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“Anne” 18×24, oil on canvas. $360.00 Buy Now

 

Things you don’t know.

In 2006 I got my first real career type job. I was teaching high school English and art. I didn’t know any of the other teachers, and I was cautious. Having spent most of my childhood and adolescence painfully shy, I was just starting to become the I’ve-never-met-a-stranger person I am now. The shyness still lurked even if it was on its way out.

One of my biggest challenges in the beginning of that school year was not knowing the logistics of the school. I may as well have been in high school again myself because I didn’t know where or with whom to eat lunch.

After a few lonely meals in my classroom I finally figured it out. I eventually met fellow teacher Anne in the faculty lunchroom. I didn’t know a whole lot about her, but one day she was eating berries– really beautiful, big berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) from a tupperware container. I was in a berry phase so I mentioned them– “Those look so good” or something to that effect. She told me she gets them at Sam’s regularly.

The next day I found my very own tupperware container of berries waiting for me. Anne had brought them for me.

So that will forever be my impression of who she is and what she represents. To this day I buy berries at Sams. I left teaching in 2012. I had no idea what Anne was battling, where she’d been, or where she was headed. Here’s her story:

Standing my ground… In January 2001 I was diagnosed with Bipolar II with rapid cycling. My life was spinning out of control with me realizing just a portion of it happening. I went into outpatient treatment for six weeks. I thought I was doing better. I tried teaching again. It failed BIG TIME. It ended with my contacted not being renewed. So I used the time to regroup- get a handle on my life – stand my ground. I had a choice–A) live a life trapped in my mind with others visiting and my parents supporting me or B) live a life with others where I support myself. It was a long journey. Different medicines with different side effects. Attempting to work in the family business barely doing tasks that I had done all through my youth, going through state programs for vocational rehabilitation where caseworkers told me I’d never be able to teach again or hold a salaried job again, family worried and wondering. With education on mental illness, an incredible doctor, my faith, a supportive immediate family and friends, and determination, I was able to find the right meds. I was able to get a teaching position in a very small rural Catholic school. For two years I took my meds and worked my new position. Tunnel vision of sorts. Remove all the distractions. I stood my ground with this genetic gift. I stand it every evening when I take my meds. I stand it when my mind wants to race and I start making lists. I stand it when I speak to groups about my illness to let others know it is possible. I stand it when I let possible employers know my diagnosis and they hire me. I stand it when I go to bed instead of doing what my heart wants. I stand it.

Her words leave me stunned. In awe.

I asked another former co-worker what her impression of Anne was. This is what she said:

I guess if I had to sum Anne up, I would say she’s someone who gives. She’s unfailingly generous, and sometimes her illness gets in the way of that and sometimes it supports it–like in her wonderful and brave transparency about sharing her story. Nothing is off limits with Anne if it can help someone, from an empty box she’s keeping in case someone can use it or sharing her struggles in case someone else is in a rough spot and needs to hear it. She’s someone who gives with no expectation of return. She really inspires me.

Today’s painting is a pelican because they are what got me painting regularly in the first place. I looked for them when life was darkest, when I couldn’t bare to imagine the rest of my life because all I could sense was drudgery. This painting, like most, is woefully inadequate in representing the type of strength Anne describes in standing her ground. It’s inadequate– like berries in a tupperware container, perhaps meaningful, but not the whole picture. 

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