At The Journey’s End

Growing up in an abusive home, I never knew what to expect. I lived with a monster always dwelling just down the stairs, waiting to strike me down whenever I least expected it. From the time I was six all the way until I was twelve, every day felt as though I was in a near constant state of fight-or-flight. How could I not be when I was terrified to leave my own room and terrified to talk to my own mother? What was supposed to be a place of safety and security ended up becoming a prison. I had no voice, no freedom, no hope. Only the temporary solace of my blankets and stuffed animals, the bruises on my skin, and the sickeningly sweet walls of my bedroom that mocked me with their deceptively perfect pale pink.

Even though the lasting damage has been done, I’m still here when I know that not everyone in my shoes would be after going through what I did. I’m not saying that I’m special or that I’m superior to those who have succumbed to their demons. I’m just proud of myself for making it this far on my own, with little to no outside help, when I know that not everyone who has been in my position could say the same. I know for a fact that there is a very high chance that I would not be here if I hadn’t discovered the coping methods that have helped me keep going.

The earliest coping method that I discovered was art. It was in sixth grade that I decided to take up a pencil and start drawing. I was first inspired by the works of Disney and other animation companies such as Studio Ghibli. I definitely gravitated more in the direction of anime even though I was still in love with Disney. In my eyes, anime has always been more diverse than Disney. The stories are more complex, the characters more compelling and the art styles ever changing. No two anime look identical even if they have a similar subject matter and that’s one of the things that drew me in the most; the individuality that the shows have from each other in regards to animation style. I suppose I directly related to that concept since I’ve always been a very individualistic person who never had a desire to follow the trends, even if they were popular among my own group of friends. And art was just another way for me to express my individuality even if no one ever saw it. Art was for me first and no one else.

I continued with art through the rest of middle school and in 2012 at the urging of my family and friends, I bravely decided to audition for a place in the Visual Arts department of the Cypress Lake Center for the Arts. I went in with no expectations nor confidence in being accepted but much to my surprise, I ended up landing a major track in the Visual Arts department and for the next four years I would continue to not only shape my artistic abilities, but I would come to shape myself in the process.

After eight years, I was finally free from charter schools and the bullying dealt to me in each and every grade that started to break me. I was so excited to start high school as it meant a brand new start for me. It was a new beginning and surely things were going to look up from that point on.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I’d quickly come to learn that I wasn’t able to keep up with the new demands of my classes, and my self confidence as well as my mental state suffered severely as a result. Not only did I have my six regular classes, but being on a major track in the Visual Arts Department ensured that I also had two art classes for all four years of high school and that became a precarious balancing act in which I failed multiple times. My grades dropped along with my motivation and I quickly fell into a deeply depressed state that lasted well into my senior year of high school. I was on my own with no one to talk to about my problems. I never spoke up about what I was going through because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by bothering them. Long story short, I didn’t feel like I was good enough to get help. That I just didn’t deserve it and that I needed to get over my crap, that other people have it worse than I do so I have no right to be upset. I had no support system and constant fighting and emotional abuse at home just made everything worse.

Sketches of my inner demons (June 2015)

As my mental state started to slip, the depression got worse and I started having anxiety and panic attacks as early as sophomore year. And my art, which used to be jovial and carefree and full of fantasy, suddenly took on a much darker form upon moving on to my junior year. I started drawing shadowy, misshapen monsters that haunted my dreams and assaulted my mind. I often sought out comfort in music, however the music I listened to didn’t help to improve my temperament at all. My taste in music has always been very diverse and with this diversity, I was able to find songs that would essentially feed my bad moods and allow me to dwell in my negativity. I would listen to artists like Evanescence, Adrian von Ziegler, Nightwish, etc. . They all had a heavy tone of sadness or anger in one way or another and I would feed off of it as if it were the only thing keeping me going.

I listened to this kind of music for hours on end as it felt like it accurately portrayed my suffering and I found a sort of kinship in dwelling in the darkness. The light was fading fast for me and everywhere I looked I only saw negativity and pain. I saw no joy in the world and nothing made me happy. Even when my work got into renowned galleries such as the Salvador Dali Museum, I felt no joy in my achievements. No number of pieces in school shows or private shows served to make me happy. Nothing mattered to me.

(October 2015)
Junior Year Self Portrait. Title: Not Good Enough (July 2015)

There were always the looming, ever present burdens of my past. A constant presence that stifled me and prevented me from growing and moving forward. I felt trapped with no where to go.

However, this is where my most unexpected coping method suddenly came into play. I have always loved video games and since I had gotten an Xbox 360 over the summer of 2013, I delved into the world of video games even further; playing games like Tomb Raider, Dishonored, Bioshock: Infinite, and many other games of the fictional variety. Through the recommendation of one of my best friends, I picked up the 360 version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I have never fallen in love with a game more quickly than I have with Skyrim. I had found the perfect escape from the mundane nature of our reality and with the addition of this new outlet, tensions melted away from me day by day. I was able to handle my workload better and believe it or not, it drastically improved my moods. Skyrim is like an antidepressant for me, and the more I play, the better I feel. I know many people would argue that this isn’t a healthy coping method, but it provides me with something to look forward to at the end of each day. I haven’t mixed up realities either, which I know is something that can happen for many people. If anything, it’s inspired me to go out and see the world for myself.

Growing up in Florida and basically never travelling for eighteen years, it left me sort of ignorant to the beauty of the world and Skyrim offered me a small window in which to see what really is out there.

The beautiful sights and sounds of Skyrim offered some well deserved peace to my ever-chaotic mind.
One of the songs used in the Skyrim mod. It’s crazy to think how this song has the same composer as the first song. Like how it’s hard for me to believe that the art in this story was made by the same person purely because of how jarringly different they are in comparison.

After Christmas of 2015, I got the PC version of Skyrim and with the PC version, I was introduced to mods. It keeps sounding more and more strange but one mod in particular has helped me the most in the past year. The mod is called “Celtic Music in Skyrim” and it essentially added 79 tracks of lore-friendly, Celtic themed music for when you’re exploring in Skyrim. All of the music in that mod was composed by Adrian von Ziegler (the guy who composed the really depressing track from earlier), and I had no idea that he created that kind of beautiful music. I didn’t even know that genre of music even existed. I already listened to orchestral music from artists like Two Steps From Hell and Audiomachine and I still love it, however the Celtic music has soothed my soul in a way I never would have expected and I spent hours downloading Adrian’s songs onto my phone and I carry it with me everywhere. The Celtic music that Youtubers such as Adrian von Ziegler, BrunuhVille, and Antti Martikainen create has helped reduce my anxiety and depression while helping me expand upon my creativity.

Listening to the Celtic themed music and playing Skyrim has not only improved my moods, but it’s helped me improve my art as well. I no longer produce the twisted and depressing material that I once did. Instead, my art has beautifully transformed into something truly unique and fantastical. It finally reflects who I really am.

Dryad Sketch (December 2016)
Cynder: Portrait of a Divine Warrior (November 2016)
Elen of the Ways: A Scottish goddess who watches over those in times of change. (September 2016)

After many years, I am slowly starting to feel at peace with myself, but I still have a long way to go on that winding road to recovery.

Even though my past was the stuff of nightmares and I’ve been kicked into the dust, battered and broken, a thousand times over, I am stronger for it. My past used to make me feel weak, hopeless and it used to define me, but now I’m realizing just how strong I am and I no longer allow my past to decide who and what I am. I decide for myself who and what I am, and I will never give up.

Ironically, the song I chose to represent how my life has been changing over the past two years is called “At the Journey’s End”. And while the journey of my childhood and high school has reached its end, a brand new and exciting journey awaits me just over the horizon, and I’m going to chase it down with everything I’ve got. If you take anything away from this, I hope you take away the importance of never giving up, even when things seem to be at their most bleak. Just know that things can always get better, but you have to work for it or else nothing will change. Stay strong, and never, ever give up no matter what.

Senior Year Digital Self Portrait: Hope of the Survivor (March 2016)