How does one bring a career back from the dead?
Okay, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but it’s what came to mind a little over two years after my daughter was born. By that time, I was nearly five years into my unplanned hiatus following a series of family tragedies and medical emergencies in addition to a personal battle with anxiety and depression.
The return to my art and writing has been a long and arduous process which was compounded with the brand new challenge of motherhood. For several reasons, I’ve very rarely enlisted the help of sitters. Therefore, I’ve had to make additional sacrifices in order to get any work time in. Most times I’ve had to sacrifice either my work or sleep.
I’m sure many mothers can relate to the struggle of finding their identity after becoming a parent. Society has long conveyed the notion that motherhood is a woman’s ultimate purpose, and once attaining that purpose all else should be sacrificed. And while I believe that my life’s priorities have been rearranged, my duties as a parent do not overwrite my passions as an artist. If anything, the former fuels the latter and vice versa.
By default, the creative process for authors and artists is lonely. Motherhood can magnify that loneliness in a way. Naturally, as a wonderful new life is celebrated, creative potential is sometimes overshadowed, dismissed, or forgotten. Some people have assumed that I had abandoned my creative endeavors altogether. And as my new responsibilities dominated pretty much all my time few people noticed that a vital part of my life had all but faded away.
It was seemingly of little consequence to them. Perhaps they didn’t realize that my aspirations, like my beloved daughter, are also a vital part of my identity. They are not mere frivolous pastimes. Yet, unfortunately, many artists face the same stigma where the legitimacy of their craft is solely judged upon their level of success. And given the fact that prior to publishing DUALITY: Poems, Essays, and Reflections, it had been seven years since I last published any writing, my success was questionable.
So, how did I go from a seven-year creative struggle to finally publishing my work again? A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of work, improvisation, meditation, and encouragement from a couple of dear friends and loved ones. Sometimes I’d jot down ideas (or even entire passages) on my cellphone as I rocked my daughter to sleep. I’d do the same during car rides. Most of the time I’d sacrifice sleep to work on DUALITY, new drawings, or my forthcoming sci-fi novel. However, in recent days I’ve learned that as my daughter gets older, there are other ways to unapologetically claim time for my work. Part of that means stepping beyond what others expect of me as a mother. Another part of it means getting better at delegating tasks whenever possible.
When I experienced a medical scare this past fall, it revived my desire to finish what I had started while at the same time invoking a fear that some of the words I had written might have been prophetic of my own demise. The process revealed the people who care most about me. It also left me grateful for my health and renewed my respect for the fragility of time.
In some ways it’s ironic that motherhood has provided both the greatest challenge and the greatest inspiration for me to get my work out there again. It’s important that my daughter gets to know all parts of my authentic self since that’s the closest I’ll ever get to achieving immortality.
Here are four tips that have helped me emerge from my hiatus:
1. No longer seeking permission to work on my craft.
I learned that my creative aspirations will never mean more to anyone else than they do to me. I also learned to value my work time without feeling guilty about occasionally sacrificing socialization in order to attain it.
2. Learning to forgive myself when I get off track.
Life intervenes our well laid plans. Often repeatedly and relentlessly. Yet, it can be tempting to blame ourselves when things don’t work out. Blame is unproductive and can prevent us from circumnavigating the cause of our delays and learning from the challenges whenever possible. Also, sometimes unplanned deviations to our schedule can sometimes work in our favor, allowing us to catch mistakes or coming up with ideas me might not have otherwise considered.
3. Doing my best with whatever time I’m able to get for my work. Even if it’s just five minutes.
Some people have the luxury of having a consistent schedule for their projects. Being a stay-at-home mom, I typically rely on the wee hours for productivity. Yet, even that rarely pans out as I hope, given the unpredictable sleep patterns of my beloved toddler. This means frequent interruptions. To cope with this, I work on what I can and make bookmarks and notations of where I left off.
4. Understanding the importance of stress management.
Stress hinders the creative process and can discourage us from pursuing our dreams. Finding some method to decompress is vital to our recovery from stress. For some it’s meditation, yoga, exercise, music, reading, or other pastimes. In anticipation of stressful times, I created playlists of uplifting songs and speeches. Find what works best for you and incorporate it into your routine.
Shykia Bell is an author, poet, artist, and creator of The Bell Studio. Additionally, she is a freelance writer / graphic designer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and their daughter.
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Duality: Poems, Essays, and Reflections is now available at Amazon
Artwork from the collection is available at the author’s Redbubble shop
Medium blog: An Unexpected Diagnosis: How a Feared Ending Led to a New Beginning