This piece has been pulled over from my secondary, private blog and edited for Leah Suzette Creative Studio.
Since we’re still getting to know each other a little bit, I’d like to go ahead and take this time to share a story with you!
I LOVE story time, truly. Stories in and of themselves are at the very core of the things I value and believe in, and as such, I’ve managed to get better and better at telling them over the years.
So grab a blanket and a tea, and settle in, this is kind of a long one…
Once upon a time…
…at the tender young age of four, after having seen The Lion King – my first ever trip to the silver screen – I found myself, beside myself – simply blown way. After just one viewing I was obsessed with the story and the characters; the enticing colors and captivating music; the magnitude of the projection.
It was no surprise then, the following afternoon at my Great Gran-Gran’s, that I was inclined to snatch up some Crayola’s and start drawing. “S I M B A” I’d scribbled, in red-violet at the top of the page. Below, an image of the lion that more closely resembled a stick figure sun god, but you know, it was Simba.
Some years later, about fourth grade, we were asked to draw ourselves as what we wanted to be when we grew up. Now, by this time I already had a cache of Disney characters and Pokemon doodles under my belt, so I was ready for the challenge. So came the illustration of “Grown-Up Leah” – French beret atop her curly brown head, in a smock, with an easel and a palette and a brush – she was ready!
I knew from a very young age that I’d found my “thing” in creating. Every afternoon at Gran’s, waiting for my mom to come pick me up from her shift at the hospital, I sat in a big velvet chair – dated as hell, even for the time – and colored. Not in a coloring book – this wasn’t amateur hour – no, in a wire-spiral notebook. Blue, if I recall.
I drew flowers and lions, and friends and family members until I started making up characters of my own… The Big Bacon and all of his breakfast friends, Sally Sun the Sun Flower Fairy, Sushi the Penguin… and it wasn’t enough for me to just have these characters, they needed to do something else – be something else.
So I started writing their stories. As best as any kid could, you know.
Around the time high school started I knew I wanted to take art making pretty seriously. (It strikes me now however that I didn’t take writing more seriously… thoughts on that later…)
During those formative years, I spent the majority of my time in the studio room at an all-girls, Catholic high school – sometimes actually wearing that beret we talked about; dark blue – working on all of the artwork that would eventually fill up a corner in my mom’s basement.
But eventually, after all of the drama and frenemies, and AP Senior Thesis shows, I trotted off to art school.
I spent two years at the Columbus College of Art and Design, studying foundations, smashing on Darian’s sandwiches and Diet Pepsi, playing World of Warcraft and struggling deeply with depression and anxiety.
WHOA. I know. All at once. Plot twist out of no where, but it’s hella relevant so stay with me.
Depression wasn’t exactly new to me. When I was a sophomore in high school, I learned that all of the sadness and worthlessness I was feeling, had a name. In all of the conversations I had with counselors about self-harm and suicidal thoughts, I learned that I suffered from depression.
Over time, I thought I had gained control over this. I thought that the end of high school, or more pointedly, the beginning of college, would be the fresh start I needed to conquer my demons. But I was quite wrong. By the time the summer going into college was over I had met the love of my life: Greg. Plot twist numero dos.
We spent every moment together until August came and I had to move up to Columbus. Once I got there, and the tears had been shed, final hugs and kisses given and I’d finished unpacking my wardrobe and settling into my dorm room, my Dark Passenger returned. Only this time she came with a new friend: Anxiety.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in therapy unpacking what I thought to be my life up to that point, and getting to the root of my problems. (And learning new coping mechanisms that didn’t involve sharp objects, binge eating or calling Greg at 4am to scream and cry).
Things started to look up then, and through a series of predictable events, I transferred from CCAD to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and moved back home to earn my Bachelors of Fine Art. In hindsight, the AAC was a much better fit.
Now this is where the saddest part of the story takes place. This where I graduate, and forget all about little “Grown-Up Leah” in her French beret, with her paintings, and let the notion of practicality take hold of my life. (Had I not just spent four years learning how to BE an artist?)
After I graduated from college I was pretty motivated to keep making work… until I wasn’t. The only job I could find was one serving at a hippie pizza joint in my hometown and I was getting pressure from everyone to “just do something practical.” So I enrolled at a community college to study business technologies, which is just about as boring, unfulfilling and uninspiring as it sounds.
All the while, and without realizing it, I was denying myself something that I needed way more than extra student loan debt and week nights getting wasted at Dingle House after closing the restaurant.
Art. Creating. Storytelling.
I was denying myself. It was no wonder that my depression and anxiety and general dissatisfaction for life were at an all time high. Not to mention that I wasn’t watching after my health – mental or otherwise.
Needless to say, perhaps, I dropped out of community college right near the end. Four classes left and I just said “Fuck it! – This isn’t me.” I already had a Bachelors, what the fuck was I doing anyway?
By that time though, I had already taken my first “big-girl” job with a commercial real estate firm where my boyfriend did IT work, and let me tell you – it was a treat!
I was the new bright-eyed and bushy tailed receptionist, and ready to please everyone. Most importantly I was no longer losing my soul one six-top at a time. I felt like an adult. Magenta blazer and all.
To give you some context, we are now half way through 2015.
As you can probably guess, those feelings didn’t last very long. (Let’s just ignore the fact that NO feelings last very long to begin with, for now).
Just last year, after having a complete mental breakdown (feeling exhausted and completely fucking jaded by office politics), I realized that there is so much more I could be DOING with my life than answering phones and making coffee.
That’s when I decided to participate in a personal and career growth and development course called Work Bigger. The eight-week program challenged me and excited me and ultimately gave me the inner compass that I needed to start moving forward with clarity and intention. I guess I just needed to step back first and stop wandering around looking for practicality.
So here we are…
I’m a 28 year old disgruntled but optimistic receptionist, managing the crippling effects of depression and anxiety on a regular basis (though I do still see a therapist), who just wants to make a living from creating and storytelling. Is that so bad?
Some of my best friends and close colleagues tell me I’m doing too much. Is it really too much to ask yourself to excel in all areas of your life though?
Though I certainly understand how someone on the outside looking in might think that working full time while trying to develop and art business, while trying to grow a blog, while fiddling with coding/tech skills, while exercising and cooking every day to maintain a healthier lifestyle, while networking, and hosting events and volunteering for not one but two organizations, while still trying to find time to spend in the studio… is a lot.
Actually… they’re right, it’s a bit much.
It’s sometimes so much in fact, that I find myself curled up in the darkest corner of the bedroom, crying my eyes out, pulling my hair and muttering that I’m just not good enough – “You’ll never make it”, my Dark Passenger tells me. (I see my feelings, I feel my feelings, but I am not my feelings… I am not my feelings…)
So here we are. Here I am.
Despite knowing I’m on the right track, the journey gets really hard sometimes. I struggle to believe in myself – to truly believe I can do it. But a boss ass bitch is in there, so I keep going.
And that’s not to say that I don’t have help. So much help, in fact. Sometimes I question whether or not I deserve the people that make up my support system. My heart is never short of overflowing with gratitude.
Greg and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary back in March.
Sometimes the journey feels long, and heavy, and I know you’re supposed to enjoy it, so that’s why I’m here. Honestly.
For maybe the first time, I’m writing without an ulterior motive. I’m just writing because I enjoy it, and I want to get better at it. Just like I want to get better at coding, and drawing and painting and cooking and cycling. I want to improve upon my human-hood, live my purpose, love fiercely, get excited, be the one that gets a seat at the table.
I want to share my story with anyone willing to read it.
So back to that.
I love stories. Like really, really.
Stories are powerful, powerful tools that not only communicate ideas and history, but on a deeper level, set the stage for another person to share their story… and another… until the world simply becomes a smaller, more interconnected place.
And there are all KINDS of fucking stories man… books, blogs, shows, movies, songs, art, buildings… even data tells a story.
You should definitely share yours too.