The fabulous journey into adulthood, is when one begins to mould their identity in life like a clay on a potters wheel layered to build and form together. It is a process developed over many celebrated birthdays filled with rainbow wrapped gifts, homemade chocolate cake topped with colourful candles aglow and much cheer. You are given a pair of new bright mary jane pink shoes for your birthday, happily slip them onto your feet and with each step on wards you begin to fill them. Years of experiences within the steps by those pink those shoes build ones identity.
My identity was wrapped into decades of experiences being an independent professional childless woman with a career and a deep passion for art. And yes I wore wore pink mary janes with the words true love written in a heart. This became my purpose day after day, dressing for success, commuting the 401 and dedicating personal time to my profession for years. Without a thought ever of what it would be like to lose my identity, this was unimaginable thought. That is until it happened, and it happened to me.
Many times over I have shared my story of waking up with a virus that has never left my body after several years. Yes, it is true a human can live with an unhealed virus inside of them. However, the virus first hijacks cells in your body multiplying and mutating, manipulates vital organs, constricts veins and blood flow, mutes brain function, constrains muscle and joint movement, until the body you once had is no longer there. This is the beginning of the loss of identity but at this point a person still thinks that they will get better and go back to their normal identity once again. You never bother to look into the mirror, as this is only temporary. Getting better however will never happen, acceptance will be key, and those bright pink mary jane’s are left cold and sitting empty by the front door awaiting your return.
As for the outside of the body, the way you moved, bend, walked, stood, danced, sat all changes drastically forever. If someone once knew the cadence of your footsteps, that is gone. If you were often seen hiking tall forest hills with your dogs, that is gone. If you could dance for hours without a care in the world, that is gone. These are all abilities, the truth is you are now disabled and no longer have these abilities. These experiences and activities will never happen again. When you look in the mirror on the outside you still match the identity of yourself. The mary jane’s are now tossed into the back of the cupboard for who knows how long, a visual reminder of the trauma of illness and loss of identity each time you see them.
Identity in its highest level within the culture of society today is through ones own body image. When the body is ill it begins to fight to protect itself it does this through inflammation. Usually when a person gets well again inflammation will slowly diminish and a body will go back to normal. Doctors unable to identify what is wrong with you when you have ME, search for straws pull one from the jar of tricks and label you obese, thus adding more trauma to loss of abilities and undiagnosed illnesses. When you live with an unhealed virus inside of your body the inflammation worsens until a qualified specialist can identify what is truly happening inside your body. Thankfully there are medications and supplements to help the body begin to pull back on the first lines of the resistance. Slowly over time a body can become somewhat of its past identity again, although one never knows truly what will occur. However, during this long struggle which can be years like mine, you are living with a body that in no way resembles your own. You have lost your identity, when you look in the mirror you are so different you don’t recognize yourself. You stop looking in the mirror. The mary jane’s are tossed into a clothing bin stored in the attic, but you no longer have the energy to do it and need someone to help you.
Several years into my struggle with identity I met acceptance. It was a pleasant meeting, one I will cherish forever. Acceptance taught me many lessons. I learned that I had to create new identity and I needed to begin the journey right in that moment. I bought a new mirror, it was larger, movable and supported my disability. I began with my body image itself, accepting it for what it was. Having been very active in my past identity I had to accept my inactivity being disabled. I needed to be thankful for days when I could move a little bit more than the past day. The hike with the dogs up a forest hill became moving from one room to another with sitting spots on either end. When I was able to do the daily it was a triumph. I love my body because it has worked hard to have minimal life and I am grateful for that. I decided to celebrate and I bought a bright pink pair of Ugg boats to slip on and keep my poorly circulated feet warm. I love looking in the mirror and seeing my pink boots on my feet.
I also decided that this new identity required a new image, I stopped having my partner Brandon dye my hair after decades of hair colouring and let my silver shine through. The truth be told the weeks it took for me to get energy to sit for Brandon to dye my hair mounted sometimes it took me a month past my hair dye date just to find adequate energy to sit for the hair treatment. I decided the energy required for hair dying could be much better spent. Now, I am a silver haired woman and proud of it, I daily observe the silver hair growth with glee and anticipation in a variety of mirrors throughout the house. Growing my hair silver may be the most rewarding body related thing I have ever done. Although the friend requests on social from middle aged men are annoying and do receive an immediate block from this silver haired feminist. I bought a pair of shiny rainbow converse high tops, they are super duper cool and look great with my silver hair. I also love the way they shine with my hair in the reflection of the mirror.
What was left truly was the most important part of my identity, finding life purpose. Thankfully I didn’t have to look far or deep as my passion has always been art. The challenge was my disability and how to modify my art practice to support my abilities. Also, how was I going to find creative expression at times when I was suffering from greater inabilities and unable to paint. That is when writing my blog became part of my new identity. I have have a voice that needs to be heard as a woman, artist and a person living living with disability. Writing became my voice of awareness and connection with others around the world. Once I had my voice through words in the world it helped to develop deeper meaning in my life purpose and truly solidified my identity.
When I identified as an artist living with disability I got my identity back, not to mention more independence in my life. This was my tipping point with my new identity and a pivotal life changing moment. Painting and writing has allowed me to step independently as a woman, with a new body and identity standing on my two feet as they fill my shoes. Whether it is socks, slip ons, laces or boots, it doesn’t matter so much anymore. As an artist living with disability I know how to modify my day to fill any footwear my body forces me to choose. The truth is, I prefer to paint barefoot, authentic Jane freely connected to the earth and my garden. My identity is in my artistic practice which is inspired by my English garden, it is authentic and brings me joy. Joy I hope will take me through the rest of the days of my life with pink shoes on my feet, a mirror in my hand and my silver hair shining in the sun.
Blog no. 11
Tidbits About Jane Louise Holden
On Jane’s Blog, I authentically write about real life experiences with loss, suffering and acceptance as a woman artist living with disability. There are times while in my studio I step away from my abstract paintings and turn towards words. My garden often inspires written words in the same way it fuels my paintings, words come to me connecting with thoughts as I sit in quiet peace with my garden.
Photo credit: Brandon Steen steenart.ca
Ilustration credit: Brandon Steen