We’re all born a relatively blank canvas. As our lives progress, we experience emotions that begin to color who we are.
Now, it’s probably different for everybody; colors and what they represent to each individual can be very personal. But I was immediately colored pink with the effusive love of my family. I was colored orange a little later by having a fun and exciting childhood. Vibrant yellow made an appearance when I learned to write, my passion showing through each crayoned word on each piece of construction paper. By the time I was fourteen, a rainbow of colors and experiences and emotions was displayed as proud art across the canvas of who I was.
At the end of that year, however, colors that were significantly less appealing started taking over. A vile, putrid green rimmed the edges of my canvas; the anxiety that put it there was gaining strength. Purple was around a lot, but the muddy, murky-brown shade, thanks to fear of…something I couldn’t put my finger on. Gray permeated through all the others. I wasn’t sure why. I wished I knew why.
By the time the gray turned black, it blocked out the shocking blue of my perpetual, gnawing hunger. It blocked out everything. Every color, every memory, every part of me.
In a flash of light that lasted, oh, four months in a hospital, I had myself a blank stretch of opportunities in front of me again.
A rainbow of colors returned to the masterpiece of my life. And it happened quickly. Too quickly. The pale blue of satisfaction and relief mixed with motivation’s highlighter-orange. And the comforting teal got all over both. And red, no, go away, it’s all turning… Black. Again.
Months passed, during which time I wiped away every color, washed my canvas clean. I didn’t know what else to do.
The same process repeated. Exciting pure-orange getting all over the deepening shade of pink that spoke of how loved I was. Every color going this way and that. Mixing. Giving me black. Again.
Eventually, I started spinning my canvas around. Maneuvering myself to twist and guide my colors to where I thought they’d cause me less pain.
I had the right idea. It was still a miserable eight or so years. Lots of all-consuming, obstructive black. But then…there were all those colors. So many colors, of all shades, bringing with them a big enough range of emotions to fill ten people’s canvases.
I’m appreciative of each tint, tone, shade, hue. I’m more appreciative of the pills I swallow every day that put the fucking cap on some of the colors so it’s more controlled. I’m appreciative of the art classes I take from a badass expert (hi Gail, do you like my analogy).
But I started writing this to explain that there are things besides emotions that have influence over the paint; sometimes the experiences themselves taint the colors.
I struggled for fourteen years. While other people had a normal amount of normal colors on their palette, I had too many, wild and extreme and confusing. I reacted to them dramatically, in a way I truly don’t think was disproportionate.
But no one knew how to help me. It wasn’t their fault. They still consistently colored parts of my world pink. But they didn’t help me. What color must that have added to my canvas?
No one knew how to help, so why bother asking (begging) for it? Why bother? Because bothering BOTHERS people. Continuing to cry out for relief would only make me a burden, right? And I wasn’t gonna do that. I wasn’t a burden. I was BETTER than someone who was a burden. That makes me worthy.
“Not a burden, check, give me some yellow paint now” (I guess yellow is the color of serotonin or dopamine or something).
I guess that’s how I got it in my head that for some reason complaining is bad. Or, to use words I wrote down to describe it before I looked up the actual definition: having a bad attitude, being negative or pessimistic, being ungrateful or unappreciative, talking too much about your problems. The vibe of that explanation is somewhere between brown and gray.
The actual definition, of course, is to express dissatisfaction or annoyance —an explanation that’s far more mild and nonchalant. Lime green.
To recap: I have an incredibly skewed understanding of things like complaining and worth. And unfortunately, you just have to extrapolate that to get to my perception of how to ask for what I need. Why it’s linked to my level of deserving makes no sense. But murky-purple fear runs through it all.
I’m afraid maybe I am deserving of harsh judgment, because after all, I did complain a lot for a long time. And that was clearly the wrong thing to do because it took years before I got any real help.
And as I sit here writing this, descending into an existential crisis, I think it might be time to use my well-practiced technique of wiping my canvas clean.