How art has helped me: the teen years.

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*To make the post interactive, hyperlinks have been added. Videos and further information are there for maximum learning. Please note some videos may be triggering, so proceed with caution.*

High school was a place of discovery and I enjoyed the new-found independence. However, there was a power struggle between me and my parents. I admit, I was not the easiest daughter to deal with. At all. Restrictions and deadlines simply encouraged me to rebel, further and further. The more restrictions that came, the more resentment I harboured. I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. I couldn’t figure out why I was losing motivation. Some days I was snappy and other days I thought I might burst from feeling loved. During these few years, I had confided in a teacher that I had lost motivation to do anything (including the psychology assignment due that day). She told me to speak to a counsellor to try and help me get back on track. I’d never seen a counsellor before, and my view of counsellors were people who would only tell my parents whatever I would say. I went once, feeling too vulnerable to have a proper conversation. I didn’t return.

I was part of a couple youth groups and that was a way to socialise, free of stress and expectations. However, every time the meetings were over, leaving was almost derisive; the feeling of impending doom remained. Having trouble trusting adults already, I wasn’t about to seek help from a teacher or counsellor. Guidance was what I needed, but I didn’t know where to look.

As the senior years rolled around, things got worse.

My family life was on unstable hinges and my personal life was slowly deteriorating. Let’s throw in a toxic relationship too, shall we? The cycle of control continued. He told me to stop talking to certain friends and that I shouldn’t be going to friend’s parties. If I tried to hide it to keep the peace, I’d be questioned and judged for doing so. He’d also belittle my feelings; I eventually stopped sharing them. One night, I remember being on the phone, and he realised I was at a friend’s party. He was furious, almost yelling through the phone. I was ready to throw the damn phone away. But, I was young and naive. I wanted someone to be ‘on my side’, even if that person was more controlling than my parents. Toxic relationships in your teenage years can be so taxing on your mind, body and those around you.  During this time, I had thoughts about self-harm and running away to be free from the control and manipulation.

I was away from school more and more, and my grades were slipping. Teachers began to notice. The year-level coordinator eventually coaxed it out of me, and I told him what was going on in my life. He said that abuse is never okay. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I felt like for the first time, an adult understood what I was going through. Still, because I wasn’t willing to seek further help, the coordinator couldn’t do anything more than listen if ever I felt overwhelmed.

I still felt trapped. Since I couldn’t talk about my emotions, I decided I’d draw them. I was already withdrawn from the outside world, so I may as well take advantage of it. Colours I remember using regularly was black, red and brown. I constantly drew squares and triangles, representing anger, barriers, cages and anything else that expressed feeling ‘imprisoned’. Charcoal was my weapon of choice. I enjoyed the ability to express so much, that I did my Research Project on art as therapy. This subject was the highlight of high school because I felt I could pour my soul into the work, without it feeling like effort. The same could be said about my final art project. I finally found a way to communicate. Perhaps it was my inner rebel triumphing again – always finding a way to survive.

Creativity was a permanent device in my tool-box, ever since. If I was feeling stressed, sad or anxious, I knew I could express it through art. Years on, I understand why my parents were over-bearing. They were trying their best to look out for me. Our conversations tell me they had learned not to be too strict on their younger kids, as it would only push them away. The ex on the other hand… well, he’s still an ex.

These days, I have been learning to speak up. Drawing is great, but to get through this world in life and work, it is important to be able to communicate effectively. To ask for what you want. To stand up, when you’re not being treated fairly. And to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

If you notice a friend is withdrawn, not their usual self, or talks about hardship in a relationship or in their family – support them. They may be experiencing mental health issues or have someone in their life that is emotionally abusive. Even if a friend does not want to share what they’re going through, it is important for them to know that they’re not alone.

Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Withdrawn from family/friends
  • Constantly unable to make small decisions without checking in with their partner/family member
  • Excessively texting/messaging whereabouts
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of confidence
  • Being told they can’t talk to a certain person/group of people for no reason

What I wish I knew: Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Read books about communication and human development to understand what’s going on in your mind and body. Be aware of signs of manipulation and emotional abuse. If you need help, reach out to a trusted confidant or counsellor. There are people out there that are for you, not against you.

Phone and online counselling service: Kidshelpline (ages 5 to 25).
Video on art therapy.
Image by Jacqueline.

Relationships and why we need them.

Relationships and why we need them.

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First, it is important to address what the word relationship means. A quick Google shows that a relationship is a connection or correlation between things or people. As humans, we need connection to thrive in this world. I see so many remarks on social media that men and women prefer to be alone because ‘there’s less drama’. Perhaps you need to find the right group of people? Good relationships are important to maintain health and wellbeing.

So, besides wellbeing, why do we need relationships?
The answer is quite simple. Every person on this planet, has a set of innate needs that drives their actions. Abraham Maslow (psychologist) formulated a hierarchy of needs that drives actions. One of them is the need to belong and be loved. Although some people prefer to be alone, the vast majority have a need to connect with others.

What hinders a relationship?
Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if one or both people’s needs are ignored, therein lies the problem. Note that needs can be broken down into many sub-categories and change throughout one’s lifetime. Other factors that affect one’s needs are personality traits, cultural influence and financial state.

Something that shocked me to my core was when Larry Rosen said, “Hurting people is not a need. Hurting is used to fulfill an UNDERLYING need.”

I will use a personal example to demonstrate underlying needs. Early in my relationship, I found it very difficult to open up to my partner about how I felt – especially in heated situations. I adopted a habit of bottling up my emotions. I was hurting him, when my need wasn’t to hurt, it was to feel safe and accepted. When I finally worked through my issues, I could share my feelings openly. I was no longer scared. This lead to deeper understanding and meaningful conversations.

It is important to note that communication plays a big role in keeping relationships alive. Confrontation can be resolved if you know how to listen well, as well as how to communicate effectively.

Understand that human motivation is based on fulfilling needs. Everyone’s needs differ. Ask curious questions. Make a conscious effort to get to know the people around you. We are social creatures for a reason!

What are your needs? What are the needs of those you love? If you can find time to understand people from a kind and curious perspective, I can tell you that your relationships may improve and even thrive!

 

Watch a video on human motivation/needs here.
Image by Evan.

How to study when you’re sick.

The photo above is my current situation. Although I am typing this post while sitting on a desk, I have been living in my bed. Fighting the tiredness doesn’t make it go away, unfortunately. I’m sure most of you know what it’s like… assignments due, classes to go to, rent to pay and the list goes on! So, how does a student study while sick? I’m about to tell you.

What’s your priority?

Over the course of this semester, I’ve accepted now that studying is one of my main priorities. And no, I didn’t accept it for months, until recently. I was set on working four days a week and studying meticulously during off-hours. However, it did not work out that way at all. The complete opposite, in fact. Nowadays, I study more than I work and it’s a constant cycle of “I may not pay rent, but that’s cool, I’m getting an education”. You may think an education isn’t all that important – that’s okay! This post is geared towards those who do. Then again, isn’t life full of lessons anyway? Ha!

Back to the subject.

Right now, my body is aching and my lungs are struggling a bit more than usual to take in oxygen.

My priority then, is to complete anything that is due next, like my counseling assignment. Once that’s done, I’ll study for a test that’s coming up next week. Revise, revise, revise! Anything else can take a seat in the back, as far as I’m concerned. Things like readings (I’ve been doing terribly, if I’m honest), lectures (almost up to date) and practicals — will be attended in due time.

Also, try and refrain from infecting others as much as possible. Stay home or distance yourself if you have to be out and about.

So, what’s your priority? Make a list. Work down that list in order of importance. Use as little energy as possible. You’ll need it to recover and be well.

Rest, and take breaks.

Although I’m in the comfort of my own room, it’s still important to rest and take breaks. Some people can handle aching muscles and constant coughing in public – I can’t. Unless it’s an absolutely mandatory task (test/exam/critical information to pass a subject), you’ll find me at home, studying but taking my time.

If you are able to, take your time, have as many resting breaks as you need. Look after your body, you only get one. Unless cloning is a thing…?!

Nourish your body.

I must admit, the last few weeks of assignments, tests and general living have proven tough. My diet has not been the best. However, now that my body has contracted some sort of chest infection, it’s super important that I eat well. This is advice to those who fall into the categories like  “I don’t have time to eat”, “I’m lazy” or “I’ll just eat when I really need to”.
It’s important to take care of yourself not just externally (exercise, hygiene and so on) but internally too. Right now, I’m sipping on ginger, honey and turmeric tea. Yesterday’s tea was turmeric and honey. For breakfast, I had a sweet-potato and vegan cheese sandwich, as it was easy and required the least amount of effort.

Eat more fruits and vegetables! Stay away from sugary drinks, dairy and greasy food. Do stay hydrated and well-fed!

Give your body the nourishment it needs. If your energy comes from anything, let it be good food and hot, soothing teas. Or water if tea isn’t your thing!

Good luck, and may you complete your assignments/tasks to the best of your abilities. I’m going to study and possibly cough up a lung.

Note: please see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve.

The pursuit of balance.

Whenever I get sick, I immediately think it’s because something in my life is out of balance. Whether it’s to do with my diet, social life, study or personal life – it is a reminder to reevaluate where I’m at. My mood dips and I just don’t feel “myself”. Or maybe I’m not drowning my hands in enough sanitiser…?

Whatever the cause of this funk, I’ve found that nature and meditation helps to rebalance my mind and body. 🌿

Yesterday was one of the reasons I decided to write this post. My partner and I attended a Japanese festival and decided to take a break from the big crowds. We sat in the shade, next to a row of trees that swayed with the afternoon breeze. I crossed my legs and closed my eyes. Peace. Those few moments of silence, awakened a feeling within. The feeling I experienced was like satisfying a hunger that food could not provide. It’s as if my soul needed this all week. It felt like an itch that I could finally scratch. I felt whole.

This is what I want, all the time, everyday.

Of course, I know that life is full of ups and downs, sadness and disappointments; but how different would my life be if I could actually find stillness even in the chaos of life, and not just in the comfort of my own home? So many moments remind me how important stillness can be for this ever-evolving journey. I wish I had this clarity back when I felt like a ticking time-bomb… that’s a story for another day!

This week, I invite you to practice silence/meditation for at least 10 minutes (or longer if you prefer). Find a place whether indoors or outdoors where you can meditate. No distractions, turn your phone off, silence the to-do-list and just be. Find gratitude in the small things: having a blanket for the cool nights, having access to clean drinking water and a roof over your head, and many more I’m sure you can think of!

If you realise that you are not happy with the state your life is in or the way your thinking has sunk into the dark abyss, talk to a trusted family member/friend or start an action plan. Or find a professional you can talk to, to help you through the darkness. There’s nothing wrong with needing assistance! Life can be tough.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

What helps you rebalance? What brings you clarity? What is within your control that you are willing to change? What habits can you include daily to lead a more peaceful life? Who is it in your life that can help you on this journey? Who can you look up to either by online influence or in real life to guide you? What will you take responsibility for? What can you forgive yourself for? Is there a way you can give back to the community or the universe for getting you to this point? Remember, everything is connected. If you believe you are no good, you will be no good. If you believe anything is possible, you will achieve whatever you set your mind to. Find whatever it is, that fuels your fire. Give yourself some space to breathe and just be.

Influencers I look up to:

  • Susan David
  • Judah Smith
  • Tom Bilyeu
  • Jonathan Levi
  • Nadine Burke Harris
  • Kate James
  • Amanda Nguyen
  • Trevor Noah
  • Jay Shetty
  • Jessica O. Matthews
  • Don Miguel Ruiz

Creatives that inspire me:

  • Annie Tarasova
  • Natkelley (Instagram)
  • cam & nina (YouTube)
  • Michael Seeley (YouTube)
  • Infinite Waters (YouTube)
  • Yoga With Adrienne (YouTube)
  • Plantmama (Instagram)
  • Kim Noble
  • Kylie Grills

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to type it out below or send me an electronic letter! I am planning to start an encouragement card service soon! Watch this space!

… and may the balance be with you.

I have been where you are.

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Today’s post is about how to tackle stress – from a 24 year old, university student. (Side note: as I write this post, I can see the sun is shining through my blinds. What lovely symbolism!)

Let me explain how things have been lately:

  • I have been sick/on antibiotics and medication constantly
  • The uni break was a BREAK, no revision whatsoever
  • I’ve put tremendous stress on myself in terms of finances

So basically, I’ve been stressed. A light in the clouds has occurred today, though. From time to time, I find myself in a “slump” of recurring sickness/problems. Life is a mix of stress and joy after all. I wanted to share how even though things get shitty, there’s a way through! Below are 3 ways I have used to combat stress. I’m not perfect, but these 3 things have given me skills to handle life’s situations.

 

1. Find your community.

I can’t stress how important it is to find your community/communities. Whether it’s a trusted family member, friendship group, online group, a professional/mentor – find your community! I’ve realised over the last couple of years, although I have loving family and friends and an amazingly supportive partner, I wanted to also surround myself with like-minded individuals from around the world that could push me to be a better person. The first group I ever joined with self-improvement in mind was Millennial Entrepreneur Community (search it if you have a Facebook account). It is a group designed to help troubleshoot business problems, ideas and collaborate with other professionals. This group set a fire in me and constantly does to seek betterment and improvement. To implement ideas and execute with some knowledge and a lot of bravery. Another group I joined recently is called Wild Woman Sisterhood. I wanted to find women who empower each other, support each other and share experiences and advice. In time, I am sure I will be more active in these groups and that alone creates another community on it’s own. Find people you vibe with. Who tell you the truth. Who also support you when it is needed.

 

2. Time out.

Although the ‘teaching break’ is presented as an extra two weeks of studying – I can admit, I did no such thing. Time away from the computer screen, deadlines and hours of reading was the nicest two weeks I have had in a while. I could have definitely fitted in a couple days a week to study but I had pushed myself so much the first couple months, that I had lost complete interest in learning or revising any more. I was overwhelmed. I’m still working on it, and as this is a recurring problem, I know now how important it is to time out! Keeping your mind and body under stress can be harmful. Even if it’s just 10-20 minutes a day or every second day – whatever suits you. Find a relaxing hobby! A few things I enjoy are: taking a walk around the neighbourhood, watching a show with my partner, cooking new recipes, yoga, finding inspiration on YouTube and getting lost in visual art/expression. So remember to take some time for yourself when you can!

 

3. Express your stress. 

Finding people to spur you on and taking a break from the everyday routine is great. In my experience, so is having an outlet for frustration and stress that may arise from many aspects of life: relationships, work, self-depreciation. I approach this by typing it all out in a private blog – word vomit, if you will. Sometimes I write multiple posts.
Other ways I express my stress is being honest. If the conversation arises, I tell my friends/workmates/partner that no, I’m stressed and mad and not in the mood. Usually from this, I find the root of the problem (and apologise for angry outbursts that are in no way personal, just my personal problem).
In some circumstances, I contact a mental health professional. I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to seek professional help if your own solutions are no longer getting you anywhere. It’s important to know who and what organisations to contact if this is the case. I will include contact numbers/websites at the end of this post. Another way I have expressed my stress is at work; asking if shifts are available, making sure all state managers are aware that there is a sales assistant willing to travel for the hours.

“If you never ask, the answer is always no.” – Nora Roberts

With this, comes gratitude. I am so thankful that I’ve found coping mechanisms (courtesy of health professionals, family, friends, a lovely partner) communities and a job where I am appreciated and paid well.

I hope this post is found to be helpful. And as a lovely, warrior woman has said to me, I am passing this on to you:

I have been where you are.

Bad times don’t last forever. Our minds can heal. Our bodies can heal.

You are not alone. If you are experiencing extreme stress and feel you may need assistance, here are some contacts and websites based in Australia:

  • beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636 – depression/anxiety awareness
  • kidshelpline.com.au 1800 55 1800 – private, confidential counselling
  • lifeline.org.au 13 11 14 – crisis support, suicide prevention
  • qlife.org.au 1800 184 527 – LGBTI support site
  • vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 – veteran, war-related support