Aphelion and mental health.
When I was very young, my mother sat me down and explained mental illness. She told me, it can be just as bad as cancer, even though you don't really look as sick.
For some reason even as a child, I felt the gravity of what she was saying. Mum explained that mental illness ran in our family, which meant that I could have it one day too. But that I shouldn't worry, because she'd always watch out for me and my brothers to make sure we were okay.
Growing up, I was keenly aware of avoiding mental illness. As a teenager, when my schoolmates were experimenting with drugs - I told them it could trigger mental illness. You can imagine how cool this made me feel. But I didn't care, even peer pressure did not waver my resolve. Looking back, I wonder how I was such a strong-willed and sensible young person. Somehow, I'd really understood that I needed to take care of myself. Mental illness is a tough battle - and we are each responsible for our own health.
If I could prevent it, I would. And if I needed help, I could ask for it.
It was a stinking hot morning in December. I held Clayton’s hand tightly as the removalists backed the truck up Mum’s driveway. It was moving day. Not just any moving day, the day where I moved out of HOME. I immediately burst into tears.
Settling into a new house was difficult. Settling into a new life was quite a doozy.
Weirdly, I had no idea I wasn’t prepared for it at age 28. I’ve never felt so displaced in my whole life. Waking up in a strange place every day, going from having a boyfriend that I saw once a week to living with my life-partner full time. Trying to unpack all the boxes and function normally at work. I put on a brave face, but underneath my convincing smile, I was barely keeping my head above water.
Completely overwhelmed, exhausted and alienated from my normal life - my mind was consumed by negativity.
I remember calling my boss with a straight face to ask for some time off - and about 7.5 seconds into the conversation I erupted into tears. Even with a bit less work on my plate, the next 6 months were pretty dismal. Not that anyone would really know, but I was a shadow of myself for a while there.
Help. Internally, I was gasping. Help! One day I was having a shower, and the worst thing I could think of popped into my head. What if I lose Clayton? I shook it off. But what if I lose Clayton? I couldn’t shake it. Again and again, this thought flooded my mind. It felt like I wasn’t in control of my own thoughts, I couldn’t direct myself away from those awful things I didn’t want to think about. All of a sudden - I realised - something was very very wrong. Am I going crazy?
After a chat with my Clayton and my GP, I came off the pill. Turns out it can have some pretty nasty mind-altering side-effects. Combined with my change of circumstance, it created the perfect storm of horridness in my mind. It was tough, but I learnt so damn much about myself during that time and the following recovery.
And then, I knew that I had to share this experience in a painting.
I rebuilt my eco-system of happiness, one piece at a time. I retrained my brain to focus on the bright stars in the sky and dragged myself gradually away from the pull of the black hole. For me, it's taken years of trial and error to come up with a system to safeguard my wellbeing. A delicate balance of yoga, good eating habits, reading and time with loved ones.
Not to mention - PAINTING! Though, none of us is in the all-clear, no matter how solid we think we are. And that's okay! Being prepared for the next time it swings around is crucial. It's a constant cycle, up down round and round. Good days, bad days. Easy months, hard months. The best years and the worst years. No life is perfect.
Celestial bodies do not have perfect circular orbits. This means that there are times in a planet's orbit when it reaches its furthest point from the Sun, called 'aphelion'.
Understanding myself and others more clearly through painting is such a cathartic experience. One night as I was trying to fall asleep, the image of a black hole danced behind my eyelids. A black hole. I immediately knew it was perfect. My brain was alight as it conjured Aphelion into existence. And so, I started with a circular board, a symbol of renewal, beginning, ending, eternity and the cyclical nature of existence. Galaxies are a visually rich aesthetic that I come back to again and again.
In Aphelion, the galaxy I specifically placed in the hair to symbolise the mind. As black holes usually exist out in the cosmos, it was the perfect setting. A black hole has a gravitational field so strong that light cannot escape it. This to me, was a brilliant metaphor for the human mind. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, unfulfilled or stressed - my mind is a galaxy with a black hole in the centre of it. Even though there are still plenty of bright stars in the sky, it is impossible to see them as the black hole pulls in all that surrounds it. This is how I felt!
You'll notice that some of the tiny little stars are actually breaking free from the galaxy - the little flyaway hairs coming across the face are releasing a flutter of stardust.
This is representative of the attempts we make to break free from a negative mental state. You know, when you're sitting in traffic and your mind is heavy with the stress that you'll be late and you're upset that you have no control over the situation. That's the black hole. But then - you take a deep breath. You tell yourself it's going to be okay. You put on your favourite song and have a little party in your car. That - that right there - is the little hairs delivering stars from the pull of the black hole.
The figure I've depicted in Aphelion was very specifically executed. You'd probably never know! For her skin tone, I wanted to use grey-scale instead of realistic colours. Can you guess why? This mental state has sucked the very colour from her cheeks! This is a very quickly conveyed visual cue that tells us she is not well. Her eyes are closed, which indicates to us that she is in an introspective state. Looking inward, not outward. Absorbed in her thoughts.
I exaggerated her features in certain ways to help convey a certain feeling - her neck is elongated and exposed, creating a sense of vulnerability. Yet her face is tilted ever-so-slightly upwards, a small indication of hope. The positioning of the black hole to the left of the painting with the figure facing right helps the viewer to read that she is moving on from this state rather than moving into it (we read from left to right).
Now - I don't like to make a painting that is stewing in its own misery. There needs to be hope and resolution in every story.
Have you noticed that teardrop tracing the curve of her cheek? It's blue, unlike her skin. Same as her blue lips. Why aren't these in grey, too? These are my resolution. When I was in a bad place mentally, it was difficult to fathom getting out of it. When I was stressed, tired, emotionally depleted, endlessly negative... I just wanted to stay in bed and eat spaghetti bolognese. But with lots of practice, I've figured out certain things that are a sure-fire way to set me back on my path.
Crying is one. I cry. I CRY SO MUCH. I can't help it, and I definitely would never cry again if I could choose not to. But my mind and body have let me know, they said: "Erika, you need to cry". This might not work for everyone, but the physical release of crying and the external expression of an internal stressor is so helpful for me. And the lips? They represent talking. Being able to talk to someone I trust about myself and my life - and for them to understand it. Heck, usually a good cry and chat with Clayton and I'm up off my feet!
The original Aphelion painting sold last week. To one of my dearest friends, whom I've known for 15 years. She's a paramedic, an occupation intrinsically linked with mental health. Not only because of the mental toll such a job must take. But because of the number of mental health patients that my friend has been called out to help! For some reason, I found it fitting for her to have this painting. I feel an immense sense of pride when somebody connects with a piece of my artwork enough to own it forever.
And that, my friends, is the story of Aphelion! Now, I'm going to ask you to buy a print. Not because I need to make a buck. But because I believe we have an exchange of value to make.
As an artist, I can offer you my story. Laboriously crafted, lovingly executed in paint and printed just for you. What you can offer me is your story. In your home, up on your wall. . . your eyes will rest upon this artwork every day. And gradually, lovingly - your story will be poured into that artwork too. Our stories will mingle, evolve, and create a new story - unique to the print on your wall.
Now, don't be alarmed - but I'm only ever making 10 copies of this print. There might not even be any left by the time you're reading this. When you purchase your Aphelion print during Mental Health Week, you'll receive an Aphelion sticker for FREE. Just to say thanks for investing in my dream. I created Aphelion prints because I wanted to give you the chance to reflect upon and move towards better mental wellbeing every time you see this piece up on your wall. We all need reminders for self-care!
There's nothing more cathartic than art. There's nothing more important than looking at the deepest parts of yourself with honesty. This is why I do what I do. I hope that what I create does this for you. No matter how or to what extent. If you'd like to give me a chance in doing this for you, claim your Apehlion print now.
Thank you SO MUCH from the bottom of my heart for taking the time out of your busy day to read this and connect with me. I hope you found my story and artwork beneficial in some way. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you'd like to chat about your own mental health journey or to offer me your thoughts on my artwork Aphelion. Or simply comment below this post. If you are unable to show your support with a purchase, please consider sharing this post with someone who may benefit from it.