Navigating overwhelm through the process of drawing. It nearly broke me but I learnt that success lies in failure.
"I HATE IT!"
My words about a week ago when this artwork nearly broke me…
This drawing has almost been burnt, torn and ripped up at several points in its development. Thanks to my long-suffering hubby, who encouraged me to keep going, the drawing made it this far.
As a result, it's become one of my most essential drawings to date. It's not pretty or perfect, but it reminds me of an important lesson.
I can't find the words after the event, so I'll let my morning journal do the talking…somehow the words flow at 4am. Here's what I wrote…
Journal Notes: Sunday 26th November 2023
The drawing I'm working on at the moment is so representative of how I feel.
It's titled 'Overwhelm' as part of a series on common artistic and personal ailments based on my experience as an artist, a coach, human being! But it's become a dirty mess.
"I don't know who I am" has started ringing in my ears - bringing back unpleasant memories of my 2018 burnout. My mind, as it contemplates the failure of this drawing, screams and taunts me, "You'll never be good enough; you're pathetic".
Do I carry on or give up?
I want to do both.
My wise voice says, "Keep going and see what happens".
Even the drawing stares at me and tells me to keep going.
But I resent its imperfection. It's wrong turns and twists…but
"What if…just what if…I carry on?"
Why has this one got me? What is it about this image? I haven't had a reaction like this for a very long time over a piece of work…
Perhaps it’s merely a representation of my state of mind and frustration at life right now…
I need to sleep.
Back to the cold light of day…
With this incessant chatter in my mind, I sat up from 4:30am until around 7:30am trying to save this drawing. My pens ran dry as the picture got muddier and muddier.
It was finally time to give up and fall back to sleep. I felt I wanted to save it, but I had to let it go. I thought I had failed. Wasted my time and energy. I was gutted.
I scrawled 'NO!' on the paper. It was time to let go.
The amusing irony
I wanted this piece to work, but it refused. It became the very thing I was trying to communicate. Overwhelming.
I was overwhelmed by the time I had wasted, the failure of an idea, the fact I just couldn't get it to say what I wanted.
This drawing had become a physical representation of how I've felt far too often lately. As I negotiate the ups and downs at work, being a Mum, wife and daughter. This image left me feeling overwhelmed, but even worse, it made me feel like a failure.
But there is a positive end to this story…
When I woke up in the cold light of day, I looked at this drawing and laughed. It felt dark, messy, complicated and YES - overwhelming.
Its very success lay in its failure - oh, the amusing irony!
But I could only see this when I decided to let go. Literally, I closed my eyes and woke up with a fresh perspective.
What I've learned from this drawing
During a group coaching call I was facilitating a couple of days later, a participant posted this in the chat:
FAIL = First Attempt In Learning
I also like to say that mistakes are opportunities in disguise. Here’s what I learned:
Overwhelm distorts our perception of reality.
Overwhelm is clocked perfectionism.
Overwhelm is the fear of not being good enough.
When we feel overwhelmed, the only thing to do is to drop everything and walk away for a while.
Like all our artistic ailments, those darn uncomfortable feelings and emotions in our body at the time (like frustration, irritation, etc) signal the need for change.
Ultimately, this drawing embodied the feeling of being overwhelmed; the frustration I experienced during its making transformed into a visual representation of learning how to embrace imperfections.
It's not just pen on paper. It's a symbol of resilience, growth, and navigating life's messy, sometimes dirty complexities.
So here's to embracing the mess, learning from every attempt, and creating art that speaks to the very core of who we are, not just our eyes.
I'd expected to create a pretty picture. I didn't expect to have to live through the ailment as I drew this piece. Goodness knows what happens when I draw 'inner critic' or 'imposter syndrome'!
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