Artist Life: On Returning to Teaching After a Breakdown

Hi, my name is Kelley M. Frank. I have a Master’s degree in Composition & Rhetoric with a secondary focus on Creative Writing. My Bachelor’s degree was in English with a minor in Philosophy, and I have an Associate degree in Art. I’ve presented at local conferences in Georgia and Alabama, been active in professional organizations and committees, and until 2018 I had a career teaching English to freshmen college students.

This is the other side of me. This is my background, after I gave up pursuing my art seriously and before I found it again.

Class notes from English 1102 discussion of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, Spring 2018.

I quit teaching in September 2018, a job I’d trained for since graduating college in 1997, after having a complete depressive breakdown, slinking to my car, and realizing I couldn’t do it anymore. At the time, I was teaching three English courses and one first-year experience course. I was driving to campus three days a week, a two hour commute both ways across three different interstates plus fickle back roads. My days began at 8:00 a.m. when I arrived on campus and ended at 6:30 p.m. when I left. My days off campus were filled with grading, planning, and bureaucracy. My days on campus were spent rushing from class to class — all five of them were on the same two days, with a scant 30 minute break after my first two classes of the day. I left before sun-up and got home after dark. And if there was a traffic jam on any of the three interstates I traversed, it could set me back for the rest of the week.

Painting from summer 2018 as my dread and depression built.

I was also struggling mentally. I’d strained my back as a direct result of too much sitting (for both my commute and grading), and that impacted my self-image. I’d struggled with anorexia as a teen, and the feelings of not looking good enough came rushing back as I put on weight. I couldn’t do vigorous activity, but I wanted to, and this only made me more upset. I was diagnosed with persistent dysthemic depression when I finally was able to admit I’d been having suicidal thoughts, and I began taking medication for it. Meanwhile, the chronic insomnia I’d dealt with since I was a teen had only gotten worse. Summers meant no paycheck because we only got paid for Fall and Spring. Summers were hustling to make ends meet and plan for the next semester.

My art, my customers, the support of my doctor, my friends, and my family have helped me get through this. But of course, it’s been almost a year. My art still doesn’t pay the bills regardless of how hard I hustle. So, I signed up to teach a few continuing education classes. These are classes held every Saturday for a few days at a time on illustration, watercolor, or fluid acrylic painting. I also teach a few classes at Micheal’s, and I offer classes through my Patreon. Small but meaningful steps.

My art has flourished and I see improvements every day.

Which is how I find myself here, one year later, facing my fears. On Saturday, I attend the Fall 2019 orientation for Continuing Education teachers at Clayton State University here in Georgia. I also have multiple festivals scheduled for the rest of this year, a small collective of supportive patrons and repeat customers, and acquaintances willing to forward freelance opportunities my way.

When I first started drafting syllabi, I felt that depressive pull yanking me back down. I keep handling it a little at a time, adapting myself through incremental exposure. I’m doing my best. It’s only for a few days, not a long commute, and it’s just a little. I do love teaching, honestly. I hate that it’s become a trigger, and I’m proud of working through it.

Thank you to everyone who’s supporting me now or has supported me in the past. It makes a huge difference. I hope eventually to be able to support myself on my art and writing, but it’s a long journey once that trauma’s established itself.

If you want to take any of the classes I offer, check out my constantly updating list here: Art Classes. And if you’re suffering from depression, it’s hard, but reach out. Talk about it. Openness is the enemy of a destructive mindset.

Here are some ways to support me and what I do. I always appreciate shares, comments, follows, and likes.

Small businesses live or die by word of mouth. Sharing, following, buying from, or donating to me helps immensely.

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