AC

Let not your dreams go to waste… (battling some demons)

All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.

The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.

As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.

I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging. 

The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.

Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.

My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.

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I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:

“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”

Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”


Tonight was a night not too unlike any other. I often find myself in tears, still navigating my way up the emotional spectrum trying to find a way to tame them, but I don’t seem able to help it. Things can be terribly beautiful or beautifully terrible. Things can be so incredibly wonderful, there are in actuality sometimes no words in existence to describe how strongly I feel, so they come out in the form of tears instead. Or I can be reminded of something that happened in my past, something I’ve fought desperately to shelve away and hide from the present I’m working so hard to create. Or I can get swallowed up in loneliness and feel forever unworthy of love or attention, or even being remembered. These past two months with the injury have been bad ones for that. But tonight, the tears came for a rather more traditional reason.

A soul passing away is always cause for sadness, but when you’ve known it for a matter of hours, find it thoroughly traumatised, so paralysed with terror it can’t even shake the spiderwebs that have formed on its body, and then you take it inside, build it a home, warm it, feed it, and make it a bed, see it begin to move… to take nourishment… to build a nest… you feel such joy. And when you wake in the morning to find it in the grip of rigor mortis, you can’t help but sob.

Yes, I found a mouse last night. Some of you may remember the pigeon:

Pigeon rescue

He was in the middle of the road, about to get run over, trying to flap his one working wing and struggling. I remember the strange looks I got as I took him through the underground shopping centre on my arm all the way to where I’d parked, and the comments I got from my coworkers, clearly dumbfounded, judging me for taking time off to help something “they’d give to their cat to kill.” I heard about it for weeks, but it didn’t matter. The bird had been patched up, taken home, and even named by the vets.

So I found a mouse. Something terrible had clearly happened, as he was sitting there frozen with cobwebs on his head, but his eyes were open, and he was breathing… albeit oddly. He looked like he’d sustained some kind of awful injury, or fright, or both, and it broke my heart to think of leaving him. So AC and I brought him in, did some quick scouring of the internet, and made him a little home in one of the boxes not yet unpacked. I gave him a heating pad beneath half the box, some kitchen roll, a corner of cotton balls for nesting, a lid with some water, and some tinily cut up pieces of cucumber and apple. I cleaned him off, but he remained frozen in fear, breathing sharply, and turned on a dim light, leaving the room so as not to cause any further terror. Within the hour, we found him nibbling on a piece of apple, and shortly after, making himself a little bed in the cotton balls. I was overjoyed – anyone who knows me will know that even the thought of animals suffering is enough to send me into a sobfest, and I don’t care if it’s a cat you’d take inside and adopt as your own or a rat most would consider vermin and call an exterminator on; if it has a brain, a body, and a little heart, it needs taking care of.

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So you can imagine how happy I was to see him recovering. The next morning, however, things didn’t look so good. I called out desperately hoping he was just sleeping, but my head was telling me it definitely didn’t look like sleeping. The sharp breathing had stopped, but it seemed so had any other kind of breathing. I held onto the hope that mice do indeed play dead when feeling threatened and hoped for the best, but by the end of an entire day, he was in the same position, definitely no longer with us. I had a good cry, and AC (thank the stars for another NF) suggested we give him a little burial. After being ridiculed for helping a pigeon, the act of kindness and mutual understanding meant the absolute world, and we headed out into the night, his little home in the back seat.

We’d intended to drive down to the river – our new place isn’t far from the water (the full story on how I kind of lost my home to come soon) – but with his eyes on the road and mine on Google maps, I noticed we were within walking distance of an actual cemetery. Not one to ignore a coincidence, we parked and journeyed through the cold to the big iron gates. I’d wanted to leave him somewhere he’d have company (Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book may or may not have been on my mind), and we soon found a small tree midway through the clasp Autumn takes on all things green. There were a pile of crisp leaves at its base, and I noticed a single star to the north, and a big yellow half-moon hung low in the sky to the south. We lay him down under some leaves where the base met the grass, a cotton ball to mark the spot, and I managed to say a few words through a torrent of tears. You’re probably thinking how ridiculous this all sounds, but I can’t describe how or why I was so sad to lose a little creature I’d known only a few hours.

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Until AC pointed something out on the car ride home. I was mid-way through apologizing when he hugged me, and told me it probably had something to do with recognizing suffering in others having gone to the depths of it myself. (Of course this didn’t help with the crying, but the thought hadn’t occurred to me before.) I think part of being an NF involves desperately wanting all to be well in the world, and when things aren’t, whether in our personal one or the planet at large, it causes far more upset than in other MBTI types. And I think I’m (and have definitely been described more than once as) also classified as a HSP – something I’ve written about before – and I maintain that every day still is like “living with fifty fingers as opposed to ten.” I wrote that post over a year ago, and my words hold true to this day:

“I don’t like overanalyzing and reading into things that aren’t there, and I don’t like catastrophising every little event in a day. I love that my sensitivity allows me to be incredibly in tune with others’ emotions, or that I read a piece of beautiful prose or hear a great song and want to jump up and down because somebody’s just been an awesome human being. I love being overly enthusiastic about things like simple existence and celebrating creativity and taking the time to see small beauties of nature and spend two hours in the cold photographing them because nature is just so stunning. I love that there may very well be a biological explanation for being extremely sensitive, and I love that just because I cry a lot doesn’t have to mean I’m a giant baby – it just means I care a lot and feel things more extremely. But I don’t like being a slave to its tendency to send me crashing down faster than an IQ after an episode of the Kardashians.”

I think I’m hard-wired this way, and over time I just have to learn to embrace it – if perhaps, too, control it a little better. Someone who means the world to me once told me a long time ago that I was “the Caretaker of Lost Souls” – the biggest compliment I think I could ever receive in a lifetime. That to have plunged the deepest of depths and to have resurfaced and flown is to know what it’s like. To know loneliness and despair inside and out, to know how awful it is to feel forgotten. And that perhaps that was why I had had to do something for that little mouse. I’ve felt twangs of all of the above now and again since I broke my arm, and yes, it is awful.

There were two happy turns to the story after all was said and done – I’d tweeted about being sad before heading out to the river, and had received a message back:

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AC also pointed out something rather lovely: that we laid him down at the base of a young tree, and that within a few weeks he’d start to decompose, and go directly into the ground through which that tree would absorb its nutrients. That life has a wonderful way of recycling itself, and that perhaps one day, we might take a visit to that tree, and know that in some way, our little mouse was a part of it.

Night has always pushed out day; you must know life to see decay

It’s ironic that the last time I wrote it was about being the necessity of being repeatedly broken, and two days later I’d find myself in A&E (the ER) after falling about ten feet onto cold, hard concrete, shattering my arm in three places. I’ve never broken a major bone before, let alone into three pieces, and the agony was… relentless. I was doing a photo shoot with a good friend of mine, and we were incorporating the idea of levitation shots into our theme—something I was enormously excited about, and had done before, resulting in some really cool images looking like some paranormal force was in play. After spending the day shooting out in a small ghost town in the middle of nowhere, we returned to the city to catch some extreme outdoor shots—all with the assistance of my to-be-invisible balancing box. The final shot was going to look awesome—balanced on my box I was going to appear suspended in an alcove halfway up a building—but I had to make sure my feet looked suspended, too—not as if I were standing on something that wasn’t there. As I moved my feet to the edge of the box, it gave way, tumbling from the nook I’d climbed up into and down to the pavement, taking my bones and cries and scrambling limbs with it.

This was the front of the building, but I think nooks above the entryways were about the same height around the back in the alley where we were.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 5.21.55 PMThe building was all locked up for the weekend and not a soul was in sight. I didn’t have my phone with me and didn’t know AC’s number by heart, and as I sat there screaming my poor friend ran to find out what street we were on and call an ambulance. As she was on the call I realised there was no way I could afford an ambulance and told her in a panic to hang up, but she said she’d cover it, and stayed with me until some downtown security patrol officers showed up. I was in frightening makeup and a hospital gown already, which likely did me no favours, and they kept me talking until the paramedics arrived. I remember them telling me my shoulder had been dislocated and being confused because the pain wasn’t in my shoulder, it was throbbing in my bicep/tricep area and radiating down my entire arm, and the lump seemed way too far down for a shoulder joint to fall to. My friend accompanied me to the ER in the ambulance and I remember arriving in a hospital hallway, screaming, the words “it has to stop, make it stop” repeated a hundred times, my only vocabulary. I kept calling for him, and I didn’t know how at the time but he’d made it.

I was there for four days. Bags of morphine, fentanyl, and hydromorphone were pumped into my veins and they did nothing to relieve the pain. I remember having to have x-rays taken of the arm, wrist, chest and shoulder and crying out, unable to move my body the way it needed to be moved for the excruciating pain and fear. Eventually they got what they needed, and confirmed the humerus had been broken in three places, and I’d have to be immobilised for a number of weeks.

photo (1)Every shift that came and went brought a new wave of doctors, nurses, and assistants, and the communication seemed to dissolve with every passing day. Naturally they wouldn’t let me leave until the pain was manageable, and it wasn’t anywhere close even with an IV, and I couldn’t leave on oral medication if that wasn’t cutting it. I had to—and still am, 2.5 weeks later—sleep upright, and was unable to shower for my entire stay. AC didn’t leave my side once; off work indefinitely just to take care of me, assuring me nothing was more important. I was and still am an emotional wreck with the gratitude of everything he’s doing. Timing and dosing my medication, helping me overcome my mortifying insecurities by helping me shower and dress, addressing the embarrassing side effects of strong narcotics alongside me and making me laugh in the process, holding bowls while I throw up into them (and onto him), cooking for me, cleaning my entire apartment, doing my dishes and my laundry because those I live with have offered zero help in the slightest… if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to have got through these past few weeks. Basic things like washing and dressing are impossible, as are cooking and doing dishes. I feel simultaneously like the luckiest soul in all the world to have this angel looking after me, guilty and frustrated that I can’t do anything in return, and lonely… so very alone. So scared of becoming the biggest burden, despite an arsenal of reassurances to the contrary. It’s been nearly three weeks without income; and every second of the day I’m in pain, useless, and dependent on someone else. It’s so frightening.

This took three days of writing in shifts with one hand, being propped up for as long as I could with pillows and pills, but I had to get it down. The emotions, the fear, the experience… I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. If you were able to get up today after a comfortable night’s sleep, shower yourself, put on an outfit, do your hair and make food for yourself while you replied to emails and checked Facebook… if you got to go to a job where all your limbs cooperated without second thought and got through a day without pain… if you’ll get home tonight and be able to embrace someone you love, and you know you’ll have a paycheque within a couple of weeks… if you have friends you can go visit or take a drive or have a glass of wine, or put on your own pyjamas… count your blessings so, so hard. I’m scared, hurt, and afraid because the world moves on without you. But more than anything, I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart for the small handful of friends and family who’ve come to keep me company, to bring me food and movies and a robot arm, to clean for me, to clean me, and to make me smile. To make me feel I still belong. I cannot thank them enough. And mostly, to my AC, who’s given everything and more to take care of me right from the very beginning. My protector.

A bolt of warmth, fierce with joy and pride and gratitude, flashed through me like sudden lightning. I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family. And they were my heroes.

You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens

The above Rumi quote, accompanied by this striking image, really hit home when I saw it floating around an INFJ Facebook group last week. I realised recently that I’ve reached a point in my life where though, up to this point, I genuinely feel I’ve been living with an open heart, something’s changed. And that something can only be described as having my heart be unbroken. Every worry, every fear, every last hurtful word that’s clung to the the inside and rooted itself deep inside, has been swept away, leaving nothing but a shining freedom the likes of which I’ve never known.

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Words are my weapon, but they are also my kryptonite. Part of pouring my life onto public pages isn’t without risk, and though I’ve dealt with Internet trolls before, my absence from the blogging world has had the pleasant side effect of not really giving them enough fuel to stick around. And it’s been a while. But with my last post (which somehow got into the hands of various festival organizers and performers across the country, and landed me an offer to write for another upcoming festival officially[!])  came another attack, and of course it was directed at my newfound happiness. I had to remind myself that this is the Internet, and that this is the reality of the online world. It’s not personal. There are just people out there who actually enjoy trying to hurt people. But though I think I’ve grown a thicker skin than I used to, the words still stung.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about words from the past and their effect on my current mentality. Words from my childhood, when I was called names in the school playground, or told by my own mother she felt sorry for whatever poor sod ended up with me. Words from former friends, telling me that although I was a wonderful person, my emotions and sensitivity were too much and that they’d rather abandon ship than have any presence in my life. Words from the friends and family of past partners that told me to go back to England because nobody wanted me in this country, or that begged them to leave me because I didn’t fit their mould. Words from exes, telling me repeatedly I wasn’t good enough as I was, that I had to be more to their liking, or telling me to shut my mouth and stop being a little bitch as they pinned me to the floor. Words from teachers as a newly landed immigrant, telling me to speak up and slow down because nobody could understand me, and a class in its entirety laughing in retort. Words from the well-intentioned, telling me I couldn’t possibly go after my dreams. And words from the Internet. Today.

There’s great power in words. They can capture the fragments of human emotion and weave them into something that can light the fire of the very soul. They can express the deepest of love or create the most vivid of imaginary worlds. But they can sting. They can burrow their way into a soul and masquerade as truth, distorting their entire world. The seeds of a person’s destruction. The below video served as inspiration for this post, because it’s true: children believe what they are told. And when those beliefs are formed early, when that foundation of thinking has been laid, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing every negative thing ever thrown your way. To this day.

Now, I did begin this post with a quote that at first may seem morbid, but the instant I read it, it struck a chord. I’ve had to have my heart repeatedly bruised, beaten and broken over the years in order for it to finally, truly open, and its opening has been the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced. Finally, it’s open to the truth. Yes, children believe what they are told. But children grow into adults and those beliefs can become the lens through which life is lived if reinforced and accompanied by a lack of self esteem. But the good thing about having this history, this damage, this repeated hammering at the heart, is that one learns the value of contrast. Only through the darkness can one truly define where the light is, and for the very first time, that light is shining brilliantly.

My heart has been broken to the point of finally opening, and with an open heart comes an eradication of everything that was ever false. A new lens through which to see oneself, and the world. A new way of thinking, and feeling, and believing. An heart broken open so wide that everything that was ever bad had no choice but to spill out, leaving a new vessel into which new truths are repeatedly poured with such passion and determination that I have no choice but to believe them, and remind myself every day that I’m not dreaming. I feel like the luckiest soul on the planet, and words cannot convey the depths of my gratitude. Fears, reluctant acceptance, self doubt… they’re all being erased, replaced with encouragement, confidence, connection, and an actual transformation.

The quote and the advertisement are most definitely disheartening in nature, but simultaneously can, if you let them, offer a glimpse of hope. That things can get better. Be careful with your words, for what you send out into the world may land somewhere it’ll stick, and you may move on with your life, years later in obliviousness to the effect they may have had, or may begin having, on the course of someone’s life. But even for the most sensitive of souls, words don’t have to be your shackles, no matter how heavy they weigh down. At the right time, perhaps with incredible luck and a little orchestration of the universe, they can also set you free.

“Nothing happened. And everything did. Your whole life you can be told something is wrong and so you believe it. Why should you question it? But then slowly seeds are planted inside of you, one by one, by a touch or a look or a day in a park, and they start to burst out of old hulls shells and they start to sprout. And pretty soon there are so many of them. They are named love and trust and kindness and joy and desire and wonder and spirit and soulmate. They grow into a garden so dense and thick that it starts to invade your brain where the old things you were once told are dying.”

— Francesca Lia Block

When all the world becomes a hundred stages

Winnipeg Fringe 2013

My favourite time of year just wrapped up again, and this year I was lucky enough to share it with someone who’d never Fringed before. AC and I saw 12 shows in total (sadly this year I had no vacation time to take the full week off, or it would have been at least double), 90% of which were as brilliant as expected. One of my oldest friends got to stay with me, and though our time was short, it was wonderful, and we even got to help out in making part of People Pleaser (if you happen to be lucky enough to be reading this in Edinburgh, please catch his show!).

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We saw actors perform a sold-out show and move the audience to tears with no words; nothing but hand-crafted masks and brilliantly imagined physicality. We laughed ourselves silly at so many witty comedies, parodies, and storytelling, and spent one night in absolute awe of one show in particular, which left me absolutely breathless. Seriously. There are some moments of human brilliance, whether in writing, Tim Redfordperformance or music, where the creator actually has the power to suspend time and transport you into their world, immerse you in its creativity so deeply that when it’s over, you almost feel the physical need to come up for air. I can’t explain it, but that kind of mesmerizing power, that kind of imagination, that kind of skill… it just leaves me breathless. After that show, I left inspired on so many levels, and reinvigorated with ideas for getting back to writing. And the universe, as if in unison with the burst of awe I felt inside, set the sky alight as it crashed down on us in the most epic of storms, and we ran, we kissed, we laughed, we stood atop a bridge marvelling at the lightning and the force of nature that seemed to be an echo of everything we felt inside.

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I know I try every year, but words fail me when I try to express just how much I love this time of year. I’ve been to Fringe festivals in other cities, and though Edinburgh and Adelaide remain for now a dream, there’s nothing quite like Winnipeg’s. The whole city unites in one part of town that’s usually deserted, and restaurants, pubs, concert halls, parks, churches, and of course the usual theatres become the home of the products of people’s imagination, and the dedicated audiences that fall in love with them. There’s magic in the theatrical. Anyone can become transported into a world of someone else’s creation; for a moment in time nothing exists but the universe of another’s conjuring. It can evoke laughter, tears, and all manners of emotion, and its residual effect can be carried like a torch in the form of inspiration long after its burst of glory. And to live in a city where there’s a community of fellow enthusiasts, others who adore these twelve days of a hundred plus creations… is incredible. Passion shared is passion multiplied, and this year, I got to share it with my favourite person in the world.

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It came and went all too quickly, this explosion of universes that originated in the human mind and for a moment, became real. But they were real. The residual inspiration with which I’m filled is real, and I’m beyond excited for it to fuel the next chapter of creating worlds of my own. In my head, in writing, and in song.  1009800_10151731036659171_359321007_n

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.” 
— Neil Gaiman

Black and White in a World of Technicolour

I first encountered the phrase “black and white thinking” a couple of years ago when I met with someone at the local Anxiety Disorders Association prior to starting any programming, exercises or medication. This was probably half a decade ago now, and I remember sitting in a very welcoming lady’s office and noticing that despite probably being well into her fifties, she had one of the prettiest, most inviting faces I’d ever seen, as well as a head of beautiful brown curls. Her face was etched with countless lines, but all I remember seeing in it was kindness and beauty. The purpose of my visit at this point was, after a referral from my doctor, to have a discussion to see what type of anxiety disorder I had. Social? Panic? Generalised? I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember her opening a book at a page listing a series of symptoms and feelings, and asking me which I related to. I remember bursting into tears when I realised my life was filled with every single thing on the list, and feeling like it was complete and utter confirmation that I was thoroughly flawed. Broken. I wasn’t able to finish the assessment, and I vowed never to go back—stepping foot inside that building again would be a reminder that I was fundamentally wrong, and I knew if I stayed out, I could pretend. I could do it by myself.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I did end up back in that very same building, taking that very same assessment. I’d done what I could on my own—set up and near-completed a list of everything I was ever afraid of (then, in true INFJ fashion, made another one!), tackled fears head-on (even if they resulted in various instances of throwing up or sobbing my heart out feeling my efforts weren’t good enough), but I still had Serious Issues. We could go back for hours talking about where they came from, but the point was they were still there. At this point, I went through the program. I started counselling and medication and I started doing my homework. I did a lot of reading and a lot of learning, not on how to “conquer” anxiety, because I think I’ll always be a worrier, but how to manage the destructive thoughts and feelings that had buried themselves so deeply into my skin that they’d become part of my identity.

My then-boyfriend broke up with me several times over anxiety-related issues. Each time I felt once again that I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to do better, be more, in order to be worthy of being wanted. I felt like I had to prove myself for two whole years, but looking back, I’m glad things unfolded the way they did. Even if the motivation at the time was fuelled by insecurity, being forced to learn independence and how to manage my thoughts made me strong enough to accept the final breakup when it did happen. I’d learned I needed—and deserved—more than always having to prove myself and beg desperately simply to feel wanted.

That was a tangent, but it leads me back to the idea of black and white thinking. Throughout all that, I was taught that it was a terrible thing, and that it was part of my anxiety that had to be eliminated. Yes, I did learn that sometimes, not being able to see the in-between can blind you to the best solution. It’s horribly self-centred of me to believe that there are only two ways of seeing things and that anything else is completely invalid, but at the same time, hate the idea of wasting a single day on things that don’t align with what life should be. Trivialities, chores, arguments, Facebook… we have one life, and each day is falling away from us faster and faster as we get older. We don’t know how many we have left. We hope there’ll be lots, but there are no guarantees. None. So on one hand, I do acknowledge that being too focused on not wasting time prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly the thing that others involved may expect or need—but on the other, perhaps more dominant hand, being able to quickly see how things are, whether or not they line up with how they should be, and make an immediate call to action to improve them results in more time being spent on the things that matter. I realise that not everyone operates this way, and I acknowledge the value in devoting time to truly exploring the best way forward. I just have an unequivocable need to bridge any discrepancy between how things are and how they’re meant to be as quickly as possible, so as to make the most of however many moments we’re given on this planet.

BridgeI’m not just talking about times of conflict. I’m talking about goals in life, too. I honestly think if I hadn’t put everything out there for the world to see, I would have had no reason to remain accountable or take action, and I would probably still be huddled away in my cubicle at lunchtime so inwardly full of dreams and so outwardly terrified of judgment and failure. What a waste of this gift of time. When I first met AC, I saw someone passionate about music. Someone who’d begun with the same dream but had been as scared as I was, who’d taken the leap into performing and a year later, fronted a band, had written dozens of songs, and had turned that dream into reality. I wished desperately for someone I might be able to begin the same journey with, and when he was actually open to starting a band with me, my brain quickly weighed out the options in a flash: fight or flight. This was my option to fight the fear that had kept me off stage for nigh on a decade, so I grabbed onto it tightly, all the while counting my lucky stars for the opportunity. That night, I sang something, and made him face the other direction I was so nervous. But a few hours later, we were singing together, and I’d decided we were going to perform publicly in two weeks’ time. I remember him telling me it didn’t have to be so soon, that I could take my time and ease into it. And I remember saying that as scared as I was, it was something I wanted to be able to do, and there was no point wasting any more months being afraid when the opportunity to just do it was staring me in the face. The thing is, opportunities are all around us. If you don’t like something about your life, you have every power to change it. All you have to do is decide to, and take action. It’s been almost three months since we started our little duo, and I’ve got a log of six performance diaries already, music videos of us on YouTube, a rather official looking Facebook page, and photos of myself actually enjoying being on stage. Three months, and already so very much closer to where I want to be—all because of black and white thinking.

Video shoot screencap

I’m trying to walk the line between what I believe to be the benefits of black and white thinking and what others around me may need. Do I try to convince them of my rationale? I think any time someone tries to get someone to see things their way, if it’s done with the intention of bettering things, practices, thoughts or processes, it’s almost a crime not to—only when one tries to convince purely for the sake of being right is the endeavour wrongly entered into. But I have to respect that other people’s methods and ways of doing things are just as valid to them as mine are to me. It’s a strange balancing act, but I had to put it out there. If there’s a situation, a goal, or a life you want to be leading and aren’t, whether it’s ten minutes from the present or ten years away, realizing the discrepancy between what you’re actually doing right now and whether or not it’s going to get you where you want to be can be an immediate call back to the right direction. Things can be as simple as switching your mindset; breaking the cycle of immediate emotion and focusing instead on how your current actions are affecting the big picture. Life is finite, and that’s a scary thought. Why fill any period of time with grey when it could be filled with technicolour?