I Choose to be Happy

Five little words have been making such a difference to me as of late. I’d always thought affirmations were a little silly until I found the right ones and I decided how to ingratiate a few into my life. One of my favourite affirmations is as follows:

I Choose to be Happy

It seems too simple to make a difference. Had I been told to do this at my deepest, darkest points of depression I likely would have scoffed, rolled my eyes and been irritated, feeling like my mental state was being oversimplified, misunderstood. I likely would have cried and called it a bullshit solution.

In many ways I would have been right. Maybe it was too soon for me. Perhaps this mantra is something to work up to with a therapist or Doctor or maybe there comes a time in recovery when one can finally see that happiness can be a choice. If you can bring yourself to believe it sooner or even just pretend to believe it, fake it til you make it as the saying goes, you might be able to speed up your recovery.

It’s easy to be beaten down by the tumult that insists on messing with us all. Some times are worse than others but there will always be tumult and irritation about. So why not choose to look for happiness and positivity in spite of tumultuous times?

Choosing to be happy doesn’t mean sunshine and roses everyday, all day and to ignore all problems and potential conflict. No, Choosing to be happy means laughing and finding the humour, sometimes even in the face of adversity. It means smiling for yourself not because you’re, supposed to, but because there is a lot of good in the world if you choose to see it.

Choosing to be happy means finding as many reasons to belly laugh as possible. It means surrounding yourself with people who make you happy and who you also make happy. It means seeing opportunities for negativity and choosing to tackle those opportunities with a different attitude.

The trick, for me, has been to embed the message, I Choose to be Happy, into the everyday so I can’t help but remember it.

Here’s a list of some of the ways I’ve embed the phrase into my days so I see it enough and make it so memorable I can’t help but begin to hardwire this notion into my brain.

– Write it on sticky notes and leave them strewn around your home and office.

– Turn the phrase into a daily appointment on your calendar so when it pops up the reminder is there and the happy circuit is again reinforced and helps rewire the brain. This method has been particularly helpful to me.

– When you come across the phrase where you’ve written it down say it out loud. Hearing the phrase instead of just reading it engages another sense and reinforces the idea again.

– scrawl it across white boards and mirrors. Place it everywhere and anywhere you might catch even a subliminal sight of it.

– Make an effort to do one or two things that make you happy everyday.

– Be creative – even if you insist you, “don’t have a creative bone in your body.” Trust me, deep down you do, it’s just a matter of finding your creative style; maybe you decorate cakes, or create recipes, or love interior decorating, creating model train terrain or you’re actually great at drawing but you’re too stuck try… unstuck yourself, unfuck yourself! You can do this, use your creativity to find activities that make you happy.

– Create a space you’re happy to live in. You don’t have to spend big to redecorate. Sell or give away what you don’t want and spend time browsing thrift stores and garage sales. There’s something satisfying about finding the perfect items at a reasonable price and bringing your unique treasures home.

Admittedly I’m not perfect. I have times where depression and negative emotions take over and I can’t help but cry and write bad poetry. Sometimes it feels like the bleakness and black will never leave my tired bones.

This photo reminds me that sometimes things must fall apart to fall into place. I could have been sad this flower lost a bloom but I chose to be happy about how lovely it looked. I couldn’t have placed it better if I tried😊

As the saying goes, this too shall pass. I find myself drawn out of the depths of depression a lot easier now that I’ve finally found tools that work for me. It’s been a long, hard road fraught with out-patient care, multiple psychologists and psychiatrists and nurses, medication changes, being suicidal, long stays in the psych ward, and, most recently, coming to terms with the end of my marriage.

I’ve found myself a soft place to land and truly begin to heal and figure out who I am and what I value most. It turns out I value kindness, empathy, belly laughing, honesty, integrity, my friends, family, and unbridled happiness, to name just a few.

This is just one of many techniques out there and I’ve had good results over the past year since I really started working on healing emotionally, building self-confidence, finding independence, growing inner strength, loving myself as much as I love others and finding happiness.

I’d love to hear if any affirmations work for you, perhaps some examples and alternative ideas💚

K


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Sometimes Things Are Just Things

It took my Grandfather years to downsize because he couldn’t part with his furniture. He’d come to so cherish his dining room suite because it had belonged to his parents and was gifted to him and my grandmother once they’d married and begun their own family.

I think he’d infused, confused, misplaced, the deep love he felt for his mother, who died when he was still a young man, into the furniture. The table and chairs didn’t replace his mother though. He couldn’t claim they loved him back but he couldn’t part with them because of the power he gave them.

I’ve been just as guilty, hanging on to pieces of my mother as though they’ll bring her back. The most important parts of our relationship are stored in my head, my heart, not in her opal ring or the wall hanging she made in a circular weaving class. These things don’t love me back but they make me feel closer to her in a way she didn’t intend. I gave these things their power over me. I gave them that intense hold that’s so often born of grief and good intentions.

Things can turn evil if we give them too much power, too much of ourselves, if we let them hold us back.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer’s solo work lately and her song, The Thing About Things, on her new album, There Will Be No Intermission, has had me thinking of the power we give things and how we often let what we own own us.

I’m down to one last thing I thought I was saving for the daughter I don’t have. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to admit that my grad dress will never be pranced around in during dress-up or altered to fit my little girl as she goes off to a formal dance. It’s hard to admit that I’m not going to have a daughter the way I always thought I would. It’s just a dress. I’ve given it the power to bring me to tears about something that doesn’t exsist.

I’ll be working on letting things go, taking back the power I gave each piece. Taking back the power these things were never meant to have. Within my heart and head I have the real power to keep my precious memories safe.

Do you find you hang onto things? Have you ever given meaning or power to an item only to realize it’s how deep it’s got it’s claws in you? How do you go about letting go of things? I’d love to hear any comments you have.

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

Social Anxiety- A Self-Portrait in Texts

Me: Holy cow! I’m freakin’ vibrating from caffine overload! Lol!

Me: I am so sorry. I think I talked too much this morning and didn’t pay enough attention to you, your baby or (other friend). I was behaving selfishly and I’m really sorry.

Friend: Stop that! We enjoyed your visit. I didn’t respond to your message sooner because we are at ikea.

Me: No I wasn’t talking about u not responding, it didn’t take long anyway. I just keep playing the visit over in my head and realized how annoying I was being. Ahhh I hate anxiety. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have mentioned this. I’ve been really nervous lately and it’s fucking with my head. I’m sorry for being a freak and sorry for being sorry. Ok I need to chill out. Not sure why I’m not hitting delete rather than send.

It was really nice being there with you three. Just when I think I’m past ruminating and beating myself up it comes back and reminds me I still have a mental illness. Frustrating. I suppose I should appreciate that it happens with less frequency now. Thank you for understanding my crazy weirdness💜

Friend: Lol, all good my lovely. We were saying how nice it was to have you there this morning and how much we enjoyed your visit. So don’t worry at all. Never stop being you.

This is a text conversation I had after visiting with a friend, her baby and another friend from out of town. I think it’s a pretty good example of how social anxiety affects my life.

Fortunately the friend I was texting with has known me for more than 20 years and is familiar with my anxieties and pretty adept at helping me to dismiss unnecessary, repeating thoughts.

Here’s a little bit more about how this situation came to be:

I’m heading home after a nice visit with a huge smile on my face. There had been laughter and many old, inside jokes and stories, lots of catching up on each other’s lives, witty banter, genuine affection amongst ourselves, and a sense of ease together that only comes with long-standing, well-nourished, mutually appreciated relationships. It was an especially nice visit I’m thinking as I pull into my driveway.

I begin playing parts of the conversation from the morning back and I realize I forgot to ask about ongoing issue one of my friends was having at work. At first I’m starting to rationalize this oversight as we hadn’t seen each other in a while and there was a lot to catch up on. I’m able to tell myself I’ll be sure to ask about it next time we visit.

Next I realize how long I spent prattling on about some story about my husband. My friends were probably bored to tears. At this point my ability to rationalize away my subpar social skills begins to fizzle and I feel the familiar, but never comfortable, sensation of panic flip-flopping like a slippery fish in my belly.

Soon I am obsessively going over the entire visit with a fine toothed comb and analysing stupid jokes I made, things I now think I shouldn’t have said, other things I should have asked about and on and on and on.

I even begin to assess my mannerisms and actions; did I hug too hard or too long? did I gesticulate too wildly? was I warm enough or too familiar? did I stay too long or not long enough? Was I over-dressed or under-dressed? and on and on and on.

I consider possible consequences; they won’t invite me to visit again, I’ll lose two good friends, they’ll talk about what a crazy, selfish bitch I am, they must be mad at me, and on and on and on.

These thoughts and questions swirl round my mind and I’m rapping my knuckles against my temple to make it fucking stop. It doesn’t stop. I try distracting myself by painting but the thoughts keep interrupting.

I try reframing the situation and using my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) skills. I classify my thoughts; Mind-Reading-As in, I cannot predict if the others noticed my missteps or if they would even categorize them as such. Fortune Telling-As in, I’m predicting outcomes when I cannot know the future. Catastrophizing-As in, I’m making something small into a much bigger problem than it is.

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to make CBT work for me no matter how many times I write down my feelings, categorize and rate them. I know this type of therapy works for many but I’ve been trying to make it work for the past 10+ years and it’s yet to actually help.

Finally I decide to text my friend. Impractical as it is, this is what usually helps. I confront the situation and apologize for what I think I did wrong. As I mentioned before, my friend is familiar with my anxiety, sees it for what it is and easily calms my mind.

The frustrating part is, in other situations I can’t always go back and apologize, I generally haven’t done anything wrong anyway and I already apologize far too much as it is (I have anxiety about over-apologizing too. Lol!). Sometimes I just think things to death until it either goes away on it’s own for a while or until I’m having a full-blown panic attack and have to take medication.

If this is familiar behaviour to anyone out there I am truly sorry as nonsense like this is a waste of time and energy. Even if I actually had done something I needed to apologize for there’s no need to punish myself in this manner. Making the apology and meaning it is enough.

This is just one facet of how my social anxiety manifests but I thought it was a good example. If you’d like to share a comment, similar story or if you’ve got a coping technique that works for you I’d love to hear about it.

K

To Toronto 4 Tori

(Written Oct 28th on the plane to Toronto)

And today’s the day I’m Toronto bound to make a long time dream come true. I’m headed to Toronto to see my favourite singer/song wtiter/piano prodigy/rock goddess, the indomitable Ms Tori Amos!

Me outside the venue before the show

When her latest album, Native Invader, dropped I decided now’s the time, I need to do this, the ultimate indulgence, I’m going to get tickets and I’m going to do this.

Tori is only playing a scant handful of concerts in Canada. No shows anywhere near where I live.

Thanks to a wondeeful friend who happens to live in Toronto I had someone to go with, and a place to stay. I swear this friend of mine is an everyday angel. Her kindness, generosity and warmth have made this dream of mine a once in a lifetime reality.

Even now as I sit on the plane, getting closer and closer, my heart skips a beat now and then and I’m shaking from head to toe. The reason for these bodily tics is simple – I’m terrified!

Here’s how it is in my head:

I’m going to see Tori fucking Amos! Holy cow! This is amazing!

But what if I have a panic attack and annoy my hostess with my scared neediness?

Should I really be doing this? I’m not a healthy person. My back is screaming at me. I’m beginning to ache everywhere. My ankle with the nerve damage has now joined the party and im not sure I can take much more of this.

Do I deserve this? What have I done to be worthy of such a luxury? I’m still on disability leave as my body and mind continue to plague me with problems.

FUCK IT! I’M GOING!

💛I know this post is really late. I’ve been back a week now and the recovery has been rough. It was an amazing, strengthening experience and so much fun!

I will write more as soon as my body and brain are feeling a little less burnt out. I will recover soon and the trip was totally worth it😁💛

K