Hanging Pictures: The Power of Objects, Memories, and Emotions

My sibling came to visit my apartment the other day. She noticed I had nothing on my walls and joked it looked like I just moved in when I’ve almost been here a year now. I told her when I first moved in, I didn’t know I would stay; then I thought I might go to London for school so there was no point in setting up shop; and since then, I’ve just been busy. So, true to her expedient fashion, she had me pull out my previous art/frames/etc and decide what to put up and where.

I was hesitant. I told her maybe I had outgrown them. She asked if I still liked them, and I said yes. So we hung it. We put up my two large framed pieces of art, and then she had to go.

I felt uneasy all night. Sitting there in my living room, I kept looking at the art, trying to understand why it was making me feel uncomfortable. It is beautiful art, but I missed my white walls. I generally take an unusual amount of time processing change – yes, even something as simple as art on a wall – so I assumed it was just me trying to accept I might be living here for longer than I expected and why and what that might mean.

I realized walking into the room this morning what it was. It’s lovely art. Very much the style I like. I bought both of these in the first few years I left college and was living in Washington, DC – including the one I lived in before my breakdown. And last I had them up, was the year I was suicidal  in my studio apartment in Berkeley. During those years, I spent many nights and days lying in bed, looking at these paintings. Turned on my side, tears slipping over the ridge of my nose, wondering if I had the energy to take the next breath. I often sat at the bottom my bed, looking across from these paintings, rocking myself, consumed with a hatred that made my stomach ache.

This is a little out there for me, so take it with a grain of salt, but somewhere in their essence, the feeling of my pain still exists. My memories trapped within the paintings still slowly leak out and I remember the emotional, physical and mental anguish I barely survived. Sadly, there aren’t just paintings anymore – they are a past that is constantly breathing on my neck, threatening to consume me again.

Pretty fucking intense for a painting, right? But it does explain why I haven’t put up any pictures of my friends, my family, or poems that friends sent during the past five years to uplift my spirit. Seeing pictures of people I have lost touch with, people I miss, me smiling while knowing what I was experiencing at the time – it’s tainted. I assume over time, when I see these paintings or pictures, I will not forget, but the emotion attached to it will fade and it will just be a fact connected to the painting or picture in my timeline.

So as for the paintings, I figure I have a few options. I can wait a few days and see if the memories fade and it just becomes art again. Take them down and sell them. Maybe look for new art that I can appreciate with my new lens.

But I think maybe I’ll take them down and I won’t put anything up in their place. I’ll just continue to keep my walls white. There is a calm comfort in knowing I don’t have to define myself yet. Acknowledging I am still living in a slightly off-white, unknown. This apartment is a safe space, and I am grateful for it; but it’s a place of transition, at least right now. Maybe some think it feels empty, prison-like, un-lived in. But I guess for me, it’s more of a state of possibility – a literal blank slate.

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my kitchen table

i need to write this because if i tell anyone they will tell me i’m being irrational, i’m tired, i’m scared, i’m stressed, i’m just depressed. i need to write it because it feels so true i ache.

tonight, i looked over at the desk in my kitchen. it was piled with notes, documents from class, open books – the whole desk was covered and stacked with documents. i remembered how in college i dreamed of getting my PhD and what my life would be: you would walk into my office or room or house and know that i was a coffee-drinking, spastic, over-achieving academic, who was forgetful but charming, articulate but real. i would always have tables that looked like the one in my kitchen.

i accepted years ago that that would never be my life. the same way i knew i’d never be an actress, or a producer, a lawyer, or television anchor. that i’d never be in a relationship no matter how many i concocted in my mind. i’d never be thin enough or pretty enough. i would never look in the mirror and be okay with what i saw. i had images of myself, but none ever felt real – they were all fantasies of what my life would be like if i wasn’t me.

i hoped that it was the depression and after this past year, with the chemical depression lifted, i thought it was my time to finally start figuring out how to live life and what it would look like.

in the last year, i have been accepted into an elite university in a country i have always dreamed of living in, i have lost 60 pounds, i have kept an apartment, done my dishes, cleaned my bathroom, cooked even when tired. i took two classes at a community college and i’ve only gotten A’s. my teachers commend me. verbally and in notes. my 70-year old spin friends tell me they believe in and they see me for an hour once a week. i’ve seen my GP once this year, the first time i met her, and she saw my mom months later and told her that i had to go to the university – that i was too smart not to.

i should be proud of my accomplishments. i should smile and feel warm from the compliments of strangers – people who see something in me even from such a small glance. but they make things worse. because every time i do get an A or accolade, i get this tinge of excitement. sometimes it lasts for about a minute. and then i feel like someone has slapped me upside the face. i am the abused and the abuser in my relationship. every time i try to stand up for myself, i throw myself down. i rip into myself and tear apart any shred of hope or joy i may have felt. achievements don’t sit right – they feel dirty, embarrassing, uncomfortable and irritating – like alcohol on an open wound.

and so i’ll never find the right job. i’ll never be able to accept love from a man or believe he thinks i am beautiful. i will never feel good about an A -because it all feels like a farce. it feels like a lucky consequence but not truly earned. because i could always do better, be better, be thinner, be prettier, be kinder, do more. i can’t figure out what i want to do because i know that no matter what i choose, i will feel like i am failing.

and in a way, i am. it’s like i’m in a race, and i have these people around me cheering me on, and i try to run but after a while i realize i’m just running in place, and i’m so exhausted from trying, from pushing myself, that i sit down. but people continue to cheer and i don’t want to let them down. i don’t want them to see how they’ve wasted their time. i get up again and i try to start running again. but i’m just running in the same place.

it doesn’t really matter why, but i guess it started as a child as a way to protect myself from bullies. you make fun of yourself before the kids can make fun of you so they can’t hurt you as much. but it doesn’t feel like protection anymore. i don’t have the bullies around me. i have become my own bully. and when i tell myself i am not good enough, that i will not last, it feels completely and totally right throughout my entire body. it is a truth at the core of my being.

maybe i can find a way to live like this. i mean, i don’t feel suicidal right now. i feel kind of defeated, tired, a little sad. but i will keep running in place until i’m too exhausted and then i will do my best to get up and run some more.

looking at that table, i realized it will never be enough. because no matter what i do, no matter what those around me say, i do not believe it in my heart. i can’t. it’s too deep inside me. it is who i am and it is what has defined me. i cannot love myself. not because i don’t want to, but because there is no part of me that truly believes i am of worth. no matter what i do, no matter how others see me, i will never believe in me. i will never be good enough for me.

i know i am damaged. i am broken. and i just don’t see how i can be fixed.