When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with manic depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I struggled with this for years – I was medicated, and also underwent CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) – aka. Talk therapy – for treatment.
While medications helped, I found the most benefit from the tools and techniques provided to me during my CBT sessions.
That’s where my journey that has become “Emotional Planes” really started. Emotional Planes is a project born out of my struggles with depression and anxiety, and my love for data and art.
I learned that paying VERY close attention to my emotions, reactions, and triggers helped me to begin to understand what was happening to me – which is generally the scariest part – the unknown.
For years, all I knew was – I know I feel like shit… and I know I’m acting like a shit… (you can ask my mom)…
But I have no idea why.
After I started tracking these things, I was able to look back – and it was almost like a veil lifted and I could start to see patterns. I think I first had clarity a month or two into this practice.
I was able to remove myself from an emotional perspective and analytically consider the reasoning behind my reactions and behaviors and let me tell you, it was MIND BLOWING.
Fast forward 10, 15, 20 years … I continued to struggle with depression and anxiety over the years – sometimes it was really bad. I went through a lot more, and severe, ups and downs than I’d like to admit, but I always diligently captured my “data”. It was one thing that I kept consistent in my life between moving around, job changes, life changes, etc.
Even though I went through severe ups and downs, I still made progress with learning to handle things in different and better ways because I was slowly understanding myself more and more.
January 2018 came about, and on a whim, I decided to spend a few hours looking back at my data. Yes, that’s right – 20+ years of data. Data in notebooks, data in word docs, google docs, etc… And I realized something – it was time to finally execute on something I’d been thinking about doing for the last 5 or so years: making something beautiful out of it.
What happened next? Well… let me tell you:
I got gussied up, I signed a few papers…
And I became a resident artist at Art Works in Richmond, VA.
The first thing I thought to myself when I was driving home from Art Works was, “There! I did it.” I had just forced myself to push past my fears and do something I’d been so scared to do for so long – to not only revisit some pretty intense, scary, and emotionally raw points in my life, but also to expose it to the world. I was now locked into a lease and told myself, “Now I HAVE to do it.”
It was FINALLY time to create.
Since I’ve tracked my emotions, depression highs and lows, stress levels, and anxiety triggers – now, with this plethora of very specific and personalized data, the time has come to create something beautiful from it all.
I haven’t looked back since. I spend at minimum 2 to 4 hours a week working on the project.
I begin each piece of by taking a specific timeframe within the years of data I’ve gathered – smaller pieces are usually 1 day, my 12×12” pieces are generally a few days or a week, and larger scale ones like my 19×24” pieces are around a month’s time.
I generate line graphs, then draw them onto my canvas. The first line indicates my general mood. Once the lines are plotted, I begin to smudge the initial line with black, gray, and white – the smudges correspond with the intensity of my mood – the darker and heavier the blacking, the darker the mood.
Next comes the layers – layered on top of the general mood are depression smudges (generally blue-ish colors), anxiety smudges (purples), happiness smudges (yellows and greens), or anger smudges (reds and oranges).
There may be additional color enhancements or textures based on any specific moments or interactions I may have had in that time that affected or contributed to my mental state.
This is an intensely personal project, but one that I hope helps to enlighten people to the visual nature of what mental illness feels like.
Creating these pieces has helped me so much – I’ve learned to use it in my favor to understand how my mind and emotions work and how I co-exist best with others.
It’s also given me so much more courage to talk to people – It’s generated so many genuine conversations with people I never expected to have things in common with.
My hope is that whomever views my pieces will leave with a little more empathy for the human condition than they did before being exposed to my work.
TO BE HUMAN IS TO BE EMOTIONAL.
Some of us are more in touch with our emotions, triggers, and reactions than others.
The more you pay attention and focus on what makes you feel and react the way you do, the more you’ll understand why.
This will put you in charge of the one thing in life you have control over – yourself.
Be kind and be understanding of yourself and others.
Everyone struggles with their emotions at one time or another – you may not even realize that you’re dealing with depression or something else. You just have to find a way to deal with it that works for you rather than against you.
Data is beautiful, and mental wellness is imperative.