“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Yep, I’d have to agree with that. Everyone can break… and get stronger.
However, it’s the time between being broken and the “afterward” that I want to talk about.
If you’ve seen my numerous-to-the-point-of-overkill posts on Facebook through much of last year and the beginning of this one, you’d know that exactly 18 months ago today I broke both of my heels (if you can call shattering the left heel 10-times and the right one 40-times a “break”). As I’ve already bored countless people with the ongoing saga of my recovery, I won’t go into the details here. Needless to say, it was a physical trauma that came with the obvious psychological and emotional damage one would expect. It was… severe.
Instead, I’m going to share with you the effect that such an injury had on my creative ‘self’ – the part of me that, for a time, I genuinely felt had been lost or irreparably diminished.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t lose the ability to create images entirely. I shot Costco’s 2019 catalogue cover and feature from a wheelchair and documented the first leg of HGTV’s Sabrina Smelko’s move to BC while on crutches (both with help from my then-partner and assistant Sierra). Corporate headshots, DJ promos, special request cosplay portraits – getting the client work and getting that work finished wasn’t the problem.
No, the issue was when I tried to create my own pieces.
For the first couple of months, it wasn’t even a consideration. After surgery, during which they cut through the outside both feet around the ankle and peeled me back to the bone before ‘installing’ my new titanium plates with six longer-than-I-thought-possible-for-the-space screws each, I was in knee-high casts. Along with my obvious new mobility restrictions came anger, nightmares and depression. It was the kind of break from my day-to-day life that I’d wished to never experience… nor ever again.
And it didn’t get much better after the casts came off.
Physio followed, as did crutches and, eventually, a cane. Let me tell you right now: it hurt. Holy hell, that hurt. It still hurts, every damn step. Muscle strength and flexibility breaks down really quickly when you don’t use them, and it takes a lot longer to build them back up than it does to lose either. My first four steps felt like a milestone achievement when I took them but the effort also put me down for days recovering my strength. Every physio session, every job worked, every step… pain and exhaustion followed. Over time, it naturally improved as the number of steps increased and the recovery time between sets of steps decreased, but the process took a toll.
Whenever I sat down to work on images I’d shot previously, I’d just stare at the screen. “Let’s get this done!”, I’d say to myself… then I’d simply stare at the screen. I knew what I wanted to do but, for some reason, just couldn’t do it. There was nothing in there. Create new work? I could remember the process behind it but couldn’t engage the process. When my heels broke, my creative side broke. I even missed my first national salon in nine years as I simply didn’t have anything to enter. There was nothing inside me that felt like being creative. My writing even stopped, as evidenced by the more than year-long draught in blog posts. It’d all simply gone… dark.
That’s a kind of dark place that I will wish upon no one. Not now, not ever. You can get really lost in there. It becomes a cyclical depression that feeds itself and only gets worse as time goes on. Feel bad? Try to break out of it by creating. Can’t create? Feel worse. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam.
It wasn’t until this spring that I started to see a way out of the darkness by going back to the basics. Jump start the ol’ creative process by doing what I did in the beginning. I put pencil to paper and started drawing again. Just doodles at first but more complex illustrations started to develop. Then, photography. I stopped trying to create involved images and focused on my cell camera. Take a few snaps here or there, focus on what was right in front of me, remind myself to look for the picture in the picture again. See how far I could push my creativity with a basic tool and basic editing.
In reality, it was a kind of “art physio”… and it’s working.
Each step still hurts to some degree but I’m walking unassisted and with relative ease. The client work is still being produced and more clients are presenting themselves weekly. I’ve even managed to create some new work and enter it in regional competition. Win, lose or draw, it’s done and in there.
And that’s really the first step towards healing: the doing. If you can start doing again, if you can NOT let what was broken break your spirit, what was broken becomes stronger.
YOU become stronger.