and inferior. The bullying started before I started school with my father and his alcoholic behavior. One of my first memories of this behavior occurred when I was 5, remembering him being passed out at a neighbor’s house. I knew something was wrong. As I continued to grow up I became ashamed of his behavior and did everything I knew to keep it hidden. Back then I lived my life in survivor mode at school praying to God not to be picked on. Just let me get through the day unnoticed.
I thrive on recognition as much as anyone else. But I cannot endure being recognized or perceived as being less than. This is what I was experiencing just before coming to Skyland Trail. I had to take a group activity test to become certified under Veterans Affairs Project Management Certification. Due to my unfamiliarity with project management, as opposed to the others in the group with years of experience, I was viewed as a liability as I would be on a sports team in school because of my lack of coordination. All that inferiority from school came rushing back and I just wanted to die. I could not handle it. This was the pivotal point in my decision to attempt suicide.
I am no longer in project management work. I am not capable of being a project manager in the way that Veterans Affairs requires. Now I have found a new way to regain positive recognition and that is through my artwork.
I have disclosed that I was bullied in school by my peers. Not only was it torturous when it happened but I was never at rest in school and filled with anxiety because I never knew when the threat of attack would occur. And I have always been anxious even before the bullying even started perhaps due to my genetic makeup and the fact that I grew up in an alcoholic home. I never knew when the next shoe would drop and there would be a chaotic situation at home. To this day I always have a feeling of unease even when I am by myself without threats from the outside world. Just simply waiting in anticipation for something that I perceive that maybe threatening. I am always fidgeting and my mind is never still. Meditation is not an option for me. The closest that I get to meditation is through my artwork. It is a release for me. Healthy anxiety can be a great motivator but when it overcomes me it can become dis-empowering and I am at a loss of what to do. And this is why I am so glad that there seems to be more of an awareness and intolerance over bullying, especially since bullying can be even more pervasive due to telecommunication. I am also thankful, despite my lack of self confidence perception, that I am able to make and maintain meaningful friendships and I am viewed as being well liked by others.
I read a good article in USA Today that I wished to share. The title of the article is “Childhood Bullying Can Linger a Lifetime”. It discusses how someone affected by bullying can develop mental, physical and cognitive health problems. I was unmercifully bullied in school growing up and bullied by my father before going into school due to his alcoholic behavior. I knew that the bullying has always affected my life but I have never understood how much until I entered the residential health facility of Skyland Trial. My continued lack of self-confidence, lack of contentment, or the feeling of never being satisfied has impaired my thinking so many different times. Also my heightened intolerance of being disrespected in my adult life after being disrespected so much from my peers growing up simply due to my lack of physical coordination. We all have our talents and sports is not one of mine.
I have suffered in and out of depression and anxiety for most of my life. Being a naturally introverted person, along with outside influences in formative years affecting my self-confidence, I do not take well to disrespect. Self-confidence is always an issue for me that I must struggle to maintain. I was fortunate enough to realize what I wanted to do at an early age so having a fairly clear sense of direction has helped me, for the most part, prevent my depression from becoming debilitating. I have been lucky enough to continually pursue work in the degrees that I graduated with in architecture and landscape architecture. I am a licensed landscape architect. I have had a twenty year career with the federal government working as an architect and landscape architect. I have been clinically depressed since I was 40. When I was 50 I left my traditional roles of architect and landscape architect to become a design/construction project manager to escape a disrespectful supervisor.
The project manager position required me to move to Washington, DC and was a significant promotion in which I thought I could handle. After the first three months I realized I was uneasy about the position but was determined to make the best of it and succeeded after the first year due to an outstanding yearly evaluation. But due to the stress of the job and the learning curve that I was unable to master I slowly started to unravel. I was unable to effectively address problems that were not caused by me but was expected for me to correct and I also could not follow meeting discussions since it all sounded like a foreign language to me. Therefore, I was out of my element and due to this situation my self-confidence started to deteriorate. Also, not being able to effectively transition from an architect/landscape architect to a project manager, I realized I lost my identity. At this point I thought my career had come to an end and certainly working for the federal government and the safety net the federal government can provide.
I was never able to integrate myself into the DC community. I tried a few venues but none of them worked for me so this caused me to feel isolated among some other circumstances. So this, along with my perception of failure at work, caused me to want to check out of life. I had decided that my life had no meaning or purpose or that I had no where to go and the only way out was suicide. I made up my mind the day before I tried to kill myself. After the suicide incident I took three months off before returning to work. My condition at work did not improve and continued to deteriorate and once again I tried to kill myself.
I started working in pastels as a hobby in my twenties. I would draw something that I liked and give them away as gifts. Then after a life altering event that happened when I was 40 that caused me to spiral into depression, I stopped and pastels became one of my many activities that I used to do. After a year I was able to work through this period of depression but never returned to pastels. Thirteen years later, I decided to turn back to pastels as an answer to help relieve my depression after the first suicide attempt. With the assistance of accomplished artist Lisa Semerad I began the exploration back into pastels. She gave me much encouragement and affirmation and remarked that there was little she could teach me that I did not already know. However, I was still just so focused on the perception of failure with my career and job that my new found rediscovery in pastels could not ease my continued grip of depression and anxiety. After my second suicide attempt, with the help of my sister, I was able to find Skyland Trail, a residential mental health facility.
I have been here at Skyland Trail for a year. Skyland Trail has several adjunct therapies including art. After being at Skyland Trail for a few weeks, I decided to turn again to pastels to ease my anxiety and pain. After the art therapist recognized my talent in pastels, she asked what I did with my drawings and my reply was that I gave them away. She sternly told me never to give another drawing away. That my drawings had value and that I should sell them. This comment planted the seed in my head that maybe this could be a viable career direction. As I continued to produce new drawings, I received many compliments from staff and clients/peers. Pastels has helped me tremendously to rebuild my self-confidence; create peace of mind; create challenge in the color, shading and new subject matters I draw; and how to bring to life what I draw on paper. I have joined a couple of art leagues and through these organizations I am trying to integrate into the local art community. My work in pastels with the encouragement from others around me, has continued to convince me that I can have a new career direction that will continue to help me grow and give me a sense of purpose in life.
I work only on drawings rather than paintings. My goal is to concentrate on photorealism to the best of my ability and to focus on the details of a subject matter. I love the mixing, blending, and manipulating that pastels can provide to bring the drawing to life on paper. I like the sense that you can almost touch it when you look at a drawing.