The ‘Art’ of Dying Inside

The photo you see is from October of 2014, shortly before the premiere of my play, “The Piano,” that I self-produced with the help and talent of amazing people. It was taken a few days after I had a breakdown. There was a certain satisfaction I felt from the fact that no one could tell.

I’m jealous of my peers who seem to have found their calling. It is that thing which pushes them beyond disappointment and pain. From their great depths, there is laser focus and insurmountable will. To become free, they would circumvent physical, mental, emotional, and financial burdens in order to claim their voice. Though they struggle, they do so with purpose. When they fail, we cheer on their bravery. It’s been two years since I’ve felt this inside.

I was the pusher. I knew how to squeeze past long hours and creative bottlenecks in order to produce something. I was a good student and disciplined at practice. It was easy and comfortable for me to talk to others and make myself known. I checked off my qualifications and collected my accomplishments, I had friends and a community of creative people, and it seemed like I genuinely enjoyed my storytelling.

In 2014, I decided to self-produce a play I wrote. I was working fulltime, able to support myself, and single. It was the challenge I had been preparing for, one that, for once, didn’t require me to get permission. The only thing I had to do was to work really, really hard. The only thing I had to do was push. Over the course of nine months, I worked harder than I had ever worked before. I had amazingly talented friends and collaborators to help me along the way, but I was barely able to survive. I remember sitting behind the audience, running supertitles and sound cues, waiting for the moment for it to become all worth it.

When I was a teenager, my parents showed me the movie “Shine” to help inspire me as a classical pianist. After enduring abuse, a nervous breakdown, and all the hardships of his mental health condition, the film ends with the protagonist breaking into tears to the roar of applause at his comeback concert. I have seen this moment played out in fiction and real life alike—the soul bearer embodying triumph after enduring hardships they didn’t know they could survive. Through my little play, using my time, skills, and resources, I wanted to make that moment for myself.

I saw the play seven times. I saw tears in the audience. But that moment never came for me. I was too busy, too buried, and too dependent on the work to manufacture the thing I wanted above all else—to enjoy myself. I never told a soul who saw me during this time, but I was miserable every step of the way in making my art. I wasn’t proud, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have the work to show for it. Somewhere deep inside, I knew I had let myself down in the most undetectable of ways.

From that moment on, my relationship with writing changed. I still produced pages. I attended workshops and writer’s groups, but I felt numb even listening to my written dialogue come to life. To overcome my writer’s block, I switched mediums, adjusted my daily routines, changed my work environment, and even tried audio typing to give my hands some rest. None of it has worked so far. It is a constant seesaw between numbness and a deep anxious wrestling of my heart, as if I’m stepping on gas pedal and the breaks at the same time. The harder I push, the more I reach the cliff of a depression that seems to be tied with my fundamental beliefs for why I am alive—my purpose.

The most frustrating part is what this crisis has done to my relationship with art. And yet, I hear the countless stories of writing and creativity being the tether which help bring back to their truth. I am still trying. I have grown things along the way that I now get to keep. I exercise and am conscious of my bodily health. I developed a sustainable spiritual practice. Providing service free from personal gain has become a new tether of its own. My relationships have been measured and tested by my struggles, and I feel like the richest man in the world knowing the wonderful people in my life. Through these moments of unburdening, I still find myself with a deep desire to live. To stay alive, yes, but also to live. But pushing does not work for me anymore. There will be another way.

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