If you had told me a year ago that I would have moved back to childhood home in suburban RI, I would tell you to please leave my sight because I don't talk to crazy people. There are things I aspired to in life and living out a Kristen Wiig movie where she has a break down and moves home to live with a zany parent, was not one of them.
According to me, I was living the dream. I labored through 8 years of the NYC fashion industry trenches designing art for kids clothing to get the the ultimate NYC goal, an apartment with out room mates! It was in tree lined Park Slope, made fun of for ( justly) over priced boutique grocery stores, 1,000 dollar designer strollers and babies in bars. And I LOVED it.
Every grocery store that I had to walk 15 blocks to get to.
Every day-care that only taught in French.
The NPR tote bags.
These were my people! Bring on the 10 dollar jar of artisanal pickles! I was thrilled to finally be there…except I really wasn't.
From 2008 on, I was downsized repeatedly by struggling companies. Thanks economy. The stories I have about jobs are worse then yours. I promise you. Unless you went to Afghanistan, or prison, in that case, you win.
This would've been the paragraph where I told you about my work place woes in DETAIL, but I'm over it… really… I am…stop looking at me like that. Anyways, I worked hard, kept my head down, telling myself that someday THE job would come along. And then it did. You know that feeling when you meet someone and you are so head over heals for him automatically, you're worried that this is too good to be true? That was me with this job. The people were creative, engaging, and most importantly, sane. My bosses were collaborative, interested in my opinion and protective of their employees. Free lunches. After work sports teams. I learned how to be a better designer at this job. I was pushed. I grew. "That's it", I thought." I 'm going to be here for years". Not so much. It ended 5 months later when the owner, sold it to a competing opposite coast company, a company that did not need two of every position.
I would like to bore you with the details of the following year, but honestly, there's only so much doom and gloom you can put in one blog post. I was fighting with myself all day, every day to keep going and I was moving around fast enough that I could ignore the brewing storm in my chest. My birthday in May was really the turning point. At my party I looked around, at my friends (who I love and have supported me), my boyfriend at the time who was one of those genuinely good souls, my perfect Park Slope apartment, and my at home studio with a desk full of work. A year ago, in a moment of cheesiness, I had written down all things I wanted in my life. Everything on that list now surrounded me. I assumed that when I had the things on the piece of torn out note paper, I would be ecstatic. What's more depressing then realizing you're not happy with the life you wanted? Realizing it at your birthday party, that's what.
Some advertising genius thought that the way to make anti depressant meds less threatening to the masses was to personify depression a cute BUT sad cartoon of a rain cloud. Thanks to some stellar genetics in my family, an "artistic temperament" as my mother put it, and some hard life breaks, me and that cloud had circled around each other in the past. But that next morning, sad cloud might as well have taken up residence in my apartment. I ushered my boyfriend out by 8am claiming the worst hang over ever and sat on that couch for the next two days. Weeks later, I ended things with him. I was so upside down I was barely seeing straight. I didn't know if I was right thing to do but I knew I couldn't keep track of myself, never mind a relationship. And maybe I knew it was going to get worse.
I was still freelancing but it had been two months since my last big project. I was worried. And then it came to me. If I worked as hard as I possibly could, I would succeed! How could I not? I had always told myself that I could do more when it came to my work, that I "wasn't dedicated enough", that I "was lazy". I committed to working in a way that I never had before. In an unrealistic crazy, unhealthy way. At my desk from 8am to 11pm at night. 15 minute meal breaks. Going out rarely to see friends, and maybe to the gym if I needed a glimpse of human interaction. In July I had my first panic attack. It was most likely a two day panic attack. If you're sitting at your desk trying to talk yourself out loud into not breaking down, that's pretty high on the "Dude, get some help" scale. But, in the first incident of a series that I believe saved my life, the physical manifestation of the panic attack just happened to go down in a doctors office. Pure divine intervention. My behavior was completely out of character by that point. I was hopeless. I was numb, my voice was flat and emotionless. I had no interest in food.
I realized a truth about myself. That as an artist, an illustrator, I thought what I did, was who I was. That is how I defined myself. That was how I always defined myself. From childhood on. If something went wrong, I had my art. If wasn't happy with my friendship or relationships, I had my art. And if I couldn't succeed at that, at the only thing I used to define who I was…well, you can guess the rest.
I'd like to say that was my a-ha moment but I got a lot worse before I even began to slightly get better. Because when it rains it pours…and then it hails…and then you get hit by lightening. I found a job, it was awful. I randomly got diagnosed with a pituitary tumor, bring on months of tests. I was frantic. I'm a worker by nature and my mind was racing to find a solution to a situation I could not solve. There comes a point in an illness where you are not going to be able to help yourself, only an objective, trained voice will. It wasn't until I saw the shock in my therapists eyes that I finally realized how bad things were. My therapist, who I began going to when my mom passed away, but had barley seen that summer due to cost, took me on gratis. The doctor who I had the panic attack in front of, did so also. It is a kindness I cannot ever begin to thank them for. I started to process of getting better and that meant making some annoyingly hard decisions.
I did not want to be defined purely by what I did. It's a dangerous thing. I wanted to have a more faceted balanced life that gave myself room to become more then just a cog in some big design wheel, more then just defining myself in one way. My sister and brother in law encouraged me to move out of Brooklyn, but I vehemently said no. It wasn't until I heard myself say to them " But I can't give up my apartment! It's the only good thing I have in NY right now!". "Ok, that DID NOT sound good out loud", I thought. Maybe staying for a piece of rented real estate wasn't a good choice long term.
But where would I go? I was too tired to figure that out. I was too tired to even think about getting another job. I truly knew that I needed some rest when I realized that I was, god help me, ok with moving in with my dad for a bit.
I didn't know how I was going to figure out my next step but I knew if I was going to I needed to start making some deliberate yet very kind to myself, steps to do so. In the coming entries ( she says optimistically) , I'm going jot off the steps that have helped me the most. Particularly, how I'm trying to find my own artistic voice and my own best life.
Cue the Kristen Wiig movie.