I was in Hobby Lobby the other day looking for a new calligraphy pen. As I walked through the aisles, it reminded me of when I was a little boy. I would have been in heaven.
Living in a small town, we didn’t have specialty art supply stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. All we had was a small Wal-Mart in the next town over. As a single-digit-age kid, my world is incredibly small so a trip to the next town felt like a huge adventure. And a trip to Wal-Mart was like Walt Disney World. ‘Cause that meant I could get a toy. And also some new crayons.
I was happy with my one aisle of arts and crafts our Wal-Mart provided. Over the years, I did outgrow the space as I eventually purchased just about every piece of charcoal, fine-tipped drawing pen, pastel, and watercolor set available. But at first, I was mesmerized by all the different tools and techniques I wanted to master.
I loved drawing when I was a kid. And coloring. And painting. And building. And creating in general. It was fun for me and the more I did it, the better I got at it. Not only did I enjoy the creative process but took great satisfaction at the outcome, felt genuine pride over that final polished piece.
Art was all I knew and that’s all my peers began to associate me with. I was “that chubby artist guy.” And while I was better than average, I was no Picasso. But everyone acted like I was. And I found that kind of reputation hard to live up to. I started developing art anxiety that compounded my general anxiety. I wasn’t as good as people thought and I started to feel like a fraud. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as amazing as others expected. And the art that I enjoyed so much began to feel more like a chore.
But I thought college would help me catch up to the expectations people had for me. I would learn the craft, refine my techniques, and learn to fall in love with art again. Unfortunately, attending an art school only reinforced my fears that I was not good enough. My classmates were lightyears ahead of me and wildly talented. But again, art was all I knew. God knows I’m not good at math. I’m not really good at anything, actually. So I stuck with it, got my degree, then promptly moved back home and “retired” from art.
I didn’t want to deal with my insecurities, didn’t want to face the possibility of failure, so I just stopped trying. One of the biggest mistakes I could have made.
Since graduating college nearly ten years ago, I’ve only occasionally done something creative. I’ve drawn a picture here or there. I’ve made a couple of videos. But for the most part, I’ve just not been artistically active. But I still think about it. I still want to learn more about drawing, photography, calligraphy, design, and animation, which was my major in college. Yes, ya boy knows how to do cartoons. I could have worked for Nickelodeon if I wasn’t such a knucklehead.
Back then, I had no expectations. I did art for fun, not for fame or recognition or validation. It was for me and me alone. And the mistake I made was trying to associate my art with my value.
I still feel the pull to be creative. I still get excited about stationary. Still feel the pinpricks of possibilities from pens and pencils. It’s bittersweet and it almost hurts a little bit because I think of the time I wasted and think that I could actually be talented if I would have just kept practicing. Now I’m very behind. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally done.
I almost want to start over completely. Rebuild a foundation first. Start small. And go back to my roots of doing art just for the fun of it. Just for me. It used to be soothing and enjoyable and I want to have that back because I could sure use some soothing these days.
There are so many resources out there. It blows my mind. The Internet is an amazing place and offers so much knowledge. Youtube alone has so many free videos that can teach you to do just about anything you’d ever be interested in. There are also great places like Lynda, Udemy, and Skillshare. And although you do have to pay for those, some of the classes might be worth it.
So that’s what I want to focus on. I’ve had good intentions before and they never panned out. But this time I really do want to get back into it. And I want to take it easy on myself. I’m no professional and I’m not going to try to be one. I just need to do something creative and productive instead of just being lazy all the time. I want to feel proud of the work I do, like I used to be.
This past Tuesday, I went back to the ENT for my post-op checkup. He removed my bandages and said I was a fast healer. He handed me a mirror and I tried to look at the damage but I couldn’t actually see anything. I hadn’t shaved since the surgery so my beard was covering up a good portion of the incision. But the fact that I couldn’t see a jagged, raised scar was good. It didn’t even bruise like it did during my last procedure.
After he cut away my bandages, he opened the door and raised his hand for a goodbye shake. Slightly annoyed, I told him I had a few questions. I had waited for an hour to speak with him so I didn’t want to be ushered out after 7 minutes. I asked him what caused these cysts and he informed me it’s a birth defect that I’ve had all my life. They just don’t typically form noticeable, protruding lumps until between the ages of 19-30. He also informed me that he took out a part of my hyoid bone, which is where the cysts can stem from. So between the excision and my age, the chances of it coming back are unlikely. Thank goodness.
I asked about various scar treatments and if the numbness under my chin was normal. He told me it was ’cause he had to cut a flap open underneath my jaw to get to the cyst. “You’ll start to feel some itching when the nerves reform.” Yuck. My mind raced with all the questions I wanted to ask him but his presence towering over me caused all those questions to fly right out of my incision.
“Well, I guess that is all,” I said.
“Just give us a call if you think of anything else,” he said with a handshake and then that was it.
I went back to work the next day. I’d gone back to work that previous Saturday but I really shouldn’t have. I felt terrible with a mixture of antibiotics and lethargy coursing through me. It still hurt to talk and my voice was reminiscent of someone who’d been smoking for the past 50 years. But I needed the money so I went in. But I felt much better during this shift. It didn’t hurt as much to talk and my voice had almost returned to normal. I’d also taken my last antibiotic the day before so I’d hoped the majority of it was making its way out of my system.
During my shift, I passed by a familiar customer. I greeted him and he asked me if I’d been on vacation.
“Not quite,” I said. “I had surgery and I spent last week in bed recovering. So, I guess it was a vacation of sorts.”
“Ah, well we missed you,” he said, referring to him and his wife. That was really nice to hear. In fact, he acted like he was more glad to see me than some of my coworkers were. It just reminded me that sometimes we don’t always feel like we are noticed or appreciated but there are people out there who do see, who do recognize, and who do feel it when you’re missing.
After my shift was over, I wanted some kind of milkshake or other creamy confection to soothe my throat. I went to a fast food place and thought, “Well, while I’m here, might as well grab a little dinner.” ‘Cause I’m logical like that. Actually, my reasoning made sense to me. I hadn’t eaten for about 4 days while laid up in bed with what felt like a butcher knife in my windpipe so I figured a couple of grease-coated calories wouldn’t kill me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted so I just stared at the menu and listed off things to the cashier that I thought sounded good.
“I’m gonna just combo all this up for you so it’ll be cheaper,” she said. Another nice thing. It was small and maybe she’s supposed to do that kind of thing but I took it as a kind gesture from a girl just tryin’ to help a brotha out.
And I needed all the help I could get ’cause I had to pay for the surgery. Even with insurance, I had to pay a large chunk out of pocket to meet my deductible. When the lady at the front counter at the doctor’s office asked me if I wanted to pay a little bit on it along with my co-pay, I told her I wanted to go ahead and take care of the whole thing.
“All of it?” she asked with wide eyes.
I’m fortunate I had the funds to pay for the whole thing. And it isn’t going to break me to part with the money. I’m struggling, for sure, but I recognize and am grateful for the fact that I do have some in savings and was able to take care of it without it being a huge burden on me. I’m terrible with money and one day it’ll all come crashing down on me but over the past few years, I have at least tried to be more conscientious of my spending and my bank account. And I think I’ve done better. It’s still a process because spending, much like eating, is how I soothe myself.
But overall, my recovery and transition back to work was nice. I encountered some kind people and I just want to recognize that because it doesn’t happen often that I have something good to say about my surroundings.
Here’s hoping those goiters are gone for good!
People tell me I’m preoccupied with the negative aspects of my life. I focus on the bad and don’t give enough praise to the good. In some ways, I can understand their point. There have been many times when I’ll go inside my head and find nothing but bad and I have to pull myself out and realize I need to give credit for all the good I have going on.
I’ve been made to feel so guilty for not being this shining beacon of light that when I do feel down, I immediately counter my complaints with gratitude. My job sucks but I have my health! I have no friends but I have a roof over my head! I can’t control my weight but at least I have food to eat!
Yes, I recognize and understand all of this but I just don’t think anyone understands how deep the depression runs. It’s not just a matter of inconvenience. It’s a matter of chemical imbalances and separation from people, happiness, and God. It’s a matter of always feeling dead and always wishing I really was. It’s so much more than the outer shell of what you see of me, who you perceive me to be through conversations, and the words you read from me.
It’s like telling someone to ignore a knife wound. You’ve been struck in the chest but you can still walk, right? That’s just not how it works. Every day when I wake up, I can feel the knife sliding in deeper, sawing away at the nerves and edges of organs. I’m sorry, but I can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.
That doesn’t mean I’ve twisted the weapon further in, either. That doesn’t mean I’ve laid myself down and given in to the damage. I don’t point to the penetration and pray for pity. I talk about it. I’m open. I’m honest. I am not diluted into thinking things are okay when I know they aren’t.
And that’s the problem with people who tell me I’m too negative. I’m not negative. I’m just real. And I have enough strength to be aware of the limitations and disappointments in my life. I don’t put a bow around the base of the knife and wear it like a decoration. I know it’s there and I won’t dress it up or work my way around it. I don’t ignore it. I don’t settle for the steel inside skin like others do, rotting them from the inside out.
Every time I sit down at the computer and write like this, I’m facing it head on. I’m working out the blade by working out my problems. And pain and disappointment comes with facing it head on. There will be challenges. There are arteries you have to navigate through. And sometimes you’ll hit a new nerve and you’ll want to give up and just leave it in to prevent further damage. But you’ll never truly be healed until it comes out fully. You can’t be healed if you don’t give your wound some attention.
As with anything, it’s all about balance. Sure, I shouldn’t focus on all the bad. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t deal with it in some capacity. I’m working on it. I go about my business. I get up and drive to work and collect my paycheck. I look forward to the temporary deaths of sleep and the ecstasies of eggs in the morning. All the while, the pain lingers and the fact that I’m not on the floor in a fit should be seen as a sign of progress.
And when someone asks how I am, how I really am, not in an informal salutation, but during an actual conversation, I tell them because I think they genuinely care. And then they tell me I’m too negative, that I should ignore the knife wound. And I withdraw because they don’t get it or they don’t care.
I go home and sit in my room, alone, and get to work on unsticking the blade from my bones.