I had seen her picture before. I had heard of her work. But I hadn't seen her in action. Not until a friend sent me an email suggesting I watch her YouTube video speaking at one of Vancouver's public salons. After watching it I knew I wanted to interview Emelia Symington- Fedy. Who wouldn’t? Sam Sullivan, a curator of the salon, explains “She’s been described as a social acupuncturist, who sticks needles into our sensitive parts, but always for the purpose of healing”. What’s not to love? Healing, acupuncture, needles. Oh. Wait. Anyway. I felt inspired.
She’s an artist who has lived experience with recovering from addiction and mental illness and uses creativity as an essential sanity tool. I felt like I found another member of my tribe. Though, she’s way cooler than me; I mean look at that picture! I could never pull off glitter on my teeth and gold on my face. But Emelia, yup, she can.
Emelia, take it away:
I’m a working professional theatre artist who’s always had a penchant for the dramatic. It’s hard for me to tell sometimes: Is this me? Are these my feelings? Or am I on just taking the moon energy or maybe it’s because my dad left?
It’s always been difficult for me to fully own my full spectrum of emotions.
Of course, as women, we are told not to act too crazy or we will be left, fired, or fiercely put in our place. I’ve had all three done to me, for being my full spectrum self. So I learned to keep my drama for the stage and sit on the “big stuff.”
Until I just can’t anymore. I’m sure you know the feeling when you are eating #$!@ for just a bit too long and out of nowhere, you explode.
Again, excuses are made for the outburst. You have just gotten your period. Is it your first trimester? You’re sleep deprived. Work is killing you.
No. It’s cause you’ve been sitting on your a-- for too long.
So after a decade (almost two) of the repeat action of sitting on my s--- then exploding and causing damage to the people I loved around me who get caught in the shrapnel, I became obsessed with what was wrong with me—all of my imperfections, so I could be a better person, a better partner, a better artist.
I was working on a theatre show where we were looking at the brain and how it functions and we were asked to take a “personality test” to see if we had any mental illnesses and to what degree they presented themselves.
I graduated the test as clinically depressed with generalized anxiety disorder with mild bipolar, OCD, narcissist personality disorder tendencies, and complicated grief disorder. I started laughing. Thank god for generalized tests on the Internet to tell me what my problems were.
But really, what the test did was prove to me, without a doubt, that we are all on the “spectrum” of fully feeling our emotions. And if we look through a certain lens on a misty day, we may seem more or less a mess, depending on the fractals of light we are focusing on.
And what I knew for sure was that when I was being creative every single day I felt better.
If I was making art and putting it in the world I didn’t need to up my meds.
If I put myself and my creative work before everything else in my life, I didn’t explode and attack and react.
I had more patience. There was a space between the explosion and me.
This annoyed my husband because I had to write before I did the dishes. And it bothered my kids because I was working late again on a theatre show but I was happier, I had more energy, and I wanted to be around them. Then they began to notice that and appreciate my vigilant self-care.
So now, a few years of practice in I’m slowly weening off all forms of meds (pot included) and creativity is my spiritual practice. I have to make art; it's what keeps me sane. As I write this, I’m paying $20 an hour for childcare.
And my family supports this. They now see that I have more energy and love for them and I’m less inward focused and more giving when I fill myself up first. I’m teaching my boys to notice what deeply moves them and be moved by it at all costs and to follow their instincts and to never martyr themselves for another.
I mean when the airline attendant tells us to put our own mask on before we put the mask of our children. That makes perfect sense to us. Help yourself first so that you may be able to help others. Why is it so impossible to do it with our feet on the ground?
I call it "radical inconvenience." It annoys folks at first, but then if you stick to it, a surprise emerges. Putting your soul’s needs first gives your loved ones permission to do the same in their own lives, so we all get to be doing what we love, and we are internally satisfied, so we can then offer ourselves wholly (holy) up to the world.
There is no choice. I am pulled, teeth gnashing into what I need to do and now I follow that impulse and am led by it and thank it for keeping me sane. Or should I say on walking the spectrum with more grace, fortitude, and balance than before?
So the first step for me was the rigorous militant discipline of putting myself first.
“No, I cannot have a tea date.”
“No, I cannot make dinner.”
“No, I can’t work that shift.”
“Nope. We’re busy, we won’t be coming to the birthday party.”
And now when I’m with my kids, I’m really there - and enjoying myself, because my work is done for the day. My work. What feeds my soul. That comes first. It’s necessary. And then everything else. I am militant about this. I had to learn to be profoundly selfish and then over time after the muscle strengthened, I was able to relax a bit.
The kids don’t get bathed every night and the house stinks like piss but they have a deeply content, powerful mother. I can’t think of a better way to raise a family, children watching a woman find and stand up for her mental health at all costs. To learn that you must first be selfish, and then the whole family system reaps her great selflessness once the 500 words are written, the dance class has been taken, the play written, the painting sketched out. Every day. A practice. Because for me, it is not an option, it is necessary (for my entire community) that I embrace my full spectrum of emotions and channel it into my work. Then nobody gets hurt because I’m harnessing my “crazy” power for good.