When I was 12 it was announced to my parents by two doctors and a therapist that I was extremely depressed. My parents were told that I needed help immediately. That “help” came in the form of drugs that I refused to take and counselors that I refused to talk to. By the time I reached my thirteenth birthday I had been a patient at 6 different therapist’s offices, each one of them referring me to the next one after they couldn’t take me anymore. Meeting with them was like punching something; harsh and potentially damaging, but not quite as satisfying. I spent several weeks sitting in each one of their flower printed chairs listening to them ask me questions, while I pretended to be invisible. Most of the time though, I would yell. I would scream like I have never screamed before or since. Whatever twisted metaphor for my life I could think up on the spot was thrown at the helpless shrink sitting across from me in a wave of unreserved fury. I was so angry. I was angry at my parents, not for divorcing each other but for involving me in it. I was angry at my brother for being high all the time, I was angry at my sister for leaving me alone when she moved out. I was angry at those humiliatingly incompetent therapists, always leaning back in their chairs looking at me like they knew exactly what was wrong with me. They did, and I knew it, so it made me even angrier. Consequently I didn’t take the pills that were thrust at me, I refused to sleep or to eat, and I screamed. It wasn’t until I was about 14 that I learned something that would spare those poor counselors. I learned how to scream onto canvas.
I have always loved art. As a child I would seize every chance I had to draw. I could be left alone for hours by age 4 if I was provided with enough construction paper. I believed that “kid pix” was the only useful thing a computer could be used for. I was the little kid that got excited about going to art museums. So it wasn’t a surprise to my mother when I started spending all my money on acrylic paint and all my time in my room bent over large flat expanses of white canvas. At first it was just an escape, like how some people go shopping to relax, spending their money like it’s their problems, distributing them among the various outlets that make up capitalist living. With me though, painting evolved into something else very quickly. It became a method of dispensing anger onto something that transformed my ugly thoughts into something beautiful. Art has a funny trick of turning the things that we turn instinctively away from, into the thing we can’t tear our gaze away from. Eventually the piles of canvases that were stacked 6 deep around my room had saturated themselves with my protective shield of anger, leaving my core of sadness exposed, and ready to be dealt with. I know with every bit of me that if I hadn’t found that piece of myself in the messy tubes of oil, I would never have been able to find all the new ways to love art, and with it, myself, that now consume my life. I believe that self-expression is a precious gift, and that we would be fools to waste it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.