Just A Little Bit

I unwrap the packaging of materials I purchase for my solo biennial, and repack them, so in the mill I can access them as efficiently as possible.
I unwrap the packaging of materials I purchase for my solo biennial, and repack them, so in the mill I can access them as efficiently as possible.

Each time I try to write about this here, I highlight the text, click “delete,” then write about something else, something safer, something completely safe, or even something funny. 

It’s time, to open the wrapper, just a little bit. (I think it will be a few more years before I begin to share more specifics.)

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I may have unconsciously busied myself with an 18-year project, to put deeply-wrapped and -submerged feelings and memories aside until I was ready.

In 1998, I began working toward interactive installations that would be mounted in what would be my 1st of 9 solo-biennial exhibits in abandoned mill spaces throughout Maine. 

Each exhibit–presenting a different theme and 9 unique installations–is 22-months of work, ~70 hours a week. I labor the first 18 months in my studio, then move my 9 new concepts’ thousands of objects and materials into the solo biennial’s respective mill, where, part of my 9-week rigor toward making my installations physical, is clearing, cleaning, and sometimes bringing the mill up to code, this vast canvas averaging 25,000 square feet. 

My biennials are typically open for participation 3 weeks, before I clear and clean the mill again. Then, I rest for 2 months, to begin work for my subsequent biennial as planned. 

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Ten months into the process for my 9th and final biennial (MEMORY, 2016), the end of my 18-year plan approaches. And, some of the things I’ve avoided these last 18 years, have found their way forward. 

In a way, my unconscious finally leaked some feelings, I suspect, so all the feelings and memories wouldn’t erupt, all at once, after I finish my project in 2016. 

From my 1st solo biennial (EXPERIENCE, 2000) through to my 5th solo biennial (LIGHT, 2008), during each 2-month break, I experienced a 2-week postpartum depression. It was as if my depression was planned as well. 

Many artists I knew, experienced post-project lows, so I wasn’t concerned. Once I had my spontaneous, uncontrollable, and loud “not-sure-what-I’m-sad-about,” “but-I’m-so-tired-I-can’t-hold-it-in-any-more” cry, I was ready to begin my next biennial’s 22-month labor. 

When the depression after my 6th solo biennial (TIME, 2010) remained 4 months, I told myself, “If this happens again, I’ll go back to counseling.” 

After my 7th solo biennial (SPACE, 2012), my depression would last 16 months.

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In 2013, while doing my best to progress toward my 8th solo biennial (MATTER, 2014), I was asked by Portland Museum of Art to create new work for solo exhibition. 

I don’t know why, during this 16-month difficulty, I said “yes” to this additional labor. When I could pull myself from under my bed covers’ weight, I worked toward MATTER with what I thought was all I had.

Perhaps my outermost unconsciousness felt I’d better keep myself busier with this extra, mammoth work, to hold these just-starting-to-erupt feelings and memories at bay; while my innermost self, knew saying “yes” to this museum exhibit would be the start of determining what I had yet to confront.

I’d worked with counselors from when I was 25 years old to 36 (when I was working toward my 4th solo biennial SOUND in 2006), 11 years of crucial work around trauma I had experienced from 7 years old to 23. Forty-two years old, and 1 month into my 16-month depression, I reconnected with these same counselors to begin to talk about what these put-aside feelings might be. I felt this would help me through my current depression, while deterring a post-biennial, postpartum depression I might not survive.

But, my depression was worsening. It pressed down on me and my bed from above, like a second mattress, outside a soft cushion, inside the weight of steel. 

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Then, I almost drowned, making 1 of 9 works for my museum exhibit. (Many of you already know about my marsh-walking; its own long story can be accessed in color here or in much-less-costly black and white by writing me amy@amystaceycurtis.com.)

In sopping clothes, I realized for the 1st time, that all this time, I’d been harming myself to make my work; pushing myself to absolute extremes–“killing myself”–to see my vision through. I wondered: Why do I push myself in this way? Why do I chew what I “bite off”? Why do I keep chewing when my teeth hurt?

Back on shore, I set out to do whatever it took, to face things I hadn’t faced, whatever these horrific things may be. I would step forward into them, take however many steps were needed to move through them, regardless of each step’s difficulty.

I told my counselors, I needed something more. That, with my intensifying depression, our visits may not be enough.

I wanted, more efficiently, to get to the “core” of what was happening. I wasn’t looking for a “quicker fix.” I just didn’t feel I would survive long enough to determine the origins of my problem through dialogue alone.

I knew anti-depressants were an option, something I had not yet tried. But, was there an alternative I could try first?  

One of my counselors suggested Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Then, several friends shared that EMDR was for them, the “no-more-bull” way to heal. I figured if EMDR didn’t work, I would go on anti-depressants.

I would have to. 

Scheduling our first EMDR session over the phone, my practitioner said: “When we start doing the actual work, you will want your husband to drop you off for your appointments. He will need to drive you home.”  

Our first 3 sessions of EMDR were introductory, a chance for my practitioner to explain what EMDR does, while we prepared for what was likely going to the most challenging personal work I had ever done. 

And, it has been.

My practitioner in combination with a pamphlet she gave me: “Your mind can heal itself from psychological trauma just like your body can heal itself from physical trauma. Trauma creates a ‘groove’ in your psyche. If you relive your trauma over and over, if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or it continues to effect you (even unconsciously), this groove gets deeper.

People with multiple trauma or trauma over a long period of time, people with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), [people like you, Amy] have multiple grooves. What EMDR does, is fills in these grooves, creating new grooves which are antitheses to those that had been engraved. Someone with a single trauma, a single groove, no matter how deep, can experience relief with several weekly sessions. The more grooves you have the longer this process can take.” 

I completed 7 months of weekly EMDR, right up until 2 weeks before I started installing MATTER. There was no way I could do both at the same time. (By the way, I had the idea for “filling a groove” at MATTER long before I knew anything about EMDR). 

At first, it was surreal to go from the intensity of EMDR to the intensity of installing my 8th solo biennial. But, I saw MATTER through (“the show must go on”).

Then, I had my “normal” post-biennial scream cry.

I needed a break before I started what I thought would be the 2nd part of a 2-part EMDR process. For a while, I felt terrific, so much weight carried since childhood, relieved.

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I’ve been “Back In The EMDR” for 2 months now. I thought this 2nd round would be easier; that I’d resolved the worst of my trauma.

But I was wrong. 

I’m opening this wrapper, just a little bit, because what’s inside is another aspect of my work. And, I did say with my 1st post, I would try through this writing to be present.

Another reason: EMDR is the most difficult personal work I’ve done; but it’s working. And, I want to share this fact, just in case anyone reading could benefit. If you’re interested in talking to a practitioner, you can find one in your area here

When I’m done with this personal work, whether I finish by the time I open MEMORY in 2016 or not (pretty appropriate pre-titled title for my final solo biennial, huh?), I can be still.

I won’t have to move forward at a constant pace, keeping busy, keeping structured, plodding along a known trajectory. When I’m done, I can move forward without fear of what could happen to me next. I can start. And stop. And start again.

I’ve been under construction for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, time, wearing big, concealing clothes, hats, swaddling scarves, as if I’m deep and protected in a cocoon.

When my personal work is done, I could be still; but I will also have emerged from this cocoon, a magnificent butterfly.

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24 Comments

    1. Thank you so much Patricia; I so look forward to our visit. This has definitely been a long and worth-all Doing time…

  1. brava, Amy! you are one of my heroes, and–this may not be helpful, but—i see this as a heroe’s journey. good passage & journey to you.

    1. Thank you so much for your supportive words; yes, trying to Be Here as much as possible on this long journey, however much longer it is.

  2. Amy this is such a well written personal story. You are so kind to share this with your followers and to offer hope and perhaps a different method of treatment for depression. So many folks may benefit from your experience. So thank you and I wish you well as this “Memory” project comes to an end point and you continue gaining strength and making art..

    1. Thank you so much Carol. Yes. A big impetus in writing this was hearing from so many others who are going through similar things but not sure what to do. Wanted to offer what’s been working for me…

  3. amy
    i love the unwrapping of the box metaphor
    thanks to you, the onion is just for cooking
    and the most revealing thing revealed
    aside from the incredible butterfly that you are is, amy….
    you have steel balls!!!!!
    i believe in you and all that you do
    carry on sista!!!!!!
    xoxooxoxoxx kris

    1. 9 steel balls even…thank you so much sista. Your words mean a lot and I believe in you and all you do too! xo

  4. Amy, through your work you influence and speak to a large audience. I bought the book “Without a Map” having seen your recent post. I look forward to reading it but glancing through I saw a quote,”We love each other. We need each other. That is our only map.” You are precious, keep the work going.

    1. Thank you so much Elizabeth for your generous words. I am definitely braver today than I was yesterday when I posted. Love back to you…

  5. Amy, I am listening. I hear you. I love you. Admire you. Support you. You are authentic. True. Truly exquisite and spectacular. Love, Tammy

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