My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety

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2019 has been rough. In an earlier post I commiserated that at least living in constant fight-or-flight mode birthed some awesome artwork, and I kind of kept doing that thing where I would joke about how terrible I was feeling, brush it off, tell myself it was just a “bout” that would pass. Then the months went on and I was still dealing with ramped up anxiety, waves of depression, moments of intense anger and irritability and an overall difficulty to control my emotions. I recognized what was happening because I’d been there before. As of this week, this time I am doing something about it.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since childhood, and always thought about counseling but then it would get better for a little bit, so I’d put it off. I had bouts of being pretty miserable and losing hope in nearly everything but at the same time, not to be funny, I wasn’t failing at life. I was maintaining a reasonable amount of friendships, I was handling a high stress job, I was churning out personal art projects that I was happy with at a pretty amazing speed … I’d had fleeting thoughts of suicidal ideation from high school going forward but they were isolated incidents, few and far between, and I always viewed them as some pesky creature that had invaded my brain like ‘hey, get out of here, you don’t belong!’ not something I seriously wanted to happen. After all, I’m the girl that goes to lengths to do everything possible now to guarantee I make it to 100 years old (constant worrying over mortality is probably another anxiety symptom, but hey)! I felt I didn’t really have a right to seek counseling because in the back of my mind I thought they might laugh in my face when I showed up for the first meeting and say, “Why are you even here?” So many people struggle so much worse.

One thing I’ve learned through my job working with adults with all forms of disability including psychological, is that all mental illness is wildly misunderstood by the population at large. I feel like with my struggles being mostly unseen, when shit finally hit the fan and started to get worse throughout the last 6 months or so I ended up feeling more isolated actually then when I’d been keeping silent and “passing”, and I don’t think I was prepared for that. My anxiety and depression didn’t fit the mold, and some days I wondered if I should just start laying around in bed just so people would take it seriously but the thing is, I was filled with energy and the last place I wanted to be was in bed. High functioning anxiety is real and it is tough, though it may not look as dire on the outside. I can never speak for everyone, but here is what this girl with high functioning anxiety wants you to know:

Don’t analyse us. (Unless you are our counselor and it’s your job 😉 ) We are already constantly questioning our every move, every word, every facial expression as we move through the world. People are allowed to not be at 100% 24/7. Saying “Why do you sound tense, why are you so turned up, calm down!” (I’ve literally had people say these things to me when I’m not even raising my voice, just have a serious expression on my face!) over and over again even if it is asked out of concern does not help, it just makes the anxiety worse. There are constructive ways to check in, but policing facial expressions and body language are not it.

When we talk about how we feel, don’t respond with, “You just need a drink”. I do drink socially, but usually try to not drink when I am feeling particularly low because it tends to make it worse. I am lucky to not struggle with this right now, but many people with anxiety and other either situational or permanent mental health issues self medicate with substances, so this could actually be really unhealthy and dangerous advice. I did struggle for a period of about a year in college with self medicating social anxiety in large gatherings with alcohol, and although we are very casual in the US about binge drinking being a “normal” part of transitioning through young adulthood, it really shouldn’t be as normal as it is.

Similarly, please don’t keep telling us we need to drink more tea, eat 10 almonds every day, or just eat a freaking banana. Full disclosure, I love all 3 of those things and do consume them quite regularly and guess what, I still have anxiety. Yes, a healthy diet certainly does impact one’s mental health and quality of life, but it isn’t always a magical panacea. I myself make a habit of eating healthy and tend to just think fresh, healthy food tastes better anyway. Yet again, I still deal with anxiety. Assuming someone’s mental health issues are occurring because they aren’t taking care of themselves is just that, assuming, and is just going to compound their feelings of guilt, shame, blame, and guess what – anxiety!

We aren’t “faking it” to get out of things we don’t want to do. I’m an adult. When I have to dial back on some things and allow for more margin in my life to recharge, I’m not “playing sick” to get to stay home from school and watch cartoons. I am a person that hates sitting around being inactive or being unreliable, and often joke that I’m allergic to relaxation. So, if I say I’m having a hard time and just can’t do a, b, or c, I mean it and usually no one is more frustrated about it than me. If I am experiencing a particularly rough time, there can also be a fear of potential embarrassment; What if I start having a panic attack and can’t get to a private place quick enough?

We don’t always need a solution from our support system. We don’t need a team of cheerleaders shouting at us, “You can do it! Pull it together!” We don’t need “tough love” and to be forced into going through the motions as if nothing is wrong in hopes by sheer force of willpower the cycle will be broken. We need to be heard. We need our support system to listen to understand, not listen to “fix” us or listen to reassure us “it’s not that bad”.

At the same time, no one else is responsible for our mental health but us. Anxiety is not a license to lash out at people with no consequences. No one is obligated to play therapist when we should be seeing a professional counselor. No one should feel the pressure of being the “one thing” keeping us going, and it is ok to respectfully call us out if you feel we are doing any of these things.

Know that there is no required severity level to getting help. You don’t have to wait until things reach a breaking point. Here are some other excellent articles with insight into a less often talked about dimension of anxiety:

What Are The Signs Of ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety?

What It’s Like To Have ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety

The Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

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Slaying The Artist’s Block Monster

12One of the most frustrating things in the world for any creative person is that tricky artist’s block, lurking where you least expect it waiting to destroy everything that once brought you joy. It is quite literally the worst. I’ve experienced my own bouts of artist’s block on and off over the last year, and hope that some of the things that were effective for me may help other creatives out there. Without further adieu …

  • Get in the habit of daily practice. This first one is pretty standard yet still is, I think, the most difficult. You don’t have to complete something amazing every day. Even if it’s just a silly 5 minute doodle, do something to get in the habit of being creative on a regular basis. By keeping the creative part of your mind engaged daily, you will have an easier time getting in the zone when you have actual large amounts of downtime to work. As cheesy as it may sound, you can even try sketching something that made you happy each day. This is something I’ve done in the past that serves a dual purpose of not only helping me stay creatively engaged but helping me to focus on the gifts I am experiencing when the stuff of life is starting to get me down. Just think, even on your most awful days where you really don’t have much to be thankful for, look around you. Our world is pretty amazing, like a living work of art. We could live in a world where everything is brown and gray but we instead are able to live in a super saturated, colorful environment where everything that surrounds us naturally is so vibrant and intricate – even things many people think are gross or irritating like bugs ;). Ignore the schmaltz factor and just try it, I promise it works.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your own expectations. Just make time to create where and when you can. If you get too legalistic about daily practice or having to work on your art for x number of hours per week without factoring in unavoidable external circumstances, you are just going to get defeated and end up creating the fated Impossible Task for yourself. Don’t discount the smaller moments and tell yourself you aren’t being productive enough. I am a big fan of sketching ideas on scrap paper over a lunch break at work, and then really diving in over weekends. Something different may work for your life and schedule. Just don’t let the fact that you may not have as much spare time as you’d prefer to devote to your craft stop you from doing it at all.
  • The Rush HourDraw from what you are feeling. Sometimes we have these specific  plans of visuals we want to create, but for whatever reason we just can’t get it out of our own heads. In the moment, something isn’t clicking. Creative practice is different from forcing yourself to to exercise or do the dishes … Sometimes not being enthused or inspired can be a legitimate barrier to getting anything done. If you experience one of these blockades, then what I’ve found works is to just roll with it and draw from what you are feeling in that moment. Are you feeling tense and exhausted? Make something about it, which is exactly what I ended up doing when I began the above drawing, “The Rush Hour”. Creativity is such a personal experience that draws on bringing the inside out, so if you aren’t in the right mindset don’t force yourself to make art about something that you aren’t feeling right now.
  • Don’t be afraid to start multiple things at once. As creators there is always that fear of being the jack of all trades and master of none, or being that artist who starts a million projects but never ends up finishing anything. However, I have found that within reason, having multiple things going at once can actually help you to be more productive. Sometimes you just get sick of looking at a project or you get stuck and are not sure how to move forward, and may need a couple of days to plan your next steps. Also, our brains all work differently, and some people simply cannot focus on one thing for an extended period of time even if they desperately want to. If you have multiple creative things going, you can simply put what you are working on away temporarily and move onto something else when you get stuck or lose focus, rather than putting your art away entirely and just turning on Netflix for the rest of the day.
  • 53786370_10156360021179895_3968639679464472576_nCreate challenges for yourself. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I am a big fan of cooking challenge shows like Chopped and Masterchef, and am a sucker for the mystery box challenge. You can do the same thing with art instead of food. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed participating in the ArtSnacks challenges while I have a subscription is because being limited to only a random selection of materials and colors and having to create something from that is a great way to generate new ideas and think of new ways to use familiar media. You can write different materials on scraps of paper, randomly draw 3, and make something amazing using only those 3 elements. This is something myself and other instructors have been trying to do with our Artshop Program students when we notice them getting stuck in repetitive ruts. Another idea is putting one of your favorite playlists on shuffle, and whatever song plays first, the words in that song title are your inspiration for what you are making. These are especially beneficial exercises for project control freaks like me (and probably some of you out there)!
  • 00000PORTRAIT_00000_BURST20190311175233624Get together with other creative people and do silly, low stress artsy activities. For my day job I run an art therapy based program, so I every day I get to see the power art has to inspire joy in both the creator and those around them, and how art has the power to make people feel heard and understood, and lift some of the individual weights we all have holding us down in our life even if only for a moment. Let’s be real though, art is also difficult and like any other skill takes practice and discipline. Make sure you have a balance in your life of serious artistic practice but also creative activities that are just for fun, where the process is more important than the outcome. I’ve recently been getting together with a small group of friends for monthly creative nights, and even if all we do is some silly home decor Pinterest fail project, just the practice of no-pressure creating is so rejuvenating. I’m also working individually on a screaming ceramic baby head paperweight, so there’s that. Ah, therapy…
  • Enter shows and events! Keep an eye out for opportunities to show your work. Sign up for things even when you feel you aren’t ready. To be honest, many of us are never going to feel ready so there’s just no point waiting around. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Amanda Palmer, from her very cool book for creators The Art of Asking, “When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you on the head with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.” Having clear deadlines will also help you get projects done, whether you are a do-everything-the-night-before creator or someone who plans for months. Also, don’t skip the openings even if it’s painfully awkward and not something you particularly enjoy. Don’t skip out on opportunities to network and talk to other people about what you do. When people hear the word “networking” they automatically associate it with generating business and making money but for me it’s not necessarily about that, but more about building confidence in what you do and being able to explain why you do it. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to inspire someone else!
  • Have a visible list of goals. I am a firm believer in the sticky note. I’m old school in the respect that I have to have my goals and reminders and deadlines physically written out with ink pen or I don’t pay attention to them, but digital means are great too, whatever works for you. The important thing is that you have a visual reminder of where you are going and when you want to get there.
  • 54257592_2437512312986061_671208117400240128_oLet other artists challenge and motivate you, but don’t compare yourself. Talking to other more experienced artists and learning from them is fantastic (Though I’d also argue you can learn from those that may be less experienced as well; I learn from my students all the time!), but it becomes toxic when you start comparing yourself to them. Everyone has their own style, and their own timeline. Don’t feel like you have to completely model yourself after someone else to be successful.

I hope this is helpful to other creative people out there, and if you have other things that work for you please feel free to share! Now get out there and make things happen :).

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On Creativity & Leadership: New Year New Perspective

Though new year’s resolutions can be cliche and oft forgotten, using the turning of a year as an opportunity to refocus can’t hurt. My ongoing goal for this year is to not let the fear of others’ perceptions make me question my decisions either in art or as a leader. Not that I should never question why I am doing what I’m doing; questioning oneself is healthy and necessary, but only if done for the right reasons.

A quick background blurb for those new to the blog – My day job is running an inclusive creative classes program geared towards adults with disabilities and mental health, and I am also a freelance artist.

I was hit with this the other day when I came home from the first week of the program’s new semester on a high, because a new student had taken me aside and let me know that they had not been out in public to participate in group activities in a long time, and that I had been a stabilizing presence that kept them calm and made them feel safe. As I was browsing through facebook while waiting for dinner to cook, I came across an article (mainly aimed at women) that stated that being called reliable, stabilizing, nice, or accommodating were not compliments and were basically code for being a complete doormat. As an independent minded person, this horrified me. Immediately, every time I’d been called any of those adjectives by others rushed through my head and halfway through creating a plan to deconstruct and rebuild my entire personality, I suddenly stopped and asked myself why I was doing this. I don’t know the person who wrote this article personally, nor do they know me. Why does this opinion suddenly hold so much weight? Should I instead be unkind, stubborn, leave a path of division and stress in my wake? It makes no sense for either women or men to live their life that way.

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Though it may not be fierce or glamorous or fit neatly within an awe-inspiring superhero persona, I don’t really want to be the leader who is kicking ass and taking names ;). I don’t want to be the leader that refuses to see the progress and can only focus on past mistakes in the people I work with. I don’t want to be the leader that kicks an employee when they’re down; I don’t want people to come to me with vulnerability, saying “Hey, I may need some extra support this week because I’m having a tough time with____________, or this hard thing just happened in my life, or I’m having this mental health struggle right now,” etc. and my response is, “That’s not my problem, leave your issues at home.” I can still hold people accountable without tearing down their self worth, and I don’t need the approval of those that are on the outside looking in that don’t know my group like I do.

I realized that without knowing it, I’d slipped into these same bad habits with my art … I’ve mentioned before how it was hard knowing what direction to go in after completing my last big 12 part series I’d worked on for around 2 years. When trying to come up with new concepts, I found myself constantly questioning myself based on how a new project may be perceived, and getting nowhere. If I start using more bright colors than usual will people think I’ve lost my edge, if I use my more dark imagery will I come across as an aging Hot Topic shopper, Will men feel left out since I draw mostly women, If I draw men will they think I’m trying to speak for them … ??? I’d gotten a lot of commissions done in the time since and some just-for-fun personal projects, but nothing with a strong direction.

When beginning your next creative endeavor for 2019, whether on your own or leading/educating a group, keep yourself in check by asking the right questions:

What kind of creator do I want to be? This question sounds simple, but is an ongoing process. I remember taking a fascinating hybrid philosophy/law class in college to fulfill one of my freshman year gen eds, and we started by discussing the tombstone question, basically when you’re gone, what do you want written on your tombstone? How do you want to be remembered? Now let that answer be in the back of your mind and guide your decisions, because our daily choices determine who we will become. Once you decide what kind of creator you want to be, the steps you need to take as a creative, the events you need to participate in, the programs you need to donate your time to, will no longer seem so up in the air, and won’t be so susceptible to changing with the wind the minute you hear a bit of noise.

Who am I trying to reach with this project? Oftentimes creative projects won’t be all about you, so there are indeed times you need to consider others’ possible responses to your work. But, if you are trying to appease everyone you will end up running yourself in circles, leading to a sub-par result that in trying to say everything to everyone, says nothing. Think of who you want to speak to with your project – It’s ok for you to create something that isn’t intended to resonate with everyone. Chances are, there will be others outside of your target that will end up getting something out of it, too.

What experiences am I drawing my ideas from? Creation flows most easily when it comes from the fount of something that the creator is passionate or knowledgeable about. Think about what in the world gets you stirred up, either positively or negatively. Think about what experiences you’ve had that have impacted you, that you remember every detail of; again, positive or negative. There may be an artist out there whose aesthetic and ideas you really admire, an artist you wish you could create exactly like, but it likely isn’t possible since they have a different story than you. Find your own voice rather than trying to retell another person’s story. And, if in the end you do want to use your voice to tell the stories of others, make sure you do your research and ask questions!

How would I want to be guided? Methods of leadership or teaching aren’t one size fits all as different styles are more effective for certain personality types, but this question is a good starting point. It pretty much boils down to the golden rule, and asking in each situation, “How would I want to be treated?” I’ve heard horror stories of art instructors sending students away in tears after a critique of their work. Yes, the work of a student or a fellow artist you are collaborating with may not meet your expectations, but how is destroying their enthusiasm for creation or any hope in them that they can improve going to help them get to where you want them to be? In leadership, treat others how you would hope they’d treat you, it’s really that simple.

What is distracting me from my purpose right now? Be mindful of what is going on when you feel yourself getting derailed like I described happening to me earlier … Stop yourself and note what activity was going on when the switch occurred, and what stimuli you were taking in. Is it criticism from toxic people in your life, comparing yourself to others on social media, taking opposing views personally without the lens of evaluation, forcing yourself into a box that is antithetical to who you are … Write it down if you have to, and when you start to notice a pattern do your best to remove or lessen that thing in your life, whether it means taking a break from certain friends or family members or spending less time putzing about online.

I have to decide for myself what kind of leader, and what type of creator I want to be… and so do you!

 

The Best Art Toys Of The 90s (Or, The Toys That Propelled My Future Career)

As we get close to Christmas, I have no clue what kids today are asking Santa for! I don’t have kids myself, and don’t know many people with young kids. Also, 3-year-olds seems to have smart phones and tablets now, so … Do they still play with toys? Who are they planning to call, Big Bird? I have so many questions. All that aside, toys can be tools that help kids develop their interests and explore what they may want to be or do in the future. In homage to 90s nostalgia and the time when toys were still not quite high-tech, I’ve compiled a list of the best art and design toys from when I was a kid. I’m sure a lot of these will look familiar to many of you! And so our trip down memory lane begins…

Fashion Plates

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This toy let you be a high-class big name designer, mixing and matching your own styles with plastic stencils you could shade over with a magic black crayon and then render in your favorite color story. That woman with the bob, chunky bracelets, and boots is basically the me of today. Check out that dapper lady on the top right adjusting her bow-tie!

Blush Art

First off, this commercial is just nauseating. That aside, this was a fun toy, again utilizing stencils so even those terrible at drawing could be a star, thus preventing any destroyed self esteem. I had the fashion design stencil set for this rather than the ones shown in this video – I was obviously a bit singularly focused. I liked my clothes far better than cuddly creatures, but I’m no Cruella de Vil, just cursed with being allergic to anything fuzzy.

Crayola Stampers Markers

You could make some wacky mosaic drawings with these markers, case in point the self portrait on the right, circa 8 years old. Remember the 70s revival yellow smiley face craze around that time? Those guys are in there.

Barbie Fashion Designer PC Game

Again with the fashion designing … I honestly did consider this career path but alas, discovered later on that I hated sewing.

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As you can see, the earlier self portrait was pretty spot-on.

Nickelodeon’s Mix ‘N Spin

ece0a94f8a84a07aedf4329a4605a677I never had this, but one of my friends did – The 90s kid version of all that pour art that is so popular now. Was there any design trend that people loved more than rainbow splatter painting in the 90s?

 

Watercolor Coloring Books

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These books really lulled you into a false sense of security, giving you perfect blending and shading with just a smear of water, provided you followed the coloring book code and stayed inside the lines ;). Nevertheless, they were so relaxing to sit and fill in, and I spent many a rainy day with a pile of these in front of me, completing one picture after another.

Sand Art

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Like color by numbers but with colored sand, you would peel off one number at a time revealing a sticky surface to pour the corresponding colored sand upon to slowly reveal a finished masterpiece. Though Disney ones were always super popular, my sets were of unicorns and tropical birds!

Shrinky Dinks

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As a kid the shrinky dinks I had were pre-outlined, and you colored them in like a coloring book before putting the plastic sheets in the oven and watching them curl up, shrink, and harden into durable plastic pendants or flat mini figures. As an adult, I discovered the fun of using blank shrink plastic to design your own one of a kind pendants covered in art! I sold these for a couple years in a local handmade shop downtown, and they did really well.

These truly are the toys that made me! I hope everyone gets what they were hoping for this Christmas, though of course, no gifts could ever possibly be as epic as these.

 

 

 

 

Year End Reflections And A New Project

As I mentioned earlier, after the completion of my “Unlimited”series I’d been experiencing a bit of artist’s block. I tried playing around with a couple new ideas, but nothing seemed to stick.

Design is pretty much my constant state of existence similar to, you know, breathing, so I stayed busy with commissions, crafting, my day job, and involvement in the Creative Team at my church. It was one of my projects for the team that would be the inspiration for my next piece. Upon the usual late December reflection, I discovered the themes explored in this piece really parallel what I’ve learned in this last year.

The series this image was designed for was titled Whole Heart, and though I hate being videotaped, I was somehow coerced into it so you can view this video explaining the concepts and thought behind the design. For a medium I chose a simplistic watercolor illustration with bold colors and sharp outlines. This would make the image clear and easy to read on a small app icon as well as in larger print form. The style would also appeal to any age from kids to older adults. I was surprised how even with a “story” that seemed so basic, people could strongly relate to it on multiple levels. Hearing how touched many were by image made me want to develop the concept into a more detailed piece in my usual surreal, mixed media style. Right now I just have the pencil outline, but keep checking back for in-progress shots!

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The girl in this piece is doing something absolutely terrifying, and in no way should she be smiling or feeling any positive emotions such as liberation or elation, and yet …

I’ve always read things or heard speakers in inspirational youtube videos talk about the difference between joy and happiness, but for the most part it just sounded like a bunch of nonsense to me until this year. Suddenly – I get it. Happiness is about things that make you feel excited and content in the moment – it’s situational. Joy is about a balance of fulfilling what you need to be content, doing what you can to fulfill the needs of others or even the world or society as a whole, and learning how to deal with and process those desires that are not yet fulfilled, or those instances in your surroundings that are unjust, upsetting, or draining. Joy is about being your best self not just personally but in how you affect others.

Self care has been a huge buzz word this year, from making being comfortable into an art with lists of specific tenants required to reach maximum coziness level such as in the Danish hygge trend, to the increased conversation around kids needing “personal days” or “mental health days” in school just as adults get personal days off from work to reach their optimum ability and stay healthy. Articles about self care tend to revolve around taking it easy and giving yourself permission to indulge guilt free for the most part, but I read a really great article recently that discussed a far less popular part of self care. I suggest you read the entire thing for yourself, but the main highlighted, bold font point from this article reads as follows …

“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.”

Self care could mean finally making that counseling appointment you’ve been putting off. It could mean finally seeking help for your alcohol or drug addiction you’ve been struggling with. It could mean having an uncomfortable, challenging conversation with a friend or family member. It could mean either temporarily or permanently cutting a toxic person out of your life. Doing the hard things will give you not the temporary happiness that comes from giving yourself a free day relaxing in front of Netflix with a fuzzy blanket and a bottle of wine (Because you’re still going to have to go back to that job you hate after the sun sets on your mental health day … I speak from direct experience.), but the joy of a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

I have felt the most content and fulfilled this year than any to date in my adult life, despite the fact that I still experience bouts of anxiety from time to time, I still experience periodic stressers in both work and personal life at pretty regular intervals, and the fact that the news cycle and goings on in my home country of America have really, really done a fantastic job in 2017 of pushing the exact buttons that make my blood boil.

And that is definitely an awesome thing, but it is not even all about my own or your own personal well being or fulfillment. More and more, I don’t think the point in life is necessarily to be happy all the time; I don’t think happiness is the endgame.

Most moral people tend to think that the reason we shouldn’t do bad things is because though we may think those things will make us happy, there will be some deep, dark void inside of us that will eventually eat us alive or something. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is always the case. I think there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy celebrating greed, lying, assaulting and bullying, and causing great harm to others … until they get caught. Just turn on the news. That is why the level of our happiness does not always correlate to a good life lived. We may feel happier and more internally at peace living with our heads under the sand, ignoring all the problems and injustices going on in our world, accepting the unacceptable because “I can’t do anything about it, so why should I worry?” But … if every single one of us did that, how would anything ever change? Not that every person is called to be a world changer that will end up in the history books, but plenty throughout history have put themselves in some pretty miserable conditions in order to speak up for what is right – certainly not the road to happiness and internal zen – because the purpose of life is not simply achieving momentary happiness over and over and over again.

My hope for this new year is that we all continue to grow into our best selves, and continue to flourish in awareness, in empathy, in bravery, and yes, in joy.

Come at us 2018, we’ve got this :).

Thanksgiving Weekend

It is frightfully easy, especially when there are so many things going on in our world that are unjust, frustrating, or just plain scary, to only focus on the bad. I am a strong believer in the fact that without recognizing and giving due acknowledgment to that which is not so amazing, real change will never happen. We need to talk about hard things sometimes, and we need to care and allow ourselves to feel pain over events or situations that harm our own well being or the well being of others. However, sometimes the negative can consume us and cause us to forget, ignore, or just plain not notice all the good that still persists in our own life and worldwide. Thanksgiving is always a good time to step away from the frantic, stressful pace of everyday life and constant barrage of bad news to reflect on the moments of joy we’ve experienced throughout the year, because they do exist.

This year, I am beyond grateful for the now 2 full years I have spent as Program Coordinator for The Express Yourself Artshop program at Creative 360 in my hometown of Midland, MI. Artshop is an inclusive arts and wellness program open to students of all abilities, including those with physical, intellectual, or psychological disabilities. I am thankful I have a job that I can look forward to each day, which I know can be as rare as winning the lottery. I above all am thankful for the amazing people I have met, the new friends I have made, and the feelings of love, acceptance, and belonging I experience when I am with them even on the toughest days.

I learn so much that I take home to my own personal art just from experiencing so many different approaches to creating. The photos above are from our recent pre-Thanksgiving bash put on by our Cooking Class. Side note, I even learned that it is possible for me to like green bean casserole. Now that truly speaks to the skill of our Artshop chefs. 

Working with our watercolor class has lit a fire under me to get back into the medium myself in my free time and try some new approaches and styles that are less cautious and constrained.

I love seeing different creators’ takes on inspiration images. An artist’s work shows others how they see the world, which I get to experience firsthand.

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One of my former students’ pieces, obtained in an art trade (that gorgeous red tree lady up there), is the focal point in my newly renovated art studio in the new house. (Another thing to be thankful for this year – saying goodbye to apartment living and having a studio that isn’t my living room! Extensive before-and-afters will follow in a later post – it’s been a real trip.)

I would encourage everyone, whether creatives or not (though I’d argue that seriously, every one of us is creative in some way – it’s human nature.), to challenge themselves to spend more time with people who are different from them in some way. Ask them about themselves, get to know them on a personal level, have interesting chats … Though you are not going to get along with everyone, you will never regret opening up your world.

I’d also encourage you to remember that taking a different path than what you expected does not equate to failure. I graduated with a BAA in interior design, and wanted to work anywhere in the world except Midland, the same city I lived in from age 2 on. Unmet expectations for the future are such an intense fear for most people, myself included.  However, sometimes our expectations just aren’t all that great, and aren’t what we need to be happy.

Sometimes, there is something better waiting for us.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Reunion … Alternate Title: Holy Crap I’m Old.

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Just this past weekend was my 10 year high school reunion, to which I actually made an appearance despite many fervent vows over the years that I, when the time came, most certainly would not. When I think of high school, I just think of awkwardness and lots of crying. I will let the following Daria memes do the talking for my overall thoughts on the whole experience, seeing as we were pretty much the same person. I even kind of looked like her when I didn’t wear my contacts.

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I put in a half-assed effort at mingling, but the real reason I was there was to see my core group of friends who I am still close with to this day. The golden opportunity of us actually all being in the same place at the same time was too good to pass up. The following day, I attended a baby shower for one of them with the rest of the squad, which is another thing that made me feel all awkward and adult-y.

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It is actually one of my life goals to never change a diaper even once, and I think I am putting in some good strides towards its achievement. I wish her all my love and the best though, and can’t wait to meet the little miniature version of my best friend sometime soon.

It’s funny to think about how completely 99.9% different we are after 10 years, but in some ways still so very much the same. This idea is something I touched on in my last post about my new project. You’re always going to have thoughts about the past like “I wish I would have known, I wish I would have done …” etc. etc., but putting some things in perspective early on never hurts. To conclude, I will leave any current highschoolers who may be reading this with some things I wish I would have realized that would have made the journey a little less tumultuous.

Not to use a cliche phrase, but you do you.

If you are naturally more introverted and are content to not be flapping your gums 24/7 during a school day, then don’t feel pressured to interject yourself into conversations just so that you look more “social” or “normal”. You will end up completely draining yourself. On the other hand, if you are aching to talk and get to know people but are holding back because you feel like you may say something awkward and embarrass yourself, don’t – just let it out. I mean, you totally will do it, that saying something awkward thing, but it happens to everyone and if you’re confident and can just laugh at yourself no one is going to give you a scarlet letter for it. By the way, you’re going to put your foot in your mouth plenty as an adult so you might as well practice up.

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Definitely work hard and do your best, but enjoy learning. Don’t overestimate the significance of high school as it plays into the rest of your life so that your only goals are to look good on paper.

Don’t waste your times on classes, clubs, or activities just because you feel like they somehow make you “look good.” Seriously, if I wouldn’t have spent every day coming straight home from school and going right down to the basement to draw until bedtime, I would not have the skills I have today in the field I actually ended up going into as a career. Having a long, exhaustive list of all this stuff that you do is only just that… a long exhaust(ive)(ing) list. Spend your time doing what you like. If that’s being involved in 15 different sports and after school clubs, then more power to you. If it isn’t, then don’t sweat it and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re lazy just because you have different ways you like to spend your time. You’ll wish you had as much free time as you do now when you’re an adult with a full time job.

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Don’t obsess over having a date for formal dances.

Dates are boring. I had exponentially more fun during the homecomings I attended in a group with my single friends. You’ll have plenty of time for uncomfortable dinner dates as an adult, trust me.

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It’s ok to not be invited to parties. They aren’t that fun.

I know fomo can be rough, and as one who understands I have but one life to live and wishes to maximize the potential joy and newness of every moment, I still struggle with it hardcore to this day. But, I promise you, you truly aren’t missing anything. When you’re in your mid-20s, you will actually start making up excuses to avoid having to go to parties, because gigantic loud house parties filled with sloppy drunk people and bad music are tedious.

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And lastly, your hair doesn’t look bad.

No one is looking at you that closely, because in all actuality they are too busy obsessing over what their own hair looks like. I used to be hard-pressed to be out the door an hour and fifteen minutes after waking up for school, and that was with showering the night before and my mom making my lunch. Now, I get ready for work and am in the car in 20 minutes, and I don’t actually look like an ogre from outer space. Score!

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If you just aren’t feeling like high school is the “time of your life” it’s supposed to be, take solace in this … It’s basically all uphill from here.