A friend introduced me to art journaling when I was 17 years old, but it wasn’t until I was 19 that I actually started doing it myself. I had just finished my first year of community college, after failing the spring semester and had left home for reasons I couldn’t explain to my mother. No one knew I was failing three classes, had withdrawn from the other two, and had spent the entire semester working at the campus radio station. Somewhere between February and March I had a break with reality and was quietly having a nervous breakdown, hiding it from everyone except this one friend.
When my grades came in and my mother demanded answers, I simply walked upstairs to my closet, grabbed the bag I had packed weeks before, and walked out the door, her confused and angry shouts of protest hitting my back like heavy rain. She wanted answers and the ones I had I couldn’t give to her then. When I did two months later, it was an exercise in futility-she didn’t believe me anyway and I went further into myself, refusing to speak of the events that had led to my breakdown and abrupt departure to her ever again.
To this day there is only one other person who knows the exact whys and hows of that season and what had been happening over the two year time period that finally forced me to leave. That person was my closest confidant and more importantly, believed me when I told her what was happening. She was the only one who ever has. I didn’t always do right by her as a friend, I couldn’t I was too much of a mess mentally and emotionally, but I’m grateful for what she gave me: a place to stay, friendship, an escape through writing and art journaling…an identity. It was she who first told me that really, I was an artist and was born to create. A poet. A wordsmith who’s words bore power. When I had told her that I was afraid to write because writing had always been dangerous for me, that my words unfiltered and raw on the page pushed others to silence my voice and invalidate my sense of being upon discovery, she gave me an alias: Nicole Paul. My middle name + my favorite apostle.
We haven’t spoken in a few years, but I think of her often, now that I’ve returned to art journaling again. I pulled out my very first one tonight and thumbed my way through it, feeling tears rush to my eyes as I read some of the words I’d written that summer, at 19. I wrote my way out of madness with that book. It was the beginning of my journey toward healing and wholeness, my way of finding my voice and letting it speak in the face of fear and depression. I had grown up being conditioned to silence, to being muted, but I finally fought back in that book. I took it everywhere with me and wrote even the most mundane words and thoughts in it.
I started that book on June 29, 2002. It was a new beginning for me, a quest for identity and embodiment, a determination to completely dismantle the life I had been given and rebuild it on my own terms. It would take me exactly 11 years to do so.