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Lifting Winter Spirits

I’ve struggled with varying degrees of winter blues since I was little. In elementary school, I remember feeling sad and crying in the winter for now reason, and after I moved out of my parents’ house to be a grown-up, winter meant crazy depression, anxiety, and emotional eating. Lots and lots of emotional eating.

I’ve learned that there’s a space in between completely dropping into that dark place and wasting my energy fighting through it. Winter is my time to slow way down and rearrange my priorities.

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Last winter I fought it and denied it. I also whined about it. The winter before that, I let it completely steamroll me. So far this year, I’ve settled into that in-between space pretty nicely and I’ve learned a few things that seem to be working well so far.

My new favorite winter survival tips, in no particular order:

  • Eat lots of colors and citrus fruits. Something about an orange or some spicy red onion in my salad really perks up my mood. Also, eating salad is good. I tend to crave heavy, carby, fatty foods that don’t make me feel good if I eat them too much, but eating wintery salads keeps me in touch with my body’s signals for hunger, fullness, and what I need to eat. Or get back in touch with those signals.
  • Happy music-keeps my energy and mood up. Christmas music is great, but I also have a happy playlist on my iPod that keeps me going. I also love calming, uplifting music like Krishna Das. It also gets me in the mood to do yoga, which is always a good thing. On the flip side, watch out for depressing music.  Sometimes we tend to “mood match” with music, but that doesn’t help a gloomy mood.
  • Keep busy, but relax too. I’ve noticed there are two sides to winter blues: gloomy moods and low energy. Staying busy helps the gloomy part, but getting enough rest is the best way to handle the fatigue. If I’m gloomy and tired, then a hot bath and early bedtime might be the best thing I can do. If I just need a mood boost but have a little steam left, I put on fun music and scrub the floor. Nothing gets me off the couch like Gangnam Style. That song is my secret happy mood weapon. Yes, it is on my happy playlist.
  •  I practice positive affirmations and gratitude every day, usually on my walk to work.
  •  Take vitamin D, drink my raw milk. Gotta get those nutrients.
  • Don’t guilt trip myself for not eating or exercising perfectly, or for being “lazy” (i.e. needing to rest).
  • Enjoy the contrast and perks of winter: Layering, hearty soups, herbal tea, cozy blankets and good books, hot baths,  snow days. I’ll miss them when it’s 95 degrees outside and all I can stand to eat is watermelon.
  •  Pamper myself by taking a hot bath as soon as I get home from work. That warms me up and calms me down, without fail. Until I get the gas bill.
  • Take a walk in the middle of the day when the sun is highest, if I can. If not, I don’t feel bad. Do what you can.

Thought this is the darkest time of the year, I’m happy to report that I’m actually doing ok. Sure, my energy is lagging and I have some gloomy days, but overall I’m enjoying myself. Above all, I found that the most important thing is to make peace with the fact that I’m not as productive this time of year. I don’t create as much, my homemaking duties tend to get neglected, but that’s ok.

It’s about enjoying life, not fighting.

 

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Creative Funks

So, I know I’ve been pretty absent around her for the past few weeks. A lot has happened. I’ve sold a couple of small paintings, had strep throat, met a rattlesnake on a hike, and turned 24. My domain even expired while I wasn’t looking! I haven’t been online much at all, and I’m actually ok with that. Sometimes we need to unplug.

Most of the reason I’ve been gone is because I’ve been in a serious creative funk lately. I’ve started a few new paintings but I’ve run into some walls with both of them. Nothing a little modeling paste and rethinking can’t fix, but walls nonetheless. I haven’t worked on my novel much, I haven’t been very active on Etsy, and my studio is such a disaster that I can barely fit in there.

It happens.

I figured I could either hide behind some fluffy posts or just take a break. I chose the latter, because I knew I’d be in the mood to post again soon.

So, about creative funks. I don’t like to call them “blocks” because it sounds like something outside of ourselves that’s causing us to avoid creating, but it’s really not. Nothing that has happened over the last few months could have inevitably blocked me, but a funk, now that feels more like the sticky, mucky, internal mess that this really is. I picture it as getting stuck in molasses or tar; the gunk that clogs up our creative channels if we don’t clear it out in time. That gunk will always come, but it can either get stuck or pass through fairly painlessly.

In the past few months, I’ve uncovered and run into rejection, shock, the possibility of major change, shame, anxiety, guilt, regret, and all kinds of stuff that loves to gunk up our creativity like a giant hairball in a drain. This all came on fairly quickly and I didn’t really allow myself the time or means to move it out before it congealed. I avoided talking or thinking about it and instead read a bunch of (amazing) books, busied myself with household chores (my apartment is still a mess somehow), organized my ever-growing Pinterest boards so I can access my inspiration easier, and taking lots of walks. I knew that funk was there, but I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I’d let myself think about it in passing moments, tiny bites at a time because the whole elephant just seemed like too much.

I haven’t nailed down a surefire way to get out of these creative funks, but I do know that our spirits and therefore creativity are an ecosystem as delicate and complex as any rainforest, and all the little elements need to be there and working together in order for the whole to function properly. The extinction of one insect, the absence of one seemingly trivial ritual can potentially throw the whole system out of whack. Life is far too messy to balance properly, but we can make sure that the necessary things get taken care of. Creativity is a delicate little creature that needs proper care to survive. ”

Real” artists aren’t exempt from this. All creators struggle to keep their systems balanced, though some may have themselves figured out more than others. So, my solution for my creative funk is to do what I can to restore the environment in which my creativity can thrive. This means different things for different people, but for me it means making space for “creative playtime”, reading inspirational things like Laura Hollick’s blog or The Artist’s Way, and making sure to connect with myself by journaling and daydreaming instead of filling every free second with other reading or Minesweeper.

This morning, I’m planning to take myself shopping for art supplies with the rest of my birthday money and then having some creative playtime before I go to work. The thought of artmaking actually terrifies me at the moment, but I know that bribing myself with some new toys from the art supply store will coax me out of my shell. Whatever happens in the studio today will be ok, even if I completely ruin whatever I’m working on, make something wonderful, discover that I want to go in a completely different direction, bawl my eyes out, whatever. It’s all ok.

The Season of Reflection

“Misunderstood” by Jude Harzer

This is my experimental winter. I’ve had winter blues since I was a child, but this year I decided to accept it and observe it rather than feel angry.

I’ve learned to accept that this is my slower time of year, that this season is for contemplating and reflecting. I do a lot of that in the summer too, but it’s different.

I’ve realized that winter is when all my inner garbage comes to the surface. Any buried fears, hurts, loneliness, anger, or pain of any sort comes out. For years I’ve stuffed it down with food and denial, and while I’ve done my fair share of emotional eating this winter, I’ve also done a lot of “cleaning.”Issues that I thought I’d resolved and pains I didn’t even know were there are floating up for me to work with. They lift their heads and say “here I am!” and even though they seem like ugly little suckers at first, they all have something valuable to teach me. When I learn, I reap the peace and freedom that comes from letting go, and enjoy it all summer long until the next round of “trash picking” arrives. It’s like rebreaking bones so they’ll set properly. It’s painful and liberating. I know that dealing with these feelings authentically is the only way to move past them.

I’ve understood this for awhile now, but I’m writing about it now because the biggest monster of all has risen to the surface, past hurts lodged deep inside. I’ve had a massive headache all day long and I feel exhausted because  haven’t taken the time to sit with him, hear what he needs me to know, and send him on his way. My deepest, slimiest, most gripping fear has come to visit. I doubt this is the last time I’ll see him, but I can feel that our relationship is about to change.

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. I think everyone does to some degree, but not many of us realize it. It’s terrifying and painful when our deep hurts rise up for us to see. We numb them out, we shut our eyes, we pretend they aren’t there, but they don’t leave until they’re acknowledged. Sometimes we call this depression, or a bad day, or getting “triggered.” These times come in all shapes and forms.

Notice when these times come to you. You’ll probably feel tense or grumpy, maybe weepy, you may feel physical discomforts, maybe all of the above like me. Don’t fear it. Meet your monsters, listen to them, and part as friends (or at least call a truce).

Enjoy the peace of letting go.

What Feeds You?

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you know that I’ve had problems with compulsive eating in the past. I’m not one of those people who wastes away when I’m upset; quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve spent lots of time researching the various genetic, nutritional, hormonal, emotional, and cognitive reasons for this and have taken steps to balance them, this tendency still pops up from time to time.

For most of the past year, I’ve had a good handle on eating intuitively. I lost 30 pounds last summer and felt free from any kind of food obsession. I felt fabulous.

I’ve been pretty munchy for the past couple months, especially the last few weeks, and I have a little bit of a “winter coat,” though I’m pretty confident it will go away in the spring. In the meantime, the couple extra pounds don’t really bother me, but the thoughts do. I don’t like thinking about food all the time. I’d rather think about art, writing, Sam, my friends, or just have a clear head sometimes. I don’t like it when food seems like the most comforting, exciting thing in my life. In the week before a party or planned dinner out, the thoughts of food keep popping in my head and don’t go away. I know this isn’t entirely under my control and that certain parts of my brain tend to be overactive, which is why I get “stuck” on certain thoughts (I’ve put lots of research into this.)

To a certain extent though, I can observe this happening and even talk back to these thoughts. One tactic I’ve been using lately is to think “What is feeding me today?”

If the only enjoyable parts of my day revolved around food, I know one of two things. Either I’m experiencing fear and avoiding thinking about something, or I’m not caring for my spirit.

This is tricky, because it changes every day. I love walks most days, but some days I’d rather paint, or read a book. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my cat and write in my journal. Once in awhile I want to go out with friends, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I’m just sad and need some comfort from something other than cookies. The other day, a snap of beautiful weather filled me like nothing I’ve felt in months.

If you struggle with food or any other compulsion, ask yourself what you get out of it and what you’re really missing. Can you give yourself what you really need? Is something off with your mood? Do you need more excitement or challenges in your life? Have you taken time to pursue your own interests? Do you take time for rest?

I’m still getting the hang of this, and I’m learning to eat intuitively during the winter and deal with low moods authentically rather than numbing them. This is a useful tool that I’m learning to use. I feed my body when it needs it, but I also try to feed my spirit just as often, with spiritual “meals” of walking outside, connecting with others, creating, and a little dash of adventure now and again.

Has anyone else had experience with this?

Looking Forward with Hope

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Today is Groundhog Day. Today, millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere start thinking about spring if they haven’t been already.

I certainly don’t trust a rodent to predict the weather, but I’m certainly thinking about spring. It’s February. We’re well on the downhill. That means that next month is March. I’ll see daffodils next month. Even though the seasons seems to have been pushed back a month off schedule over the last few years, the days are getting longer and even though March will most likely be wintry, the flower beds will show signs of life. That special smell might even be in the air. You know the smell, that special excitement that you can’t really put your finger on. I’ve been able to trick myself into feeling that for a moment a few times this winter, when I’m high in my office at work and I can’t see the ground, only the blue sky.

I remember feeling that feeling, smelling that small for the first time after a particularly nasty winter when I was 19. I’d just moved out of my parents’ house and I was living alone. If I’d been thinking straight, I never would have done that in February. I was lonely, depressed, and stressed out about school and my upcoming wedding. There was so much snow that I couldn’t really walk around my new neighborhood because the plows had piled the snow up over the sidewalks.

Then one day in March, the sun came out. By that time, the mounds of snow on the sidewalk had melted quite a bit and I could actually walk in sneakers instead of snowboots. Mothers threw their antsy kids outside to play. Kids playing outside always sounds like summer to me. I walked outside for hours that day. I even walked to the grocery store and bought green peppers to make chicken fajitas for dinner. It was a day of hopeful joy to interrupt a winter of sliding all over icy roads and taking five classes a day in a building with no windows.

It won’t be long before that special electricity starts to spark in the air again. Six weeks, according to the rat. That isn’t long. We’ll still have snow, or at least rain for awhile. It’ll still be cold, but at least the light will come back, and the flowers will come up.

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We’re on the home stretch.

A New Year’s Tradition for Growth

 

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I can’t believe how fast a year can go by. The days are long, but the years are short.

Today, before I take my Christmas tree down, make a pile of dip, and scoot off to a New Year’s Eve party, I’m going to take some quiet time for a special tradition that I started on a whim last year, and hope to continue for years to come.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed writing letters to my past and future selves. As kooky as it sounds, it really helps me with perspective, closure, goals, and self-love. You can read my letter to my 13-year-old self here and a self-love letter here. When I was 14, I wrote four letters for my future self to open and certain times: One for the end of ninth grade, one for college or high school graduation (can’t remember which), one for my wedding day, and one for the birth of my first child. That one still lives in a folder in my filing cabinet where my New Year’s letter will live for the next year.

I just read the letter I wrote to myself last year, and it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come. One year ago today, I was under a mountain of stress and beginning to feel the signs of burning out. My poor adrenal glands were pooped, my creative output was nil, and I was completely out of control around food. In fact, I just noticed that on that day, I wore the same jeans that I wear right now. They’re comfy now, but back then they fit like a sausage casing, and a few weeks later I couldn’t button them at all.

I was in a very different place, and I knew from reading that letter that I was reaching out to my future self out of desperation. I clung to the hope that the future held joy rather than the stagnation and depression I experienced. Here’s the last paragraph:

I read The 7 Habits o Highly Effective People and I imagined I met you. I don’t know if it was exactly you, but I hope you’re wiser than me. I hope you’re happier, stronger, and…I don’t want to say “better”, but I can’t think of a more accurate word. I write this because I want to somehow bridge the gap between us. I’m sure there’s quite a trek ahead of me and that you’ll be waiting for me at the other side. I’m still scared. 

See you there. 

When I leave you today, I’ll write a new letter. Though I have a clear vision of what I hope my life will be like in one year, I know that plans can change  in an instant and nothing goes according to plan anyway. I accept whatever changes I make , welcome the opportunities and challenges of the new year, and open my mind to the lessons 2012 holds. I’ll tell my future self where I am now so that then, no matter what happens, I can see how far I’ve come. I hope to grow as much in the coming year as I have this year.

You might think this is a fabulous idea, or you might think I’m a loon. Either way, why not give the letter thing a try? If nothing else, it’s fun. It’s almost like time travel.

I am grateful for the growth and joy I’ve experienced this year and  I welcome the challenges and opportunities 2012 has to offer.

Be safe tonight, and have a happy new year!

Wise Words: How to Be At Peace

If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the  present.

Lao Tzu

I really don’t need to add anything to that, but haven’t we all spent some time in all three places?

I’ve  struggled with both depression and anxiety, and the only way to let go of them was to learn to live in the present, which requires a great deal of trust. When we trust, we can let go of the future and focus on  now, because we know that things will work out.

When we don’t trust, we live in fear and scramble around trying to put the future together rather than let it come together the way it needs to.

I’ve thought about this quote many times lately as I constantly rein myself back into a mindset of love and trust instead of freaking out about what the future holds. Yes, the unknown is scary and overwhelming. Yes, we need to lay a foundation for a good future, and we absolutely should do a little planning ahead to help things run smoothly.

But anyone with any experience  know that things don’t always go as planned. In fact, they rarely go as planned.

So why try to force them?

Let go. Go for a walk. Watch the sun go down. Notice the abundance  and joy that exists in this moment, and know that things will always work out the way they need to, and that your job is to trust and love everyone.

It’s that simple.

The Handprint List: Two Huge Accomplishments

Today I finally checked two MAJOR items off my Handprint List:

Reach my natural ideal weight through intuitive eating and enjoyable movement.

Conquer my depression and anxiety

I’ve been working at these for years, struggling and learning all I could about myself and the causes of these issues so I could somehow solve the mystery of my mind and body.

I knew that these two were connected, that my eating habits and body were a reflection of what was going on in the inside. I put a ton of work into overcoming these obstacles, but eventually I realized that these issues had something to teach me, and they weren’t there to destroy me. They had to teach me about self-love and care, trust, gratitude, and courage.  I just had to let go and not try so hard to control everything around me.

Once I learned this, the demon fled.

I stopped eating  compulsively. I didn’t feel the dark shadow inside me anymore and I started writing and making art again. I felt grateful for what I had and for the lessons my struggles taught me. I didn’t think about food all the time. I felt like being social. The past few months have been amazing because I feel alive again and I can honestly say that I’m not depressed or anxious anymore even though my life is far from perfect.

The root of my disordered eating dissolved and I reached my natural weight in just a few months. I won’t post a picture of how I look now because A) I don’t have one at the moment, and B) I don’t think it’s necessary. I feel good and I think I look good too. I’ve defined my happy weight before, and my eating and activity level feels perfect to me right now.

Eating and emotional states aren’t static though. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never have the urge to overeat again or that I won’t have days or weeks when I struggle with my emotions. This means that I feel like I have the tools to handle things right now, that I’m comfortable enough to examine my emotions so they don’t harm me. I know that I tend to turn to food when I feel off on a deep level, and I can use that tendency as my personal alarm bell.

I could be jumping up and down excited. I’ve had those moments. I used to get super excited whenever I lost weight, and I know I was the last time I had reached this weight, but I actually feel calm. Peaceful. Grateful. I imagined fireworks and choirs of angels when I reached this point, but it’s more like waking up from a really nice nap and just relishing the delicious feeling of knowing that you have the rest of the day to lay there in the sunny room if you want, or you can meet friends for dinner, or go for a walk if you want. Anything is possible now.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Being Creative Enough

First of all, I want to tell you all thank you for making my blogging experience such an amazing one. I love all my readers and blogging wouldn’t be the same without you! During my blog absence, I have been working on a big project that I hope to unveil soon, followed by an even bigger project to reveal itself a little later. It’s a secret for now though, so stay tuned.

Today’s Tuesday, right? It’s always so hard to remember what day it is when you’re not in school. I just returned from my morning walk, and the neighborhood is usually  really quite before 8 AM, but today the corners were dotted with fidgety elementary schoolers in new clothes waiting for the bus. I jogged past the school and heard the bells beeping and saw teachers hauling boxes inside. It  makes me miss school.

It also makes me think about myself as a child. Little McKella was a goofy, wildly creative ball of imagination. The wheels in my brain constantly whirred with ideas and I spent most of my time either outside pretending I was a mermaid or Pocahontas or something, or in my room writing stories or drawing pictures. Once, I made myself a dreamcatcher with sticks from the backyard and hot pink yarn. I never questioned my ability as an artist or writer, and it never crossed my mind to compare my creativity to others’.

As an adult, I constantly catch myself reading or looking at someone else’s creations and thinking “Wow. They’re awesome. I could never create something that cool.”

Yesterday, I read through some of  the entries in the Creative Harvest series on Roots of She, and though I thought all of these women were amazing and inspiring, I heard my old nemesis-insecurity- whispering in my ear.

“They have more credentials and experience than you.”

“You have  a friggin’ Bachelor’s in creative writing, and you still can’t write like this!”

“You’re a fake. You’re not the creative powerhouse you think you are, you just want to be.”

“You’re just a silly girl with an idea and you’re just trying to play with the big kids again. You’re not special.”

I felt like an awkward junior high girl all over again, just wanting to fit somewhere. I could have given up, but I’ve spent enough time listening to that voice to know when it’s lying.

It’s always lying.

True, I don’t feel like my creativity or skills are as strong as they could be. I spent too much time listening to that voice instead of telling it to stick a sock in it. I’ve lost a lot of time to depression an anxiety, but I don’t feel that time was wasted. I needed to learn and grow from that struggle so I could share my healing with others, and that is the mission I’m on now. Creativity and healing are best friends, twin sisters even, and I want to help others find them.

I am a wild creative spirit, and I always have been. I always will be, and I never want to be any other way.

I still have walls to break down, but I’ll learn a lesson with each one.

My potential, and your potential is infinite.

So tell that voice to shove it and have some fun.

Setting New Intentions

 

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Good morning! I hope everyone had a great weekend. My birthday weekend was amazing, not just because I got to spend time with Sam and my family, or because I got some delicious sushi or because I visited the zoo and the art museum.

I spent some time reflecting on the last year of my life and what I learned from  it- because 22 was tough- and the person I am now. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I graduated college a little over a year ago and since then I’ve dealt with graduate’s depression on top of my regular depression and anxiety, a living situation and job that didn’t agree with me, compulsive eating and eventually adrenal exhaustion. More on that here. The nice thing about trials is that they teach us things we probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise, and that’s how we grow.

I’m a much better version of myself than a was a year ago, or even six months ago. After a three year downward spiral, I feel like I’ve finally kicked my depression and I feel like myself again. I haven’t been this happy in years.

So, I decided to set some intentions for this next year. I set New Year’s Intentions and done well with some, not so well with others. I like to adjust my intentions halfway through the year though, which coincides nicely with my birthday which is a great time to evaluate current intentions and how they match up with your goals. I think it’s important for everyone to set intentions, but it’s even more important to adjust them as we grow and change.

So here’s my set of intentions, and I’ll hang onto these as long as I need them.

Intentions for 23:

  • Embrace my emotions, the pleasant and unpleasant
  • Practice self-care
  • Overcome my emotional blocks
  • Do things that scare me
  • Live creatively
  • Make time to think, pray and learn
  • Listen to my body (I’ve done well with this lately, more in a later post)
  • Trust God
  • Give love, receive love
  • Let the world see who I am, embrace my inner weirdo
  • Embrace life and all it has to offer
Do you set intentions or make goals for New Years or birthday? What are your mid-year intentions?