Thursday, August 25, 2011

Google Me Softly

Two days ago, shortly before I walked out of work 5 hours before quitting time, I googled two things: "nervous break down" and "chronic fatigue syndrome." I had a buzzing in my head that would not go away, a swelling of the brain that made it hard to do anything but put my head on my keypad. I was just really tired.

Having confirmed that said head-buzzing was not a nervous breakdown (I still have affect, joy!), I nearly keeled over when I realized that I had a handful of symptoms for CFS. Despite the prudent advice at the bottom of the page, "Do not self diagnose!" I still slid headlong into pungent, self-indulgent visions of going on disability and sloughing through the rest of my life as I have for the past six months...Eat? Too tired. Dating? Fugheddaboudit. I would just, waaaade on through, napping and napping forever until one day I just didn't wake up. "Whatever happened to Lizzy?" they'd all ask. "Oooooh we don't know, it's too bad, toooooo baaaad."

After two days of serious, non-stop napping, and some revitalizing treatment of Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown accompanied by good friends and oatmeal cookies, I've made some small improvements.

Yes. I've been google-ing more sensible things like, "Mercury Retrograde Dates."

Well, I'll g'on and call it progress, starting to blame my unfortunate condition on more global, nay, cosmic circumstances, rather than feeling totally helpless and personally responsible. Turns out, for the entire extent of my solo show (March 30 - April 24th), Mercury was in retrograde! No wonder it was such a dark time. Likewise for most of August it's been the same. I've had a few relapses to mono-city, I got fired for the first time from a design job that I didn't very much want anyway ... and now I feel like total shit. But then the unexplainable, completely-and-utterly sucky in-between months where Mercury was where it needs to be to make things nice and good, and things really weren't ...

I once again turned to Google for the answer. "Why," I asked the Google gods, "does 2011 suck?"

And the Google gods answered:
"Does 2011 Suck for Gamers?"
"Why does this site suck balls so bad now?"
"Why does graduating from college suck so hard?"
"Why does Netflix Canada's selection suck?"
"New Zealander Sucked into Plane Engine and Killed"

Thanks again, Google, for taking me on a ride, and then setting me straight. At least I'm not a recent college graduate trying to play games and watch movies in Canada. And however bad it is for me now, there's a New Zealander out there who really had it way worse.

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.