Aging Greatfully

If you’d asked me a year or so ago what I thought my future might look like I’d have stared into the distance, my mouth opening and closing as if to speak, like a fish out of water. Then I’d have begun to cry and looked around for an emergency exit or a way to tunnel out of the situation. I felt I was so useless and defective that I didn’t deserve a future.

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Truthfully, my days of being suicidally depressed aren’t far behind me. I still have bad days and good but I no longer wish to be dead rather than alive and for that I am grateful.

On this, the morning of my 39th birthday, I am still unsure of my future but it doesn’t vex me so much as it used to. Instead, there are many things I’m grateful for.

In the name of starting my new age in a positive way, I want to list off that which I’m grateful for. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it in order.

I’m greatful for:

  • My husband, who makes me laugh and offers love, understanding and a shoulder to cry on when I need it most.
  • My Dad, for being so gentle, loving, kind and funny as hell.
  • The 34 years I had with my lovely Mom. I wish we’d had longer together and I miss her every day, but we made the most of the time we did have.
  • Chocolate.
  • My cat Rafe. He may be new to our little family but he brings us so much joy, laughter and love. It’s hard to imagine how we lived without him.
  • Feminism, I hope someday it won’t be needed but until then I will keep fighting for equality.
  • Extended family on both my husband’s side and my side are warm and loving, they make me laugh and offer such kind words of encouragement. I honestly am an incredibly lucky girl to have such a wonderful family.
  • The existence of both shaken margaritas and vodka martinis with extra olives and my ability to consume one or the other on occasion.
  • My friends for being such kind, loving and loyal pals. I may not have a huge group of friends but I wouldn’t trade the friends I have for anything. They challenge my mind, they open my heart, they value my opinion, they encourage me and remind me of my strengths and self-worth.
  • Having fucked up more than a few times and still made it through – to what, I don’t know, but making it, “through,” surely speaks to my resilience
  • Making visual art, as it has opened up a whole new world for creative expression. I feel joyful and excited just thinking of future artistic possibilities and how much I love the act of making the art I’m making right now.
  • Wine, especially buttery chardonnay and old vine California Zinfandel. Yum!
  • The people I’ve met through my pursuit of increasing my art skills. Theresa Grasby of Grasby Art Studios has become such an incredible friend and mentor. I also cherish the fun relationship I have with the Grasby family members who also work at the studio, the other instructors and other painters. Everyone has such inspiring, energetic, humorous and kind spirits. They all inspire me to paint more and to keep pushing myself.
  • Having the luxury of not having to worry about having basic needs like food and shelter met.
  • Now being able to say melodramatically, “I’m cusping on 40!”
  • Having access to universal health care (thank you Tommy Douglas). Our system isn’t perfect but what we have is so much better than many have access too.
  • Coffee, as it’s a substance I adore. I like it black, just like my soul.
  • This blog and the catharsis and sense of purpose it has brought me.
  • Having additional health insurance which has helped me find access to many different Dr’s and other medical professionals for help with my injuries, my struggle with mental illness and my chronic pain journey. I continue to be granted most of the care I need and for that I am grateful.
  • The word, “fuck,” and speaking it as often as I can, cuz it’s fun to say and it’s one of those miracle words one can use to jazz up any sentence in need of jazz or it handily provides satisfying emphatic emphasis in a way no other word can.
  • Having so much love in my heart I wish to spread around and having the opportunity to do so.

What are you most grateful for? Do you enjoy celebrating your birthday or, like me, are you a little apprehensive about aging? I’d love to hear from you dear readers.

K

Taking Some Credit

I often struggle when deciding if I should mention my accomplishments. For some reason I’m always concerned I’ll sound like a pompous ass. Lately, the more I consider this the more I realize how flawed my logic is. I don’t judge others to be pompous asses when they celebrate their accomplishments. They must be far more braggadocios, to earn the odious title of pompous ass. Why shouldn’t I have the same standards for myself?

This is a picture of an alcohol ink abstract piece in my new Galexcapes series. I’m still learning about alcohol ink and enjoying the process a great deal. I’m proud of how I’ve been able to find my own style with this medium and the confidence I’ve built up.

I think it’s long past time I took credit for the progress I’ve made. Lately it feels as though my heart and mind are stronger. I still suffer from anxiety and depression, but I feel I’m better equipped to cope now. I’m slowly beginning to see my self worth again and I’m recalling what a joy it is to know that I matter.

Every time I finish a painting, visit a friend, write a blog post, advance my stretching routine, keep up with the house work, lay down for a rest when I need to, or achieve anything positive, I take a moment to remember that those are all things I’ve struggled to do in the past couple years because of my mental illnesses and chronic pain. It’s important for me to acknowledge any progress I’ve made.

I still struggle and my illnesses are unlikely to go away. learning to live differently has been a huge challenge but I’m not fighting it anymore, I’m adapting and learning to love my life as it is – not as I think it should be.

It matters for me to continue improving. It’s not like I’m keeping score though. The point is to celebrate a job well done and ensure I remember my abilities. Even when my accomplishments are small it makes me feel good to give myself credit. Small accomplishments eventually add up to big accomplishments.

For me, a good way to take stock of what I’ve accomplished and show myself I’ve got lots to celebrate, is to occasionally write a list. Here’s my most recent;

Shit I’ve Accomplished Recently

Blog – As of this month I’ve officially been writing my Perkreations blog for 2 years. When I started writing I worried I’d never be able to keep it up, but I have. I’ve written well over 100 posts about mental health, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, suicide, self harm, the psych ward, art, poetry, creativity and feminism, to name just a few topics and I feel like I’ve got lots more fodder kickin’ around upstairs.

Art – I finish art although finishing is the hardest part for me. I’ve learned finishing is the most satisfying part, perhaps because it’s so difficult. It’s not as though I keep track of what I’ve finished, I just enjoy the buzz I feel once I’m in the home stretch and I intuitively able to figure out the best way to add the finishing touches that make all the difference. I believe the finishing touches are what takes a piece from, “meh,” to, “WOW!

Practice – Even on days when I don’t finish something important, like a painting or a blog post, I’m always working to hone my craft. I find practice to be incredibly satisfying. Usually the satisfaction comes from variations of the simple but important work listed below;
**I practice drawing skills in front of the TV. I find trying to focus on two things at once helps distract me from the pain I’m ever fighting to cope with and all that practice adds up to steadily improving skills.
**I scribble down story and character ideas, thumbnails of future art projects and bits of verse all the time. These bits and pieces don’t look like much to start with but often they develop into interesting and original finished projects.
**I study the craft of others for inspiration, I never steal but studying is an important part of my creative process. I do this by reading a wide range of subject matter, both fiction and non. I love looking at other artists work as well. I do this by watching documentaries, checking out Instagram feeds, looking at books and magazines filled with art as well as info about the artists and their methods and philosophies.
**It’s also important for me to draw inspiration from artistic avenues that aren’t my forte. For instance, I will never be a musician as I’m rather tones deaf, but I absolutely couldn’t live without music. Painting without my music feels lonely. Having music on warms my soul and helps me work with greater passion. I also love to check out podcasts, movies, jewelry, cake decorating, dance, and recipes for inspiration.
**The nice part about having a home studio set up is that everything I need is there and ready to go. I don’t have to waste precious energy setting things up. Any time an idea strikes I can stroll into my studio and make it happen. Further, when my pain is outrageous and I’ve no gas in the tank all I do is walk in, mix up a colour, and add a few strokes to something or a layer that needs to dry. Even if I feel I haven’t done a whole lot, it all adds up in the long run and that’s what really counts  –

Organization – Another thing I’ve been working hard on is cleaning and organizing my home. I tend to be decidedly untidy but I’m working to break that habit. Over the past year I’ve organized and sorted my closet and drawers, winter wear, jewelry, linen closets, medicine cabinets, cleaning supply closets, bathrooms, kitchen cupboards and drawers, art studio and vinyl collection. It’s been a slow but steady process and the act of getting rid of excess crap and organizing the rest has been surprisingly satisfying and cathartic.

Cat – Most importantly, a direct result of all the cleaning and organizing done this year is that my husband and I recently adopted a one-year old cat from a nearby shelter. It’s been a little over 2 weeks and Rafe (rhymes with safe) is fitting right in with us and making our lives far more interesting. I’ll be writing more about Rafe soon and the benefits of having a pet when suffering from a mental illness and/or chronic pain in an upcoming post.

It’s not a lengthy or exhaustive list but the projects mentioned are highlights for me. In spite of my logic earlier, I still find this sort of thing tough to accept. Part of me is screaming that I’m becoming a pompous ass and I shouldn’t dare post this. In the interest of progress, I’m going to press post and take a big step towards appreciating my abilities and accomplishments and loving myself a little more.

If any readers have stories about learning how to give yourself a pat on the back when you deserve one I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to hear about your recent accomplishments.

As I mentioned, I’ll soon be writing more about acquiring our cat, the benefits as well as tricky spots. Should you have any advice about training therapeutic, service animals or general stories about how animals have been helpful in your life, I’d love to hear all about it.

Feel free to write in the comment section on Facebook or on WordPress. If you’d like to be anonymous when commenting you can do this by going directly through the WordPress site as a guest. You can also email me directly at kim@trefor.ca

K

Time to Move On

I’ve had the same psychiatrist for the past 9 years. At first he was great. I felt as though he cared, as though he believed in me even when I didn’t believe in me. I shed many a tear in his office but felt motivated to keep trying when I left our appointments.

This is the self portrait in question. My psychiatrist might not have appreciated it but I think it turned out well. 

Over the years, slowly, things began to change. My reward for being a loyal patient seemed to be shorter and ever more terse appointments.

Eventually I was seeing him for about fifteen minutes every three months for a prescription refill and a brief chat that often sounded like this;

“You’re still off work because of your chronic pain problems? It seems much of your depression is tied to the loss of your career.”

“Yes, and I would give anything to be deemed fit enough to go back.”

“You’ve had a hard time but you have to find other things to replace what your job did for you. I think it will be difficult. I would be very upset if I could no longer practice.”

“I’ve been focusing on art and writing as much as I can but it never seems to fully fills the void.”

“Well, keep working at it. Be positive. Here’s your perscription I’d like to see you again in about three months.”

I was delighted one day when he asked about what kind of art mediums I was working with. He seemed genuinely interested and even gave me an assignment.

“I want you to paint a self portrait by our next appointment. Paint how you see yourself. Let’s book a month from now. You bring the painting then and we’ll discuss what it means to you and how it makes you feel.”

I agreed with a smile, “challenge accepted!” and fairly skipped out of his office. I’d never considered a self portrait before, preferring to draw others instead, but the introspection of the assignment intrigued me.

I began my portrait that day with a little help from my art teacher at Grasby Art Studio. I finished my portrait in record time and was thrilled with it which surprised me as I generally don’t like pictures of myself.

I eagerly awaited my appointment and, when the time came, proudly carried my canvas into the Dr’s office.

“I finished the assignment you gave me last time. Would you like to see it?”

He glanced at my file with a confused look.

“You asked me to paint a self portrait. To paint myself as I see myself. I enjoyed the project and I brought the painting to show you like you asked.”

He nodded and I presented the piece for him to look at.

“That’s not really my taste. I don’t think it looks like you.”

That was the last we spoke of it. Dejectedly I put the painting on the floor and asked for a refill on my meds. I couldn’t wait to flee that office.

This one time I didn’t want him to see me cry. I couldn’t find the strength to get angry at him, defend my artistic liscense. I could only think to attack myself and my stupid, ugly painting.

I have since reminded myself that if I love my self portrait and good for me! Fuck what he thinks. The painting hangs proudly on my bedroom wall now.

After careful consideration I’ve decided instead of ditching my art it’s time to ditch the Doc! Obviously it’s time to move on. I’ve found someone new and I’m not going to look back.

K

Check out http://www.grasbyartstudio.com

Passion Practice 

Author Malcolm Gladwell posits to gain expertise at something one must put in roughly 10,000 hours of practice and study.

I believe I have my 10,000 in many aspects of curling. I believe I have roughly 10,000 hours accumulated in writing and reading but I feel I could do with another 50,000 hours of study before obtaining the expertise in literature and how to craft prose without sounding like a poseur. 

I was recently asked by someone trying to get a feel for how serious I am about art,”When did you last make art?,”  

I immediately replied, “last night before bed. I try to practice drawing and/or painting every day.”

I’ve been asked about this too with regards to writing and the answer is generally the same. I work hard to practice whatever I want to gain skill at every single day whenever possible because, for me, this is what keeps me moving closer to competence and , eventually, expertise. 

I find my confidence grows the more I practice. I try to vary my studies. I read a bizarrely broad range of books. I try writing in as many genres as possible. With art I experiment with as many different mediums and styles as I can.

Sure there is reading material I prefer but I try to mix it up in order to see what I might be missing. I am often surprised to find myself enjoying things I felt skeptical about at first.

There are also styles of writing I enjoy but I try everything from Haiku to science fiction. Again I am always surprised to find myself enjoying an unexpected new writing style. Art is also always surprising me. The more I learn, the more I grow to llove the practice.  

My wish is that everyone has a chance to work towards exploration, achievement, and advanced knowledge in whatever one finds a passion for, be it anything from plumbing to flower arranging.

Knowledge is power, skills are transferable and practice is a huge part of growing and learning and stoking the passion within us all.

K

Meditative Drawing

I have been drawing these little bird characters off and on for about 6 years. I call them Strange Birds (kinda like me😉) and when I draw them in mass quantities they seem to put me into a semi-meditative state. While in this state I feel less pain, less anxiety, less depression and less grief.

Here is an example of a partially finished piece at the beak colouring stage. From here I will move on to add colour and more personality to each bird. Even making colour decisions has a calming effect.

Is this actually meditation? Perhaps not conventionally, but it works for me so I’m not going to knock it!

K

Finish Line

There’s something deeply satisfying about finishing. Finishing is a battle. I’ve learned I hate my art and my writing most right before I turn the corner and finish. 

It’s a struggle to stay with a project I think is nothing more than tripe, fit for no eyes or ears lest the looker/listener cry out in pain from the hideousness of it all (dramatically collapses on fainting chaise lounge).

The satisfying part is when I push and finally see the ugly duckling turn into a swan. There’re few better feelings than signing a piece of art work or seeing one’s byline in print because finishing is incredibly satisfying. 

The painting above is one I began a month or so ago. I showed a picture of it halfway finished at the I-fucking- hate-this-painting-and-can’t-believe- I’ve-wasted-so-much-time-on-it  (dramatic foot stomp and pout) stage. Truth be told that blog, entitled Finding A-MUSE-ment, was written, in part, to help me find the strength to power through and finish!

The finished painting above is titled Espressoscape as I cured the canvas in roughly 10 layers of coffee and espresso to start. I then used both coffee, espresso and acrylic ink for about another 10 layers for both light and dark areas, the shadows were laid in last with about 5 layers of espresso. It smells like the dreams of a Gilmore Girl❤❤❤

It was a really interesting project as I was making it up as I went along. I’m working on another similar and experimental piece where the canvas is cured in a combo of coffee, espresso and red wine. I’ll let you know how it works out😊

K

Hello, is Marilyn There Please?

“Hello, is Marilyn there please?”

Five little words bring my morning to a screeching halt. 

“M m m marilyn?” I stutter after a long pause.

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is (so and so) from (some charity I can’t recall.”

“Uh, I’m afraid she’s deceased.”

“Blah, blah, blah”

“Thank you, goodbye.”

Our exchange lasted hardly a minute. It’s amazing what can happen in a minute. I stare off into space after hanging up and then the tears come. Great heaving sobs.

My mother is deceased. Still. It’s not likely the situation will reverse. 

It’s been 2 and a half years now and lately I’ve felt the soul wracking grief has softened. Yet all it takes is one simple phone call to make my recent acceptance revert to missing her desperately.

To be honest, I’m not sure why they called my home number looking for her. I haven’t received such a call since immediately after her death. I cannot imagine what it must be like for my Dad. He must field similar calls on a more frequent basis.

The death of a loved one is the gift that keeps on fucking giving!

Here is a sneak peak at the new Strange Birds piece I began today

Rather than spiraling downwards further I begin an art piece for my ongoing Strange Birds collection. I make sure to give many birds the nobly knees my Mom was so fond of.

As always, I am soothed by the feeling of pen on paper. I slowly begin to feel better and soon can scarcely see the phone call in my rear view. 

K

Finding a-MUSE-ment

Being creative doesn’t always come naturally and even if it does, from time to time, every artist finds themselves uninspired. A creative block, writers block, missing muse… call it what you will, if you feel this way it can be tough to snap out of. Here are a few tips for getting that creative mojo back!

Here’s a small sample of a piece I’ve been working on for weeks. I’m not always sure where it’s going but I’m learning from it and I know I can see it through to finished if I persist. 

Grind it Out – Keep drawing, keep writing, keep dancing, just keep at it. Keep grinding away and you’ll soon get back on track.

Try setting a timer and don’t stop grinding it out until time is up. It may feel as though nothing produced during this time will be of use but you’ll likely be surprised. Often I’ve been able to push through in this manner and I then find myself feeling re-energized and inspired.

Practice Every Day – In order to succeed the only way to improve is with practice, practice, practice. If you want to write spend some time each day either reading or writing or both. 

You needn’t stick to your main project and its research, any sort of practice helps. Play with writing prompts for both fiction and non. Try reading a wide and unusual array of books. Even try subjects you think you’ve no interest in. You never know what may strike your fancy and inspire you to new find unique new ideas and initiatives. 

Try Something Different– If you write try painting. If you paint try dancing. If you choreograph try poetry. Switching from one creative medium to try out another doesn’t mean abandoning your art of choice. On the contrary, by trying another medium you expand your horizons and will likely find inspiration to take back to your choice medium… who knows, you might even find another choice medium.

Give Yourself a Break – That’s right folks… you heard it here first. NOBODY is ON all the time. Honestly; I garuntee even the most successful folks out there falter from time to time because they’re human and so are you. 

It’s OK to rest and recharge. We all feel uninspired from time to time and that’s OK. It’s OK as long as we keep picking back up and trying again and again. 

As an artist (holy-pretentious-sentence-stater-Bat Man!), I have often felt like I’ve reached the end of my creative life and I’ll never find my muse again. Fortunately my muse isn’t as mellow dramatic as I and has never failed to return and gift me with another idea, another spark, and that’s all it takes before I’m off and running with another project.

There’s always more creativity left to find, the trick is to persist. So keep kicking down doors until you find where your muse is hiding and take back your mojo!

K

Isolation and Illness 

Isolation due to hurt or illness begins as soon as illness or injury prevents one from participating in activies of choice. The longer one is away from familiar activities the more isolated one can grow to feel. Isolation may become even more pronounced should it be decided one will likely never return to the previous activity of choice.

The persistent plant shown here could easily feel isolated amongst the stones

For me, my life revolved around the sport of curling and building up as much knowledge as possible over 25 years. When it was finally decided that my career in curling would have to end due to injury I cannot begin to describe the loneliness and sense of hopeless isolation this brought. 

Suddenly the network of friends and colleagues I’d spent three quarters of my life building was roughly ripped away from me. Sure, I could visit, but I dreaded the questions and the looks of pity. I also dreaded simply being around what I couldn’t have. It was too painful. To this day there is a giant curling rock shaped hole in my heart.

Illness can also feel physically isolating. Once my back problems began to cause issues with low impact activities like walking, hiking, and biking, I began to feel isolated. I dreaded telling friends and family I couldn’t keep up or had to turn back earlier than planned. 

Did my anxiety and depression develop just because of chronic pain? Probably not. Frankly, a lot of shit has gone down since my initial injury. 

Chronic pain has definitely contributed to my mental illness. That is for sure. I find my mental illness to be isolating as well as it’s still somewhat taboo to talk about and can be difficult to understand if one hasn’t been there.

Others may empathize, in fact, empathy is the best we humans can hope to offer each other as we all have our burdens to bare. What of it when confronted by an individual with an inability to empathize? Is it worth trying to explain or should I just mutter something about my situation being complicated and hope the conversation drops? I’m not entirely sure but in recent years I’ve begun to tend towards the latter.

What has worked for me to combat isolation? I started taking art lessons and practicing at home as well. This gives me some sense of pride and accomplishment and I have started to make a few friends within that community. 

I have started this blog and I find sharing my stories and feelings to be quite cathartic. I can only hope that my blog offers solace, insight, or a sense of understanding and/or camaraderie to readers. 

I try to schedule at least one social outing a week along with my Dr’s appointments so I ensure I get out of the house for fun occasionally. 

I try to schedule something outside my home almost every day, such as simple errands, and brief trips for groceries. This also combats isolation because I must leave home and dwell amongst the living for at least a little while each day.

Most importantly, when I begin to feel isolated I check my schedule and start calling friends and family. Sometimes we just talk and sometimes we make plans. Either way I begin to feel a lot less isolated and far better equipped to cope in general.

K

Today’s Special: Anxiety 

At risk of sounding whiney I’d like to express my experiences from earlier today. Sometimes it seems anxiety is a beast and I am its, long-suffering, bitch. 

It crept in this morning like a slow-moving fog, suffocating me before I realize how thick it is. I try to breath deeply and focus on listening to my headphones but the anxiety continues to bloom and blossom throughout my body.

This is the sketch I worked my anxiety out on. I think, for a practice piece, she turned out quite well. So glad I have access to such satisfying creative outlets.

I roll from my bed long before I need to be up, long before I’ve had enough sleep, and I stretch out my aching and tense muscles. The more anxious I become the more my pain increases…or is it the other way around?

I wrack my brain for a cause, pain management, upcoming appointments, over-booking myself, setting my expectations for myself too high, or some other myriad of possibilities. 

Could my anxiety be from baring my soul in a tell-all blog? I’m not used to offering up my life as story fodder in such a manner. Usually if I appear in one of my stories I am much more abstract or part of a composite and no more than a sidebar. 

Am I actually having an impact or is this some self-serving, narcissistic project only intent on garnering pity and pardon from everyday life? Is it worth giving it all away like this or should I continue to hide my mental health issues as is common practice?

I take a scalding hot shower and let the steam and water leech some of my aches and pains away. Next I head downstairs to a place of sanctuary. I click on an innocuous TV show and pull out my drawing tools. 

The smell of pencil shavings, erasers, and soft wax pencils all begin to sooths my jangled nerves. I immediately begin working on portrait practice. I find this skill difficult but difficult is what I need in order to best distract myself.

Soon I sink into a peaceful trance while I choose colours, begin shading, and try to rough in shadows and light. I add in my own touches and subtle changes. I let my imagination run wild.

Soon I am calmer and revel in it. I then head out the door to see a Dr. Just another day in paradise. I embrace the calm and get on with my day. 

K