Tag Archives: mental health

Blueprint For a Successful Evening

"Blueprint For a Successful Evening." 6/17/13 and 5/12/14. Acrylic paint, spray paint, and ink. 24x18".
“Blueprint For a Successful Evening.” 6/17/13 and 5/12/14. Acrylic paint, spray paint, and ink. 24×18″.

I’m always busy. I always have “really important” stuff that I “have” to do. When I was living in DC, it was Traffic Street Records year-round and law school around final exam time. Back then (before heroin became the main problem), I feel like the biggest point of tension in my relationship was my emotional unavailability. Every night, Taylor would ask me to come to bed, I’d tell her I was almost done, and then six hours would pass before I actually made it to the bedroom. So every night she went to sleep alone, woke up while I was still asleep, and then came home from work to find me busy packing up records or laying out a record insert or [whatever]. Eventually, I started doing whatever Traffic Street stuff that I could at school instead of the apartment, so that she’d already be asleep when I got home and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not coming to bed and not paying attention to her.

Heather and I moved to Jacksonville this June. She didn’t have a job lined up before we got here so, for the first two weeks, we were both home all the time. Since I’m always busy, I’m never bored and I’m always content in that regard. But Heather has been working [forever] and likes having a job to go to every day. Consequently, she was bored out of her mind. And – maybe because of my own insecurities and my experiences with Taylor – I felt guilty anytime I was working instead of paying attention to her. It was stressing me out. And the fact that she was visibly bored and unhappy made even harder. Especially when I tried to talk to her about it and she just tuned out. Eventually, I decided that there was nothing I could do and just went about doing my own thing. But when it got to the point where we were barely talking at all, it was too much.

I’m feeling disconnected. I’m trying to push through it, assume the best, not stress out. If someone’s not talking to me, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me. They could just not feel like talking. Or it could have everything to do with me. But if every attempt at conversation – every question asked – is met with a one-word response, what am I supposed to do? [Moving to a new city together] is supposed to be exciting. And it is for me. But I feel like only for me. And that tempers the excitement a bit. I opened up, put everything out there. Explained with sincerity how I’m feeling. And I got nothing back. Literally, no response.
[ -written June 17th]

I was at a loss. Now I couldn’t work. I sat alone in the living room dumbfounded. And scatterbrained; I had my probation deadline hanging over my head and hadn’t finished my community service hours yet. That was also weighing on me and fucking me up. Especially since I was getting my hours from home; that meant that I could have been doing it in that moment, but wasn’t. Instead, I decided that I needed to paint. It had been too long.

There’s a small block of text in the center of the canvas:

My first impulse is to lie in bed, face down, and cry forever. My second is to beat off. I need to write and paint. I spill my guts and… I’m struggling. Sharing life isn’t easy. I might not be built for it. It’s tough to know what’s right for me. I like being me but it isn’t easy. I guess nothing is. That doesn’t feel true.

The next day – as has so often been the case this summer – I did a total one-eighty. Within twenty-four hours of painting “Blueprint,” I was working on a drawing that says: “I couldn’t be happier” – something I genuinely felt.

REVISION (5/31/14):

Nearly a year had passed since I painted this piece and it remained unsold. That’s mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t been displaying it because I didn’t really like it anymore. I don’t usually go back and work on old pieces because I tend to think of them as “artifacts” from another time in my career. But if I was keeping it locked up in a trunk, in a garage somewhere, it wasn’t really doing much good as an artifact or anything else for that matter. Better to go back, work on it some more – until it was something that I could be proud of and sell with confidence. It took another ten hours or so and I finished it on May 12, 2014. Sixteen days later, it was sold. Here’s what it used to look like…

"Blueprint For a Successful Evening." 6/17/13. Acrylic and pen. 18x24".
“Blueprint For a Successful Evening,” as it was upon its initial completion on 6/17/13..

 

My Treatment Plan

"My Treatment Plan." 3/28/13. Pencil, pen, and watercolor on treatment plan. 8½x11”.
“My Treatment Plan.” 3/28/13. Pencil, pen, and watercolor on treatment plan. 8½x11”.

I painted this cartoon on the front page of one of my treatment plans. It’s got a list of all of the things that I should’ve been doing at that point but wasn’t. The thing my counselor was pushing the most was that I go out and interact with human beings that weren’t (1) my girlfriend or (2) my ex-girlfriend’s family [who I lived with]. Basically – to hang out with my friends—not too unreasonable but… you know… I’m busy… and I kinda like my bubble.

On this particular evening – I was out in the great big world. I rode down to Sarasota for a house show with Rational Anthem, Wet Nurse, and Weak Nights. When the last band finished though, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Without heroin or some other intoxicant, how was I supposed to handle this? I’m good with one-on-one interaction but groups of people are tricky.

 

I decided to make myself useful; I went around the house collecting all of the beer cans and other garbage, bagged it all up and took it outside. I felt pretty good about that [it was nice to be the one cleaning up, rather than fucking up someone’s house] but … what now? I was sleeping at Pete’s house and he was still having fun; I couldn’t ask him to leave. I looked in my backpack. I had pen, pencil, some watercolors, but no blank paper.

 

It seemed like a funny idea—to make a cartoon about finally being in a social situation but engaging in a thoroughly antisocial activity—a cartoon that acknowledged my foolishness but demonstrated a resistance to giving it up.

 

I wasn’t actually trying to be antisocial, of course. [I’m not an asshole – I’m just awkward]. I’d break from what I was doing whenever someone walked up and expressed an interest in talking to me. Maybe – on some level – I was even doing it with that outcome as my goal. Maybe it was an effort to interact one-on-one without having to feel like I was somehow monopolizing someone; it might have been a subconscious move to interact without having to insert myself into a crowd and feel out of place. (It’s cliché and childish but – just about everywhere I go – I still regularly feel that I don’t quite fit in or belong).

 

So I worked on this at the house, at the bar we all went to afterward, and then back at Pete’s.

 

—–
Epilogue: This is one of the few things I’ve sold really cheap. To a kid I met in downtown St. Pete during my one Indie Market experience. He really liked a lot of my stuff and especially this one. He had one of those huge backpacks that transient/traveler kids tend to have, so when he asked of there was anyway i could accept just $12 for it, I figured that was probably a pretty decent chunk of his net worth. Besides, when it comes to pricing my art – it’s got very little to do with money. I mean – don’t get me wrong, it is how I pay my bills so I do need to make a certain amount each month, but (after that) it’s not about money – it’s about personal valuation, self-esteem, and confidence. I’ve been encouraged not to give things away which is something I was initially doing anytime someone expressed an interest or even when they actually made an offer to buy something. (And I still do it occasionally). ‘Cause it’s uncomfortable. It’s foreign. Coming up in punk rock – we’re not supposedto make money off our creativity. I still feel guilty sometimes when somebody asks how much I want for something. I’ll usually tell them a number that’s only two-thirds or so of what I actually had in mind. But then when they buy it without blinking, I feel dumb for not just saying the actual price I had in mind (especially when I’m struggling financially).
Although “struggling” is a little of an overstatement. I might *stress* but – so far – everything has always worked out for the best. In the six months since I moved out of Tranquil Shores, I haven’t failed to pay for essentials yet. Things are good. Things are okay.

 

Little Vomit-Colored Hearts

"Little Vomit-Colored Hearts." 2/12/13. Acrylics, pen, and collage (cardboard, resin sand, and crushed up Peptol-Bismol) on a strange wooden frame. 12" (diameter) round.
“Little Vomit-Colored Hearts.” 2/12/13. Acrylics, pen, and collage (cardboard, resin sand, and crushed up Peptol-Bismol) on a strange wooden frame. 12″ (diameter) round.

The text in the center says: “It’s my hope that someday I’ll be able to draw a cartoon Heather that’s maybe 5% as adorable as the real thing.” The large (vomit-colored) text says, “Lovesick.” The rest:

If I had to guess, I’d say you might not be the biggest Valentine’s day celebrant to walk the earth. Which is cool. But any excuse I can grab hold of to tell you I think you’re great with some extra-effort-little gesture… I’m into. Can I be unabashedly romantic/sappy for a minute? You make me wanna puke up little vomit-colored hearts. (What’d I tell you? Romantic). I’m a heroin addict – you see past it. I’m weird as shit – you’re into it. You think you’re (relatively) boring – you’re not. You’re just (relatively) sane (maybe).  Which is awesome. You make me wanna be as good as I can be. You make me wanna live the best life possible. (I already wanted those things, but you make me want ‘em even more). And still have plenty of ridiculous adventures. But with you by my side. I wanna get in all kindsa trouble (and fuck up all kindsa shit) with you. (I mean that in the best way possible). I wanna get in good kindsa trouble. I don’t know about all these words. When I think about you and when I’m with you, sometimes I feel insecure. Until you speak. And then I feel the opposite. I feel safe and okay. (Still pretty new for me). You’re the warmest, most supportive, encouraging, loving, inspiring, high-school-mean-girl-Christian-bully that I’ve ever met. You’re so fucking sharp and beautiful and honest and [fuck!] You’re stylish and funny and perfectly imperfect and strong and independent. and everything good on this wacky fucking planet. You’re a dream I don’t want to wake up from. Happy (two day’s early) Valentine’s day, Heather.

So reads the text at the top of this piece. Following that are some “nervous afterthoughts,
which I wrote over the course of the next hour or so, and then bracketed and labeled as such.

Wanna be my girlfriend? Like – for realsies?
Actually, scratch that.
You already are.
Like it or not!
{You make me feel like a kid again. Not much of a stretch, but – you know…).
Thanks for taking a chance on a kid in rehab.
I adore you.

New relationships in early recovery are not recommended. And if you’re inpatient in rehab (I think it goes without saying that) they’re not allowed at all. For me especially – they’re a bad idea. Keeping the proper distance between girls and me had been a task my various rehab counselors and I had been dealing with for more than a year. This last January, I was still living at Tranquil Shores, but I was no longer technically an inpatient. I operated according to a different set of rules. I could leave property for up to two hours at a time, provided I got approval from my counselor first and got all the paperwork signed and into the hands of the residential property staff.

There was this girl (Heather!) that I had added on Facebook at some point, thinking that she was someone else. Sometime later, after her name popped up a few times, I actually checked her page and realized she wasn’t who I thought. She was pretty and we had mutual friends in Sarasota; I thought it was strange that I didn’t know her (or at least have some idea of who she was), but [whatever]. Now – in January – I saw a post of hers: “When I do good at work, I like to reward myself by breaking out with ‘THIS GIRL IS ONE FIREEE.’ Customers love me.” I had no idea what that lyric was from, but I thought that was pretty fucking cute. I responded with “In theory, if I had an internet crush on you – how would you feel about that?” The next day, she commented on something I posted, I responded, and we started emailing back and forth. Within a couple days, we were spending hours exchanging messages. I liked her a lot and I realized really quickly that there was something different this time. The last few girls that I had dated, I was constantly asking myself whether or  not I really liked them… I was always having to convince myself that it was genuine for [this reason] or [that reason]. I didn’t have to convince myself of anything this time. I was unqualifiedly into this girl. I somehow coaxed her into agreeing to come up to visit me (in rehab). And I got her phone number and started calling her instead of writing her because that seemed like the healthy, brave thing to do.

Funny aside: The three Rational Anthem kids were amongst our mutual friends. After Heather and I had been writing each other for all of a day or so, I called each of them and said something like: “I’m going to ask you about someone but – before I give you the name – I need to warn you to speak carefully because this is the girl I’m going to marry. What can you tell me about Heather Pierce?” Admittedly, those calls were partially motivated by something authentic and partially by my own enjoyment of how perpetually lovesick I seemed to make myself. As miserable as it made me at times, I thought there was something cute or funny about it.

So she was interested in coming to see me but that didn’t mean that my counselor was actually going to approve it. And I was fairly certain that even if she allowed this girl to come see me, there was no way she’d actually let me leave the courtyard/property with her. But she did. She and the rest of the treatment staff decided that in light of everything, the best approach was to allow it and monitor it through my sessions. Talk to me about it, counsel me, and just make sure that I didn’t somehow lose my shit as a consequence. It was one thing to keep me off heroin, but to keep me off girls was pretty much impossible. Better to let me get involved now, while they could help me along the way, then wait until I was out on my own and not under their care and guidance twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day.

There’s so much more that I could say, but I’ve got another piece that I can use to tell more of this story. Her first visit was January 29th. I made and gave this to her on February 12th, the night of our fourth “date.”

Clarity

“Success rates” for slit wrists and knives to the heart are surprisingly low. I didn’t want to go to a hospital…

Forty-eight hours before “No Accident” and the moment when I started to finally “get better,” I was in my room – researching suicide methods that didn’t require anything that couldn’t be found in my apartment at Tranquil Shores. I was going to kill myself because a girl was mad at me. A girl that I wasn’t even sure that I liked.

Earlier that afternoon, we did an exercise in group. We had to pull a couple items out of a basket and relate to them. I declined to say anything aloud, but when it was time for art therapy group, I started writing.

The fortune was absurd, the paper it was printed on was dirty and crumpled. Together, they were useless. This pencil is not useless. It has incredible potential. It is an instrument of a higher purpose. In the right hands. It is comforting. I like holding it in my hand. With paper, it can save me from almost anything. And it is forgiving. It has an eraser. If I make a mistake, it allows for correction. Or at least undoing. The mistakes I make with it are rarely entirely forgotten. I don’t know how to apply this to my life. Is it by chance that the trauma I addressed [in group] this morning, that I was supposed to see is not happening anymore (but which I claimed could and would (and sort of was) still taking place) – is it by chance that just hours later it pretty much is [happening again]? Or did I choose that memory because it had already begun? Yes, that’s it. It’s just more clear now. Because I realize I’m no longer willing to be honest which means I can’t get better. I can’t be helped. So there’s no reason for me to be here. Except that to hope that things will change once more. I no longer believe that I’m a drug addict. Sort of. I know I can’t use drugs (or that it’s not worth the risk in any case). But I’m not going to pick up. Fuck that. I’m over it. It’s not appealing anymore. But I’m miserable. Like I realized on my first weekend here, people are unhappy for countless reasons other than drugs. Me? I have no legitimate reason to be unhappy. It’s all in my head and it’s illogical. Is that recognition enough to get help in getting well without disclosing my irrational stressors? Celexa is an SSRI. Cymbalta is an SNRI. Which means that it does the same thing as Celexa, plus more. Adding Celexa to my prescription [regimen] adds little to nothing. And it will be another 3½ to 5½ weeks before we even know if it’s having any effect. I need something different and I need something faster. I am chemically imbalanced. I need chemical balance. Abilify might work. It’s too expensive. It’s less expensive than inpatient treatment. Maybe I’d be better off with Abilify and outpatient treatment. Here or elsewhere. At this point I’m not afraid to leave.

I don’t like art anymore. I don’t like treatment anymore. I don’t think I’m ready to get better anymore.

"Clarity." 12/10/12. Pencil. 12x18".
“Clarity.” 12/10/12. Pencil. 12×18″.

This piece is called “Clarity” because that’s how I actually felt in this moment. I thought I had nailed it. I was deluded enough to think that my primary issue was chemical, thoroughly confused as to whether or not I needed any kind of mental health therapy or substance abuse treatment, yet I was somehow lucid enough to know that those feelings (and my written rant) were totally insane. The title is “Clarity” because I thought it was hilarious. I wasn’t laughing, but I knew it was funny. Even then.

Sometimes, emotions are more powerful than facts.

Later that night, I made a half-hearted attempt to kill myself by asphyxiation. (Success rates are in the seventy to eighty percent range).

————————-

When I handed over the Traffic Street inventory to Kiss of Death, Glenn gave me a few new KoD releases. One was The Slow Death’s first LP. I listened to that record a lot while I was at Tranquil Shores. My name is on the thanks list even though I didn’t have any hand in its release. (Though I had been a big fan and supporter of The Slow Death and helped them out in other ways, so it wasn’t totally shocking). Still, I wasn’t expecting it and it was a really nice surprise. I had become so far removed from the world that I had lived and breathed for so long… Little things like that helped me feel connected in those days. It meant a lot to me. It seems appropriate that my first experience back in that world was the little tour with Rational Anthem this month, up to the fest that Jesse (of The Slow Death) organized. Here’s a song from that first LP that came to mind while I was writing this entry. And here’s a second song from their brand new record.

Dear Diary

"Dear Diary." 3/26/13. Pen and pencil on paper. 6x8".
“Dear Diary.” 3/26/13. Pen and pencil on paper. 6×8″.

I finished a cartoon that I was especially proud of and posted it online. But five minutes later, when the anticipated tidal wave of adoration failed to materialize and knock me out of my chair, I actually started to feel bitter. So I picked my pencil back up and drew this – to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the world and show everyone just how clever (I think) I am.  It (of course) got even less feedback than the first cartoon.

But making it made me feel a little better all the same.

I can make myself pretty unhappy when I allow my self-esteem to be dependent on other people. Feeling validation as a consequence of my own actions (rather than other peoples’ responses) has been a huge part of my struggle to be a mentally and emotionally competent human being. It’s still tough sometimes but – for the first time in my life – it’s possible. I no longer need you to like me, in order for me to like me.

Iowa

Things got a little hectic yesterday morning. I’m going to try to tell this story, which involves other people, while keeping the focus mostly on myself. I’ve never stated so explicitly but there’s a reason I do that and it’s not because I think I’m such a fascinating character. Letting my focus shift to other people would make for better storytelling but less effective mental health exercise. When it comes to my well-being, the things that other people think, say, and do are irrelevant. Really, they have nothing to do with me and are none of my business (or at least none of my concern).

The Lipstick Homicide and Bloated Kat houses are about a block apart, so our crew was split between them for the night. It was about time for us to get on the road from Iowa City to Carbondale when Noelle called me and said she needed my help. “It’s nothing bad or serious, is it?”

“Andrea broke up with me and is driving back to Florida without Jessica.”

Since 2008, Rational Anthem has had an incredibly sensible rule: no girlfriends on tour. Relationship problems are bad enough on their own, but when they come up on tour, they become the whole band’s problem. This trip though wasn’t quite a tour and an exception was made. Noelle’s girlfriend rented a car to drive up to Dave Strait Fest, but also to stop along the way up and back for two of the shows Rational was playing between Florida and Minneapolis. In the car with her was a friend of Noelle’s (and – at one point – possibly of Andrea’s as well).

What happened isn’t important. There was now bad blood and Andrea didn’t want to drive back to Florida with the other girl.

Rational Anthem has three members. Their van has four seats. I was along for the whole trip and Zack’s summer in Minneapolis was over, so he was hitching a ride with us back home to Florida.

I walked over to the house and sat down with Andrea. I offered a couple different ideas/options that might make her more receptive to driving back with Jessica in tow, as planned. She wasn’t having it.

There was a point in my life where I was so desperate to be perceived as a “winner” – as someone capable of pulling any trick or fixing any problem – that I would have pulled whatever emotionally manipulative bullshit was necessary to get those two girls in the car together and back on the road to Florida. But that’s not me anymore. Andrea was hurting and I felt for her. Whatever happened to spark the conflict didn’t really matter to me. Two (or three) people can have radically different versions of a story and neither’s is wrong. Perception *is* reality. If Noelle or Jessica were mean to Andrea, if it was all in Andrea’s head – it didn’t make any difference. Emotions are more powerful than facts. I didn’t care about the problem, only the solution.

The rental car was in Andrea’s name. On paper, the call was hers. Could she have been coaxed into taking Jessica and making life easier for the other people involved? Probably. But I consider Andrea a friend and – it’s a little strange but – my empathy was stronger than my need to be the clever problem-solver. It’s strange because I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. I wasn’t willing to do anything to keep her from doing what she felt she needed to in order to feel okay.

I gave Andrea a hug and told Jessica she’d have to take a bus from Iowa to Florida. Not because she did something wrong (I don’t know or care whether or not she did) but because that was simply the situation we were in. Unfortunate but… things are as they are.

Jessica said she didn’t know what she had done wrong. I said that I didn’t either, but that it didn’t matter. She was upset (and reasonably enough so). Not being the type of itinerant punk rock fuck-up that so many of us are, a bus trip from Iowa to Florida was going to be a new kind of experience for her. I did my best to remain calm, compassionate, and supportive, and to alleviate any fears, but it didn’t go over much better than my initial proposals to Andrea. Jessica asked if she could go in the van with Rational Anthem and someone else could take a bus or ride back with Andrea.

Chris, Noelle, and I walked back to the other house. Chris wanted to keep the group intact as it was. Noelle said she felt bad about the situation Jessica was in so she was okay with Zack or I heading back with Andrea – so long as we were. I didn’t like that option, but was willing to do whatever seemed to make the most sense. Zack was too. I saw Andrea’s hurt, but there was hurt all over the place and I’d do just about anything for Noelle at this point. She’s my friend and – besides – I owe it to her. For all the times when I haven’t been a good friend to her. For all the times when the only thing she could really count on me doing was making trouble myself.

As it turned out, Andrea returned
the car in Iowa and made other plans. The five of us decided to hit the road as initially planned.

"Iowa." 8/19/13. Watercolor, marker, and pen. 9x12".
“Iowa.” 8/19/13. Watercolor, marker, and pen. 9×12″.

This was finished later that afternoon but drawn mostly the night before, on the way to (and at) the show in Des Moines (which was The Copyrights, Lipstick Homicide, Rational Anthem, Tight Bros, and a few others). The text is basically journaling about the situation and some other stuff that was on my mind at one point or another.

The text that stands out most to me says, “What’s to come is what matters. We roll with the punches. We’ll do whatever it is that we have to do.” It’s kind of about what is as well as what should be. Or maybe just what is when we’re at our best. Human beings, I mean.

I’m really grateful for the fact that – even when I thought it might mean that I’d have to go home early – the thought never occurred to me that I should go back and try to talk Andrea into taking Jessica after all.

And I’m grateful that I’m still here with four of my friends. And grateful that I’m finally able to treat my friends the way a friend should.

Whatevermind

Says: “I don’t accept what you consider fact, truth, or reality. But I do believe in freedom right now. And I’m gonna do my best to try to be happy. I’ll let you know how it works out.”

It was in response to being told that – what I’m doing / how I’m living – is okay for now but will have to end really soon. That I’ll need to get a real job or learn to draw boardwalk caricatures.

"Whatevermind." 5/12/13. Pen. 9x10¼".
“Whatevermind.” 5/12/13. Pen. 9×10¼”.

I drew this “for” the insert for (Rational Anthem’s) Whatevermind LP, but decided that it didn’t fit and – beyond that – almost seemed antithetical to it.

Actually, I just remembered: this didn’t start out as an expressive piece, I had something in mind, but I made a mistake (and since I was using ink, I couldn’t correct it) so I just worked around it and it turned into this.

We’re en route to Des Moines. Show tonight should be good. Rational, Copyrights, Tight Bros, and Lipstick Homicide. Kind of strange though: doors at 4, show at 5, and it’s 21+.

Found out The Heat Tape got added to the show tomorrow in Carbondale. Their album was my favorite thing on the planet that first week in Sarasota to make “No Real Than You Are.” It was actually when one of those songs came up in my headphones and I didn’t immediately feel great that I knew something was wrong. I wanted the feeling back – the one that I had gotten, riding around town listening to that album just a few days earlier. Raccoon Valley Recordings (and my response to it) were literally my mental health gauge.