A truly grim anniversary just happened. It’s been a year since I started isolating in my home due to Covid 19. Yes, a whole year.
It’s a tough pill to swallow (though at this juncture I would take any pill, injectable or whatever they would give me just to be able to walk to the corner store with peace of mind), and it takes a bit of brain jiu-jitsu to come to terms with it.
Only Facebook (darling Facebook) has been spiteful enough to keep reminding me of how one day stacks on top of the next with inexorable precision. Memories, they call it.
I’m of the opinion that in 2020 they should have had the good sense to wipe out that practice. Those images of travels, friends, birthdays, and outdoor adventures have haunted me, reminding me of how much I have lost. It’s difficult to overcome the exhaustion when no clear finish line can be seen on the horizon...yet.
So, I tend to look back. I tend to ruminate, which I think is one of my least favorite superpowers. In doing so, I realized that the uncertainty and sense of peril I felt, propelled me towards what I know best. A practice sometimes unsettling and sometimes comforting in equal measure. They made me turn to collage.
For people like me who suffer from CPTSD, the isolation amplified the anxiety. It relegated our daily routine to what happens inside our minds. In my case, the mental landscape I find myself wandering in is miserable and terrifying. Not a nice place to be at all.
There is something called “speechless terror” that many CPTSD sufferers experience. It is a well-known entity for me. Even though I can talk anyone under the table when I am under pressure or otherwise socially uncomfortable (it’s a defense mechanism), I fail to put my genuine discomfort and fears into words. My brain seems to be offline and I cannot effectively explain what my emotions are doing to me, and definitely not where they come from.
Mercifully, collage is symbolic. It captures meaning where there is little room for explanations. These images I create bypass speech and thus they allow me to reveal feelings and memories that otherwise would remain anchored in the deeper parts of my brain. Like a body submerged in water held down by a concrete block, these feelings degrade and change overtime. Parts of them resurface and I find them repugnant and offensive, but they are never completely exposed to the light of day. They are never clearly seen or resolved. They cannot be described with mere words.
That is why I am grateful that the images create a language of their own accord. I follow their lead and find myself repeating motifs that soothe me. They might mean something quite different to the viewer. Perhaps, they are even repetitive and inconsequential to everyone else, but to me they are an improvised raft that keeps me afloat. Not without effort, not without pain, but they do enable me to breathe a little and keep going.
Through this process, which is never ending, I create a sort of mask that I can show to the world. It disables some of my fears in a way that keeps me simultaneously safe and visible. I engage in creative destruction, which is the process of removing the layers of pain that muffle your true self. That self you wish people around you could experience unfettered, because it is infinitely better than the twisted mess you have no choice but to work with.
So, I hope that some of the collages I make can connect my fears with someone else’s fears in a way that disables all of them. Mine, yours, ours. If there is a true purpose to all this searching, all this cutting and gluing of paper, that is it for me.
Collage making is not just a recreational activity in my case. It is a lifeline I gladly use so that I can keep showing up to my own daily living. I think of it constantly.
Even when someone else suggests a theme that is playing out in the collective consciousness, or when a client requests a tribute to a beloved cultural icon, I always return to my own need for coping with my personal demons. As selfish as it might appear, I believe I connect with many people who have no outlet to do so or might have been dissuaded from trying to. The personal and the universal are connected more than we think, and life often provides everyone with similar experiences.
I hope everyone found something that gave them a bit of solace during 2020. This year hasn’t been any more benign so far, so whatever that is, whatever is getting you through the day, cherish it and keep working at it.
Peace and good health.