“Agony” is a piece that I started in January of 2007. It hadn’t yet been a year since I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I had begun to make significant progress as I used my artwork to work through past traumatic events. This also led to a solo showing at Flight Gallery in December of 2006. The show came down on the 9th and 10th of January. On the night of January 10th I was assaulted and in the next few days I did the only thing that I had learned to do to cope with all of the swirling in my head and the physical dysphoria, I started a new painting.
[Here is the piece in 2007, after months of mildly tinted acrylic medium.]
One of the constant thoughts in the early period was “How long will it take to move past this one?”. I was utterly lost really. I began to put a thin translucent layer over the word agony every day. I planned on continuing this until I had found a way to move on; or perhaps until I couldn’t read the word any longer in the hope that this metaphor would make me strong enough to move on.
It is now January 2nd, 2017; almost 10 years later and the piece is complete. Or, as complete as it ever will be. It is as complete as I am. I have learned, in these years, that these things can’t be erased. We all find our own ways to cope with our unique experiences and we create stories and metaphors in our heads to make sense of our reality, but sometimes we remember that they are only stories and we catch glimpses of the ugly truth in our peripheries. We could attempt to build a wall between ourselves and our tragedies. We can try to make these things invisible to others, even to ourselves, because we don’t want to see it every day. But, despite this resistance, we can’t forget. And we can’t ignore it.
I am so deeply satisfied that I was able to complete this painting. I had felt as though that word was staring at me at times and felt ashamed each time I saw it. I love that the process has been completed at a time when I have been especially focused on temporal distances and the effects of time on the tangible and intangible. Its completion also comes at a time when I have been clearly reminded that sometimes these metaphors are obviously only metaphors and the tragedies in life are always there, subtly shifting our perceptions and actions.
I am honored at the response I have received from the few people whom have seen the piece “early”. The connection they expressed to the piece is truly overwhelming and has reminded me of how important it is to honestly use our voices and our truths to create connections, and beauty, and integrity in a world that is often tainted by tragedy, isolation and injustice.
It is my honest hope that this piece may remind a few souls that, while they may always carry something tragic with them, it need not haunt them or define their beauty or impact on their worlds. Even when we can see that it is only a story, it is always our story. And ours alone.
Here is the now completed piece, thank you for sharing in a piece of my story.
For more writings on mental health issues from Sara Barcus (including background on both diagnosis and the journey of creating Memories, Remedies and Nightmares in 2006 and recent progress and challenges) at Bird By Bird.