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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.

 

Trusting the Moments

A few weeks ago, I finished up an 8 week ballet course I took through the local college’s community education program. I’ve always wanted to dance and I hoped that this class could help me set some new groove in my brain and muscle memory that might help me to move in expressive ways. I had a great time, I learned some new things, and I loved closing my eyes at the barre and pretending I was a prima ballerina preparing for rehearsal, but I realized something startling: as much as I love watching dance, painting dancers, choreographing in my head, I didn’t love dance. At least not the nitty gritty details of it. It felt more like a workout class than a starting point for a new creative medium. Even more startling, I was ok with the fact that I wasn’t that into it. It wasn’t even because it was hard and I was giving up. I just realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. At least not right now.

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I have a habit of writing myself long to-do lists, making grand plans (because it’s good to dream big), and wanting to try and learn everything.  Lately, I limit my to-do list to just a few things and if I don’t get those done, it’s not a biggie. It’s ok that I don’t feel like taking voice lessons right now or brushing the dust off my piano books, or auditioning for theater. I’m only bringing a couple library books home at a time instead of a huge cloth grocery bag full of books on dozens of subjects.

Sometimes, especially this time of year, I might feel sad or anxious without knowing why. These feelings used to scare me because they felt out of my control. Each winter, I’d tense up and panic because I just knew I’d be doomed to months of sadness until spring when nature would allow me to be happy again. I do feel sad or unmotivated sometimes, especially in these dark evenings, but I know that mood will change and that I can actually do something about it. Keep busy. Just sit with it and appreciate it the contrast. Look at the gray, snowless landscape and appreciate its beauty the same way I appreciate spring flowers and bright summer days.  I can accept that energy and perky moods don’t come as easily at this time of year, but I can still be joyful and productive.

My diet isn’t perfect. My body isn’t perfect, or even at my perfect weight right now. That’s ok. My relationships aren’t perfect. My art and writing projects don’t always turn out perfect. I just keep working on them until I like them and that’s that.

This may sound like a lot of giving up, or narrowing my mind because I’m not interesting in everything in the world at the moment, but it’s actually freeing to not want or expect myself to do everything. I bring home less library books, but I read more. I make shorter to-do lists, but I get more done.  My life is less chaotic, overwhelming, and I have so much less guilt.

It’s not giving up, it’s making peace with what is and what I am right now. It’s trusting the cycles and seasons of my life and that if something is meant for me, there will be a time for it. There are no lost opportunities. It’s realizing priorities and what really matters. Living in the moment instead of only living for some ambiguous “when” in the future.  Most of all, it’s accepting that I have everything I need to be happy here and now, even if I don’t have money to travel the world right now or if I’m not taking music lessons and blogging every day and working full time and square foot gardening and sprouting grains in my kitchen and working out. Right now my priorities are paying the bills, taking care of myself, spending time with my husband and family, having fun with my art and writing, and taking things day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.

Relearning Happiness

One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time pondering over the last few months is happiness, and how I acquired it and them seemed to lose it again. The summer of 2011 was one of the most joyful times of my life, and not because everything in my life was perfect or was working out the way I wanted it to. I’d learned how to be happy, and once that knowledge was securely in place, it was easy to maintain until some big changes knocked them loose again.

After that, I told myself I was happy. I’d learned how to be happy, hadn’t I? I only struggled with anxiety and gloominess again because it was winter, right? As soon as spring came, I’d feel that joy again. All I had to do was wait. It wasn’t my fault.

Spring came. Summer passed. I never really felt spring or summer though. I felt like it just got hot. That anxiety and gloomy mood stayed with me. As much as I lied to myself, I wasn’t happy. That joy from the previous summer didn’t return with the sun.

That’s part of the reason why I decided to put everything on hold for awhile so I could figure everything out.

After a particularly overwhelming week, I decided that I wouldn’t lie to myself anymore. I wasn’t happy, but I knew happiness was possible because I’d achieved it before. I knew it didn’t depend on what job I had, how much money we were making, or anything outside of myself because I’d been happy in far less “ideal” situations.

So how did I do it? I spend the day reading my journals from that time, rereading blog posts from the spring and summer of 2011, and reading the book that introduced me to the ideas that turned everything around. If I could learn happiness once, I could do it again.

I realized that I just had to relearn everything.

The ideas and practices that brought me happiness before, I’d taken them for granted. I thought I knew them all, so I stopped practicing what I knew. I just expected that mindset to maintain itself, and I unconsciously let it slip away.  I felt humbled, because I realized that no matter how much I think I know, I will always have to practice and relearn these things. Gratitude, positive thought patterns, trust, affirmations, love…those things are practices rather than a permanent mindset that never goes away once it’s in place.

So now I do the things I used to do. I write things I’m thankful for in my journal every single day. I use affirmations and mantras to maintain positive thought patterns. I make an effort to appreciate others. I make a conscious effort to trust that things will work themselves out instead of fear that they won’t. I feel like a beginner again, but I actually feel happy and peaceful now even though there’s a foot of snow on the ground and the sun goes down earlier every night. I have less energy for sure and I get a little gloomy in the evenings, but overall, I can honestly say that I’m happy right now.

If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that happiness is both a choice and a practice, not a result of circumstances or luck. As humbling as that knowledge is, it’s comforting to know that I can always choose happiness.

I wish you all the joy and happiness you deserve. Have a wonderful Tuesday!

 

What do you need to be happy?

Last year, I spent a lot of time reconnecting with my creativity and getting in touch with my values and desires. I often asked myself what my ideal life would look like, which was a valuable exercise for me at the time. It still is. Allowing ourselves to dream big is the first step to reaching our goals.

I’d write about this in my journal, and I’d allow myself to dream big, to break down walls in my mind and allow myself to see what I really wanted, what I needed to try to accomplish. I reached a place where those things didn’t feel so out of reach anymore. It did wonders for my confidence and really helped me to see myself as the creative being that I am.

I tried it again just now, just to reassess and see where I am.

What does my ideal life look like?

The answer surprised me. Instead of the grand career, the world travel, and the huge accomplishments, I thought hard and came up with a few key ingredients:

  • I want to spend a lot of time nurturing and expressing my creativity,
  • I want to connect with my family and friends. Not even a lot of friends, but a few good ones. I want to feel real connection with people.
  • I want to be healthy and feel good about myself. Neither one depends on the other, but they tend to come together.
  • I want to have adventures, whether they’re big ones like traveling abroad, or little ones like exploring a new hiking trail or trying a new vegetable this week.

The nice thing is that every single one of those is completely within my power, no matter what my circumstances.These things don’t depend on success or money, they don’t depend on approval or validation or permission from anyone else.

At first, this question helped me see the possibilities, now it helps me see my own power and the value of now. It helps me to see that I don’t need to put my happiness on hold for “when”.

What does your ideal life look like?

Selling Art and Letting Go

I sold my favorite painting last week. I was happy to release it to someone who loved it so much, but it was still a little sad for me. I wasn’t expecting to let it go at that time; the buyer and I had previously discussed a different painting, but he ended up changing his mind. This one was more money than the one I’d expected him to buy, so that was nice, but that blank spot on my wall is still a little sad looking.

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As I drove home from delivering the painting, I thought about the weeks I spent working on that piece. I made it in October and I spent the whole time either listening to the Muppets Green Album or watching Soul Art TV. I remembered each stage of that painting; laying on the paint and peeling it back back off with an old library card, spreading the paint around the sky, dabbing the jewel red leaves, wondering what the figure should be doing and watching the piece change under my brush.

I then realized that I already had what I needed from that painting. I got my value from making it, and from seeing its new owner light up when he hung it on his office wall. I now have some money to put toward my business and an empty spot on my wall for the painting I’m currently working on.

Being the dork I am, I thought of the Doozers from my favorite show, Fraggle Rock, who live to build.

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If you have no idea what I’m talking about, get thee to Youtube.

They don’t mind that the Fraggles eat their towers  (because the buildings are made from radishes, the Fraggles’ favorite food) or when Sprocket the dog accidentally wound up in Fraggle Rock and knocked them all down. They were happy because now they had more room to build! Their joy was in the process, not the end product. Building made them happy. They also loved to see their buildings make the Fraggles happy as they ate them. One of the doozers once watched a Fraggle munching on a piece of the roof and he sighed and said “Ah, does my heart good. Architecture is meant to be enjoyed.”

As an artist, this is something I’ll have to get used to, but I don’t imagine that letting go will always be easy. I just have to remember where the joy comes from, and where it goes. It’s a beautiful exchange.

A Year of Gratitude

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On Saturday morning, I went for an extra long walk. I didn’t take my hat or scarf, though I should have. It was the kind of weather that fools you into thinking it’s warm even though it’s freezing. Sunshine does something for my soul, it stirs up some deep happiness that I forget sometimes when it’s been cloudy for awhile.

I veered off my normal route and walked down the hill a little further so I could get a better view of Utah Lake. It was so beautiful for some reason. I stopped and looked at it for a minute, and then a feeling of gratitude came over me as I thought about where I was a year ago and where I am now.

Last February, I would have never imagined that my life would be like it is now in such a short time. A year ago, I was depressed, sick, my stress and anxiety were through the roof, and overweight because my compulsive eating was out of control. I lived in a tiny studio above my uncle’s garage and worked as a nanny, and I had no idea what to do about my future. I had no social life. I was so creatively stuck that I started to believe that I wasn’t meant to be an artist and writer after all, that I had nothing to say. I felt stuck, and I was miserable.

Now, standing on that hill looking over the lake, I have a clear vision of my future and a path to get there, but I also have the faith to let things unfold as they must. I have a great job that’s actually related to my degree, my body is maintaining a happy weight and though I’m still tweaking my self-care, I’m much healthier. I have an apartment I love, and I’m making art and writing all the time.  I’m actually selling my work, and I have plans for growing my career from this little seed I’ve planted.

I’m so thankful for this past year and how incredibly far I’ve come. I’m so blessed. I’m amazed how I’ve been led to everything I need whether it’s tools, signs, opportunities, friends, or ideas. I’m grateful for my new outlook on the world, that I understand that struggles are important opportunities to learn, and therefore blessings. I could have never learned how to be truly happy without being truly miserable first. I couldn’t learn how to grow if I couldn’t experience being stuck. I couldn’t have acquired the new tools and knowledge I have without the situations that prompted me to seek them.

I hope that you all are well and that you’re experiencing some wonderful growth right now. Have a wonderful week. 🙂

Wise Words: Sing out Loud!

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Most mean lead lives of quiet desperation

and go to the grave with the song still in them.

-Henry David Thoreau

A Different Kind of Magic

Somehow it’s Christmas Eve already.

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This has been kind of a weird Christmas season for me and my family. It’d be easy to feel sad or let down because the season hasn’t been quite as “magical” as I’d hoped in a lot of ways. I never got around to making a lot of the crafts and treats I’d planned on or watched all my Christmas movies or listen to all my favorite Christmas songs. No snow yet, so it doesn’t look like Christmas. I’m also living in a new city that holds no Christmas memories for me.

But I’m not sad. It’s Christmas, and I’m with my family. It’s ok that it’s not perfect. I’m still grateful for it and I welcome this holiday season and all and all it has to offer. Fun, weird, goofy, hodge-podge, whatever.

Peace, joy, love, and fun are unconditional. 

But Christmas has a way of being magical somehow, even if we never got around to putting up Christmas lights or if there aren’t many presents under the tree.

One of my most magical Christmas memories was when I was 9 or 10. Every winter, a giant ice patch used to appear in our field. I don’t know whether Dad flooded it or if the well did it on it’s own, but that Christmas eve at sunset, I took my little brother out to slide on the ice.

The neighbors across the streets had just turned on their traditional configuration of lights, and as the sun went down, I witnessed that moment when the sky finally darkens and the lights become brighter than the last colors of the sunset. I can’t explain what happened that moment, but the air just crackled with magic.

The snow, the lights, my pink-cheeked toddler brother, and the faint echoes of Christmas music from my house filled my soul with some of the purest joy I’d ever felt. Not  the kind of joy that makes you want to dance around your room laughing and giggling, but the joy that nearly brings you to your knees in sheer gratitude of being alive.

That’s the kind of joy I try to express in my art, and that’s the feeling I strive to allow into my heart each day. 

I wish you a holiday full  of peace and that special joy.

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!

23 Lessons in 23 Years

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At 11:30 tomorrow night, I will turn 23.  I’m pretty stoked about it and I have a fun day planned involving tigers, an art museum and sushi.

I thought I’d share with you 23 gems of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the last 23 years, lessons I’ve learned that have made an impact in my life.

Without further ado:

  1. Gratitude is key to happiness
  2. Stay connected to your creative spirit, and you’ll never feel uninspired
  3. Never ever neglect self-care
  4. Stand up for yourself. You deserve it.
  5. If it doesn’t taste good, add either more cheese or more chocolate.
  6. My body knows what I need. Listen to it.
  7. Depression is a sign that something needs to change.
  8. Trials lead to learning, which leads to meaning, which leads to joy.
  9. Know my priorities, and align my life with them.
  10. It’s ok to change my mind. Six times. In one hour.
  11. If I tell myself I can’t, I can’t. If I tell myself I can, I can.
  12. Know thy limits. Respect them.
  13. Happiness is a mindset, not a situation.
  14. Assume the best of everyone. Even if you’re wrong, you’ll feel good  about it.
  15. Seasons of life come and go. Enjoy them.
  16. Always ask “why?”
  17. Make time for fun.
  18. Food doesn’t solve problems, it only solves hunger.
  19. Don’t let one bad day become two.
  20. Make time for stillness, to make sense of everything and carry that feeling.
  21. Bar Keeper’s Friend is the best cleaner in the world.
  22. Know thyself.
  23. Life is beautiful.
What lessons could you add to this list?