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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.


jenclair said...

Wow, Marion. What a quilt! The narrative that explains it opens it up even more. I love the continuity of the visual quilt story and the personal experiences that accompany it. Congratulations on your successful trial by fire, on coming through it not unscathed, but transformed, and on your willingness to confront your problems and share them in such a meaningful way.

teri springer said...

Marion, like you, I spent years working beyond normal human capacity. I never learned to say *no* to my employer. As a result, she just kept giving me more to do. I finally just quit working. Well, I kept seeing my clients, but i could not keep up with the paperwork. I ended up just quitting. Unfortunately, I did not take the hint. I got another job (in the office but the same industry). Same thing happened. Then I started my own business. Same thing. Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer so I quit working and went to take care of her. After she died I made the decision to NOT go back to work. I deal with my colitis and depression every day. My family does not understand but, too bad. It's time I spent time taking care of ME.

So, we are in pretty much the same place. I'm here for you if, for nothing else, a shoulder to lean on.


Shirley Goodwin said...

I try to find good in every situation, though it took me 20 years to find anything good about losing my first daughter to leukemia. Eventually, I realised that it had helped to give me an inner strength I would otherwise not have had. If past events hadn't happened in your life, you wouldn't have been able to spend your time creating your art as you are now. So we suffer, but this is a common thing with artists, isn't it?

Helen Suzanne said...

i think so shirley. Used to wish i could ease the pain in the world but soon realised all my worst senario's gave me my greatest gifts. Like you marion I truely walked the bottom and it's taken years to recoupe some of that energy (i used to waste). but what energy i do have now is different, charged, and i'm truely alive :) I wish you free flowing energy for all your life's path.

MargaretR said...

What a quilt full of feeling Marion. Thank you for sharing.
I retired from ill health too, but lucky for me it was not a deep depression I suffered from.
I know now how far I can push myself and take days out doing nothing to re-energise.
There is always a lesson to be learnt from our suffering if we pay attention to it.

Lynn said...

Thank you, Marion, for sharing your life and stories so honestly and, at times, deeply, especially through your art. We are all enriched by your candor.

The depth of feeling comes through in your work. I wonder how much of it we would see if we didn't know your story. I'm not saying the art wouldn't be as good (or as enjoyable to those who didn't get the story), but I guess I'm saying we in your "community" are especially privileged.

I want also to say that in addition to the complexity of the depression and all that it throws up as you work through each day and each project, there is also your amazing and ever-fresh sense of humour which enlivens and bouys other aspects of your life and work. I have always felt privileged to know you, in part because you are so authentically YOU. Thank you for that.