Year in Review – Prompt #2 Peaks and troughs

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was.
Here is the second Year in Review prompt….
—–
Peaks and troughs
Take an hour and some pen and paper (or laptop and coffee) and consider the following prompts:
– What were the highlights of this year in terms of events or peak experiences? The things that felt most fun, energising, connecting, satisfying etc. Take 10 minutes and and make this a list or write a few sentences about each if you like.
– What were the hardest moments of this year in terms of events or experiences? The things that felt sad, disappointing, frustrating etc. Take 10 minutes and and make this a list or write a few sentences about each if you like.
Try to give each of these lists the same amount of time, use a timer if you like.
Take a few deep breaths and sit with any feelings that arise, knowing that whatever you have experienced you have made it through to the here and now, showing strength, flexibility and perseverance. Reread the highlights list before you move on to the next part.
Now take 10 minutes for each of these questions:
1. Looking at these two lists, what do they tell you about what you care about; that is what you hold dear, what is important to you, what you value?
2. Looking at these two lists, what do they tell you about your strengths and resources as a person? What personal qualities, support networks and resources helped you navigate all these experiences?
2. Based on that information, what are some things you would like to include in your life next year? What strengths and resources will you draw on to make that happen?
—–
That’s it!
Enjoy.
And remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect and write – accept and be kind to yourself about whatever you experienced, whatever you did or didn’t do, whatever you felt, whatever you were drawn to.

How Creative Art Helps Me

The following post is a beautiful guest piece by a coaching client who wishes to remain anonymous. She describers how art making is part of her self care and self soothing toolkit and how engaging in art making can shift her focus and mood. I’m pleased to share this piece that speaks in a moment to moment way about how creative expression can be a ‘go to’ in times of pain and how it can provide solace.

While making art at home is not technically art therapy (art therapy happens while a client is working with an art therapist), I encourage all the clients I work with to explore journal writing and expressive art making both between sessions and in an ongoing way after our therapy or coaching relationship has ended, because of the wonderful lifelong benefits that creative expression offers us. 

I am an incredibly selfish person*.

I say that because when I feel deep emotional pain, there is nothing else that exists. Pain takes over completely. I can’t hear the thoughts that could remind me of my fortunes. I have a gorgeous, healthy child who loves me to the moon and back. I have a warm home, delicious food on my table, amazing friends who surround me and work that makes my heart sing.

But when I feel pain, nothing else matters. Pain’s mission is to swallow me. To isolate me from the world. To convince me that I am worthless of even existing. To reassure me that feeling strong and capable was just an illusion.

There’s nothing else but me and my pain in the whole of universe. Me. Me. Me.

But then I remember I have watercolour pencils and a gorgeous watercolour paper block.

It all starts slowly. I scribble around a bit with my favourite colour of the moment. I put it back in its place carefully and take another one in my hand. Reverently. My focus is entirely on the beauty that emerges on its own.

Slowly my entire focus is on the sound of the colour pencil gently scratching the surface of the rough paper.

There is no right or wrong. There is no mind involved to be passing such a judgement.

I just doodle around with pretty colours. From time to time, I take a black pencil to make a contour and then go back to the colours.

The pain eases away. Just a bit, yet enough to remember a friend who is going through a very difficult life event. Her mourning must be a hundred times deeper than my current pain.

I keep on scribbling as I observe the compassion rising from the depths of my chest. And yet I feel only an echo of her pain! How lonely, how devastated she must be feeling in this moment!

When I fill a plastic cup with water and pick a soft paintbrush, I start dissolving some of my beautiful colour clouds into pools of imaginary tears. The soul is screaming in its whispering way. Yellows merge with magenta pinks, the petrol blue collides with the sunset purple-orange.

I start feeling one with her. The more I get lost in the surprising emerging shapes on the paper, the more I feel the rightness of everything that exists. She is where she is right now and she is there for a reason. This world needs her wisdom. She needs her devastating experience to open the doorway to that wisdom.

All of a sudden it dawns on me! I outsmarted that pain. My story is no longer just about me and my isolation. It is not about hopelessness and worthlessness. It is about beauty. It is about oneness. It is about higher lessons of our existence.

It is a vital shift of perception.

It is a victory.

And it took as little as a box of watercolour pencils and the roughness of the white watercolour paper.

 

Image: Thanks to Martin Jelovsek (http://www.tone-sound.eu), shared with permission.

*Also, I note that I feel uncomfortable at her assessment of selfishness. It jars with me and what I observe of her. “After all doesn’t pain often contract our view of ourselves and our world? Aren’t we all selfish in this same way when we feel pain? Aren’t we allowed to go inward and be preoccupied by our pain at these times?” I wonder.  Then again, as I think some more, I feel a sting of recognition – don’t we often berate ourselves for all the things we perceive as character flaws in ourselves much more when we are feeling pain? Don’t we tell ourselves we are terrible people, and selfish and uncaring precisely in those moments when we are most in pain? And I try to bring myself back to noticing with curiosity how she speaks about herself, not making my interpretation more central to our work than her own. 

Not every day is sunny

I have thought of giving up more than once, probably more than 30 (million) times on my ‘entrepreneurial journey’. The last time was briefly just last month. When I feel like that here are some variations of is what might go through my head to trigger or compound the thought – one of these is usually really loud when I fall into feeling hopeless:

  • ‘I’ve taken on way too much, I’ll never get it all done, this feels awful, run away!’
  • ‘I obviously have deep mindset issues that are holding me back, I’ll never get rid of them, there’s no point trying’.
  • ‘It’s not fair, look at them, they’re doing so well and I’m not’
  • ‘Oh my gosh I’ve squandered all my talents and experience and managed to make nothing out of it’
  • ‘I am overwhelmed by all the courses and coaches and training and I don’t trust that any of them will actually help me, I feel overwhelmed by all I need to learn and resistant to get started’.

Had any of those? Or similar ones? Yes me too.

I’m sick of ‘successful’ people who sell a carefully constructed two dimensional version of ‘success’ – some fantasy land where self doubt is entirely banished, every day is sparkles and rainbows and life looks like an instagrammed smoothie. I’m sick of it because in many cases it is just a calculating move to sell more things (I want what she’s having!) but worse than that, because it contributes to an expectation that this is how life ‘should’ feel (or look).

This expectation is suffocating.

I mean, seriously, it’s the human condition people. There will be laughter and tears, snot and baby poo, death, illness, dirt under the fingers. There will be wrinkles. There will be crumbs. There will be things that become tattered and frayed and some days we will feel a bit like that too. There will be ugly crying and hard things. No matter how gorgeous your bronzed bod looks twisting in its white one piece swimsuit at the beach at dawn one day (if you are lucky enough to live that long) you will get old and wrinkly. Lots more stuff than your snapchat filter can rub away.

Some days you might feel lazy, or grumpy, or catty, or incompetant, or just plain old scared. Yup. That’s going to happen. You might not like what comes out of your mouth or the thoughts you’re having. You might wonder ‘who is this angry b*tch who’s taken up residence in my head?’

Personally when I feel like giving up I need to stamp my feet and howl and write in my journal and cry real tears. I need to make big cranky art. I need to feel despair, real despair, and I need to cradle it like a precious thing. I need to complain to a friend or a coach or a mentor, someone kind who will listen while the storm rolls itself through.

I need to be petty and voice my crotchety annoyances. I need to imagine stepping away, imagine a big fat NO to all my projects.

And then gently I return to hope.

(And when I’m back to hope everything feels possible, doable, sparkly and fun.)

And despite all this, in and amongst it, I can still get things done.

If you wait until that perfect day when you are the thin, groomed, sunny, effortless, confident, multitasking, knowledgeable, wholly in your power version of you before you do anything you may never move.

Maybe we are actually birthing that version of ourselves, all of us, in every day that we cradle ourselves with kindness and allow the feelings out. Maybe the imperfect actions and acting without knowing all of what we are doing is what shapes and creates us.

If you want to work with someone who can help you get started on your dream project NOW – with all your wonderful flaws and quirks and inexperience and bad moods and self doubt, then look me up. We might just get along like a house on fire. And I promise I’ll forgive you your flaws if you forgive me mine.

More than happy

There’s a lot of talk about happy.

Discussions about positive psychology are often connected with this word, Gillian Rubenstein discusses it in her book (well as she might, given the book is called ‘The Happiness Project’). And there’s a lot of hearty debate amongst researchers about how to define it.

I don’t like it.

It feels like a lazy word for me, a word that bundles up lots of states and tries to put them under one big marquee with its own banner at the entrance.

I rarely feel like ‘happy’ is a useful descriptor when I’m navigating my own life.

I notice that times I feel ebullient and optimistic, light like a balloon, and full of possibility.

Soemtimes I feel excited about an event or a yearning or looking forward to.

Sometimes I feel particularly rested and well nourished and I notice how grounded, gracious and settled I feel in this state.

Sometimes I feel poetic sweetness around me, and notice tiny flecks of beauty scattered about.

In relationships I sometimes feel aware of how warm, appreciative, connected and content I feel.

Sormtimes I feel playful and creative impulse, humour and movement all flow through me, and I laugh more readily, ape around and make jokes.

Sometimes I feel relieved, when something hard is done with, or stress waters subside after a big downpour of challenges.

Sometimes I feel tender, like sad and moved and sweet all at once.

Sometimes I feel held and seen and safe, so that even feeling ‘bad’ feelings feels OK.

Sometimes I get satisfaction from having done something, I get a thrill of adventure, sometimes a sense of satisfaction or a glow of a value being enacted.

So, it’s not that I don’t like being happy, feeling happy, or using the word happy but just that there is so much more nuance to feeling good, feeling well.

In art therapy we use metaphor and imagery to explore and express how we feel. It’s not always black and white – we see mirrored back in our images that we can be experiencing a mix of feelings at any given time. We might also look to our bodies for tension or sensations, and use this to help us sense into how we feel emotionally about an issue.

What does happy and its many friends feel like to you?

Forgiving ourselves

I think forgiving ourselves is at the core of moving on, moving forward and getting unstuck! The quote below speaks to me so beautifully of that.

“How do I actually learn best? How do I change? How do I grow? Is it through that kind of belittling myself and berating myself and humiliating myself? Or is it through something else, some other quality like self-compassion and recognizing the pain or unskillfulness of something I’ve done or said and having the energy to actually move on?
So where does that energy come from? It comes from not being stuck. And how do we get unstuck? In fact, it’s from forgiving ourselves and realizing, yeah, it happened. It was wrong. I’m gonna go on now in a different way ‘cause I’m capable of that. I am capable of change.” – Sharon Salzberg

This week I am practicing forgiving myself for all the times I feel tired or just ‘meh’ rather than 110% fabulous.
I’m forgiving myself for the paperwork that isn’t done, all the work ‘leads’ or possibilities I let linger and didn’t bring into fruition, and all the ways I don’t live up to some shiny imaginary super-entrepreneur vision I sometimes yearn to be. I also forgive myself for indulging in buying into the idea that there IS some shiny entrepreneur cookie cutter role I need to step into.
I am forgiving myself for not having it all figured out or having the ‘perfect’ clockwork business that somehow runs itself while I sip almond lattes and have international holidays.

I accept myself as learner, beginner, as well as expert, as bumbler and fumbler, as making-it-up-as-I-go-along. I accept myself as sometimes slob, sometimes stressed and overworked, sometimes exhausted, sometimes hermit, sometimes attention seeker, as sometimes succumbing to fears.

I forgive myself for all these shades of vivid human.

My shadow, my depth, my multifaceted shining me-ness.

I forgive myself.

I try to make room for these aspects of me that I am less proud of, try to shimmy over to make room for them. I try not to judge them, or deny them, or point an angry finger at them.

How about you?


Are there shadow aspects of your personality that you struggle to see and feel OK about? 

Are you working on forgiving yourself for anything at the moment? 

Have you had a self-forgiveness win? 

 

 

 

 

Mental health moments

The problem with our critical inner voice is that it’s very easy to believe it.

At the time, when it’s loud and convincing it’s easy to believe.

Mine sometimes says things like this:

– you are so fat, all those wellness people are judging you

– you have nothing interesting to say, and you’re awkward, and no one likes you

– you’re so weird and not saying enough. They can all tell. They think you’re stupid

Seriously. These exact words. The last time they flared up I was at a networking event. It started out well, I was feeling positive and a bit apprehensive. I started ok, I did, but then I fell out of a conversation and things got self conscious and weird.

(This is despite being aware of it, despite years of therapy, despite being trained in counselling.)

Once that narrative starts up nice and loud I tend to get swept up in it. After all if those things are true, I should probably just slink off home – right? I should probably never go out. I should probably not try talking to anyone because they won’t enjoy my weirdness rubbing off on them.

I left in a bit of a funk – here I was fat, weird, awkward and everyone knew it.

Later, when the mood sweeps by, the clouds shift, a blue sky emerges, I feel fine. I feel calm and OK with myself and think I’m no more awkward or weird than anyone else. I resume normal programming. I enjoy socialising and even meeting new people. I become the person who helps other people not feel awkward in groups by talking with them, or introducing and connecting people.

So these experiences, and the voice in my head that convinces me I’m not worthy, actually helps me be finely attuned to other people and social dynamics. It helps me know fully in my body what uncomfortable feels like and to absolutely want to help make situations like this more caring and accessible to others.

These experiences also mean that I understand clients who struggle with anxiety, and strive to create a safe space in my one on one work and in groups where clients can be honest about our inner voice and how unhelpful it can be sometimes. Because this inner voice, this loop / mindset/ inner critic is an issue for most people. Not just people seeking help through therapy, but most people who are going about their lives are held back at some time due to doubts and fears that often express themselves as negative self-talk.

It comes up in art therapy sessions, it comes up in coaching, and so it should; because our inner scripts are often our invisible limits – they can shape what we will and won’t try, they tell us strong stories about what we deserve or what it is possible to experience in life.

How about you? Do you have any bitter, hurtful or challenging narratives that pop up when you are stressed or feeling low? Have you worked to replace them with kinder narratives about yourself? Do they give you insight or empathy you can take back into the world? Have you ever worked to change one and replace it with something more useful?

Feeling the feels – tired

Energy levels and what to do with them have been a big theme for my personal growth the past few years. (Oh hang on – is ‘personal growth’ a bit of a new agey cliché? By all means replace with ‘learning/ musing/ reflections/ new habits’ or whatever works).

What to do when I feel dead tired like a lump and have no oomph or get up and go whatsoever.

How to use energy when I have it.

What deflates me.

When I need to rest.

When I am tired in the mind versus tired in the body versus tired from a sugar slump versus tired from not enough sleep. When I feel icky from having absorbed complex emotional stuff that I need time to process. When I feel tired because actually I’m sad. When I feel sad because actually I’m tired.

Getting much better acquainted with what tired is.

I am finding my 100 words for tired like the fabled innuit and snow.

And finding a way to make space for it, accept it and make room for it without fear or judgement or ‘should’. Without fighting it and ‘pushing on’ or ‘soldiering on’ or ‘just doing it’.

I am trying to feel the rhythms of my body much more keenly and create a life that adjusts to them, respects them and works around them – not forcing my body to stick to routine and expected outputs that my mind makes up.

Because who am I to know what important work my body might be doing while I am tired and rest? Which cells might be tinkered with and replaced, which emotions are being sifted through, which memories stored, which ideas are growing in the subterranean dark of my subconscious. I am moving to respect my body’s wisdom much more – even if the Goddess of Efficiency and Productivity is no longer receiving her sacrifice.

Even if my sense of self (attached to energy, creativity and outputs) has to subtly shift over and adjust sometimes to make room for tired, not-creating, listless or idle me.

I practice expanding to embrace both. I practice feeling peace with it all.

Itty bitty sh**ty days

We all have them, don’t we?

When we have a dark taste in our mouth and feel fidgety. Like nothing of any use is going to come through these limbs today. Like you feel unsettled but some rarely felt mix of agitated, pained, stressed, urgent, and listless. You move around the house, wanting to get more done. At work you might shuffle papers around and not get far with anything.

What could it be?

What is plaguing you? Why is it awful and unproductive today?

The forecast is pointless, with chance of showers and a strong northerly pushing whiffs of wistful in through the afternoon.

You want to want to do something useful.

But you kind of don’t.

There’s plenty to be getting on with, but you can’t seem to get any minutes to stick together in a way that produces anything, they slip away like beach sand streaming out of your sandals in summer.

The day! The day! You can just see how it will bloom and fade without any great achievements or small accomplishments to decorate it with. Night time will come and you will be relieved because now you no longer have a day spanning out in front of you and expectations swarming you ears like flies.

Lost. You feel kind of lost.

Why? Why lost? Where is this coming from? For me, on the last day I felt like this I wondered…

  • Is it disappointment, a feeling of failure that has stuck to me like cold chip shop oil in your hair, slyly following you after that thing I did wrong yesterday?
  • Is it unsettled because of the moving and changing things around me, and the feeling that I can’t quite get a grip or rhythm with anything?
  • Is it some mix of hormones and non-sustaining food I’ve eaten this morning?
  • Is it just tired, and the senseless dreamy state that comes with that?

 

When you feel like this it can be hard to get a grip of feelings.

Try tapping into the feelings. Try pausing, with pen and paper and using metaphor to explain yourself to yourself in a rambly way, without knowing what you will say (write) next. Try pausing to feel and name those feelings. Maybe you write them, maybe you draw them.

I feel cloudy, foggy, lost, aimless, drifting. I feel walking in circles, I feel adrift.

I feel hopeless and alone and like I can’t make it, I don’t have what it takes and no one will rescue me. I feel disappointed in my self and cynical, like I was deluded and all was for nothing.

I feel like everything is chopped into tiny pieces and everything is crumbly, and nothing comes together to make a coherent whole. I feel pointless, and meaningless, and without direction. I feel like my compass is spinning around and around and I don’t know how to move. I feel weary and like hiding out.

I feel kind of angry for no reason and like everyone around me is hideously annoying and the whole world is full of jerks!

And now the tears come.

 

And on the movement of the tears our little boat slips forward, no longer quite so stuck. The water feels a little clearer, and we may feel a little more whole.

 

And then we yawn.

And then we wipe our tears.

And then we get on with however the day will be.

 

Image: is one of my collage pieces

First year of business – Feeling stuck on the hamster wheel

Imagine a day like this: I feel jangly and unsteady. I feel confused. I feel like I am going around and around in a circle. A hamster wheel, a merry go round, or maybe even a ferris wheel, but stuck either way and not actually getting anywhere despite all the movement.

Really. Some days really did feel like this.

I felt like I had all these great ideas, hanging heavy on the tree like overripe fruit, and me unable to cut them free and share them around because I couldn’t pay anyone to get the help I needed (mindset help, tech help, marketing help).

Sure, I could do lots of things. Sure those things were busy and colourful and fun.

Sure I could write my blog and lots of facebook posts BUT WHERE WERE MY CUSTOMERS?

Meanwhile I had this sense that I couldn’t tell people how I felt because who wants to be stuck with the sinking ship? Like who would EVER hire me as a coach or art therapist if I so clearly was having a hard time myself?

Starting a health and wellbeing business can be especially tough in this regard – because there is an expectation that we are those few steps ahead of our potential customers in every aspect of health and wellbeing and in business. We can create this unrealistic expectation that we skip through all aspects of life with flower crowns in our hair and glitter pouring from our flouncy white skirts. That successful business just sprouts from us as we sit crossleggedly on our beds eating dry toast and kale smoothies and tapping on our silver laptops. Or in my case perhaps that my every day is a colourful dance with crayons (well, some days are).

How could I offer my services as a coach if I didn’t already have a thriving full schedule – what did I possibly have to offer them? But. But then again. Then again I don’t believe that you have to be perfect to help someone else. I don’t believe that being successful means never ever having shit days. I don’t believe that I know NOTHING just because when faced with Mailchimp and a few free hours my skin felt creepy and I wanted to run away.

What I wanted was a VA. What I wanted was a marketing strategy go to helper. What I wanted was a book keeper. And while I’m at it lets be honest, a housekeeper and a personal stylist – if we are making a Christmas wish list here. What I wanted was help designing my first online program, and legal advice and people WHO HAD ACTUALLY DONE IT BEFORE. And I wanted it RIGHT NOW. But all of those people – and I actually knew who I would ask – charge money for their time. Extra money I didn’t have and didn’t feel like I make anytime soon get without their help.

I felt helpless and hopeless, and overwhelmed.

So of course now I wish this wasn’t true and I could tell you that starting my own business WAS all cake and unicorns and Instagram sunsets, but truly it wasn’t. So out of honesty, and out of integrity, I share it here as part of the picture of what the first year of business looked like for me at times. Alongside the wins. Alongside the meaningful work with clients. Alongside those moments of feeling like you’ve walked with someone on their path. Alongside blissful quiet time at my desk and not being in an open plan office. Alongside flexibility to work my own hours and follow my own ideas and being able to work outside in park if I felt like it (only – ants). Alongside the helpful breakthroughs in mindset and the joy in community and excitement of new learning. Alongside the having fun with photos and writing copy and subscribing to WAY too many helpful looking email lists and then promptly forgetting who the hell any of them even were.

So if your first year of business feels a bit like that too, don’t worry. I’m here to tell you it’s normal. It doesn’t make you a failure, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at what you have to offer. It just means it’s hard working without a compass and doing your inner and outer work at the same time. It’s hard making a map while also trying to use one. It’s hard building all the infrastructure of a business at the same time that you are trying to work in it. I so totally get it.

And what to do about that?

What is my reflection on how not to get stuck in the desperate days? Very good question. I’ll share my thoughts on that tomorrow.