A Year in....
I’m now a year into being a full-time artist and I’ve only just realised that I was struggling.
I didn’t realise I was struggling as much as I was. It’s only now I’m out of the rat race that I can see how hard it had become. Everyday was a fight to fit in, a fight to open up, a fight to say what I thought, and a fight to be strong enough to be myself. My confidence was being slowly corroded as I ‘appeared’ to be becoming more successful.
I’m talking about a very low-level unhappiness, nothing serious, but maybe it could have headed that way if I hadn’t got off the treadmill. I was stressed and tired from working in events, and I was soon to become physically ill. I had a dissatisfaction, a feeling that we had our focus wrong. Somewhere we, I, had got off the track with what was important.
I was just one little person who felt powerless and strongly that something had gone wrong…How little we interacted with each other on a meaningful level, how we were losing connections with others, how we could walk past people in trouble, how we would sit silently on a tube as the person next to you cried, how money was driving us, how we were ignoring our connection to the natural world, and how the values of work, materialistic culture and economics were drowning out the values of love, compassion, family and friends. I was no exception, I have walked passed people in trouble, I have sat an agonising 10 minutes wanting to ask if someone was OK but never doing it. I deeply wanted to talk to the crying girl on the tube or to the homeless. Instead I would go home with a huge sense of guilt and shame for not stepping up, and I believe we all get this same feeling of wanting to reach out but we don’t. Maybe we feel like we’re intruding, maybe we’ve become so focused on ourselves we don’t have the strength or room to help others.
As much as I wanted to change things, I wasn’t strong enough at the time. I did, and still do, live to my own values where I can. My partner and I have been quite good at this, and it’s one of the things I love so much about him. We’ve recently resisted the pressure to sign up to a gigantic mortgage, and instead brought some land on a Scottish island. But in places I couldn’t control I was stuck. The culture of work for example. I had become quite successful within my career, I had moved up the career ladder, without intentionally aiming to climb higher, and as I climbed higher, I took ever run with much trepidation. It was hard and I always had a feeling I was heading towards somewhere I didn’t want to be and turning my back on my values. I was encouraged to never sit still always climbing rather than being content. But any chance to jump off was ‘seen as’ career suicide, or just irresponsible and ungrateful. I can honestly say I was heading towards a life full of stress, doing what was expected rather than following where happiness leads.
When it came to leaving my career I wish I could say that I did it, that I prioritise my own values, but it was only when I was diagnosed with a serious physical illness that I was able to dissect myself out. And that was mainly due to suddenly having everyone’s acceptance that I could prioritise my ‘idealistic’ values. It was like I was given a get out of jail free card from everyone and for myself. It’s worth noting that I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of my partner, and I’m so thankful to him, and incredible lucky. To me this shows that we need to come together and support each other to get off a path towards unhappiness. I hope I can do the same for him and others. We can’t do this alone, and maybe that’s where we have got this all wrong. We need to ask for help and come together for change.
If my experience with leaving my career isn’t a sign we have something wrong I don’t know what is. I do realise we need to make a living and of course we need to work, but if my career was a comfort blanket, it was one that was made of that horrible itchy, prickling fabric. I know I need the comfort blanket but why on earth was I choosing the highly advertise itchy one, when I could choose a softer one?
At the moment I write this I’m a landscape artist, I draw wild places and places that make us feel small. I never thought I would be a landscape artist, but I had always retreated to nature when I needed calm, peace and perspective, so it was natural to start drawing them. I have drawn these places ever since. The natural world has helped me, and I wanted to share the therapeutic power that nature holds if we choose to look.
When I became a full-time artist, I was still working on my art as I had when I was stressed, and now I had managed to untangle myself from this lifestyle I started to feel my art was only touching the surface of what I wanted to say. It is only recently that I have realised my art was my own proscribed medicine to help cure my stress. Now I feel better I can see past the art as just medicine and start exploring both the illness and healing – this is where my interest lies.
So I find myself a year on being able to fully gain perspective on life, and now I don’t feel naive, I don’t feel idealistic but believe these ideals are achievable. I want to use my art in order to help connect us to better values of life, to help us connect to nature, to help us communicate and talk, to allow communities to arise again, to prioritise compassion over selfishness, and to help us heal.
My art has never been about landscapes directly, it has always been about finding a way out of stress, isolation and physical illness. It was a way to connect to life again.