La Femme Tragique
By Holly Armishaw
At three A.M. I awoke suddenly one night, I had the most excruciating chest pain. My chest was so tight that I felt that if I took a deep breath, something in my heart would pop or a rib would crack. I became aware of an intense pain in my arm and slowly I lost feeling in my legs and fingers. My breathing was shallow and my lips grew numb. I felt that I was beginning to lose consciousness. I grabbed for the phone and minutes later I was in the hospital emergency room. They performed an ECG and asked a lot of questions and came to the conclusion that my heart was fine – I had suffered an intense panic attack. This was just to be the first of many.
Indeed there were issues in my life, my relationship, my job, illness in friends and family, but I thought I was holding everything together fine. However, the body has different ideas about how it can handle stress. Emotional sickness is like water – if you block one path, it will find another channel to travel through. I began having migraines and panic attacks so severe that they have landed me in the hospital ER three times. These conditions and symptoms became so debilitating that I could no longer carry out my managerial responsibilities at work. This was a blessing in disguise; I had to quit my job and at last I was free to be an artist again.
I desperately needed that time off and my body made it possible. I spent the next 6 months attempting to self-medicate, sleeping through the days, generally living a lifestyle of risk-taking , escapism and indulgence. Thoughts of suicide were common and painful, while sleep, my only refuge. Spells of debilitating migraines, chest pain, fainting, numbness, tingling, nausea, feelings of floating and leaving my body have been something that I attempt to hide or ignore, until my body gives out and I end up in an ambulance on the way to the ER again. Rather than continuing to cure the symptoms as my doctors have been doing, I have taken it upon myself to cure the causes. The first step is an act of defiance against my family values. Rather than sweep things under the carpet my first act is the disclosure with this body of work. “The suffering artist” is a timeless icon of beauty and tragedy in art history and film, poetry, etc. and it is, unfortunately, alive and real. Mood disorders are an area that affects many of us in the fine arts, and are hence, important for discussion.