2019: The year that tried to obliterate me
Updated: Jan 2
To begin: thank you. Thank you to everyone who supported my art throughout this past year.
Here are my top nine posts from my 2019 Instagram year:
See my post about this photo on my Instagram page here.
Thank you for all the likes, comments, DMs, story mentions, shares, marketing, word-of-mouth, encouragement, purchases and appreciation, you fill my heart with happy. Thank you for taking the time for me, even if it was as “little” as a double finger tap on the glass of your phone screen, it all added up.
August 31, 2018
I made my first post as “Hannah Kilby Art”, saying the upcoming year was to be one where I would “intensely pursue my art and develop an ease with it that I haven’t yet achieved”.
Looking back on that first, hopeful post, I’d like to tell the younger me that I did it. I put paintbrush to canvas more consistently that fall of 2018 and then through the following year than I ever had before. I completed pieces that accumulated over 100 hours, and then pieces that took less than four hours, I completed my first hyper-realism work, was scared shitless taking on challenging commissions and was awe-struck when told what I’d done with my paints amazed people.
Additional to the “you did it”, I’d like to share a list of “dumb things not to forget for art shows” with the Hannah from August 31, 2018 and also give her a hug, tuck her head under my chin and squeeze her tight because 2019 was going to do its best to obliterate her.
January 1, 2019
I posted a photo beginning with: “I’m lost”.
The end of 2018 brought the culmination of many things that had been on a slow boil the entire year. Intense heartbreak from multiple fronts, monumental changes in my way of life and independence, I moved back home, I returned to school, an avenue I’d long been exhausted with, I stepped away from a career where I’d seen myself for a while yet and I slipped into an ever worsening relationship with my mental health.
By the time January 2019 hit I was bone-weary. Classes were getting harder to attend, I lacked motivation for the simplest of things, I was consumed with a sense of having been so thoroughly wronged by events and people of 2018 that I struggled to surpass the injustices and decisions that had hurt me.
Making things more difficult, I was constantly pulling up my remembrances of the Hannah from year’s prior who had been vivacious, healthy, and fulfilled and then I’d compare her to the stranger I felt I’d become. I spent nearly every waking moment of every day making myself so wrong for what I was feeling and processing.
Through this I was painting and audiobooking like a maniac. I audiobooked 69 complete titles this past year, adding up to 60,019 minutes of listening to authors weave fantasy scenes from between their tongues and teeth or speak candidly about “Not Giving a Fuck”, “Becoming” or being “Born a Crime”.
Now, not all those 60,019 minutes were spent at my easel, but a chunk of them were. This amounted to a lot of time spent swishing paints around canvases with my mind caught up in a book and subconsciously picking through my struggles, working towards a EUREKA! moment where I’d stand, brush the dust from my confidence and step out into the world as a whole person again.
That EUREKA! moment didn’t come. And hasn’t still. It doesn’t work like that. However some things did come together:
I attended my first professional art show in March, my second in September, third in November and fourth in December.
I painted 10 commissioned works with more lined up for this year.
I sold five original paintings at art shows.
I painted my first professional mural.
I cut, dried, prepped, glued, drilled and tied over 300 ornaments displaying photos of my art.
I sold many of those ornaments.
In addition to my commissions, I painted 21 original paintings, ranging from as small as five inches by seven inches, to as large as three feet by four feet (not counting the mural of course).
Outside of my art business, I made some waves too:
I graduated with honours distinction from my six year journalism degree from Carleton University, where I also earned my double minor in Spanish and Political Science
My mother, brother and I saved our dad’s automotive and RV repair shop from collapse.
I started my web design business, completing my first website in the summer and, just before Christmas, finishing the one for what is now mine and my brother’s automotive and RV repair shop (See our website here)
I accepted help and went to grief counselling.
I returned to the gym and got a trainer to help me get back to feeling healthy and keep me consistent.
I started writing again.
During the year I did my best to focus on the progress I was making, I tried to plan and dream about what life would be like after I got back on my feet and could shrug out of the darkness gripping shadowy fingers across my shoulders.
was tough. I tried out a few sessions of free counselling from my university, I was talking to professors and doing my best to explain why I was having such a hard time. I talked to my water polo coaches and broke down in tears trying to find words to explain why I felt so miserable. I was so mentally and therefore physically exhausted that whether in the pool or out of it I felt like I was drowning.
On my darker days, I wrote journal entries and blog posts to try and get a grasp on some of the chaos I was feeling, or the numbness. Alternatively, I played hours of the Sims 4, trying to escape from my reality.
I visited my doctor and was asked if I had suicidal thoughts. That took me for a spin.
No I wasn’t suicidal.
With a worried crease between her brows my mum asked me the same question. “Do you ever think about hurting yourself? You wouldn’t do that, right?”
No mum, I promise. And I was genuine.
I promised to go to more counselling. I didn’t until August.
out of nowhere, my dad asked to have dinner with my brother, Dale, and mum. As the children of separated parents, Dale and I immediately knew something was wrong. We VERY rarely had dinners including both parents unless it was a birthday.
Dad had cancer. An aggressively metastasized colon cancer that that already spread throughout his abdomen.
We were devastated and I immediately it felt as if the little steps of progress I’d been making in my mental health battle were lost.
Dale and I attended dad’s consultation with the doctor who’d spotted the cancer growth during a colonoscopy; we were told Dad had maybe four months to live.
Later on it was determined through a meeting with dad’s oncologist that the initial diagnosis was premature, instead of four months we likely had a year. What a strange way to simultaneously put wind in your sails, only to realize it’s still a terminal diagnosis and to fall motionless in the water again.
I started working at my dad’s shop for marketing and website development. This very quickly morphed into general management, organization, client relations, problem solving and driving dad to and from oncology appointments and chemo treatments.
I put my mental health struggles on the back burner, turned the volume way down on that dialogue in my head, and rallied for my dad.
Over the next month I was at the shop daily and despite my six years of business management experience, what I experienced during that time was the equivalent of being tossed into a pot of boiling water. Almost immediately I needed to learn how to communicate with clients, call for parts, complete estimates for projects and more, all for a trade I wasn’t familiar with. I’d run and coached painting companies for years, but transferable skills can only get you so far before you hit a wall.
All through it, dad was so encouraging. For a man who was in severe pain, hobbling around and sweating, pale as a ghost from chemo and his failing digestive system, he made time for my questions, he made time for my efforts and told me daily how much he appreciated the work I was doing.
I’d never had much of a relationship with my dad. My life with him had been a series of long silences and unsure time together, sprinkled with endearing moments and arguments. We hadn’t known how to be together, but we were learning.
March 29, 2019
Dad attended my art first ever art show, along with many other family members and friends. This show would be the only show of mine he was able to make, and his presence there made my whole world glow. He showed up in his work clothes (typical), hobbled around on his sore legs (a product of a decade of hip replacements), grabbed a beer and did his best to enjoy my environment even though it was so incredibly outside his realm of understanding.
June 10, 2019
I graduated from university. Dad was in the thick of chemo at that point, had just bought his “Fuck Cancer” shirt, which he draped across the back of his office chair. I hadn’t thought my graduation day would be so emotional for me, even though it had been a long time coming, and had taken so much of me to complete during the darkest time of my life to date. I approached the day as if it were just a formality.
My mum and my cousin, Joanna, immediately announced they would attend my special day and dad told me he would try. The reality was that he just couldn’t endure a ceremony like that with the impact chemo had on his body. Despite his condition, he was still at work daily, though in progressively shorter hours.
The day I walked across the stage, mustard-coloured, dangly tassel earrings swinging from my lobes, dad watched the live stream of the ceremony from his office computer. He texted me after asking if I’d shaved my legs, this being because I’d joked with him that it had become a rare occurrence at that point and I’d forgotten while getting my pre-graduation pedicure days before.
I texted back that yes, yes I had.
June 25, 2019
I took dad to a scheduled hospital appointment to get a CTscan. He was in so much pain that he could barely walk. The pain, the doctors kept telling him, was from regular constipation, nothing to be too concerned about.
I wheeled him into his appointment in a wheel chair. They wheeled him out of his scan and directly to the emergency room where they fast-tracked him to triage. His bowel had perforated in multiple places.
Dad had emergency surgery that evening and though he came out of it cracking jokes and doing his best to comfort Dale and me, he wouldn’t leave the hospital again.
July 5, 2019
early in the morning, dad passed away. I wrote his obituary and a eulogy, we planned his funeral and celebration of life, and a heart-swelling number of people reached out to express their remembrances and condolences. The following months would see an overwhelming to-do list of estate and corporation tasks all with the intension of saving the business dad left to Dale and me.
Eventually I hit a point where I had nothing more to give. My mental environment pre-dad’s cancer had been shaky at best, then over the months where he got progressively more sick I lost more and more mental ability to handle the onslaught of responsibilities and emotional weight.
I stopped painting completely. I barely had energy to shower. I stopped wearing makeup and broke out in the worst acne of my life. Stress also manifested in an inability to fall asleep, until I’d suddenly pass out from exhaustion and then struggle incredibly to wake in the morning. I gained weight until I was at the heaviest of my life. I would be dry eyed for days, taking on new challenge after new heartbreaking revelation, until the smallest thing would completely destroy me and I’d close my office door, lean against the wall to hide my face from its window and sob.
In rebuilding the business, Mike’s RV and Marine (now Kilby Auto & RV), we discovered that nearly every person who had been originally involved to help manage it, from accountant, to bookkeeper, to lawyer, was completely incompetent, adding to our huge stress load. Excellent. So we brought in our own people.
I went to counselling and over the course of months would rebuild bits of my confidence and gain the permission I’d been unable to give myself to stand behind my morals and recognize it’s my right and responsibility to set boundaries. I re-learned that anyone who oversteps my boundaries and then makes me feel as if setting boundaries is wrong, is a person I can choose to remove from my life. Boundary setting is a requirement for me moving forward and has helped me regain the mental real estate lost over the months of heartbreak, betrayal, school, massive change, depression and cancer.
August 10, 2019
I posted a video of me entering my studio with the purpose of painting again. It had been months since I’d sat at my easel to create. That was the first positive step back to my art.
I named my studio Unmoored Art based on the trials of the past year and a half. During that time I’ve felt completely adrift from shore, and a lot of the time it felt as if I was out at sea because people I’d trusted had cut the lines securing me to the dock.
Unmoored isn’t just an analogy to my love of water and boat craft, or a serenade to the joy that sailing brings me. Unmoored is a realization that life is messy, so messy. Trials that come your way colour your world and make the bright spots that much brighter. When you’re out at sea, either by design or as an unwilling participant, your actions in that tempest define you. You get to choose whether you act with grace and kindness despite how deep the water is around you, you get to choose whether you toss out a life line, whether you turn on your beacon and whether you patch up the holes in your hull.
You get to choose whether you look for and see the blessings hidden within the heartbreaks.
January 4, 2020
The promise of this year is so vast it’s nearly painful and it’s made that much more glittery because of the darkness of 2019.
2020 is a year of travel, a year of art, a year of family, a year of business development, a year of boundaries and a year of continuous investment in myself.
A little while ago I caught a glimpse in the mirror of the person I’m actively becoming. She’s not the Hannah from years past, besides, that girl doesn’t belong here. I do. This version of me, the one with more scars, more bruises and more heartache. The one who made the most of her remaining time with her dad. Who worked at making it back to her easel, who fought to choose herself and chose to support her family.
The woman who weathered a storm too great to fully encompass in a blog post and came out more whole than when she was initially engulfed.