How To Be Wrong

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I recently had a truly awful shoot. I was posing for art nudes on a far too public beach, although I was hidden behind a large rock formation. The rocks were a blessing for several reasons, really. Not only did they block line of sight from the beach, but they also gave me something to grab when the high surf came crashing in. I’d been to this location many times before, and I’d never seen waves this rough or wild. I’d also lived around the ocean long enough to recognize the characteristic pull of a riptide as the water surged away from the rocks below me.

So there I was, clinging to the rock, trying not to be seen or swept out to sea. I was working my ass off and cold and wet and worried and frankly miserable. As one particularly energetic wave managed to soak me, I had a realization:

Oh you fucking idiot. You said you weren’t going to do this ever again. You even wrote a blog about it, and proudly posted it to the entire goddamn internet.

Sadly, this is one hundred percent true—in my essay about problems in the modeling industry and why I am no longer modeling full time, I said I would not be taking bookings anymore that violated my boundaries, or put me in physical or legal danger. And yet, I found myself risking both my life and arrest at the same time for the sake of a few photos.

I wish I could say that this was the only time in my life that I had forgotten to listen to advice from my past self, but that would be a blatant lie. I often think of my blog posts as reminders for future me: “Here’s this thing you figured out the hard way! Write it down so that you don’t forget it again. And if it was a struggle for you, maybe someone else out there will find it useful too.”

It’s a noble goal, but I still often make the same mistakes again and again—even when I’ve already figured out and written down the solution. It’s gotten so bad that my partners and friends will mine my blog archives before they give me advice on a problem, just so they can quote myself back to me. After all, who am I most likely to listen to? Sometimes, I even preempt them and do the keyword searches myself.

On those perusals of my past work, I’ve noticed a second, completely different type of being wrong that I’ve apparently also had a lot of practice at. Sometimes I don’t make good decisions, not because I forgot the right answer like during my recent shoot, but because the conclusion I came to in the first place was just flat out incorrect. And worse, I wrote blog posts about those, and also posted them to the entire goddamn internet.

This was honestly one of my biggest fears when I started writing: that I’d be one of those people. You know, somebody that was wrong on the internet. Now I’m in the bemusing situation of having my worst fear come to pass.

It turns out, being wrong does suck.  (Although if I’m being completely honest, not quite as much as I had imagined). Sometimes it has immediate consequences, like having a miserable shoot. Sometimes people judge me on what I’ve previously thought, and not what I currently believe. And sometimes I worry that what I currently believe is wrong, too! I will always be changing, and what I think is correct right now will probably be wrong in the future. But at least I think it’s like that for everybody else, too.

I can’t stop being wrong. But through abundant amounts of practice, I think I’ve learned how to be a bit better at it.

The best thing I can do is not fear the inevitable. I’m going to make mistakes. But I find that if I’m afraid of that possibility, I tend to double down on being wrong and hold on for dear life, which is frankly the worst thing that I can do. Better to mess up spectacularly and admit to it and learn and apologize. 

And if people are going to judge me on things I’ve grown past? Well let’s just say they definitely are wrong about a thing or two themselves. Like how they judge people. I hope they learn too, and that it doesn’t bite them too hard in the ass.

I am only able to learn the lessons that I’m ready for.

I also try to remind myself on a regular basis that I am only able to learn the lessons that I’m ready for. I can run across a better idea—hell, angels could come down from the heavens and tell me the meaning of life itself—and it won’t make any sense to me if I haven’t put the work into creating the scaffolding to hold it. Ideas need context, and sometimes it takes time to build that.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times in my adult life I came across the concept of white space under various guises—free time, leisure time, creative play. I read studies on the subject, and I still thought people who practiced it were weird at best, and harmful at worst. It wasn’t until last summer that it finally clicked. And oh boy, was I wrong. So best not to beat myself up now, or I’ll just hold onto current beliefs and it’ll take me that much longer to learn.  And who knows how many times I’ll forget it before it sticks.

Now, let’s just hope future me remembers to read this the next time I fuck up.

Creativity and Brain Meds

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This week marks an important anniversary for me: I’ve been off my brain meds and out of therapy for a year.

I’ve mentioned previously that I have OCD, and that I’ve taken medication for it. A low dose of Abilify was my wonder drug. It turned me from someone who lost hours a day to a crippling mental illness into a functional human being. It gave me a foothold so that I could do the hard work of therapy.

There’s a reason I’m proud of this anniversary, and it has nothing to do with whether I’m on or off meds. It’s that I’ve learned how to interact with the world with my own peculiar filter. It didn’t matter to me whether I needed to stay on medication or not to do it. What mattered was that I got my life back. 

But when I mention this achievement, the people I tell it to often focus on me quitting my medication, as if that was the real victory. Why did they do that? And why do I find that response so frustrating?

The answer is a complicated one. I’ve seen a lot of friends fight with depression and anxiety and a variety of other mental illnesses. And every time, medication is viewed as a last resort. They try to manage their mental health in every other way first: diet, exercise, lifestyle, talk therapy, you name it. If they do end up taking medication, it seems to be viewed as a failure.

Yes, I know that some of this is because SSRIs can cause a lot of side effects. But beyond that, there’s still a social stigma around taking medication. People don’t weigh the benefits against the possible side effects like they would with a physical ailment. Instead, you’re just seen as weak or flawed if you use it.

But what really gets me is the commonly held belief that medication will ruin your creativity as an artist. Maybe it stems from the idea that an artist has to suffer to make good art—it’s where we draw our raw material from, right? Maybe there’s some belief that if medication changes how you feel, it’ll change what you make. That there’s an inherent creative state that we can’t tamper with if we want our art to remain pure.

I took medication for my OCD for several years, and here’s what I can tell you about those beliefs from first-hand experience: they’re all bullshit.

Before I started taking medication for my mental illness, I was definitively a worse model. I had trouble traveling for work because of my OCD—and it turns out that “traveling” is a pretty big part of the job for a traveling freelance model. Gas stations terrified me; planes were even worse. New surroundings made my symptoms flare up. Even leaving the house was hard. I frequently had to hide panic attacks when I was on location or in a studio. It would leave me wishing that the shoot would just be over, so that I could go back to hiding and feeding my compulsions.

My art was uninspired, to say the least.  

I’ve had several fellow models ask why I didn’t travel as much during that time period. I would tell them a variety of rationalizations: I wanted to maintain my relationships with more time at home. I had a strong local market to pose for. I wanted to stay in one place to put more time into my writing.

Those reasons were all more or less true. But I also knew I mentally couldn’t be on the road from my first, disastrous modeling tour. Nothing bad actually happened, just the usuals of a tour: cancellations, stress, scheduling and transportation hiccoughs, crashing on strange couches and using unfamiliar kitchens and bathrooms. By the end of that tour, I was a wreck. I called my boyfriend a couple days in, saying I would do anything to come home. I’d give up modeling completely if it meant I never had to do this again.

He convinced me that tradeoff wasn’t necessary, and luckily I had my last few shoots flake so I could limp home early. But that experience was enough to make me wary of touring. I didn’t try it again until the year I started taking Abilify. Then, I could handle it. Yes, I took precautions, and yes I was only on the road for a third of the time, but I could do it.  

On medication, I was a better model and a happier person. I could concentrate on the art I was making, rather than my fears.

On medication, I was a better model and a happier person. I could concentrate on the art I was making, rather than my fears. And when I wasn’t making art, I could enjoy being in my own mind, rather than feeling like the inside of my skull was a hostile place.

Let’s be clear: one of the reasons I even considered going off my medication was that I knew I was transitioning more to writing, and wouldn’t be traveling nearly as much as a model. If I was still touring, I’d still be taking it. I did my last big tour on a tapered dose, and it was doable. But a lot of it was unpleasant, and the mental cost was not something I could regularly endure.

And if my OCD flares up again? You bet your ass I’ll take medication, and gladly. I only have so many battles I can fight. Do I want to put those resources into warring with the demons in my head, or into making more art? Do I want to spend my life checking faucets and light switches, or posing and writing?

I will choose the art. I will choose the art every time.  

The stigma in our society against medication is so strong that it’s easy to internalize. But it’s possible to create—and thrive—on medication as an artist. Sometimes it’s even necessary. Honestly, I wish that I’d started sooner. I can only imagine how much more, better art I could have created.

Luckily, I have a large body of medication-fueled art to remind me that there’s nothing wrong with taking a pill if I need it to live a better life. And to remind me that being off medication isn’t the success: making the art in the first place is.

So next time you see one of my pictures or read one of my essays, remember: this art was brought to you by brain meds and a ton of therapy.