I have Brain Goblins. I talk about them from time to time, first identifying them while in treatment for an eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. They'd been rattling around in here for years, and while I learned to articulate their piccadillo's, the different ways they needle away at my gray matter, or just plain gnaw gleefully at my self-worth, I could never really put them down on paper in a satisfying way. Normally what I do in terms of illustration is on the pretty/cute side of things, occasionally delving into the strange...but never really ugly or disturbing. Until now.
I guess it was a little over a month ago that I sat down with a piece of paper and one of my favorite pens and starting drawing Ed. He came first because he's sort of omnipresent, my head version of Puck, only not in any way lovable or charming. Ed represents my eating disorder (ED is the nickname/shorthand a lot of people in recovery use). While in therapy for what has been (and sometimes still continues to be) a nearly 20 year struggle with disordered/restrictive eating, I read a book called Life Without Ed. In it the author, herself in recovery, and her therapist illuminated on a few techniques that often help patients identify the emotions and issues that trigger their Ed. One technique that seems to work for a lot of people is to personify the disorder as a sort of person or figure. Hence, Ed.
In my case I ended up with a kind of pantheon of brain "goblins" because A. Labyrinth is probably the most influential story/film in my life and that's just where my head went (especially since I own the Brian Froud illustrated Goblin Companion guide, which has his sketches for the movie and descriptions of the various goblins you see but don't get to know in the film*) and B. it just seemed to fit. Goblins are creepy and unpleasant in mythology, ranging from problem causing tricksters to, you know, pretty evil. Take "goblins" or, really, smaller orcs in Tolkien. They are without question awful, and that kind of depiction has led me to associate them with things I have come to dislike. Like being angry, violent, and toothy. Teeth loom large in my nightmares, for instance. Losing them, pulling them out, or just rows and rows of gnashing, biting, teeth. That kind of recurrent imagery clearly means something to me, especially since I lucid dream a lot.
After I drew Ed I kind of just randomly starting sketching other...creatures. Some of them have names, like "Molly of the Many Teeth" or "Dread the Desperate Damsel". Lots of others don't, they're more associated with concepts or feelings.
I took a few days to just draw these things, not thinking about them too much, not trying to make them "perfect" or pretty in any way...hence the no sketching first. I didn't judge them so much as just let them do their thing. Obviously a lot of them are nude, or missing limbs, with gaping mouths and haunted eyes. It's a side of myself that's always a bit there, like a shadow even in the brightest sun, but I spend a lot of time trying to hide it or mitigate it.
Since drawing them there's been a kind of weight lifted in my head. Being able to really draw Ed and go, yeah, that's what he looks and, more importantly, FEELS like when he's fucking around in my brain...made something ease up. I can go back and look at him and call him names and just deal with him a whole lot better. It didn't fix anything permanently, but I've long since accepted that "fixing" when it comes to mental illnesses is an ongoing, possibly always, sort of process. To a degree you'll always have some of the baggage from it and recovering is more about understanding what's happening and knowing how to deal with it than necessarily "curing" it like a cold or fixing it like a car. Our brains are a bit more complicated.
The hardest thing about sharing anything to do with having a mental illness is the shame and fear of judgment. The truth, though, is that talking about it and sharing it (for me) keeps it from festering like a wound that won't heal. It's a part of who I am and, though I'm often unhappy about it, the only way to stop feeling ashamed of it is to not keep a secret. It's not something that's my fault, though I take responsibility for dealing with it. It shapes the way I think and feel, and often influences the stories I tell and characters I write to some degree. It's made me very aware of and active about body acceptance, and though I judge myself far too harshly, I think it's made me less judgmental of others, especially when it comes to bodies, weight, and the whole concept of "beauty" in general.
So, I leave you all with a page of my Brain Goblins. They're a pretty nasty lot, but I find them way less scary on paper. You little buggers aren't so tough now.
* The one exception is the "Should Fairy" who I haven't gotten down yet. If you've seen Brian Frouds' Good Fairies/Bad Fairies it'll probably end up somewhere in the latter category.