Saturday, March 25, 2006
Dancing With The Demons : Burnout
In a previous post, I talked about a quilt I had made to tell the story of my last breakdown. Shirley asked to see a picture or two, so here we go. This is a highly personal quilt, and yet the experience it portrays is very common, so I make no apologies for going into details to explain the quilt. Funnily enough, the artist's statement that accompanies it is very short and to the point. Fire, it says, is a good servant and a bad master.
The quilt describes a time period of about two or three years. I had been working in a very difficult environment, for an unreasonable man, at full pitch, for about three years. One day, a friend mentioned a fire walking workshop, and asked if I'd like to take part. I was horrified at the thought; I shook with fear. I said, no, I don't want to do anything like that. Later, though, I changed my mind. I didn't want anything to have such power over me, and so, I signed up for the workshop. I walked on fire. I burned my feet, slightly. You would think that I would have got the message at that point, but no. So, the first section of the quilt shows me tentatively stepping forward onto the fire.
About nine months after that, I burned out completely. I could no longer function in any meaningful way, and left my bed only to go to psychotherapy, and to have long hot baths with lavendar oil in them. The central panel of the quilt shows me, immobilised, being immersed in the fire, unable to escape.
And then, things gradually improved. I was no longer the person I had been; I was retired from my day job on medical grounds, and, eight years later, have no plans to return to my profession. But despite that, there was hope. The third panel shows a falling, burnt shell of a person, falling, falling...but below it, a silver hand. For me, that represents my own creativity, the saving grace, literally and metaphorically, in this situation.
I have since made a number of quilts that are indirectly 'about' depression. One series is entitled 'The Texture of Memory', and it looks at the way in which we remember things, sometimes obscuring our own view, and distorting our memory, through wearing the infamous 'pink coloured spectacles' of hindsight. One of those quilts is part of the Changing Perspective show, if you're interested.
Meanwhile, I focus on the beacon of hope that is the silver hand of creativity. I can't make this illness go away, sadly; a short business type meeting will exhaust me for days, I miss the energy levels I used to have. But I can recognise that I have gained from it, too. I now have the time and space to explore art as I wish to, without any pressure from anyone except myself. I find myself wishing to put the art 'out there', but I'm not entirely sure that I have the confidence or the stamina to do so in a sustained manner. It's scary.
So, I finally find myself at a point where I have decisions to make. Wish me luck.