Self-Portrait in India Ink

Self-Portrait in India Ink

Photo by  Emily Walen

Photo by Emily Walen

 

  

“As you walk out on the way, the way appears.” -Rumi

I have always been a creative person but it took me until my early 30’s to embrace being an artist. As a kid and teenager, I had a lot of deep, messy feelings that I didn’t know what to do with. People around me didn’t talk about hard feelings so I had no idea how to understand and articulate what I was going through inside. I felt different than other kids but didn’t know how to express that other than by dressing in funky clothes, dyeing my hair all kinds of colors and coming up with creative ways to decorate my bedroom. Internally, I felt lost and alone and really unsettled. I turned those feelings against myself, thinking there was something wrong with me, and started starving myself, obsessively exercising, binging and purging and hoping that if I changed how I looked on the outside that I would also change how I felt on the inside. It didn’t work. I would obsess about relationships from the time I was in 5th grade until my early 30’s, compulsively dating, the fantasy of being in love felt like another solution to my indescribable yearning. That didn’t fix it. I drank a lot starting in college and would use alcohol as a way to feel my feelings and feel more loose and free, or that’s how I justified it to myself. The problem was, I kept ending up back at myself with those same feelings inside. So, I drank more, I made big, abrupt changes-moved across the world on a whim, moved across the country then again within a few months, ended relationships erratically, all in the hopes that I would finally feel better, feel whole, like maybe THIS decision was finally the one that would solve it all. None of those things worked.

Then, in my early 30’s, I had two big wake up calls with my health that made me realize that I was completely out of tune with myself. I found out I had hypothyroidism, the worst case my doctor had ever seen, and he told me that my numbers were near putting me into a coma. Within a few months of finding that out, I also found out that I had terrible endometriosis and an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit that I had been living with for who knows how long, probably since I was a teenager given the amount of pain I went through every month during my period. My doctor told me if I let it go much longer, the cyst could have flipped and cut off my blood supply and killed me. After those two things happened, I started going to therapy regularly and making art consistently and I started to discover that art was not only helping me heal and process my feelings, it was helping me find and listen to myself. Those feelings of being lost and directionless didn’t go away but through making art, I’ve been able to slowly learn to trust the process of my life, that there are beautiful and surprising things that come out of taking small steps and tuning into my intuition to make decisions, even when the bigger picture isn’t clear. It may sound extreme, but art has saved me so many times. When I have deep, dark, messy feelings that I don’t know what to do with or how to articulate, art helps me release them through my hands. Every time it happens, I am shocked by how it happens, it feels like it’s out of my control, like the feelings are swirling around with the art materials and together they find ways to express what my mind and mouth can’t. It’s magic.

My intention as an artist and a human is to share myself and what I create as openly and generously as I can in the hopes that when I do, it will not only continue to heal myself but that it will also do some good to someone else out there.

Thank you for being here,

Emma