My Story: How I Became An Artist

I’ve wanted to be an artist ever since I can remember. As a child, markers, paints and fresh paper brought me far more joy than any Barbie or hot new toy could have. Art and creativity were woven into the very fibre of my being – so it makes sense, then, that my parents named me Abigail Rebecca Truman, my initials very fittingly spelling out “A.R.T.” In every store I went to, the first place I wanted to go was the art supply or stationery section. And any money that I saved up was (you guessed it) spent on new pens or glitter or sketchbooks. I was a shy, worried child, and art became my escape. In Elementary school, there was a girl whom I admired who could sit down and draw ridiculously beautiful drawings right from the depths of her imagination. I begged her to teach me how to draw, and while the other children were playing tag and running on the playground, each and every day, without fail, I sat quietly with her in a corner and painstakingly drew figures and poses and learned and absorbed whatever I could. This sparked a fire inside me: a true passion for creativity and learning and art. This passion never burnt out, and I ended up taking art classes in high school. My art classroom became a safe haven that I could rely upon no matter what else was happening in my life.

When it came time to go to university, I still felt passionate about pursuing art. However, I had also been told by many that I couldn’t create a “real career” in art. All those years of being a quiet, shy, bookworm of a student had led to me getting high grades and the praises of all of my teachers who told me that I could go so much further in life, so I was convinced I had to do something that would better pay the bills and live up to what everyone else thought I should do. Not wanting to give up my passion for art completely, though, I enrolled in what I felt was the best compromise: Art Education. I would study to become a high school art teacher, mimicking the figure who had had such a profound impact on me during my own high school years.

I thrived in the Art Education program, and my professors were very pleased with my work. I was even chosen as the only student in the entire department to be awarded a special scholarship based on the opinion that I had what it takes to become an exemplary art teacher. And then I lived happily ever after, right?

Wrong. You see, for my entire life, starting as a young child, I suffered from bad general and social anxiety. Years of childhood abuse worsened the anxiety, compounding it each and every year until, by the time I got to university, it had snowballed into a severe anxiety disorder. I tried to ignore it for a while, and then I battled it for a while. And being in the Art Education program, even though I was good at it, and it was fulfilling, and everybody was happy with me, made my anxiety unbearable. You see, I was terrified of public speaking, terrified of getting up in front of a classroom and having to talk, and most of all, I was terrified of doing my practicum – of having someone watch me and judge my ability to stand up in front of a group and teach. It led to worry, which worsened into anxiety, which burst into panic attacks of a gigantic proportion. In a desperate attempt to fix what was happening, I started seeing a psychiatrist. But it was no use… I just couldn’t continue onto a career where each and every day would cause me anxiety. So, with just one year to go before graduation, and after all that hard work, I switched programs.

I still loved art – all those years of anxiety and panic had seen art-making as my escape, my solitude. But I had spent over four years in university building up credits for an Art Education degree that I could now no longer complete. Switching into Visual Arts would have meant that most of those courses wouldn’t count. Luckily for me, during my AE courses, I had been forced to take mandatory Art History classes, and I had fallen in love. While I didn’t get to actually make art in those courses, Art History taught me the fundamentals and intricacies of art throughout the ages, what makes art the way it is, and what makes art such an integral and indispensable part of society. I grew to love art even more than I ever did before, and I honed my appreciation of it to the depths of what it is and what it has always meant. Studying Art History gave me new avenues to explore in my own art-making and helped me to grow not only as an artist, but as an individual. I ended up graduating with my degree in Art History, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

After I graduated, like most of my peers I was searching for what to do next. What would my career be? What should I do with my life? My dream was still to be an artist professionally, but there was still the ever-present judgment that I should use my education and hard-earned degree to enter into a stable, “real” career. I wasn’t quite sure what to do – return for a Masters degree? Try to get a government job related to my Art History qualifications?

Unfortunately, the decision was made for me. Just as my new life was beginning – the chapter where my education was finally finished and now I could blossom into an independent adult with a bright future – I was hit with a handful of health issues. My anxiety was still a problem, but now I also suffered from extreme pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and overwhelming fatigue. This next journey is a bit long-winded to recap in this post, so I’ll just summarize it here. I ended up seeing roughly 22 different doctors over the course of 4 months. I was put on many medications. I was given so many different medical tests, all of which came back inconclusive. Every doctor gave me a different diagnosis about what was wrong with me. I lost all trust and hope in medical professionals, and I became frustrated and depressed. I was so tired that I just didn’t have the energy to get through the day. My body ached all over, and my nerves tingled as if bugs were crawling up and down my legs. Some days the pain was so bad that I could not even walk. I suffered sensitivity to light, sounds, sights, and smells. I had pounding headaches. My digestive system stopped cooperating. My anxiety reached a new high as I was convinced that I was dying. I was put on anti-depressants to help control the anxiety and depression, and I was given test after test after test. Long story short, I eventually found a stable doctor and reached a definitive diagnosis: Fibromyalgia, mixed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, mixed with a severe anxiety disorder. The diagnosis was both a relief and a curse. I finally knew what was wrong with me, but it wasn’t fixable. It’s something I will always have to cope with.

I ended up seeing roughly 22 different doctors over the course of 4 months. I was put on many medications. I was given so many different medical tests, all of which came back inconclusive. Every doctor gave me a different diagnosis about what was wrong with me. I lost all trust and hope in medical professionals, and I became frustrated and depressed. I was so tired that I just didn’t have the energy to get through the day. My body ached all over, and my nerves tingled as if bugs were crawling up and down my legs. Some days the pain was so bad that I could not even walk. I suffered sensitivity to light, sounds, sights, and smells. I had pounding headaches. My digestive system stopped cooperating. My anxiety reached a new high as I was convinced that I was dying. I was put on anti-depressants to help control the anxiety and depression, and I was given test after test after test. Long story short, I eventually found a stable doctor and reached a definitive diagnosis: Fibromyalgia, mixed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, mixed with a severe anxiety disorder. The diagnosis was both a relief and a curse. I finally knew what was wrong with me, but it wasn’t fixable. It’s something I will always have to cope with.

The diagnosis was both a relief and a curse. I finally knew what was wrong with me, but it wasn’t fixable. It’s something I will always have to cope with.

Due to my health issues, and the medications that I was put on, I could no longer attain the stable “real job” that everyone felt I needed. I could no longer sit at a desk for an 8-hour day, nor could I stand for longer than 30 minutes at a time, nor could I lift anything. At only 23 years old, almost all of the jobs I could have applied for were now no longer possible for me to do. The government position I had been working in on an auxiliary basis let me go as soon as the diagnosis came in.

While this was devastating, it has also been a blessing in disguise. Because I cannot work at a traditional desk job, my illness has forced me to follow my dreams. I now have no choice but to do the thing I have always wanted to do: be an artist.

It is now my dream to start my own small business sharing my artwork with the world. I may be physically confined to my home instead of a more traditional workplace, but my imagination is not confined. I hope to continue to create beautiful things. I want to follow my dreams and pursue my passions. I want to create the life for myself that I always imagined but never thought I could have: one filled with paintings, and drawings, and beautiful manifestations of a wild and carefree imagination.

My goal is to create bright, cheerful and vibrant artwork that lifts people up no matter what they are going through in life. I want to create art that will help to support people and help them to be strong even in their hardest moments. I hope to create artwork that will bring awareness to both mental and chronic illnesses. I want to add beauty to a world that can sometimes seem a bit too dark.

This is who I am and what brought me to where I am today. I am still a shy and quiet person who would rather sit in the corner and draw than run around on the playground. I still turn to art as my escape and my solace. I am a Fibro, anxiety, and ME sufferer. I am a mental and chronic illness advocate. And now I am strong.

I am an artist.

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