If you want to work on your art, work on your life.
— Anton Checkov
The Artist’s Way is a 12-week creativity program designed by Julia Cameron. You could say it’s the Alcoholics Anonymous for creatives addicted to self-sabotage.
By Week 4, I had already highlighted hundreds of Julia’s sentences. But this one really hit home:
I don’t know who I am anymore.
Due to a head injury, I was experiencing insomnia, memory glitches, and diminished interest in things.
“I don’t know who I am anymore,” would be my first thought waking up.
My sense of self had been molded into what my work was, what my parents and friends thought of me, my ambition and productivity.
In April this year, I was unemployed, worrying my parents senseless, and seeing zero prospect of ever achieving my dreams. My best friends stopped speaking to me.
Who was I?
Turns out, that was the wrong question to ask. The question was:
Who was I becoming?
Sinking into depression
On one particular occasion, it was getting close to bedtime.
I got upset. So upset, that I threw my knees to the floor and, Eat Pray Love style, asked an almighty power to get me through the night.
The same voice that told Elizabeth Gilbert, “Go to bed, Liz” told me:
“Get antidepressants, Ioana.”
The following week, my General Practitioner confirmed:
“I will prescribe you Sertraline, you can pick it up from your local Boots today.”
Fast forward a couple of slow, painful weeks. I went vegan, I went no contact with my ex, I applied for government support, and started writing for online publications.
I was seeing hope again.
Putting myself first
My ex-partner and I connected deeply on the topic of meaningful work and altruism.
When the COVID-19 crisis erupted, he expressed concern that I was too narrowly focussed on my own healing. He suggested meaningful work to look at — “for the world”.
Whilst not fully recovered, I was eager to fulfill the conditions for another’s love. I began researching global supply chain bottlenecks. My depression sunk deeper as my cognitive capabilities refused to support my ambitions.
This lubricated my headaches and sleep disturbances down a slippery slope.
My ex apologized for his untimely suggestion and, not long after, confessed he’d never loved me the way I’d loved him.
From that moment on, with my middle finger in the air, I set sail on a journey of not giving a single f-ck what others expect of me.
That includes what I expect others to expect of me, which is about as tricky to untangle as it is to say with a pencil between your teeth (try it).
Becoming a woman
Becoming a woman is synonymous with learning how to heal trauma.
Note the lack of a possessive pronoun. You don’t just heal your trauma; you must also heal collective trauma.
This is just the past 3 years. I’ve just hit 27. Yet, the rage I feel when I see the abuse of power of Epstein&co spans centuries.
Eight weeks into lockdown, I stumbled across an article, narrated by a woman recounting her rape, 30 years after the incident. Getting more incensed with each paragraph, it hit me: I have not yet processed my own.
I was molested 5 years ago by someone I knew and trusted.
It took Me Too to call it sexual assault.
It took 4 years to discuss it outside my close circle.
It took many therapy sessions to begin processing that it was wrong, that it wasn’t my fault, that my trauma is valid.
But there’s something about the world as we know it going up in flames, that gives one the impulse to behave out-of-character. I called one of his friends. I told her my story. She listened. She expressed her support. Then she asked:
“What made you reach out to me?”
I felt someone in his life should know what he did. Though she herself barely knew me, I needed her to know that I was healing.
The script Survivor is now tattoed on my wrist.
Rebelling against Buddhism
It still is the tradition closest to my core beliefs. Its principles make inspiring mantras and fuel for enlightenment.
But I feel it’s underpinned by an arbitrary sense of what one should do.
Meanwhile, we’re stampeding into an era where shoulds should be left behind, and replaced with “Quick, grab that sledgehammer.”
A Buddhist shouldn’t step up and say “Person X is damaging our community. Express your anger and bring them down.” And yet, some of us have to do this in a world that is still, largely, unconscious.
A Buddhist shouldn’t say things that are non-neutral. Well, the world is not neutral.
Systems and people are endangering our lives more and more easily with platforms that the Buddha couldn’t have incorporated into his teachings.
Accepting my neuroses
Quarantine put a bulletproof mirror in front of me.
It took away work opportunities, made it acceptable for friends to disown me, and faced me with my myriad thoughts.
Out of fight or flight, only one option remained available.
It wasn’t the flight.
My daily journaling brought to light the neuroses plaguing my growth. Wanting my body to be different, wanting to be loved before I love myself, wanting to be everything to everyone before I am me for me.
12 weeks into lockdown, I’d become both comfortable and frustrated enough with my trichotillomania (the OCD related to pulling hair) that I shaved off my eyebrows.
The closest I could bring you to a rational explanation is:
I’d had this compulsion for 13 years, it had got 100 times worse since lockdown, and I’d got sick of my eyebrows getting thinner by the day.
So I rendered them inexistent, by choice.
I pencil them on when I go to the supermarket. My mind is a lot happier.
“I don’t know who I am anymore”
I’m now 2 months into my post-Artist’s Way life. But the quote from Week 4 has stuck with me ever since.
It was the week of transformation, of erecting my middle finger, of choosing myself.
“The old you is leaving and grieving, while the new you celebrates and grows strong.”
— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
I still wake up in the morning and my first thought is, 'I don’t know who I am anymore.'
This is to be celebrated.
Not knowing who I am means that I am open to who I am becoming.
There are powerful stories to be told by each of us during this time. Share them. Toast to the breakdowns and the revelations.
Do not aspire to “go back to normal.” Aspire to grow into the new.