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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

I feel burnt out. Maybe it’s the time of year (it’s fall, things are dying and the ever-changing air pressure is torturous for a person, like myself, living with fibromyalgia). Maybe it’s just the eb of the flow that is my mental health. Maybe it’s because of capitalism.

Yeah, that’s probably the one.

I’ve read a lot about how your worth is not determined by your level of productivity, but I’ve also always struggled with that as a kid who grew up in a household where productivity was number one. I grew up, like many others, believing that the Road to Success was to do well in school, go to university, get a degree, and work 40 hours/week. However, like many other millennials, I have found that, since graduating with my undergrad, I am lucky to get a job even remotely related to my field, let alone those nine-to-five hours I’ve always dreamt of. Going to grad school is an option (and, it seems, the only option if I want to work in the ‘helping industry’), but it’s an expensive option that dictates where my little family and I will live and work. Simply taking the amount of time off of my day job to complete and submit grad school applications is time-consuming (and expensive) enough, let alone actually attending grad school.

Anyway, the aspirations I had for my career in social work are fading, and I find myself, a person who has always focused on school/career/building a resume, a little lost.

I define my Self as an artist/activist. I am an interdisciplinary artist who paints abstract expressionist paintings and performs and, at times, holds a vision for various pieces of work. I am a writer (allegedly) who exposes pieces of myself for the sake of radical vulnerability (like I am now). Because I am an artist who believes that the most important part of art is the process, and that there is not beautiful and more meaningful process than that of the Self. I am an activist who strives for caring communities and healing and restorative justice.

But I have never believed that my art and/or my activism would be able to support me. And if I am not supporting myself, I find that I do not value myself. This is obviously problematic and rooted largely in trauma. Some personal trauma, and some trauma that reaches society-wide. For all the times that I have encouraged the people in my life to take some time to take care of themselves, I kind of suck at it.

Maybe that’s not fair to say. In some ways, I take good care of myself. I have learned that the key to managing my disabilities is to be intentional with the things I eat, the things I do, the amount I sleep, the way I do the things I do. It’s kind of hard to live by the seat of my pants. I promised myself that for the month of September I would prioritize having fun and doing the things I wanted to do rather than work or other things I felt like I ought to do. It was awesome, but It took me three weeks to recover physically. My body went into fibroshock mode and I was more or less useless for a while.

Now I’m trying to focus on creating art rather than my day job- which is  harder said than done. A significant portion of making art is, after all, drinking too much coffee and waiting for inspiration to strike. And there I face a paradigm: do I prioritize doing things that inspire me but also physically ruin me, or do I prioritize my Real Work and find that I am too self-deprecating to create anything at all.

I had high hopes that this time in my life would be dedicated to entering every open door to feel out where I fit in this world. Instead, I am finding that there are a lot of brick walls that don’t budge, no matter how hard I work to move them (or even climb them). Between my disabilities and my politics, it seems as though I am not a very “good fit” for much of anywhere, and between my obsession with productivity and my passion for exerting mass amounts of emotional labour that I don’t have the spoons for, I don’t feel like I make a very good artist/activist either.

And it comes back to capitalism. Measuring self-worth by my productivity, and also reconciling the fact that I need to make money in order to eat and live reasonably with the fact that the majority of the work I do (both professionally and personally, come to think of it) is emotional labour- feminized work that is not valued enough to compensate the person engaging in that labour.

I love taking care of my friends and community members, but this is a truly laborious process that I put a lot of time, effort, and skills into. It’s something that I attempt to fuze into both my art, and my activism. I know that I will have many opportunities to further my career/Work/whatever, and I know that I will not feel like this forever.

But in this moment, I feel burnt out. And I know I’m not the only one.

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