Permission to be an Artist: A Journey of Self-Acceptance

by Abigail Bubiak

Permission to be an Artist: A Journey of Self-Acceptance

My name is Abby Bubiak, and I am a 30-year-old artist living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I create bright, colourful, and vivid art pieces that tend to focus on texture and abstraction within nature. I enjoy painting florals, landscapes, and animals, though I do sometimes stray from my norm and venture outside my comfort zone! I strive to create paintings that evoke a sense of whimsy, joy, and playfulness and that bring about a sense of wellbeing and happiness to balance out the negativity in the world.


"Everything that has happened to me in my life, and every choice that I've made, has led me to right where I need to be." 


     I’ve wanted to be an artist ever since I can remember. As a child, markers, paints and fresh paper brought me far more joy than any hot new toy could have. In every store I went to, the first place I wanted to go was the art supply or stationery section, and any money that I saved up was (you guessed it) spent on new pens or glitter or sketchbooks. I was a shy, worried child, and art qu ickly became my escape. In Elementary school, there was a girl I greatly admired who could sit down and draw figures from her imagination that inspired me with their skill and impressiveness. I begged her to teach me how to draw, and while the other children were playing tag and running on the playground, each and every day, without fail, I sat quietly with her in a corner and painstakingly drew figures and poses and learned and absorbed whatever I could. This sparked a fire inside me: a true passion for creativity, learning, and art. This passion never burnt out, and I ended up taking art classes all throughout my schooling whenever they were available. My high school art classroom became a safe haven that I could rely upon no matter what else was happening in my life, and I still consider my high school art teacher to have been a very influential figure in shaping who I am today. When no one else at my grade level was as passionate as me about creating art, he helped to make a unique class with me as the only student so that I could pursue independent projects with his guidance. My creativity and interest continued to grow, and by the time I graduated, I was given the Visual Arts Excellence award.

     When it came time to go to university, I still felt passionate about pursuing art. However, I had also been told by many that I couldn’t create a “real career” in art. All those years of being a quiet, shy, bookworm of a student had led to me receiving high grades and the praises of all of my teachers, who told me that I could go so much further in life and achieve great things. I became convinced that I had to choose something that would pay the bills and live up to what everyone else thought I should do. Not wanting to give up my passion for art completely, though, I enrolled in what I felt was the best compromise: Art Education. I would study to become a high school art teacher, mimicking the figure who had such a profound impact on me during my own high school years.

     I thrived in the Art Education program, and my professors were very pleased with my work. I was even chosen as the only student in the department to be awarded a special scholarship based on the opinion that I had what it takes to become an exemplary art teacher. And then I lived happily ever after, right?

     Not quite. You see, for my entire life, starting as a young child, I suffered from bad general and social anxiety. Years of childhood emotional and psychological abuse worsened the anxiety, compounding it each and every year until, by the time I got to university, it had snowballed into a severe anxiety disorder. I tried to ignore it for a while, and then I battled it for a while. Being in the Art Education program – even though I was good at it, and found it fulfilling, and everybody was happy with me – made my anxiety unbearable. I was terrified of public speaking, terrified of getting up in front of a classroom and having to talk, and most of all, I was terrified of doing my practicum – of having someone watch me and judge my ability to stand up in front of a group and teach. It led to worry, which worsened into anxiety, which burst into panic attacks of a gigantic proportion. Eventually, it began to affect my physical health in a negative way. In a desperate attempt to fix what was happening, I started seeing a psychiatrist and began the difficult work of attempting to overcome my crippling anxiety. In the end though, I just couldn’t continue onto a career where each and every day would cause me unbearable anxiety, in a sector where finding a career would likely mean moving far away from my support system and everything I so loved about my life. So, with just one year to go before graduation, and after all the hard work I had put in, I decided to switch programs.

     I still loved art – all those years of anxiety and panic had seen art-making as my steadfast escape, my only solitude. My creative side had only grown, not diminished. But I had spent over four years in university building up credits for an Art Education degree that I could now no longer complete. Luckily for me, during my AE courses, I had been forced to take mandatory Art History classes, and I had fallen in love. Art History taught me the fundamentals and intricacies of art throughout the ages, what makes art the way it is today, and what makes art such an integral and indispensable part of society. I grew to love art even more than I ever did before, seeing it through another lens, and I honed my appreciation of it to the depths of what it is and what it has always meant. Studying Art History gave me new avenues to explore in my own art-making and helped me to grow not only as an artist, but as an individual. I ended up graduating with my degree in Art History and Visual Studies, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

     After I graduated, like most of my peers, I was searching for what to do next. What would my career be? What should I do with my life? My dream was still to be an artist professionally, but there was always the ever-present judgment that I should use my education and hard-earned degree to enter into a stable, “real” career. I wasn’t quite sure what to do – return for a Masters degree? Try to get a government job related to my Art History qualifications?

     Unfortunately, the decision was made for me. Just as my new life was beginning, I was hit with a handful of health issues. My anxiety was still a problem, but now I also suffered from extreme chronic pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and overwhelming fatigue. I ended up seeing roughly 22 different doctors over the course of 4 months. I was put on many medications. I was given so many different medical tests, all of which came back inconclusive. Every doctor gave me a different diagnosis about what was wrong with me. I lost all trust and hope in medical professionals, and I became frustrated and depressed. I was so tired that I just didn’t have the energy to get through the day. My body ached all over, and my nerves tingled as if something was crawling up and down my legs. Some days the pain was so bad that I could not even walk. I suffered sensitivity to light, sounds, sights, and smells. I had pounding headaches. My digestive system stopped cooperating. My anxiety reached a new high as I was convinced that there was something seriously, maybe even terminally, wrong with me. I was put on anti-depressants to help control the anxiety and depression, and I was given test after test after test. Long story short, I eventually found a stable doctor and in 2013, we reached a definitive diagnosis: Fibromyalgia, mixed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, mixed with a severe anxiety disorder. The diagnosis was both a relief and a curse. I finally knew what was wrong with me, but it wasn’t fixable. It’s something I will always have to cope with.

     Due to my health issues, and the medications that I was put on, I could no longer attain the stable “real job” that everyone felt I needed. I could no longer sit at a desk for an 8-hour day, nor could I stand for longer than 30 minutes at a time, nor could I lift anything remotely heavy. At only 23 years old, almost all of the jobs I could have applied for were now no longer possible for me to do. The government position I had been working in on an auxiliary basis let me go as soon as the diagnosis came in, because I could no longer lift the heavy boxes or stand all day.

     Some may view my struggles with mental illness, chronic physical issues, childhood trauma and other obstacles as sad, negative, unfortunate events to be worked past or forgotten about, but I disagree. I don't have any regrets about the choices and circumstances that led me to my current life. The twists and turns in my path that brought me to where I am today have all added something beneficial to me that have allowed me to succeed as the person I am now. The childhood trauma and anxiety disorder pushed me to explore my own limits, delve inside my own imagination, and find ways to brighten up a world that is just too dark while inspiring me to help other people do the same. Being in the Art Education program and everything I learned about becoming a teacher taught me new art techniques from a wide variety of perspectives: student, creator, and teacher. It gave me experiences that I can carry forward into my own art-making, and provided me with skills that will help make me a better future parent. It opened my eyes to my interest in Art History, something that I may never have explored otherwise. My time learning about Art History rounded out all the practical, hands-on knowledge that I had gained in the Art Education program, and added yet another perspective from which I can grow and enhance my own art practice. And while my issues with my physical health and subsequent limitations have been devastating for me at times, it has also been a blessing in disguise. Since I cannot work at a traditional desk job, my illness has forced me to follow my dreams. I now have no choice but to do the thing I have always wanted to do: be an artist.

     Everything that has happened to me in my life, and every choice that I've made, has led me to right where I need to be. The journey to following your dreams isn't always an easy one, but it is an incredibly important one. And sometimes, the very things that make you suffer the most can also set you free.

     It is my dream to start my own small business sharing my artwork with the world. I may be physically confined to my home instead of a more traditional workplace, but my imagination is not confined. I hope to continue to create beautiful things, to follow my dreams and pursue my passions. I want to create the life for myself that I always imagined but never thought I could have: one filled with paintings, and drawings, and beautiful manifestations of a wild and carefree imagination.

     My goal is to create bright, cheerful and vibrant artwork that lifts people up no matter what struggles they are facing in life. I want to create art that will help to support people, to help them to be strong even in their hardest moments. I hope to create artwork that will bring awareness to both mental and chronic illnesses, and that will add beauty to a world that can sometimes seem a bit too dark.

     This is who I am and what brought me to where I am today. I am still the shy and quiet girl who would rather sit in the corner and draw than follow the crowd. I still turn to art as my escape and my solace. I am a Fibro, anxiety, OCD and ME sufferer. I am a mental and chronic illness advocate. And I am now a happily married wife to an amazing man, with hopes for a bright (and colourful) future.

     Finally, I can say: It's okay. I have full permission to be what I truly want to be. I am an artist.


Abigail Bubiak Canadian watercolour artist
Abigail Bubiak is a Canadian artist who works out of a cozy art studio beside a forest in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. She creates original paintings that strive to bring joy to the viewer through the incorporation of vivid, saturated colours and the mesmerizing textures that honour the spectacular natural environment around us. She is inspired every day by the stunning landscape of Vancouver Island and the surprises that she finds in her own woodland garden. 

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Abigail Bubiak
Abigail Bubiak


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