Burnout

A little girl is staring up at me. Her eyes are big and blue. She has heavy brown bangs and buckteeth.

She’s clutching 40 pages of a story she wrote and typed out herself.

That girl looks back at me when I catch my reflection in the mirror. I feel her waiting. The depths of that naive, full-throttle eagerness, throbbing in my head.

Somewhere deep, now.

As I sit at my desk, terrified, trying to convince myself I’m all right and on track, I feel the tug at my sleeve.

“Why are you stopping?” she asks. “Are you going to give up? Is that what happens to our story, in the end?”

She thought she’d grow up to be tough and brave. Hoping for something like a downright prodigy, a blazing success story.

But right now, she just has me. Trying. Choking on an intoxicating mix of burnout and intimidation.

It’s windy on the cliff’s edge, even if it’s somewhere I desperately want to be.

I’ve curled up into a ball. It’s not time to jump yet, with every possibility of turning back. And 8-year-old me is not understanding.

She’s angry and scared that I’ve even thought of turning back.

How dare you be finite, she screams. How dare you be weak and fragile.

Why are you like this? Why are you weaker than I was before? Why are you so old and tired within so few years? Why does your breath stick in your throat and your hands tremble when faced with everything you’ve ever wanted? It’s so close now. It’s yours to reach out and take hold of. So why do you sit there, useless and blank?

I thought you wanted this.

Could I have been wrong?

Could we have been wrong…

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A/N: I’m leaving for San Francisco in a few days. Burnout is still in full swing. I’m as overwhelmed by the prospect of picking back up as I was weeks ago, but now I must be busy and keep my appointments.

 

 

I can’t stop taking pictures of my desk and the sky: 2016 in review

2016 has been quite a year for me. One of contradictions and nuance and growth. Of trying to understand the bad things that happened both in the world outside and in my own personal life, of the necessity of committing to mindfulness and healing. Of the fragility of a confident heart when wounded and the journey to trusting it again. Of good things, of exponential progress and hard, fulfilling work. Of learning to live in new settings with new people, of making new friends and figuring out how to work for a better world with the resources I have just as it feels like it’s falling to pieces.

At the end of this year, I feel strangely disconnected. So many things happened at once and my ears are still ringing long after I feel like they should have stopped.

I kept trying to write a post, but it was difficult to make. I could talk about a lot of things; things I feel like I’ve talked too much about already. 2016 left me feeling pretty disoriented. To help reflect, I was looking through my photos from 2016, and I was reminded of the inherent good in my current trajectory, despite the challenges faced along the way.

A trend in these pictures: A lot of them involve either my desk or the sky. They were where I existed, perhaps. I found it therapeutic to step back and/or look up.

IMG_2311.jpgIn January, I was living in a suburb in the SF Bay Area and on Christmas break. After a lot of turbulence in the latter half of 2015, I’d finally had some time to rest and things were looking up. I obtained a Wacom Cintiq for digital work and instantly fell in love with it. IMG_2527

My second semester of art school in San Francisco started in February, which included my first graphic novel class. After spotty performance the semester before, I was determined to put the time and effort in to improve as much as I could. I put every ounce of power into my studies and still had to pull late nights to get everything done.

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I lived at my desk. 2016 was the first full year I spent living far away from home, and, commuting so far to classes, it was hard to make any local friends. I roomed with my sister and a friend, and I found out too late that the friend was quite troubled. The negative environment it generated slowly tore apart our friendship despite every effort to save it.

The whole ordeal took a heavy toll on my mental health, and I pushed into my work both despite the distractions and as a coping mechanism.

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Over spring break, one of my best friends came to spend a few days with me. For the first time since living in the area, I explored San Francisco. I love the sky there. It reminds me of home.

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With lots of coffee and the help of my dearest friends, I made it through. The troubled roommate moved out soon after the semester ended. I tried to get a job through a temp agency, since I’d be changing location soon, but it fell through. Instead, I had most of my days to myself, and evenings with my sister when she came home from work. I pursued a lot of personal work, and committed to working through the negative effects of being more or less at my wits’ end for four months in my personal life. I had some dark cobwebby corners to clear out.

I decided they wouldn’t rule me, so I had to move on. It took longer than I would have liked to free myself from them.

IMG_3077.jpgIn June, my sister and I attended San Francisco Pride (our first pride parade). I typically don’t like crowds and noise, so I was a little apprehensive about going. Adding to that apprehension, the tragedy in Orlando had happened not too long before. Everyone understood the risks they were taking by choosing to attend. My sister and I wondered if we should reconsider our plans to attend as well. We never talked it over, however. We both knew in our hearts we needed to go.

When I try to describe my experience at the parade to people, all I end up saying is something to the effect of, “It was so dang positive I can’t even explain it. It was just so powerful.” And it really was.

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The rest of the summer passed peacefully. I spent the first two weeks of August at home, gearing up to move into a new apartment in downtown San Francisco. I expected it to be purely restful.

It mostly was, but I was still in turmoil.

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I realized that whatever happened now, it was another square one of sorts. I’d been away for a year, and wherever I ended up after graduating from art school, I’d be tasked with building my life, almost from scratch. It was a daunting prospect I didn’t expect to confront in the region where I’d grown up and gone to college in, a region where my family and most of my friends lived.

Like many hard epiphanies this year, I came to terms with that as best as I could and then it was time to head back to San Francisco. My sister would be staying in Oregon, and that was really hard. I’d be on my own.

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I settled into the new apartment and commenced learning how to live in a big city. A new semester began and I was really looking forward to a fresh start.

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I took a perspective class and another one in comics. I attended a lot more workshops than I was able to go to while living outside the city the year before, I got more into ink, practiced as much as I could on my own time. I read a lot of books, pursued as much writing as I had headspace for on the side, even though it took a grudging backseat while I concentrate on my illustration training.

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I was apprehensive about trying again with a new living situation with new roommates, neither of which I knew before living with them. I was flying by the seat of my pants, searching for an environment I could thrive in and hoping for the best. It turned out to be a good arrangement, and I am so grateful with how well it turned out.

I felt like the most awkward person on the planet the latter half of this year, and it took me longer than I would have liked to start getting back in the swing of things. Thankfully, I made a friend who, little by little, coaxed me out of my shell and helped me regain confidence in my little homesick, mending heart.

A lot of things this year came up that I thought I’d already mastered. Turns out it was all just level one.

A perk of living in the city–you end up walking everywhere. I think I needed to take a lot of walks.
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At the end of a successful semester, I got to come home to Oregon for a long Christmas break, where I’m attempting to unwind and regroup. Last year, my sister only got the weekend off work, so we were able to spend a mere 48 hours at home. This year, I’m on my own schedule. By the end of 2016, I really needed a vacation, so I opted for spending it mostly in Oregon, where I plan to return after graduation.

IMG_4175.jpg2017 promises to be very busy, and I’m really looking forward to all the things we’ll make and do this year to make the world a better place.

There will always be a need for storytellers, and in such a turbulent time where ignorance and fear are finding a terrifying amount of footing, it seems we need them now more than ever.

There’s so much I want to do, and I’m eager to get to work. But for right now, I need to rest and reconnect. Until I head back to school, I’ll be going on lots of walks with the family’s Scottie dog, taking pictures of the sky.

I’m Going to Need a New Planner

2015 was a year of change and challenge.

By the middle of December, I was always tired, and holding desperately to a dwindling sense of motivation to keep up with anything. In the midst of it, I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time, but looking back, it makes a lot of sense.

(Me being too hard on myself? Surprise, surprise…)

Exactly a year ago, I was yet to begin my last semester at George Fox University. I still didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into by electing to take Advanced Anatomy, and I’d already been feeling the beginning stages of burnout. I was in the middle of writing my second book, and I didn’t yet know how it would end. I hadn’t even applied to grad school yet, but I had decided I was going to go for it, and had initiated contact with a graduate admissions counselor.

By the end of May 2015, I had:

  • graduated from George Fox University with a biology degree
  • applied and been accepted to launch straight into an MFA Illustration-Graphic Novel program at Academy of Art University in September
  • arranged and embarked on another four-week trip to Costa Rica to visit my host family–my first time traveling internationally without academic affiliation.
  • finished my second novel (which I actually did in Costa Rica)
  • started initial stages of my next large writing project
  • made headway in plans to move to the San Francisco Bay Area with my prospective roommates

Graduating college heralded huge changes I didn’t understand until I was far removed from the graduation ceremony itself. The undergraduate science major life I’d grown accustomed to was no more. The friends I had made were spreading out across the country, or staying in the area while I planned to leave to attend a completely different type of school.

Having finished a 10-month writing project, I found myself struggling to keep my creative drive satiated. I had to be writing something. Editing was its own animal. I was practically scrambling for something new to work with. Fortunately, I had something in mind, which develops further by the day. I’ve unofficially started it. School and the other two novels needing attention have to come first. I exhaust myself when I try to work on four large projects at once, much to my annoyance.

I had a great time in Costa Rica, thanks to the very gracious hospitality of my friends and adopted family there. I hope I can go back and visit again someday.

The next couple of months saw preparation for the fall, trying unsuccessfully to secure an apartment from afar, hoping my meager savings would be enough before my financial aid kicked in, undergoing a plan B trip to find work and an apartment before the actual move. A lot of lists and changes of plans took place during this period.

My sister and I drove down August 15, and stayed at a friend’s house for 3 weeks (THANK YOU SUE!) until our apartment was ready. September 15, we were faced with moving into an apartment amid school and work, which proved to be much more exhausting than I had anticipated. Apparently apartments need a lot of things like food and soap, and lack of furniture makes it hard to do homework?

I started work about the time of the move, and I loved the people I worked with, but the amount of energy it took from my already burnt out countenance took a huge toll on my mental health and interfered with my classes. Thank God for financial aid. After two months, I had saved up enough where I could quit and have a reasonable stipend until things shift next September.

Moving away from home was hard for all the reasons I didn’t think to expect. I was suddenly separated from my support group, and I wasn’t yet up to the challenge of putting forth the effort making a lot of new friends at my new school would require. So I found myself rather isolated. The last couple of years have been relatively low seasons, so everything took too much energy and attention. Self-motivation was difficult.

New school meant new expectations, as well as a new area of study I still wasn’t accustomed to. Being a biology major in undergrad, homework was studying and reading and research presentations, not charcoal renderings and figure studies. I felt like I had absolutely nothing under control, and I resented the fact that I needed so badly to be in control. I know having a type A personality is nothing to be ashamed of, but man, I was sure hating it there for a while. (Sounds like freshman year all over again, doesn’t it?)

Stress is needed for growth. I just wish I was able to handle so much stress with more composure.

Despite everything, I actually did well my first semester. I love the school. I learned a lot, improving my grasp of anatomy, learning how to render with charcoal and pastel (something I had very little basis in), learning new media, etc. I again came to grips with the finiteness of time and energy, learning to do what I can to pay attention to my limitations and adjust my movements to allow for them.

I’m really looking forward to next semester, and I hope that it will go more smoothly than this last one. I was so incredibly burnt out.

I still kind of am, but I’m ready to step out a little more, make friends, explore more than I’ve had the ability to.

As things are right now, my first book is nearly finished and I’ve yet to begin looking for agents/publishers (more likely the former). I’m dead set on traditional printing, which is perhaps the hardest way to go.

It’s been rough, coming into a terrifying stage with my art and writing. I’m studying to be a professional artist, and, with my first novel being on the cusp of professional pursuit as well, I’m definitely out of the dreaming stage. The years of working more recreationally than anything else and hoping everything will come together someday. Well, someday is now, and truly stepping out with both my most cherished forms of self-expression, into the zones where risk and failure abound is daunting. I’ve started to feel all the doubts, about life, my passions, my ability to function as a person. Nothing too sticky, mind you. I want this too badly for them to really prevent me from pushing through them.

This year’s been crazy, to say the least. 2015 was like grabbing hold of a cord that proceeded to drag me through all kinds of mire and foliage too quickly to really have time to realize what was happening. Or I was left too drained by it all to want to think about it anymore.

I look forward to working hard and growing more in 2016. An awful lot happens in a year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.