Creativity, Courage, ​and Community

The 3 ‘C’ words that have made the difference between surviving and thriving in my life.

Without enough of them, I feel bored, fearful and isolated. With them, I feel limitless, excited and loved.

It has taken me a long time to figure this out but now that I have, I purposefully look for opportunities to cultivate the 3 Cs in my life every single day.  When presented with a choice, no matter how mundane the issue is, there is an answer that is based on prioritizing the 3 Cs or avoiding them.  It is so simple now that I see it, but simple does not mean easy. Actually, it is usually the opposite. Choosing the known, well-traveled route is usually easier because it does not require standing out or taking risks.  But in my experience, the results usually match the input.

When I purposefully make a choice based on my own creativity, being brave enough to be afraid and take action anyway,  and risking sticking out from the crowd is when I feel the most aligned with the world and my purpose and somehow feel more connected to others.  It is the antithesis of what one might expect, and even though I have doubts every single time I must make a choice, the results are clear.  Choosing to trust my own inner voice, my own creative thoughts, lead me to have experiences and connect with people with whom inspire me and help me build the community in which I thrive (and I believe others can too).

When I refer to creativity I am not only referring to artistic pursuits, but rather the whole scope of creative thought, innovation, and imagination. Whether or not a person has artistic interests, they can still lead incredibly creative lives; one is not dependent on the other. However, in my experience the more I experiment with creative hobbies and bringing art into my life, the more I am able to think creatively in all areas of my life.  For example, problem-solving and decision making are daily tasks that can be overwhelming and frustrating and happen multiple times.  In the past,  I would sometimes get so overwhelmed with daily dilemmas that I would just want to stay in bed and hide under the covers.  I felt unable to make a decision or find a solution that was satisfactory and this certainly contributed to my depression and anxiety. But as I explored creative hobbies, I was simultaneously able to think of things I may not have considered before when faced with a problem and find solutions I may not have ever even heard of before. I began to feel empowered and even excited about the possibilities.

So now I practice being more intentional in my artistic pursuits. I use the time to practice listening to my own thoughts, experiment with doing things differently and challenging my self-talk when I find myself doubting my own ability or instincts. It is like a muscle that when used regularly gets stronger and functions better. I now find that I am able to tap into this strength when I need the courage to do something that is scary or daunting.

The best part of this whole process has been the sense of community that has resulted. I have always had made friends easily, but as an adult, I have found it more difficult to build and maintain genuine and meaningful relationships.  But in the last few years, since being more open to new and creative living, I have met so many more interesting and inspiring people and made genuine friendships.  And now I have repeatedly experienced the benefits of living a life with more creativity and courage, I am excited to share them with others. I believe that practicing creative pursuits (regardless of the medium) in a safe and comfortable environment we can practice the same skills needed to live more creative and courageous lives and who doesn’t want that?

I am currently offering a workshop on using rug hooking as the medium to explore this topic.  Although I plan to create an online version, for now, I am offering the workshop in Ottawa.   I would love to hear about your experience with how creativity or artistic pursuits have impacted your life, please feel free to comment or message me.

For more info follow this link:  Explore Creativity and Courage with Rug Hooking 

This is a unique workshop to explore the link between how we approach creativity and how we can intentionally improve our own self-confidence and self-talk with crafts.
I will teach beginner rug hooking with yarn, as we also explore our beliefs about creativity, observe our self-talk and experiment with following our intuition instead of our rational thought. This workshop is focussed on “process over product”, but you will leave with the basic skills required for rug hooking.

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Concurring Emotions Are Exhausting

I am packing for a trip to Scotland as we leave in just a few days. I am SO excited, my suitcase is almost ready to go, laundry being done, checklist almost complete. And YET I am on day 5 of a really bad headache (the type where my head feels like it is being filled with a heavy gaseous substance that is pushing against my skull like a balloon expanding but there is no room to stretch so it might explode at any moment).  It’s been at least 3 nights that I have not been able to fall asleep till the wee hours of the morning and only wake up feeling more tired and miserable than the night before (and yet still counting the days till we leave).

I wish I could say this was unusual for me, to have such contrasting emotions simultaneously, but it is not.  I can be both terrified, excited and grateful at the same time, or perhaps I just move from one to the other at the speed of light and therefore just going back and forth in nanoseconds?  I’m really not sure. I just know it can be overwhelming and exhausting.

Luckily, this isn’t always the case. I do have moments when I can feel a wave of emotion come over me that is all-encompassing and that is usually when I am quiet,  well rested, well fed. It is an overall feeling of wellbeing, a sense of contentment.  I love these moments and I now actively seek more of them.  I usually have these moments when I am laughing with my family, or rug hooking, or horseback riding. And yet these are the hardest things for me to do when I have a terrible headache and no energy.

Do you have this issue? Any tips on how to narrow the gap between contrasting emotions?

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Artist unknown

Expanding Horizons for this Blog and for Me

I started this blog to share my experience with mental health issues with the hope that  I could help others feel less alone. To change the conversation about depression and anxiety and PTSD to a more honest and accepting. I still hope it does that, but it is much harder than I thought. Getting my thoughts clear enough to share in writing is a challenge for me, one I don’t always feel up for.  I get overwhelmed with ideas and possible topics that even narrowing them down to start writing feels impossible.  And feeling overwhelmed often leads to feeling inept and it just goes downhill from there.

I am told that to have a successful blog I should narrow my focus, find my niche and create a plan. I know this is good advice, but it simply doesn’t work for me, at least not now. So I have decided to expand my focus of what I share with my “Thriving in a Crazy World”  community as I believe it is all part of my journey to improved mental and physical health.  I am not going to assume I know what you (the reader) wants from me, but simply offer what I can and you can take from it what you like.  Specifically, I am going to share more about my creative passions and my adventures. Because as I have allowed these two areas of my life to expand, my sense of wellbeing and belonging has also expanded.

*Since I am such a visual person, I love sharing photos and brief thoughts on Facebook and Instagram, so please follow me there if you’d like to stay connected on a more regular basis.

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Cultivating Hope

Optimistic people believe that no matter how bad things may be at the moment, things will work out somehow and they will get through it. Pessimistic people can feel like the world is out to get them and they do not have any hope that their lives will improve. Most of us find ourselves fluctuating somewhere between these two states. When life is going relatively smoothly, our ability to be hopeful increases as we have obvious proof that life can be good. However, when we are facing multiple challenges and we feel like our ability to cope with them is insufficient, it is only natural that it eats away at our ability to be hopeful.  The good news is that the fact that our level of hopefulness can change over time based on how we are feeling proves that we have some power in increasing our own sense of hopefulness.

Since I have found myself at both ends of the spectrum at various points of my life, I have had the opportunity to recognize that the more hopeful I am, the better I am able to cope and ultimately improve my situation and how I feel about it.  I am able to problem solve better, to look and ask for the right supports, to trust in my own abilities and to take the steps needed to get to where I want to go. So I have come to the conclusion that finding ways to cultivate more hope in my life,  directly impacts my ability to cope with life’s challenges which ultimately allows me to thrive. And isn’t that what we all want?

I believe that we all have the ability to increase our sense of hopefulness if we choose to. Just like working out our bodies to stay healthy and be stronger, we can work out our minds for our mental health.  It does require a sincere desire to make some mental shifts and a commitment to staying open to new possibilities, but it is not as difficult as we may sometimes believe.

If you would like to explore this topic further and how you can add more hope to your life, I am co-hosting a workshop near Ottawa, Ontario on March 24th, 1-3:30, with Jackie Leduc at her Yoga Studio in Cumberland.  The cost is $35 and is limited to 8 participants.

For more info or reserve your spot, email me at RobinLWhitford@gmail.com

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Questioning Can Ease Anxiety

It is no surprise that I have issues with anxiety. Sometimes it pops up in my body for no logical reason, at at least nothing I can put my finger on. It can make my heart pound and make me feel like the sky is falling, when in fact nothing of notice has happened around me.  Other times, I know why I am anxious but still feel powerless on managing it.  I call this ‘reasonable’ anxiety as they are times when I have to go somewhere new, or meet with people or do something I am not confident about. All these things can make my stomach churn and my head hurt.  I call them reasonable because pretty much anyone I have ever talked to will say that these things cause some degree of anxiety, it’s a normal response. However the degree to which these are felt in our bodies can vary greatly and for someone like me, they can be overwhelming.  Sometimes my body is just letting me know that it is not something I  want to be doing and therefore I may choose not to. However, when it is something I actually want or simply really need to do, there is a very simple solution (simple does not mean easy) and it has to do with asking questions and getting answers.

For example, I have enjoyed yoga classes since I was a teenager. I used to sign up for classes wherever I lived and whenever my budget allowed. However, I had not been to a class for the last 5 years until very recently. I had told myself it was because I could practice it at home, I didn’t need a class, they are expensive etc.  But deep down I knew that I would enjoy a class if I could just find the right one, but just that thought stressed me out.  So I took baby steps. I first thought about what it was about classes that I liked, which ones I had liked most and what was it that they had in common?   Then I went looking online for places near me that seemed to match with my ideal. There were a few, but one stood out as I had met the owner at other events in the past. She seemed friendly and approachable (things that are important to me as a yoga teacher) so I emailed her. I decided to tell her straight away that I was anxious about starting a new class and that in order to make me feel more comfortable I had some questions. Things like where do I park? Where/when do we go in? What do I need to bring? Simple stuff really,  but things that would ease my mind and help get me out the door on the first day.  She promptly replied in detail so I had a good picture of what to expect.  There was no tone of ‘why the heck are you asking me these silly questions?’ as I had imagined. So I immediately signed up.

On the first day, I arrived incredibly early (not knowing exactly how long the drive would take me) and I went to the wrong door (the studio is part of her home). Again, she didn’t laugh or make a big deal, and I didn’t freak out.  I felt confident that she was not out to judge or ridicule me, which now that I look back was the main question I was indirectly asking in my first email.  It is important for me to feel that if I am going to spend time and energy on doing something new, I need to feel safe.  So although I was reasonably anxious that first day, it was a normal response to the situation and I was able to enjoy the class.

Had I not asked the questions, and she not so graciously answered them, I would not likely have shown up at all.  Now I go twice a week and feel like I’ve expanded my circle just a little bit wider (which is a current goal of mine).   So now, whenever possible, I am asking more questions (to myself and others) and I am happy to report it really can help ease anxiety.

*In case you are in the east end of Ottawa Ontario and looking for a great yoga studio,  I recommend connecting with Jackie Leduc  (and asking her your questions).

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‘Crazy’ Dreams Can Come True

Five years ago I had to take long-term leave from work and ended up on disability because I was suffering from major depression and anxiety. They had basically taken over most of my life without me really knowing what was happening. I could not get through a day without napping at least once. Taking a shower felt like running a marathon and even brushing my teeth was a chore that I dreaded. I never thought that this could happen to me. I was an optimistic person, had a loving family, took care of myself, did yoga, and was very committed to my job helping other military families.
Thankfully I had a doctor who saw the signs before I did and was able to help me find a good psychologist.  With their help, the right medication, and several months of recuperating,  I was eventually able to see things differently.  I thought that if this could happen to me, then maybe other ‘crazy’ things could happen too.
Once I started to feel better (ie. I could stay awake all day) I decided I was going to do things differently and try the things I always wanted to. I figured I had nothing to lose after feeling like I’d lost the respect of so many people around me with the loss of my career. My self-esteem was at an all-time low and yet I felt a new found freedom to do whatever I wanted. 
Ever since I was little, I wanted to be an artist. But when it came time to choose a major in university, fine arts seemed too risky. I didn’t want to be a ‘starving artist’ and I was afraid I wasn’t good enough to be successful. But after leaving work and having time on my hands,  I started to take art classes and eventually turned my dining room into my art studio. This in itself was huge for me. But yesterday I went one step further; I applied for my first juried art show. The other paintings that I saw blew me away and I was tempted to turn around and run home. But I stuck it out and even if I am not accepted into this show, I will keep trying.
The other dream that felt pretty crazy to me was that I took up horseback riding after not having been on a horse for almost 30 years. I took weekly lessons for over year riding the school horses, but I couldn’t help but think how awesome it would be to have our own horse for my daughter and I to share. This seemed really crazy to me (and a few people around me), but I focused on the fact that crazy things can happen. It was only a few months later that Red came into our lives. He had been well cared for but his owner was no longer able to ride him and she was happy to find him a loving new home.  Red is truly a dream come true.
I don’t want to imply that things are all rosy and whatever I dream up comes true. But really crazy things, things we think are impossible, may not always be.  Our mind wants to keep us safe and avoid disappointment, but unfortunately allowing ourselves to ‘think small’ will keep our lives small. So now my goal is to dream big and see what happens.
Do you dream big? I highly recommend trying it!

‘Doing’ Verses ‘Being’ and Other Irrational Thoughts

About 10 days ago my lower back began to ache, then the ache turned into sharp pains and overall agony. Now hurts to the point that getting out of bed is a challenge and getting showered and dressed is a feat in itself, nevermind actually ‘doing’ anything.  I’ve done everything people normally recommend: rest, massage, heating pad, visited my doctor and I am also now seeing an osteopath. But I still have pain and every time I go to get up, sit down, or basically move at all, I am hurting. I thought I was pretty good at dealing with pain; I can get through headaches that last for days and still get my laundry done and make dinner. I used to have stomach aches and cramps almost every morning but I still get to work on time.  But this pain is different. No matter how hard I try to distract myself from it, I seem to have no control over my reflexes and my reflexes apparently react very strongly to shooting pain.  The only thing I can really do is rest.

But isn’t rest is supposed to come after doing something? I earn my rest for accomplishing things. When I worked 9-5, I earned my lazy evenings and weekends, it was never an issue. When I could no longer work, I found myself focusing on laundry, dishes, groceries or baking. Once I did something on my list,  I could rest without guilt. I rationalized this so that I could maintain my sense of order.  I now see that I have this ingrained, irrational belief that people need to do ‘their part’ to earn they place (impossible for me to define for others, but it is very clear to me when I don’t do mine). I don’t know if it is nurture or nature, but regardless it is very real in my mind. This started to be clear to me when I had to give up my career, I felt immense shame from no longer contributing to my community or feeling productive as I had done for years. I came up with a new system of doing small tasks throughout the day so I could feel productive, albeit in a different way. I eventually accepted this as my new norm. But this backache has taken it to a whole new level.

I think this time it wouldn’t be such a problem if I knew it was only going to last a few days or even weeks. I could just let things go and know I’ll get back on my feet quickly. But as it gets close to 2 weeks, things are starting to pile up, literally.  Even though everyone is my house contributes to the maintenance of it, I take on my share of chores. This has worked out as it fulfills my need to feel productive. But now that I can’t even do those things, I realize how attached I still am to the belief that I need to ‘do my part’ to earn my downtime.

This belief is so powerful that I find myself sliding down a slippery slope of negative self-talk. “What good am I if I can’t ‘do’ anything?”  “I will become a burden if this continues?”  And then the dreaded “what will people think?” mantra starts repeating in my mind.

I feel like I need a quick ‘productivity’ fix to stop these pointless thoughts from whirling around and making me feel worse than I already do.

Even as I write this I secretly hope (or not so secretly) that I will get a sense of accomplishment by writing. However, I also feel my eyelids are getting heavy and that I could likely nap if I allowed myself to close my eyes. But how can I rest when I haven’t done anything today?   So do I try to push through in the hope that I come up with some inspiring conclusion of how I will get over this slump?  Well, I don’t. So perhaps I should just nap and hope my back feels better tomorrow.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Stop Trying to Change Who You Are

If you are born with short legs, or big feet or any other physical trait that you don’t particularly like or doesn’t fit with the current trends, you may complain about it and wish they were different but you likely not to spend too much time or energy on trying to change it. And if you did worry about it, the people that care about you would probably tell you it’s just the way you were born and they love you that way.

However, if you are born with a tendency towards being very introverted, anxious or melancholy then well-intentioned people often show concern and offer suggestions on ways to improve these aspects of your self.  For the shy child, we try to get them to come out of their shell. Or the sad and teary child, we try to cheer up. Or even the loud or hyper child, we try to quiet them down.

So what can be learned from this? Is it that big feet are not your fault and don’t hinder your life, and therefore don’t need to be ‘fixed’?  But a person born with personality traits that don’t fit in the spectrum of ‘preferable person’ (whatever that means to you), efforts should be made to improve the aspects seen as lacking?  Of course, no one overtly says this, but I still believe that most of us hear it loud and clear.

As a child, I remember commenting to my mom that she would act differently when different people were around. She did not seem happy with me commenting on this observation as if it was some kind of secret that I shouldn’t speak of, and then she simply said I was making something out of nothing. I also remember from my high school and university days how I tried so hard to ‘fit in’ with the fun crowd; laugh at their jokes, or pretend to be interested in the latest gossip.  I spent a lot of energy on trying to be more like other people because I believed that there was something wrong, or at least not desirable, about who I was (or the way I was born). I would wonder what was wrong with me and how can I fix it.

No one told me I should act differently or be like someone else. In fact, I had a very loving family growing up and I had more freedom than most to explore who I was. But somehow I still got the message (and I believed it) that what was going on in my mind and my natural tendency towards soul searching, meditation and emotionality, were not traits to be celebrated.  Even now that I know this is not true, I can still occasionally find myself trying to ‘fit in’. It is not an easy lesson to unlearn especially since our society still seems to prefer certain types of behaviors in certain groups of people.

Sometimes I wonder if all this ‘acting’ didn’t contribute to my eventual breakdown and major depression five years ago.  I could only sustain this appearance of good mom, wife, daughter, friend, employee/ manager for so long, especially when my husband was struggling with PTSD and I was struggling to care for him and our kids.

I also wonder if this isn’t part of what’s causing the increased rates of depression and anxiety that we are seeing in our communities today.  If we are feeling the need to hide parts of ourselves only to bolster others or act one way with some people and another with others, this is not sustainable. It is confusing enough to figure out who we truly are and want to be in life without having to think about what everyone else expects from us. IMG_0588

Justification for ‘Good Person’ Status

Since I was a kid I really liked ginger ale, however, since I try to minimize my sugar intake and it is full of sugar, it’s not something I usually have in the house. But while at the grocery store last week I saw it on sale and spontaneously bought it (thanks to good product placement).  So when my teen saw it in the fridge she asked ‘what’s the special occasion?’ jokingly.  I immediately said it was on a special, even though I don’t think she expected an answer.  No big deal, right? But why did I have to explain why I bought such a simple thing? Would it have been somehow unacceptable had I bought it at full price? Certainly not to my daughter or anyone else I care about.

Unfortunately, no matter how many times I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think of me or my choices, I am apparently still stuck in this cycle of trying to predict people’s thoughts and planning an acceptable response.

I first had a clue this was an issue for me when our kids were little, about 15years ago when we decided to buy a minivan. We only had a small car and it could not fit a 3rd booster seats in the back seat, so I could never drive any of my kids’ friends anywhere (since they use booster seats till they’re almost in high school these days this was very frustrating).  That was my justification for the minivan. But when we finally found one that met our needs, it had leather seats.  Oh, and they were heated leather seats.  How could I justify this? Well, it was a used van with low mileage, in good shape, in our price range and there weren’t many around.  But leather?  And heated? That seemed like a luxury that was beyond me (at the time I was a stay-at-home mom married to a corporal in the army). My husband convinced me that it was a good van for us so we did end up buying it. But I couldn’t justify it no matter how I tried. So although I didn’t recognize the feeling at the time,  I never felt good about that vehicle and was relieved when we sold it several years later. Now that I look back, I can see that the feeling was shame.  I had unconsciously decided it was an unnecessary luxury and one I did not deserve. No one ever said this to me, or even implied it, but somehow I did not feel deserving of such a vehicle and therefore could not feel good about having it.

I don’t expect to understand or agree with other peoples life choices nor do I expect them to explain their choices to me.  I believe in a “live and let live” philosophy, and yet that’s not the end of the story. I still find myself trying to justify myself even when no one is expecting or asking me to. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that most people really don’t care about what I’m doing or buying, they have their own lives to worry about after all. But knowing that is obviously not enough to end this pattern.

So why am I sharing this?  Simply because I can no longer deny it’s impact my overall mental health and I am quite sure I am not alone.  This pattern of thought implies that we do not feel worthy just for being ourselves. That we feel a need to justify why ‘we do what we do’ and that our personal feelings are not sufficient reasons. As if there is some imaginary board of examiners that will decide if our choices are acceptable (whatever that means to you) and if we get to keep our ‘good person’ status (or whatever your preferred status is).  I know this sounds ridiculous and intellectually I know it’s absurd, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it less real.

Have you found yourself wondering what people might think when making a decision? Or justifying your choices even if they do not affect anyone else?

PS. I am not looking to get your support or seeking reminders that I am worthy.  This is just an old pattern I’m aware of and working towards changing.

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Photo by Aaditya Arora on Pexels.com

Are You The Person I’m Writing To?

It has been months since I shared anything new here and I finally figured out why. In the spring I received some supportive and thoughtful messages about how some of my posts had helped people feel less alone. It was validating and should have encouraged me to keep writing.  Instead,  my anxiety lied to me (which it likes to do) and my thoughts turned those comments into something they were never intended to be. I started to worry that what I was writing was not good enough, or was not well written, or might be misunderstood. I worried that I needed to make sure everything I shared was meaningful and worthwhile. That I had a responsibility to help people, and therefore if I didn’t help them, I could hurt them.  As time went on, it became even harder to think of sharing my thoughts. I figured I had nothing really valuable or worthwhile to say. That there were better blogs and better writers.

However,  something clicked in my mind when I was writing in my journal at 5am this morning (some mornings I can’t get up and other mornings I can’t stay in bed). I asked myself why I had started a blog and why I would want to continue writing it, or if in fact I did want to continue.  The answer was clear. I write for the person I was 5 years ago. The woman who felt alone and misunderstood. The woman who wanted to talk about what she considered to be a mess in her mind but didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  The woman who feared that there was no way out, but at the same time knew she didn’t want to continue living this way. The woman who was ready to make changes if there was a possibility of improvement. The woman who wanted to be ok with not being like everyone else.  She didn’t want her mental health issues preventing her from living a good, if not a great life, even if she had no idea what to do next.  She was determined not to give up (even though it was very tempting at times).

The person I am writing to does not care about my grammar, or if I write about things that may be regarded as silly or strange to some people.  This blog is not for those people.  They also except that I am doing the best I can and that I am here to share my journey. I am not a teacher or leader or expert, rather just someone on a similar journey.

So if you think you are that person I am grateful you found your way here, and please stay tuned for more regular posts. If you know someone who might also appreciate reading my blog,  please share it with them. 2CynbRoPTACXp2%0Igftrw