Like a lot of people, I struggle with anxiety and a host of other brainular issues. I have a few diagnoses that I could rattle off, but right now I don’t feel like the particulars matter. What is important in this moment is my conception of them, and how I use art to deal with their sometimes unwelcome presence in my life.
I call them demons. I’m not a particularly spiritual and not at all religious person, so I don’t mean demons in any literal “fallen angel” or “personification of evil” sense. It’s more that they have recurring roles and specific emotions associated with them. For example, for me, Anxiety is a demon that walks around with me every day, whether I’m consciously aware of it or not. Fear is another. It helps me to name them, to conceptualize them as having a physical form, and behaviors that I can learn to recognize and then counteract.
I know, rationally, that they are part of me. They’re little subroutines in my brain that trigger and then run until I either figure out how to shut them down, or at least quiet them so that I can function in daily life. But knowing what they are and why they occur is a kind of front-brain knowledge that is more intellectual. I needed a way to know them in a deeper sense, the sort of knowing that lets me recognize when one has surfaced, and which tools I need to use to combat it. I needed to grok them. I had to open my eyes.
And so I began to draw them. I started with Anxiety. That one has been around so long and consistently that I’m almost fond of it, like a stray that just won’t go away. It is almost…comfortable, in an I’m anxious, therefore I know I’m alive kind of way. When the anxiety is low grade, it feels small, like a little creature that sits on my shoulder and points out the cracks in the sidewalk, a car wandering in its lane, a knife that might fall off the counter. You know, things that probably won’t result in disaster, but might anyway, so better to pay attention and be ready to react. Just in case.
Self Judgement is another one that comes around pretty frequently. It feels like it’s always around, actually. Staring at me. Crossing its arms and making “tsk” noises. Not really saying much, just…judging. This one was hard to give form to…I kept doing it wrong and having to start over. Eventually, though, I felt my way to this asshole wall-eyed walrus caterpillar. He’s cute, but don’t be fooled. He’s a jerk, and he’ll tap every one of his feet in annoyance at you.
Some of them I did in oil pastels: Fear, the Hypnotist; and Paranoia, the Whisperer.
Fear came easily. At the time I was having a crisis, and I felt as though I couldn’t see anything but the fear, like the rest of the world had retreated beyond my senses. It felt encompassing, almost suffocating, as though I was trapped inside a pillow. This demon had a strength that was so hard to resist, so I imagined it as a a great feathered snake with huge swirling eyes and stinging tentacles to keep me paralyzed.
Paranoia was harder to visualize. I don’t suffer from too many visits from this demon, and it tried to stay hidden from my sight. I’m not convinced even now that I’ve gotten it…but I don’t want to work on it more and accidentally invite it out to play, you know? It is a sensation, and to give it form, I need to feel it. I imagine paranoia as another small demon that lives up near my ears, whispering. Small, cutting teeth in a mouth that can change shape. Big eyes, too many of them, always watching. And lots of hands, to grasp onto me and all questions it snatches out of my brain, turning them over and around, endlessly wondering and whispering.
There are other demons that I haven’t given form to, yet. The Greater Anxiety Demon, for one. Loneliness, aka What Will You Do When You’re Old And Don’t Have Kids To Take Care Of You, is another that’s been coming around more recently. These two are daunting, and I haven’t had successful hunts of them yet, artistically speaking.
How do you hunt your demons? Do you draw them? If so, I’d love to hear about it.