A feeling that is all too familiar to anyone with a chronic illness, is the sense of detachment from reality. I have no doubt that plenty of others know this sensation too, but I speak from personal experience when I say that for me, Crohn’s Disease and it go hand in hand.
It is a hard feeling to make sense of, and an even harder one to describe, but I am going to attempt it now. It seems to come in waves, quite unexpectedly. All of a sudden, maybe when I am reapplying the tape on my cheek to secure the tube after my morning shower, or at any point during the protracted morning set-up of my day’s feeds, I will get an overwhelming flood of realisation. That is usually followed by sheer disbelief: is this really my life?
It sounds immature to say that it isn’t how I imagined it would turn out, because who does end up in the reality they dreamed for themselves as a child? This is something more, though, than disillusionment at the lack of fairy tale outcomes and happy endings. There are certain moments where it actually seems impossible to connect the me that exists in the here and now with the me I once was. Of course, I haven’t changed in any significant way, but some of the paths I am having to follow are not paths that even existed in the far off distance in my projections into the future.
Once upon a time, when picturing what life might look like in my mid thirties, I saw a husband, children and acting. Fairly conventional wishes for someone as unconventional as me. There certainly wasn’t a feeding tube. Nor were there any of the numerous added complications and issues I have faced in recent years. That is why at times, I feel like an onlooker on the side-lines of my own life.
None of this is being written in a self-pitying way (that really isn’t my style) and there are parts of my life that have turned out better than I could ever have imagined. I am merely trying to contextualise this blog, in which I have decided to put one of my most tried and tested pick-me-ups to the test.
I am fairly well-versed in pulling myself out of the darkness, and I have learned the quickest routes back to a smile. It is often a case of indulging in the simplest things, and allowing me to step outside myself and my life for a positive escape. It is really more of a pause than an escape, but whichever way I frame it, I am taking control and choosing to detach from my circumstances briefly, rather than wallow in whatever unhappiness I might be feeling. I am not running away from reality, just distancing myself for a while.
So what do I do? There are no right or wrong answers here, and there is certainly no science behind any of this. All I have to go on, is my own process of trial and error. I know the things that make me feel good in the face of overwhelming negativity, and those are what I return to each and every time. Creativity will always be a white knight to me; not a day goes by when I don’t feel thankful for that fact. Yet it is a double edged sword in many ways. I love to escape my reality via any creative outlet. However, all too often when I feel low, I find it hard to summon the inspiration to create. I have often thought this would be less of a problem if I could find a way to shake off my extreme Type A tendencies, and be satisfied with being creative, as opposed to needing to successfully create something.
It just so happens that I received an email from the 64 Million Artists project that couldn’t have been more apt. Followers of my old blog may remember my mentioning the project last year, with the hope that maybe January 2017 would be the year I lowered the bar for myself slightly, and allowed myself to make some spontaneous creations that wouldn’t be perfect, but to enjoy the process despite that. In other words, to apply the principles I urge my youngsters to follow, to myself.
I have never been one for resolutions as such; I don’t really see the point in making big promises and grand gestures. That said, this January has already seen me accept a number of changes that I have been powerless to resist. If I am coping with this newfound openness when it comes to my IBD, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I might be able to adopt a less Type A approach every once in a while. That would certainly come under the heading of trying to be kinder to myself (something of a work in progress which began around a decade ago) which brings me right back to the latest 64 Million Artists challenge.
The email was entitled LOVE ME. X and began by highlighting just how frequently we instinctively criticise, berate and belittle ourselves on a daily basis. It went on to urge participants to ring in the changes and rustle up a quick collage illustrating at least five qualities we like about ourselves.
It is ages since I made a collage. Or, at least, it was…
I am pleased to say I honoured the true spirit of the challenge and didn’t think about this much before making it. Having only spent about fifteen minutes on it, perfection was certainly not the desired goal. Even more surprising, is that focusing on the creative challenge made it easier to think positively about myself for a short while, which makes a refreshing change. I am not even going to talk you through my collage, or to try and justify any of my ideas. Why? Because to do that would be to focus on the product, not the process. Besides, the whole point of art is that every viewer will take something unique from any one piece. You might not see me on this sheet, and you will never know why I have chosen to present myself in this way; and that’s fine.
So there you have it: creativity has come to the rescue yet again. There is something about cutting and sticking that reminds me of being a child, and when I slip into child mode, I can convince myself that I am carefree and that life is no more complicated than I want it to be. I’d say that’s the definition of an effective creative escape, wouldn’t you?