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  • Writer's pictureTsunami Hee Ja

While sitting with Black Dogs

Artist enveloped by black dogs, reaching for leaping rabbit
First drawing for 2024

As is my habit, I feel obliged to begin this blog post with an apology for having been absent so long, but plot twist – I’m not going to. I’ve had my reasons.

For those who follow my work it will have been observed that I was beyond scarce on the social media posting scene in 2023, and apart from some significant workshop bookings, you would be right to assume that I was artistically dormant for the most part.

The reason for this, as some of you may have clocked from a post at the beginning of last year, was that I began to work outside the freelance illustration field. In addition to continuing my volunteer work with young people, I also moved into a paid role in a completely new industry while finalising the study required to hold this fresh position.

Although I’ll refrain from naming my organisation or workplace, I can elaborate that I’ve been working in mental health crisis support for coming up to a year now. It is the most demanding job I have ever undertaken, and although it can also be incredibly rewarding, it often leaves me exhausted.

My creativity has been channelled into peopling instead of onto paper.

And actually, I’d hoped to be able to do this for a very long time. My passion for the field stems from my own mental health recovery. Lived-experience is the ink-well in which one dips the nib of inspiration while undertaking my role - compassion and empathy flow freely as a result.

To be brutally honest, sometimes I’m not sure how good I am at what I do. There are days I feel completely out of my depth and I wonder if my words, though genuine, sound clumsy or insincere. Still, I try with all my heart and surely that counts for something.

As an autistic+ADHD brained-being, it has been a major challenge to balance the energy required for this work with adequate recharge time. The result is days spent lying in bed whenever I am not required to catch up on house chores or dedicating time to being with loved-ones.

Too often in 2023 there were instances of sitting at my studio desk, wishing to summon something from within – a drawing, a painting, a poem or any pleasant project. Too often my head felt fuzzy and dull; my wrist like lead, with no strength in my hand to grip a pencil, and the passion for creating, dishearteningly elusive.

I lost something very valuable to me last year.

As much as I had wished to extend myself into other areas, I never intended to just leave art behind. It was always meant to be there with me - my constant companion from the moment I discovered the ability to make marks.

I expected to be able to come home to it after a hard shift and nuzzle my weary soul into its transportive embrace. To heal through that beloved and familiar sensation of creative flow…

In not being able to do that, or at least not enough that it felt natural or enjoyable as it ever has, I can’t help but feel that I’ve lost a vital part of myself.

There’s a sort of wretched ennui which envelops me when all of my senses are not fully occupied by the intensely demanding environment of my workplace.

Certainly, I can acknowledge that I am grateful for everything I’ve gained through my job there – the skills and experience, my colleagues who have become precious friends, and of course those ephemeral moments when my path has crossed with someone who has allowed themselves to be vulnerable with me, and I in return have been able to offer meaningful comfort and support.

Yet I am desperate to reclaim some of the person who lived in the world before any of that. Her spark; her feelings of impulsive joy, and her excitement for expression through pencil, ink, a brush, anything. I want all of it back.

This year I am committed to that goal. For the sake of my own mental health and so that I can continue to show up for others, in 2024 and ever after.

Thankfully I haven’t lost hope - I definitely believe I can rediscover my passion for creating again because I’ve done it before.

I will remind myself that things can get better.

Even writing this has been a start.

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