Written by Community Artist and Grassroots Advocate, Halima Flynt.
Maybe you’ve heard of the phrase “embracing uncertainty” or maybe you’ve been told to “sit with the anxiety”?
Embracing uncertainty doesn’t mean you have to give it a big warm hug like you would a loved one. Sitting with anxiety doesn’t mean you have to sit while being anxious. I know this now, but it took me a while to really understand these ideas. I don’t know about you, but when I first heard these concepts I rolled my eyes…several times.
I was in Houston, TX. It was hot. It was March of 2021. I was at McLean Houston OCD Program, living in a big yellow house with a bunch of strangers. I was terrified. I was super anxious and giving uncertainty a big ole’ hug was the last thing I wanted to do. And I definitely didn’t want to sit…in fact, I was pacing around the neighborhood surrounding my temporary home any chance I got.
I felt like I had been sitting for years. That was the problem. That’s why I was there. I had felt stagnant due to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for most of my life. I wanted to move. But I didn’t know how. I wanted to heal but I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to grow but felt as though my roots had no soil, my leaves had no rain, and my petals had no sun…even though it was hot in Southern Texas.
A lot happened during my 5 weeks in Houston. Here are a few highlights and takeaways:
Art & OCD Recovery
I have experienced (and still do) several themes, but one has been over-arching and all-inclusive. Perfectionism. The self-judgment, fear of failure, intimidating need for perfection, and endless rumination had slowly worked its way into every aspect of my life. Feeling perfect, having perfect conversations, having a perfect day, living my life perfectly, and creating perfect art, are just a few of the ways perfectionism has presented itself for me.
Life is anything but perfect. Art is anything but perfect. Embracing imperfection helped me to feel creative again. For years I had been dreaming of creating digital art. My fear of creating something imperfect, making something and then realizing I could have made it quicker or better, and the fear of feeling that fear had kept this just a dream for so long.
In January 2021, I began to teach myself Procreate, a digital illustration tool. Here are a few pieces I have made since and what I’ve learned along the way:
It is an exposure every time I create a drawing. I have thoughts like “this isn’t perfect” or “if I don’t fix this something bad will happen.” I can hear OCD telling me to “fix it” endlessly, to reassure myself that it’s okay, or to obey my go-to compulsion, stopping and avoiding the piece all together. These thoughts and compulsions got in my way for years, and to be honest, sometimes they still do. But now I know this is the OCD cycle, OCD’s game, and I can decide not to play.
I do this by recognizing that those thoughts are just thoughts. Sometimes I’ll ask myself “is this something I need to edit because it is a value of mine to create art I’m proud of…or am I wanting to edit this because I’m afraid it’s not perfect?” Sometimes I’ll limit myself on tweaking the little things after I call it “done” by giving myself a time limit. And sometimes I’ll intentionally leave a “mistake” in a drawing. When I do this, I start to question “does that make it imperfect?” or I think “will something bad happen if I don’t fix it?” To which I respond, “maybe, maybe not.”
Art is never really done. Neither is healing. You can work on a piece endlessly and never feel like it’s truly done. Just like recovery. For me, creating art and living with OCD is all about embracing imperfection.
See more of Halima's work, alongside her best friend Alie Garza (who was on of those strangers from that big yellow house) on their collaborative Instagram.