How OCD Has Influenced My Life and Studio Practice as an Artist

Bloom, an installation inspired by systems theory and harmful algal blooms found in various aquatic environments, pictured above.

Meditation has always been a way for me to bring OCD thoughts and experiences that I have into physical form in my art studio. Aside from a visual form of expression, which is the basis of my studio practice as a sculpture and installation artist, I still find very difficult to otherwise explain some of the OCD thoughts, sensations and experiences that I have on a regular basis. 

The reason I have begun to speak up about this is to explain my studio practice in greater detail and to try and eliminate some of the stereotypes about OCD as a quirky habit or personality trait. It has helped me a lot as an artist as well to be more empathic and more mindful about the words I use, and less assuming about what other people are going through. I think everyone benefits when we talk more openly about the conditions we live with. Having OCD has made me more aware of the way things appear versus the way things really are, whether it be a mental, physical, or emotional experience a person is having. Because of that, my work has been a way of turning an overwhelming personal experience into something very visible that is experienced uniquely by the viewer.

The processes themselves I use, in sculpture, painting, drawing, and even installation for a show, have become a way to meditate, which I generally feel helps to manage my OCD symptoms.  Ever since I joined Transcend Yoga Studio back in Utah, I realized how meditation, yoga and most importantly, community, has become critical to my “recovery” or my managing of OCD symptoms. While living in Utah, I went from experiencing panic attacks and feeling isolated at times, to being more social, self-aware, and involved. In the past, I only meditated in the traditional sense from time to time. I saw its benefits in and outside of the studio but I was never completely committed to it the way I am now.  The OCD thoughts can be present, when I am "meditating" in the classic sense, or when I am making artwork, which puts it in motion in a way. I am aware that the thoughts exist, but I can process them more slowly before they turn into panic, which is the worst experience that I can only describe in words as overwhelming, disorienting, and exhausting. This is why so much of my work deals with sensory overload, repetition, and excess. At a point of panic, thoughts can feel in total control, rather than seen as a passing sensation, which is what meditation allows some of my OCD thoughts to be instead. The physical work in my studio itself has always been the constant in my life, while the repetitive thoughts and sensations I have changed significantly over time. When I was little I was more of a checker and a counter. Today, there are patterns and similarities, but my anxieties increasingly revolve more around familiarity and personal relationships and environments. It has always been easier for me to describe in retrospect because OCD manifests in unexpected ways. Any time you think you understand your own symptoms, they change or , which is frustrating, but the up side is that I’ve come to expect the unexpected. 

When I realize thoughts come and go, I can move past them a little more easily rather than fixating. Seeing it that way has generally helped me to accept, or at least manage OCD. In the past I have talked fairly quietly about why OCD is a large part of why I am an artist, and it is only recently, after going through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, that I have gradually gotten over the fear of stigma and judgment. It is not easy to talk about but it has helped me and those around me in the times I have opened up. I try to remember that I am afraid of what will happen when I talk about it or disclose certain information, but very rarely do those fears turn into a reality. The benefits have outweighed the negatives in terms of feeling heard, involved, and understood in so many ways, which I have to say I am really grateful for.

To learn more about Madeline and her work you can visit her website and Instagram.

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