Artist Bio

The Gift Of Anxiety

On My Mind

I have struggled with anxiety since I was a kid, and would usually be the first person to scoff if anyone ever called this trait a “gift”. I have begun managing it as an adult through counseling and learning new coping/rerouting skills, some go the medication path, different things work for different people. What I do know, however, is that those of us with anxiety tend to agree that it is not a positive thing. When uncontrolled, it can be exhausting and cause heightened emotional responses and added stress to situations that aren’t at all threatening. It can cause us to consider all the dire “what ifs” but none of the possible happy surprises. It can introduce a lot of doubts in both ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. Lately though, I’ve been challenging myself to think about the positives of certain attributes within myself that I don’t always like. I’m a big proponent of neurodiversity and try to always see the positive attributes of others’ brains that sometimes work differently, so it would go to follow that I owe myself the same courtesy. Fellow anxiety peeps, though you have probably been told that your affliction is this horrible burden, I’d ask you to come with me and think through the ways your tendency towards anxiety has actually helped you.

I was looking for a notebook with some blank pages left recently so I could jot something down, and started reading an old journal I’d abandoned. In it was a set of columns listing positives and negatives about my life at the time. I noted as a positive that I was in a long term relationship with “no doubts or issues” and had “no bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, or mood regulation issues like I used to get”. Now, while not having panic attacks is all well and good, I am no longer in this relationship and looking back there were plenty of issues, and plenty of reasons I should have been doubting the long term success of our partnership based on some pretty significant differences and toxic behaviors. At the time I was also not getting the support I needed or deserved at work and was quite frankly being taken advantage of, albeit probably not intentionally. I came to the conclusion that when I thought I was “overcoming” or “doing better”, what I really was doing was turning my brain off and giving over control of my life just to feel more “normal”. Maintaining Zen and not letting life rattle you is one thing, but no one needs to smile and talk about how great it feels to have a bird flying overtop shitting on your head all the while not moving from the spot you are rooted in below.

I definitely deal with a hell of a lot more anxiety today than I did when I wrote that entry, but I also love my life infinitely more. I let situational anxiety take its course, because though my emotional responses may be more amplified than the average person, it acts sort of like the check engine light in a vehicle, letting me know that something isn’t working and I need to evaluate and figure out what needs to change for my mind and body to start running at their best again.

What other positive attributes does my anxiety bring out?

A drive to regularly set personal and professional goals, show up and work hard until they are achieved.

Dependability – I can’t comprehend of making promises not intending to see them through, and if I agree to assist I am going to be on time and prepared.

On that note, I have a planning oriented nature, and don’t leave important matters to the last minute (um, or unimportant ones … ūüėČ )

I am able to empathize more with others who are struggling emotionally, and I know the experience has made me better at my job leading a program whose participants have various disabilities, mental health issues, and general quirks.

Something I’ve been learning is though we can all grow and change and should be committed to continuous growth every day, certain parts of us aren’t going anywhere. We can deal with these parts of ourselves more beneficially and make them work for us and not against us, but they likely aren’t going completely away. So, rather than engaging in self hate let’s work through the parts that are toxic or causing us unhappiness, but appreciate the parts that help us be better humans … including our anxiety.

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Artist Bio

The Power Of Saying No

each-time-you-set-a-healthy-boundary-you-say-YES-to-more-freedom

I must start off by saying this is not one of those articles that was written because the author is an expert on the subject; I am actually writing because I am very bad at this thing myself.

I have always struggled with saying no both personally and professionally. Yet, at the same time I’ve always been pretty sure of who I am and what I want … talk about some pretty serious dissonance! Let me tell you a bit more about myself… at this point in my life, I eat mainly plant based (aside from the occasional raw fish in sushi maybe twice a month), I seldom drink, I have no interest in smoking or drugs of any type (I don’t even take an Excedrin when I get a migraine!), and though I like being social I am one of those people who needs more quiet time than the average person to recharge so I have to strategically plan the amount of ‘going out’ I want to do each week and who I want to give my time and energy to … Oh, and I also am not interested in birthing children. You see where I’m going with this? Though there are a whole lot more things I say yes to, I find myself constantly apologizing, “Oh, I don’t ___________, I’m so sorry!” as if I should feel guilty for crafting a way of living my life that I’ve found makes me feel the most happy and healthy. I recently started going to counseling again, and I’m discovering that a lot of struggles in my personal life have been caused by my feeling like I always have to be the hero, and tying my performance and how I can please others to my worth and value.

Unfortunately, this is a trap that creatives can fall into professionally as well. Especially when we maybe aren’t the wealthiest, it is easy to feel incredibly guilty for saying no to a project or opportunity no matter how poor a fit it may be. The perception is often that we should be grabbing onto every piece of money or exposure we can get our hands on, and be eternally grateful for every opportunity that comes our way regardless of whether it really makes sense to take it or not. This whole “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality is not the way to build a life worth living, because the power is always in our hands regardless of our current status.

So, here is your daily reminder that you actually are allowed to say no! Trust me, I am reminding myself just as much as I am reminding all of you!

  • You are allowed to say no to projects that don’t align with your mission and values.¬†
    • Some projects are going to end up selling something you don’t support, whether that’s an idea or mindset or a person or product. You are not being judgmental or impolite by simply saying, “You know, this really just isn’t for me, I’d suggest you find another artist.” I found myself in a situation once where a longtime client asked me to create a small political piece. It wasn’t anything hateful, but it was celebrating a political figure that I really did not agree with. I was so concerned with offending a client that I’d developed a great rapport with that I accepted, even though inside my unease was through the roof. I told myself I do art to make people happy and if this was going to make someone happy, it was ok. Still, the discomfort just kept ramping up every time I sat down to get started. I ended up having to be honest and tell my client that because of my own personal opinions and beliefs I would not feel comfortable taking on this commission. It was a long, awkward conversation and they were a bit offended at first, but at the end of the day any tension blew over and we still were able to maintain a working relationship. Say a client wasn’t willing to work through something like this, do you really want to work with someone who treats you like a machine and is willing to force you to take on work that you don’t feel comfortable with? As a creative, you are your own brand and you do have to think about what your body of work, including commissions, says to the rest of the world.
  • You are allowed to say no if taking on a project would exceed your preferred workload.
    • No one else is allowed to tell you how to structure your life. You know how much you can handle at once in¬†your business. Everyone functions at different capacities, and that’s ok. Just because you have the time, doesn’t mean you have to give it. I have had to reach the point of complete burnout to learn that I need to create margin in my life, which can be hard to do as someone who is partially or fully freelance. When you don’t have a “clock-in/clock-out” sort of job your life can easily become 24/7 work to the expense of your relationships, hobbies, and own mental health. Actively think about how many free hours you want to have each week, and make sure you get them. You are not lazy for wanting time to yourself to relax and enjoy life, and don’t need to play the comparison game. Some people need a bigger margin of downtime than others to function well, and you know your brain better than anyone else.
  • You are allowed to say no to projects that are outside of your preferred skill set or area of interest.
    • A lot of times people assume that when someone is an artist, they can do anything and everything related to art and creativity. While many creatives do dabble in a variety of artistic pursuits, no one is good at everything. It doesn’t do you or your potential client any good for you to force yourself to bumble through a project that is outside your area of interest and/or expertise. Trust me, I’ve tried. If you have a network of other creative friends or acquaintances with different skill sets than you, this is a great opportunity to throw them some work by recommending them to the client as an alternate option. Chances are, they’ll do the same for you in the future!
  • You are allowed to say no to projects or opportunities that put you in an environment you aren’t comfortable with.¬†
    • Toxic work environments are the worst, and unfortunately they can happen in any field including creative work. There is something to be said for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone every once in awhile, but if the people and environment a current project or opportunity requires you to be around is becoming soul crushing and making you hate doing something you once enjoyed, then it’s time to go. Any job that crushes your passion for your craft is not worth it; know when to say, “Well, I tried it!” and move on.
  • You are allowed to say no to projects that don’t have an equitable payout.
    • Art is very personal to me so I¬†hate talking about money in relation to creating. However, if art is part of how you make a living then you have to view it through the lens of, every other field gets compensated for their time and expertise. Being compensated at all can’t be the only goal though, you also need to be compensated fairly. If you don’t really think about how you price out your work, you could end up working for less than minimum wage. I often will give friends and family a deal, and enjoy donating my time and skills to charitable efforts that enhance my community. However, I have had to sadly turn down potential clients whose amount they were willing to pay would not near cover the cost of my time and materials even with giving them a deal. I want art to be accessible to all, but I also have bills to pay like anyone else. I’ve gotten burned in the past accepting $50 for about 10-12 hours of work, and quite honestly that’s just not ok. Be generous, but also know your worth.

Closing doors can have such negative connotations, but by closing the doors that you weren’t meant to walk through you free up your time for the doors that are going to open up a vibrant new world. None of us can do it all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Set boundaries, create how you want to create, and love yourself.

 

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Art Discussion, Artist Bio

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!

whole heart orig brighten

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 :).

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