Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Different Kind of Bio for a Different Kind of Life

My art is naturally affected by the whole of who I am as a person, both my past experiences and the present. In an increasing measure, at many places I go today, my unusual life has become a focus of interest. I share this aspect in hopes that it will touch others, with the realization there are many people today who struggle with issues that may not be seen on the surface. Lifelong trials do not have to be the end of our story. Mental and emotional issues can leave scars of shame for those who suffer with them. Our families or peers may sometimes not understand, though clinically there is more information today than ever.


My life is very different today. This is all still so new and very recent to me, when taken in comparison with the years of turmoil beforehand. I am 51 years old now. I am married, part of the art and church community, with a measure of success in my art career still in its beginning stages. I have had three solo shows, been part of many group shows, been featured in three magazines, and spoken in public a fair amount of times. I also teach in my home town and belong to a few local art societies in the area.

Until the past few years, however, I lived a very withdrawn life in a deep struggle with social anxiety. I was literally a shut in for much of my life, where art became my own little world. It affected my adolescent years severely. I attended a school for troubled kids when I was a teenager, it was the only way I could graduate with the problems I had. They were very difficult years that left scars of their own by peers who took advantage of my anxiety, in the way they treated me.

By my late teens and into my 20’s I became increasingly more and more troubled, until I basically became a shut in. I was terrified of people and social situations. As I spiraled downward, depression and a severe form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder took over my life. My daily experience became a very dark place. I was shut away from the world quite literally, while my own world was full of pain.

During this time I spent much of it creating and exploring with my art. Though my struggles affected my art as well, overall it was one positive thing to come out through it all, during those very long years.

For most all of my life, up to recent memory, any concept to me of “getting better” was something I could not comprehend. It was just not in the picture at all. It had that much of a control of my life; it was that much a part of me. For the OCD alone, this was very true. I was on several different medicines and combinations of them, one experimental at that time, to try to address the disorder. Doctors eventually gave up on being able to help me with that and the anxiety, including one I had seen for over ten years.

This presents a very bleak picture, and it was. The part that makes it hopeful now is the key word, “was”. That too is complicated, to be sure. Anxiety is not something that dies easily; I still struggle with it immensely today. Through that which may be seen on the outside in accomplishments, this is what is not seen. Yet, now the struggle is a direct reaction to actually interacting socially in a positive way, or achieving or reaching for goals, for positive growth in a forward direction. While this does provoke my anxiety problems, I now grow through it. At times it is very hard and causes a valley I must walk through to get to the other side of it.

In order to address such a life long struggle, for me, I first had to be broken completely. Far beyond rock bottom – I was there many times already. My unhealthy mind needed to be broken, my entire view of life, myself, everything. Being broken sounds scary, it was indeed, yet my unhealthy mind and heart had such a tenacious hold. This was not what can be described with a word, or with twelve steps to be taken, so to speak. My faith as a Christian was paramount as I addressed every unhealthy belief, attitude, and mental lie that shaped my whole painful world. When I mention faith, I do not mean a force or energy that was used in my own effort, as to me faith is really only as good as what object it is in.

In terms of my art and life becoming productive, getting “out there” in the world was a huge step for me. That I was even able to contemplate doing so took a lifetime in realization. It is s huge step that has progressive ongoing mountains to climb, as I go. I began this only four years or so ago. Along the way, speaking in public, and especially teaching were the hardest trials of all to overcome. At first I struggled as I tried to interact socially. I was awkward and very quiet. Over time I have developed the ability to be able to do so much better. With each challenge I still go through a great deal of turmoil. Again, it is in the newness of addressing it directly and growing. In fact, I find it is one of the key things that cause me to cling to God, a beautiful experience to me in the midst of all the trials.

At one time I was ashamed of being different and hid this secret part of my life from others. Transformed blessings have created in me now an appreciation of God’s healing; seeing my art, myself, and my life, in a whole new light. I am no longer ashamed of who I am, at peace with that fact that it is Ok to be different, that God's love is so deeply special to people with struggles. The shame was a deep damaging wound for me during those dark years. Being a grown man and a shut in tore at my own self worth. As it seems I never did anything half way, it became a seething self hatred.

It was a long road - these trials encompassed most of my life - but to me it is that much more deep and meaningful that the grace of God can reach anyone, in any circumstance, no matter how dark. I would never ask to walk it again, to be sure. Some of it, like the struggle with OCD, which ate away and destroyed so many years in pain I can not even describe, is a cause for regret to me. My struggles were not without effect on my family or those around me. I withdrew from them as well, which was a source of pain to my mom. Not to mention a trial of her own, and my step dad, in trying to get me help or live with me. My behavior, in many ways, was incomprehensible to others.

With all this, today I enjoy a virtually new life with all the positive things I shared at the beginning. Simple things that many enjoy over the course of a life – such as having friends, marriage, having a role of some kind in society - to me are all so new, to be experienced in light of all that has come before. Each challenge is also new to me. It requires a great deal of struggle, for things others may handle so much more confidently. I know that God can do anything, can remake anything, and make something good out of the longest and most trying trials. I live in that hope each day.

Through it all, despite it all, in much of my art can be seen a sense of tranquility, of peace. Its realization in my life is a new gift to me and something I actively seek each day. To be at peace with God, with myself, and with the world. To allow peace to come to me, even as I am full of anxiety.

I have met and known many wonderful people in this new phase of my life. Rather than hiding away alone, I enjoy talking to people now. I no longer wish to hide away. I have many goals I seek in my art, for the future. There is so much I want to do with the time I have. Along the way, I have benefited from the help, support, and encouragement of many indeed. It has been a great joy.

Art has been a wonderful blessing to me in my life. As each door opens it is an exciting and challenging adventure. It is one I walk through with a God who is not the God of the almost, the maybe, or the nearly. Even after a lifetime of trial.

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