A GLIMPSE OF MY 35 YEAR NIGHT SEA JOURNEY
To this day ‘God’ is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions, and change the course of my life for better or for worse. -C.G. Jung
My life has been a balancing act between creativity and illness. The creativity is the part I prefer, the illness I could live without. But so far, despite 35 years worth of consistently Herculean efforts, that has not yet been an option.
When I collapsed at the age of 20, with a mysterious debilitating illness that remained undiagnosed for close to a decade, I had no idea what I was in for. I was completely unprepared for what turned out to be my exit out of a fully functioning adventurous life into one that would often and repeatedly be reduced to a couch or a bed. Over the next thirty five years I would ride an endless roller coaster of remissions and relapses, never reaching beyond 50% of my original level of functioning, and maintaining usually at about 25% at best. I would endure many huge setbacks, but I pushed forward in spite of my illness, earning two degrees, a BA in English Lit in 1981 and an MA in Art Therapy in 1986. I produced a CD of music in 2000, and a film about a local political issue in 2008. I crashed again and again and again from the effort expended on these accomplishments.
During my worst crashes, I would be completely immobilized and mostly bedridden with an exhaustion so all-encompassing that it felt like my body had been pounded into a wall with a wrecking ball. Recovery back to the square one of 25% of functioning could take up to three years if I was lucky. Though I did everything humanly possible to get over and beyond what one empathetic medical expert has described as “an illness that is like a living death,” it eventually became painfully clear that the chances of that were quite slim. My resistance, as fierce and tenacious as it was, proved to be no match for the enemy of pathogens that had occupied my body and taken it hostage. I was forced to accept the unacceptable, to adjust and readjust repeatedly into a life of ever greater limitations and restrictions, and to eek out some semblance of peace and freedom in the unquiet desolation of being chronically ill.
As it turned out, it would be painting that would rescue me from the anguish of living such a confined existence. I had seen how art had benefitted those I had worked with as an art therapist, and how it had enriched the lives of friends and family members, who had become artists because of my influence. But I did not delve immerse myself fully into the process myself, until I was at last forced to do so by own deepening despair with my eternally unending health crisis.
When it comes to describing my 35 year long night sea journey, I much prefer to paint, than to talk or write about it. There is a freedom and joy that I find in process painting, which I haven’t experienced in any other artistic medium. It is a raw, pure expression, that draws out of me the exact truth of what I’m feeling in that moment. By sharing my paintings with you, I wish to convey a glimpse of my experience in living color.
(This essay is an excerpt from my book You Don’t Look Sick by Laura Vitale, which can be found HERE.