You’ll never be able to do anything right, will you? You’re just too simple, too stupid, too lazy, too weak. It’s a story that gets played over and over in my mind, this vicious voice on repeat.
Sometimes a gift means so much more than the giver ever imagined. We had a Christmas Exchange in 2009 and I opened up my present. It was a picture frame and inside it was a drawing, my drawing. It was an illustration I had made of Elvis a couple months before and posted to my blog. I knew I didn’t have many viewers to my blog. But this friend of mine was one of them.
What she did was she went to my blog, downloaded the drawing, printed it out, and went thru the trouble of framing it. I can’t explain to you what this meant to me. I was 31 years old that year and I felt like a kid getting that present that he never knew he wanted until the moment he saw it. It did so much for me as a person and as an artist.
People had always seen potential in me. My family, friends, teachers. They all encouraged me to follow my art. You’re talented they would say. I would believe it a little, but then the fear would creep up on me and tell me I was not that good. I don’t know how much of my doubt was due to my low self-esteem. I had made up a character called Loser Boy in high school. He was this kid that couldn’t do anything right. I think I’ve always just been super sensitive.
My father had been verbally hard on us growing up. He would also hit us, but I think I remember his words hurting the most. I always wanted to be near him, but he was always tired.
I remember around 5th or 6th grade trying to help him when we were building something in the backyard and I couldn’t work the hammer right. My hands were hurting and he called me a girl and told me to go inside and wash the dishes instead. My younger brother got to stay outside with him to help him. I could hear them hammering away and I cried into the soaped up dishes wondering why I was no good. I’d tell myself, if I can’t even use a hammer I can’t do anything.
When I was a kid I’d always pester him with questions and he’d get frustrated with how much I talked. I’d see him read his books and watch as he fell asleep on the couch. Or even while watching TV he’d just doze off. Even at parties he’d be falling asleep. I knew he worked a lot and my mom would say to give him his space no matter how much I always wanted to be near him.
I suffer from Sleep Apnea and I’m pretty sure he has it too. When you have Sleep Apnea it feels like you only got 1 or 2 hours of sleep when you went to bed 8 hours ago. What happens is that when you are asleep you stop breathing, carbon dioxide builds up in the bloodstream, chemoreceptors in the blood stream detect the danger, the brain is signaled to wake you up so that you can breathe air to get back to the normal oxygen levels. The thing is you don’t know that your brain is keeping you awake all thru the night, like a lookout constantly warning you of danger.
He would always call me lazy. I was tired all the time (but I didn’t know then about Sleep Apnea). He’d try to make me not lazy by giving me a ton of chores around the house. I wanted to learn from him, but I know now that he was barely able to keep his eyes open. He just didn’t have the energy to teach me things, so he’d get frustrated instead. Sometimes when I was doing the yard work outside he’d be trying to get some much needed rest in the house. I just didn’t understand it back then.
At some point I believed that if I couldn’t draw a specific thing then I couldn’t draw anything. But that’s like saying if I don’t like chocolate then I don’t like any dessert, have you had pumpkin pie – the stuff is amazing!! I’d give myself such little room for error that if I couldn’t get a drawing right quickly enough I’d yell at myself and say I just couldn’t do it. Go wash the dishes instead. It was a constant struggle with myself, with the self-criticism living in my head. Like a poison that lingers and gets stronger the longer it’s in the bloodstream.
So this poison of the mind infected me when I was a child and it still doesn’t want to leave. Many years later a simple gift became an antidote to the voice in my head. It was a story I had buried a long time before. A story I had not believed in for many years. It told me that I mattered. That my artwork was worthy of being framed. The thing is I have to take a drink out of believing in myself on a daily basis. Otherwise the poison wins. Look for the right story no matter how it arrives, the right antidote – even in the form of a framed drawing, and hang on to it tight, believe in it and it will become true.