I have been contributing designs to Wearable Therapy for more than a year now. My first were the One-Word Motif designs within the Spread Positivity Collection – a group of mantras that were meant to help inspire and engage those wearing the designs and those they met along the way. These were colorful and fun to create. Later, I was given the opportunity to push a little further into the emotional with my Fire & Ice design, which takes on the topic of toxic and abusive relationships.
My most recent design for Wearable Therapy is called Sword & Shield. To date, this is the most emotional, personal and challenging piece I have created for the store. When I first set out to create this, I knew there was much turmoil of humanity being divided with hatred and selfishness. In addition, those that spoke out against such injustices were often mocked. It is difficult when the fight for what is right is accompanied by the feeling that you’re standing and speaking out alone. Or, that your efforts to improve the world are being met with mockery, derision and a sweeping force of negativity.
As this piece progressed, my own experiences – both with events in the world and in my own personal life – started to mirror the design that I was creating. I felt more and more as if my own shield was cracking. As difficult times come our way, we try to protect ourselves with a shield but sometimes you can wonder how much strength you have left. We get bruised, battered, beaten, and broken down.
Not only do we need to hold the shield with all our might to protect us from hatred and ignorance, but we also need to find the strength to continue to strike out against those forces that are trying to defeat us. Depending on our personal experiences, it can come at us in the form of abuse, addiction, heartbreak (whether in personal relationships or losing people we love in different ways). This design is meant to show how difficult it can be to speak out about things that you believe in.
For this design, I was inspired by some of the lyrics in the song “What it Takes” by Aerosmith. This song has been a soundtrack to my late teens and adult life in many different ways and experiences. The song itself is about the immense pain of lost love and wondering and pining for the pain to leave. What does it take for the pain to end? Sure, I’ve been there in the literal manner that the song was written. However, such feelings of straining to lose our pain that encompasses us also come in other forms of heartbreak that are mentioned in examples above.
Allow me to get personal as I share what created a more challenging aspect to this heavy piece. Towards the end of the project, I experienced one of the worst blows and pain in my personal life. I loved and embraced the experience of teaching middle school art and the kids and I and their parents had a great relationship. Outside the classroom, however, was the pain and feelings of fire coming at me and my shield was breaking down. I had been breaking down for quite some time. When it was clear that for my own survival and being able to hold the shield was in grave jeopardy, it was clear the best thing for me was to walk away.
Heartbreak and immense pain occurred immensely – thinking of my students, and those that I was especially worried for due to bullying and the safe haven my classroom provided for them at lunchtime made the pain worse. I felt I abandoned them, but had no other choice to do so. I cannot describe the level of pain I experienced and that I am still struggling with as this experience is very fresh. The wounds are very fresh.
Suddenly the art that I’ve previously done for Wearable Therapy, such as Bravery, Hope, Fearless and other empowering messages of strength felt hypocritical as I questioned my ability to have all those things. I was struggling to hold the shield. I couldn’t even see it as I held it through the immense tears and pain.
I thought of the words from “What It Takes” and listened to it probably ten times in a row as I have in multiple times in my life: Tell me how the pain is supposed to go (away)! And the intense ending of the song: I don’t wanna burn in paradise…Let go. Let let it go, let it go, let it go! I don’t wanna burn (with pain and heartbreak) I don’t wanna burn! I knew that despite the pain and being broken down, I had to incorporate those words as I worked through the pain.
We must hold on. One symbolic lesson that goes along with this need to persevere involves a dream that there was a tree of life that represents joy, happiness and the absence of pain. To get there, you had to hold on to a sword and fight your way forward. But, as you make your way to the tree, there is a mist of darkness that threatens you into being lost completely. If that wasn’t enough, a great and spacious building sits nearby that was full of the mockery and pointing by others who chose to the journey to the Tree of Life.
Many could lose their way by letting go of the sword and become lost in the mist – by allowing themselves to be pressured or by being unable to ignore the mockery.
The lone person holding the sword while pining, begging to himself (or praying, depending on each individuals beliefs) for the pain to end sits there, but with his hand on the rod. That sword is just like the shield. We may be heartbroken, greatly pained, bruised, battered, beaten and broken down. But we still need to hold on.
I hope you enjoy this piece and it helps with any healing or struggles that come our way as we hold our shields. Thank you for allowing me to share my artwork.
Want to check out Jill’s latest design? They are currently available in the Wearable Therapy by Tokii Braver Than Bullies Collection.