I've known since I was 4 or 5 years old that I wanted to be an artist. That was before I was even able to conceive what an artist actually was. I just knew it had something to do with drawing and painting. That's all I needed to know to decide it was my life's calling. I was blessed with parents who were very supportive of my artistic pursuits. They let me take classes at the Arkansas Arts Center when I began attending an elementary school that didn't have an art program. I had an amazing aunt who trained me in watercolors while I did a lot of learning on my own.
I was thrilled when I began attending high school at Mount St. Mary Academy where I was taught by the greatest art teacher it has been my privilege to learn from. I remember spending nearly every day of my senior year in the VAC (visual arts center) building. It was completely separate from the school's main building. To me it was a creative oasis.
From there I went to the Memphis College of Art where I learned as much as I could about multiple artistic media and methods. The progression up to that point of my life was very natural. Learn, practice, learn some more, hopefully get good at it. I earned my BFA with a design arts major and focus in illustration. I returned home to Sherwood, AR with no idea where to go next.
That's when I ran into a colorful, quirky and creative woman, who upon meeting me informed me that I needed to join her in the field of elementary art education. She explained how I could do so through the non traditional teacher certification process. I walked out of that encounter with God speaking directly to my heart. "You're going to become an art teacher." Two months later I had a job as an elementary art teacher.
I spent the next nine years sharing my love of art with students at my primary school while also being bounced around to different schools every so often to teach art one day a week. That part wasn't so much fun but I loved seeing the excitement in my students as I introduced a new lesson or seeing the smile on a child's face when they accomplished something they thought they were incapable of doing five minutes earlier. I'll never forget early on in my career when a 5th grader came up to me in the hallway and told me that I inspired her or when a parent came to me and thanked me for the joy my class brought to her son. I knew I was were God wanted me to be, doing what He wanted me to do.
I enjoyed what I did but as time went on, my feelings started to change. I have struggled with depression since I was a child but it culminated in the summer of '97, before I entered 8th grade. I spent a week in the hospital. I got my medication figured out. My parents were with me through it all, helping as best as they could. Things got better. I made it through high school and college with few problems, so before I got married in 2009 I decided to go off the medication.
I was doing well until the 2014-2015 school year. I was teaching 28 classes at my primary school 4 days of the week and 8 classes at another school one day. I had a total of 36 classes, 40 minutes each, roughly 700 students a week with a 30 minute lunch (if I was really lucky) as my only break between the first and last class each day. There was more to it than the exhaustion but I don't want to go into every little detail. In the end I was was feeling the depression creeping back in.
I slogged through it into the next school year. I worried that something was going to happen but I didn't want to go back onto medication. I tried to deal with it as best as I could and just focused on getting through each day, but it was like an internal pressure was building inside me. I made it all the way through April of 2016 when the pressure finally burst with a full blown panic attack at my one day a week school. That incident got me back to a doctor, got me back on meds and got me talking to a therapist. As I moved into the 2016-2017 school year I was hopeful that things would be better. I was back at my primary school full time but still had a tight schedule. It wasn't long before things started becoming more difficult again.
I started having panic and anxiety attacks all the time that where hindering me from being the teacher I wanted to be. This lead to me spending a week in the hospital and two weeks recuperating and readying myself to return to work. I am still so grateful for the support I received from my husband, my parents, my doctors and therapist, and my principal. That support helped get me through the rest of the school year.
I kept trying to be optimistic that each year things would get better, that I would get better. The 1st breakdown at at my secondary school happened in April of 2016, the 2nd happened in October the following school year (after which I went to the hospital). My most recent happened just 3 weeks into this current school year. It has become pretty obvious to me and my husband that things aren't getting better for me but are in fact getting worse.
This has led me to make the hardest decision of my life. Last week I officially resigned from my position as an elementary art teacher. I still have a few weeks before my last day in early October and I'm going to try my hardest to make it till then. Through it all I have not lost my love for teaching art and I hope to continue doing so outside of the public school system. I've held my Created to Create Studio summer art camp for the last 3 summers that I have absolutely loved and I would love to find more time to do that same thing throughout the year.
There are so many people I know and love who suffer with anxiety and depression. It's not the same for everyone. We all experience it differently and we each cope with it differently. The best thing I've done to help myself is getting back into my art. To sit and let the world around me blur as the image I'm creating comes into focus. I feel so comfortable in those moments.
I don't know exactly where I'm going from here. It's almost like I'm back from college all over again. Only now I'm a full blown adult with major responsibilities and bills to pay. God led me to where I needed to go back then and I have full faith He will do it again. Through all the crud I've gone through the last few years, I always felt God was there with me, preparing me for a change. I just have no idea what that's going to look like. I'm not afraid though, I have hope in the One who made me. It's a long story but it isn't over yet.