In 2008 I was coming out of yet another depressive breakdown and had moved back home to my parents’ to recuperate. I had a long history of this, and while I could sometimes function as though I was like anyone else, a lot of the time life was an intense and nightmarish struggle, punctuated by periods of deep apathetic despair. But it was always accompanied by a single thought: if I ever get out of this, I want to use it, somehow, for good. It was the only way I could make any kind of meaning from it.
As I gradually emerged from the worst of this episode, I knew things had to change. I removed myself from a very unhealthy lifestyle and transplanted myself from London to the coast.
Tucked away in a little rented flat near the beach, I discovered a world online that I had no idea was a door into a completely new life. I found blogs and online art courses and dived in with gusto. I started my own Blogspot blog for fun and to track my journey. Through that I found friends all over the world rediscovering and expressing their own creativity.
Having studied art up to age 21, I knew enough about it to pull a painting together, but my newfound online life taught me about connection and encouragement, about websites and ecourses. While I haltingly grew stronger emotionally, this creative aspect of my life helped to shore me up and keep me occupied.
It wasn’t until 2013 that I started to consider shifting from student to teacher. In fact, when a friend and mentor first suggested it, I immediately dismissed it as an option. What did I know about teaching art? I wasn’t a professional, I didn’t have a degree in either teaching or art and my previous business had folded from my lack of business understanding. It was a classic case of “who am I to do this?”.
But the seed had been sown and my natural curiosity took over. I started looking at what other online teachers were doing with fresh eyes. Then I took a class about creating online courses and suddenly by the end of it I had created my own online art course.
Learning the technology turned out to be just as interesting to me as learning how to create course content. Over the years I’ve taught myself most of it and I get help with the more complex aspects. Technology is not unlike art (or life or business!) in that there’s always a workaround, whatever obstacle you meet. It just takes some persistence and open mindedness to find it.
My first course, Creative Spark, was a reflection of my own journey. It was about getting your art back after a long hiatus, regaining confidence and rediscovering yourself as an artist. It started with just a handful of students, mostly garnered from the years of blogging and taking courses myself. It struck a chord – my journey was, as it turned out, not unusual.
In some ways I was in a unique position – single, no kids, and with some private income from property investments that enabled me to take the time I needed to begin functioning as a human again. But I’ve seen enough evidence from others building online businesses to know that that isn’t necessary for success. But the time it gave me, to heal and rebuild (and then rebuild again when my world came crashing down around me once more in 2012), to learn how business works for me, was invaluable.
Any description of a journey tends to sound much neater than the reality of it. The trajectory for me was as full of detours and disappointments as any. I had to overcome the deadening apathy of depression, which would strike at any time and not tell me how long it was staying. I had to discover, and then build my confidence around, what I had to offer (I truly believed it was nothing for a long time). I had to unlearn almost everything I thought was true about life and myself. That doesn’t happen overnight.
I’ve been running my little online venture for almost four years now. It has grown from one course to nine and helps people around the world rediscover who they are through their art. It doesn’t yet make a full-time income, but I’m getting there. What it has brought to my life has been infinitely more valuable than simply a paycheck. And I feel as though I’ve taken that desperate wish for something good to come out of something awful and made it come true.