Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Ok, I admit it, I'm in a real funk. Not the good kind, the shake-your-bootie kind.

The bad kind. Like what happens underneath your toenails. Except this one is in my head.

I don't think I've felt this low since sophomore year of college.* While I understand the contributing factors to this funk, and can rationalize my situation, I'm still unable to escape this kind of all-encompassing feeling of heaviness that has descended.

In fact, I expected it. What I'm realizing, however, is that there is really nothing quite as stealthy as fulfilled expectations. People asked me after my show had ended whether I felt a kind of "let down." And I didn't really -- it was something more like relief. But the relief came after months of really extreme stress, and though marked by an above-normal functionality on my part, I hadn't the strength to allow myself to be vulnerable. Well, my body went on strike, and plunged me headlong into uber-vulnerability. I literally did not have the strength to think for eight straight weeks. I was really too tired to eat or do much of anything. And still, somehow, I pushed through three art shows, two web design projects, a major illustration project, and a trip to India.

At a certain point everything just came to a grinding halt. If my roommates hadn't bought and cooked food for me, I wouldn't have eaten. I drove to work, drove home, slept. I lost about 25 pounds. Everything stopped.

My body has now allowed me what seems to be a trial probation. I'm trying my best to be respectful, but it's been really frustrating. And while I am starting to feel much better, the events of the past year have really taken a toll on me psychologically. I feel closer to normal than I have in the past few months, and I've lowered the armor of my hyper-functionality.

And now there is a funk.

I understand that my mind is sort of functioning the same way as my body did. My weakened immune system ushered in a painful, though probably necessary halt in activity. My defenses down, I had to re-learn how to kind of take care of myself properly. This required a psychological adjustment, which meant that I had to start feeling things again. My guard down, the good and the bad flooded in. Small feelings of uneasiness quickly deepened to dissatisfaction, anger, disappointment, fear, and worst of all, cynicism. Take that, Yoda.

Going through the motions of taking care of myself physically was way easier than coming to terms with the psychological reverb. If I would push a little harder one day, just to test the waters, my body would shut down for two. Understanding to some degree physical impotence weighed heavily on me psychologically. Some say that strength comes from within, but what I've found is that I tend to seek strength through doing. When I think about it, the world feels chaotic to me. I am not very diligent about keeping up with news or trends aside from what I hear from other people. Working on things that I care about, really working my ass off, has proven itself as a method to feel grounded. So when even that is gone, chaos descends, and rather than standing up to it somehow, I stumble into a funk.

It started slowly. Initially, I just felt overwhelmed ("Stop!!!"). But then I started to feel disinterested ("I just don't feel like it."). And then sad. Just -- really -- kind of sad ("I don't want to."). And then I realize that things that had at one point made me feel good don't anymore, or only seem to be distractions from a hulking mass which I can't describe short of how it makes me feel, which is...kind of suffocated. I'm afraid of this Hulk.

And then there are these questions which kind of glug up to the surface, in between bouts of functionality, but never around the Hulk.

I wonder whether I'm a good artist, what that means, if it matters. I wonder if I'll always be defined by my environment, or whether I can create my own context, or whether that's just an escapist mentality. I wonder whether I am best suited to make art if nobody likes it or gets it, or gets me. How can I put so much energy into shit that people chew up and spit out... I wonder if anybody ever will actually be able to see me for what I am -- flawed, but with generally good intentions -- and be ok with that.

I've tried to free myself from the need for external validation. I doubt I'm close. However I realize that while I care about what people think of me, it is only to a certain extent. A search for achievement and praise doesn't rule me the way I see it rule some other people I know. But I seem to have created my own more insidious form of external validation, which is doing things that are productive.

I went to a shrink for a couple sessions recently, and she called me a perfectionist. I knew she was wrong right away. Then after some thought I came to a scary realization. I am a productivist, not a perfectionist. I make the mirror, rather than rely on the image it produces.

So, obviously, I'm focusing again on a few projects. Forcing myself to do things again. Working on applications to graduate school. Like WWII, work and focus seem to pull me out of a depression. What scares me is that work kind of put me into this in the first place. So I wonder. Am I capable of not doing anything [productive] and not feel sad? Or is my life, and my work actually an active avoidance of an inevitable state of mind? A scary thought ...

* Of my lifelong galumphing through periods of depression we have the following all-time-lowest-of-the-lows from least most severe: Third Grade, Sophomore Year of College, First year-post-college, Post-break-up last year, Junior Year of High School. Primary symptoms include: not seeing a point, just not seeing a point.


Chris said...

Or is my life, and my work actually an active avoidance of an inevitable state of mind?

I totally get it. I am on a creepy island just off the coast of your creepy island. I am paranoid that my interests and desires shift so frequently because I have no actual interest in anything aside from being obsessed with things and appearing productive. I spend time making it seem like I am really good and really invested in something because I feel I am not really good or invested in anything. At dance I often wonder, "why haven't they figured out that I'm not actually good at this yet?" All of this work in an effort to hide the fact from myself as much as others that I dont really care about anything.

L said...

Yes, I think you're right; we do not live on the same creepy island, but neighboring ones.

For what it's worth, I don't think that either of us are "appearing" to be anything other than what we are. We might both be wracked by artistic insecurities, but part of why we're artists is that we understand through doing things, and it's not always about being able to quantify why or how or to what end.

I think you do care about a lot of things, you're just in a funk. I know I care about a lot of things, but sometimes there is funk, and it can get you down.