And so we come to the end of 2010?

December has been my most productive month of the year, which is kind of saying something considering I’ve done pretty much all the artwork (what looks like over 20 complete pieces, though some were very little) in the last two weeks of the year. That was strange.

It’s seen a return to ye olde ‘as totems’ style, because sometimes the animal totems just want to ping me, and say ‘oy! DRAW US!’ This time it’s been birds from Bosnia / Herzegovina (the blackcap, red-crested pochard, little grebe, and european penduline tit), Mustelids (the european pine marten, siberian weasel, marbled polecat and lesser grison), and members of the Pheasant family (mikado pheasant, palawan peacock pheasant, reeve’s pheasant and the weird-looking blue-eared pheasant).

And then today I was pinged by eagles and raptors in general! Sheesh guys, give it a rest!

The totem that demanded the strangest colour scheme (to me), was the marbled polecat (sneak peek! This one hasn’t been listed anywhere else yet!), pictured below.

marbled polecat as totem by Ravenari

That’s just badass.

Does anyone else make New Years Resolutions? Does anyone else here actually celebrate New Years? I’m not, actually. I plan on going to bed early, and perhaps trying to see if I can sleep through very loud, thuddy parties. I’ll probably have the help of my trusty discman (I’m so oldschool, I’ve gone full circle to retro instead of just ‘too poor for an iPod’, so says Britta, the people’s champion!) and the help of trusty Sigur Ros, which can help me fall asleep, or meditate, to just about anything.

I also have a cat that’s very willing to bite my face. This seems essential to my ability to draw, well… anything!

Silver swans and silver ferrets

Watercolour pencils aren’t a graceful medium when I use them.

Frankly,
they can end up looking kind of scrappy.

For example –
We start with this…

But then it sort of turns into this.

And then it becomes this.

The silver swans are available at Etsy!

In the meantime, there’s an upcoming pheasantpalooza (no really, I’m illustrating four of them. FOUR! One’s a peacock pheasant though, so that’s okay).

So I have this thing called a ‘touch phobia.’

Imagine your favourite food in the whole entire world was chocolate. It wasn’t just your favourite food, it made you feel better to eat it, it improved your mood, and nothing else really compared to it. It’s more than just a food. It’s something that you’re dependent on. You love having it, sharing it with others, experiencing it. It’s great.

Then – one day, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear – it makes you throw up, and feel itchy and scared and aggravated all at once. It’s horrible. For a year – because you love chocolate so much – you make yourself eat it sometimes thinking ‘maybe it’s the type of chocolate, maybe it’s the brand, maybe it’s the ingredients, maybe I just need to stand upside down while eating it,’ every crazy thing you are thinking of. You are that desperate to get back the ‘feeing better’ and improvements of eating it. You try other foods. You try lateral thinking. You try crazy stuff that makes you feel more sick while eating it, and you try scientifically prescribed stuff that doesn’t make a difference.

Nothing else makes you feel as good, nothing compares to it; one day you remember that humans are biologically designed to need chocolate. Tests show that without nourishing, healing chocolate, human babies are more prone to die, to get sickness, to wither, to be emotionally stunted later in life. Damn, you think, I need this stuff. Not because of science, or my biology, but it just made me feel good. I was more human with it. It was part of my shared collective experience of what it was to be a human.

Then, one day, after thousands of dollars and years of painful therapy and problems with your friends and family members who don’t really understand it, you are considered ‘recovered.’ But your recovery is that simply – you can eat chocolate without throwing up or feeling itchy, most of the time – but you’ll probably never be able to taste it again. It will never make you feel better again. Or improve your mood. And people tell you that this is reasonable and okay and even think that this is a Good Thing (TM). You can functionally eat chocolate without being sick, so…goal achieved?

They are wrong.

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Now, substitute ‘chocolate’ for ‘touch’, and you have haphephobia (aphephobia, or touch phobia). This is what I have. And this is what I’ve had for almost five years now (along with PTSD).

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Man it would be horrible to be that dependent on chocolate! But the analogy stands, human animals are dependent on postive experiences of touch. We are social animals. Without the ability to enjoy touch, I will always be a broken human animal. I will be biologically and physiologically incorrect. But even more than that – I will suffer for it every day that this is the case, as I have suffered for it every day that I’ve had it. Not a day goes by that I am not heartbroken at my own condition. Don’t get me wrong, I think I am an extremely fortunate person in many respects. I enjoy many parts of my life. But not as much, and not in the same way. I have learnt to find the joy where I can find it; who wouldn’t? That’s what you do when you want to make the most out of life, but I’m not going to ignore the impact this condition has on me; even though I frequently try.

PTSD without a touch phobia – even when my symptoms were phenomenally worse – was ‘easier’ to deal with (I say that with a considerable amount of wryness, I mean it’s still PTSD), it was easier to cope with my life, it was easier to be resilient to all of life’s problems. I was a nicer person. I was less grumpy. I found it easier to forgive. It is amazing how the ability to touch someone’s shoulder, or embrace them, or kiss them on the forehead in a crisis makes you a nicer human being overall. Or at least, it certainly made me a nicer human being.

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After five years of concerted, applied, fatigue-inducing, dedicated therapy with different therapists and even one specialist, and self-work, I can confidently say I have improved. And by improved I mean I can sometimes hug some of my friends and not feel awful or gross or like I need to run from the room about it. Sometimes I can hug my closest friend and not shudder with disgust or feel nauseous or sick. About four times a year I can do that.

Sometimes however, the touch phobia is so severe that even putting on my own moisturiser in the morning, can trigger a strong, phobic fear reaction. A couple of years ago a GP prescribed eight sessions of massage for a muscular condition; I went to one session and the massage therapist flatly told me they couldn’t help me. The muscular condition never healed as a result. I just don’t relax unless I’m unconscious! That’s a shame, I used to love massage too. And I get a lot of muscular conditions as I work as an artist, but also have crippling nightmares four or five times a night that leave me tense and sore every morning.

Touch often feels like ‘sandpaper rubbing vigorously beneath my skin.’ It’s worse the better I know someone which makes me a delightful dating partner, close friend, family member and on and on. And yes, it’s probably tied into my experiences of childhood sexual assault; though exactly how, none of us are sure. Not even after years of meditation, thought, self-reflection, therapy, dreamwork, clinical detached examination and etcetera. It’s additionally confusing because I haven’t always had a touch phobia, and I haven’t always been repulsed by touch. As per the above analogy, I used to have a very positive relationship to chocolate touch. I craved it. I felt positive touch to be a joyous thing at times, soothing at others, a way of forging connections, showing compassion, and so on.

But no longer.

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I am sure there are people out there who have recovered faster than me, because I will frankly admit that I like to take things slow in self-work and self-improvement, even if I devote time to it every single day. And I’m sure there are people out there who haven’t. It’s hard to know, because it’s a less common phobia, and it tends to affect those of us who have already been silenced by abuse of some kind.

It seems we’re the ones least likely to write about it publically, like I’m doing right now.

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Most phobias are of things we’re not physiologically designed, behaviourally programmed to need and crave. I mean, humans aren’t really meant to experience positive growth upon encountering venomous spiders, needles, the number thirteen, germs and so forth. It’s just, on the flipside, not meant to create super dysfunction when one encounters them.

Touch is one of the exceptions to the rule. We are physiologically designed and behaviourally programmed to need it, to thrive upon it, to grow with it. It improves our immune systems, it makes us happier people, it reminds us we are part of a community, it’s a way of showing love amongst friends and lovers, and a way of forging a connection between business colleagues, and a way of being human.

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All I can do is keep working on it. Sometimes consciously, sometimes laterally by approaching other issues in therapy, sometimes by standing on my head and focusing on the basics like eating well, keeping fit and making sure I get enough rest. Sometimes I’m in a better place about it than other times. December is always a tough time because my friends like to hug, and because once upon a time so did I.

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I’m putting my own personal account of aphephobia/haphephobia out into the ether. I’m Ravenari, and I have a touch phobia. I’m working on it, I will always be working on it while I have the strength and the fortitude to keep doing so.

I can’t tell you exactly why I’m writing about this so candidly, except that I am very frustrated that there’s very few public personal accounts of aphephobia/haphephobia out there. There’s some clinical descriptions, there’s a few shorter personal accounts (boy I bet you were wishing this was shorter!), and that’s about it. So here’s some of my story. Do with it what you will.

PS: Please don’t hold my terrible chocolate analogy against me! Lol.

Can it be art AND writing?

Something from the trenches:

silver wrens by Ravenari - SOLD

I’ve been not very inspired lately in the art stakes (outside of my silver/bronze/green-gold animals which are a ton of fun). Part of it is December, a month where I always experience a kind of major relapse in my post-traumatic stress disorder and have symptoms similar to Reverse SAD (never been officially diagnosed and some can sub as PTSD symptoms, so…yeah) and that affects my ability to get art out there (I say after having completed 10 illustrations this month; but it never feels like much when they’re little!)

I’m also sort of changing things up a little bit. Things are still ‘my style,’ but I’m mixing and matching up creative elements in my work and I’m not sure what they means for where I’m going. Finally, I have two Steampunk pictures to finish (and, er, start!) for next Easter’s Swancon/Natcon50 Future Imperfect art exhibition.

As I’m writing this, my cat Moet is drinking my paint-water. Business as usual, then! Maybe, our bengal cross, hasn’t discovered the joys of paint-water yet. Which is a relief. As she chews and eats teatowels and got herself a stomach impaction earlier in the year. She’s self-harmey enough, thanks!

Here’s a list of 10 things about what I’ve been doing lately.

1. Fringe is like my favourite show ever right now, and Misfits is AWESOME. Also, Community stop-motion Christmas episode!
2. Home-made chicken satay and sweet & sour plum.
3. Swimming again; yay swimming!
4. Killing a surfeit of redback spiders congregating around our house. Malvern Springs is mostly about finding mature venomous spiders in your house and thinking ‘OH GOD HAVE YOU BEEN HERE THE ENTIRE TIME?!’
5. Flashbacks and nightmares and scares, oh my!
6. Clicker training the cats (no, really).
7. Finished the first draft of a novel.
8. Read a whole bunch of new literature, loved The Wind-Up Girl and Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead.
9. Thinking about going back to university to do Honours. And by ‘thinking about’ I mean, ‘actually called them and got myself re-activated as a student in the system.’ I need a supervisor though.
10. Playing kick to kick outside on the oval, with the balmy Summery breezes at night, under the stars. 🙂

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I have often contemplated making this blog an art AND writing blog. I have had a few short stories and poems published in my time, though I personally identify as a crummy non-published novelist in terms of writing.

It’s difficult. Writing agents say you should have a writing blog, and art people say you should have an art blog!

Can I have both? Is this too confusing for the masses (and by masses, I mean my housemate and best friend Glen and my cats who avidly forget to read this blog too)?

I was always taught never to underestimate my audience (which I’m sure Glen and the cats are grateful for). I’m going to have both! Two for one!

And remember, when in doubt, there are always plenty of originals to check out at my Etsy store!