When Art Reveals Your Trauma: The Therapeutic Side Effects of Hyperfixations
For the majority of 2020, like everyone else I was stuck inside my apartment social distancing and trying to figure out what to do. I think stickers and epoxy resins were really hot as well as sourdough starters. No stranger to hyperfixations, I’m always aware of when experimenting or “playing” switches over to obsession. I can feel the shift when Im suddenly aware that whatever hobby or craft I’m doing at the moment is going to become part of who I am for a little while. During quarantine, that artistic distraction turned borderline compulsive need was hanging fake ivy.
Yup. That is what my brain thought paramount to purchase with what pathetic savings I had squirreled away - packages and packages of fake ivy from Amazon along with fake flowers
I know that I’m supposed to hate myself (jk) but it makes sense to me when I think about it. I was trying to build a safe space that felt beautiful. I don’t think I was 100% aware of that then but I am now. Right up until the moment before social distancing made everything come to a halt I hadn’t known any space longer than a few weeks for years. I had been on a Broadway tour living in hotels and Airbnb’s all over the country. I had given up my apartment in NYC right before going on the road because I knew I would be gone for so long. I never dreamed I wouldn’t be coming back.
Actually, during the initial part of quarantine and I was hunkering down with a boy in Portland, Oregon until I realized that life was about to change forever and that changed everything. It was time to go home. Needless to say, when I finally had the bizarre luxury of being able to consider “nesting” somewhere, I went all in.
I’ll never forget that winter in Chicago by myself. My boyfriend was away working in New York and I was in his apt with his dog Zoe, who would soon become my heart. She followed me from room to room day after day as I climbed on furniture and hung Ivy that smelled like gasoline from command hooks. I literally wanted to feel like I was outside. I created a magical hallway that felt like the portal to my magical bedroom where shit got real. I even unintentionally developed a nightly ritual that I called “ turning on the forest” that included switching on about twenty different strands of lights in addition to pink and purple event lights. Oh, and we can’t forget the galaxy light with moving lasers and simulated stars. There were so many different lights that I was able to create numerous different moods for the room. Some days it felt like I was waking up in a bridal shower magazine and others felt more like Narnia depending on the vibe I chose.
And honestly, it was worth it. I remember realizing how out of hand it had gotten when my boyfriend came back to visit for the first time. At 4'11 I’m pretty short so he had to constantly duck and weave through booby traps of fairy lights and garlands. Not that he wasn’t supportive though. He actually thought it was really nice waking up in the morning! (haha) I even packed an entire suitcase of nothing but ivy when I flew across the country with Zoe for the first time to spend some time with him during the worst of isolation. Read that again. I got on a plane with a suitcase full of fake Ivy. I’m actually not embarrassed by that but it is a little extreme if not “quirky”.
All of that ivy and fake foliage came in handy later in the summer when my friend got married to my boyfriend's brother. (I introduced them.) I turned the backyard of the Florida AirBnB into an overnight little scene scape with every last bit of twine and vine I had accumulated over the past year.
I actually have a lot of compassion for that past version of myself because she was obviously doing her best and trying. I’m proud of her for insisting on making things beautiful when the world seemed like a swamp fire. I’m grateful to her for defending our childlike need to create art no matter what. I’ve always strongly believed that we stop trying to create beauty in the world when we stop believing in tomorrow. Sometimes I think that version of me had more guts than who I am today.
I also have to appreciate that inner child for guiding me even in my moments of obsessive escapism. I could’ve picked up something super technical like I often had in the past, but I chose something softer. I had to untangle A LOT of things and I am not exaggerating when I say I found a sort of spiritual connection in the art of untangling knots. I had to breathe and remember not to pull tighter but tug gently. I decorated. I made a little home. I created the safe space I was needing on the inside with countless chords of lights meant for the outside.
I think that’s the beautiful thing about being an artist. The story of your life will manifest as creations no matter the medium. The space you inhabit will reflect your trauma, even if it’s beautiful.... You will continue to be an artist in the way you live. Even if you are an artist violently sliced away from how you used to make art... it is inevitable that you still will. It’s not about if you were meant to make art but if you were designed to make art. I became comforted realizing that even when the world as I knew it seemed to be ending, my art was still more present than ever. We have to remember that truly what makes us artists lies not in what we make, but how we make it. Even when all we can do is tell the story of who we were in the past, we’re telling the story of who we are in the present by HOW we tell it. You might just be surprised to find your art creates you as much as you create your art. Keep creating.
Anna-Lee Wright is a Korean-American performance artist best known for her work on Broadway and film and television. Whether playing herself as one of the leads of MTV's hit prank show Ladylike, or choreographing at national dance conventions across the country, her work is always rooted in the fascination with human nature and social emotional learning. As an adopted immigrant, she speaks publicly about the importance of the intersectionality of mental health and art. Coming to terms with a diagnosis of Autism later in life, she seeks to amplify open conversations and authentic storytelling for the purpose of finding ways to better the world through empathy. She is usually found talking about uncomfortable issues to hopefully embolden others to do the same and therefore cultivate self-realization through the power of honest vulnerability.