Paintings over the years…

I finished a painting yesterday and I realized as I cleaned my brushes that I seem to always come up with a painting when I have one of my major anxiety attacks and relapses.  I reset.  I paint.

So, here are some of my paintings that I have accumulated over the years (yes…YEARS…sad but true).

2012

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“Blue”

30×30 Acrylic on canvas

This is one of my favourite pieces.  I remember agonizing over whether I had too much blue…it seemed so cold, so sad.  I was planning to paint a daisy…something with yellow, something that whispers of sunshine and happy days ahead…instead, my hand seemed to gravitate toward BLUE.  So, here is it…no yellow in sight.

2013

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“Eyes Closed”

30×40 Acrylic on canvas

2013 also had a relapse…and a painting.  So, back I went to the art store and purchased a bigger canvas.  I was determined to have something that I could look at and say, “Yes, that brightens up my day and everything is going to be OK.” Instead, I again seemed to gravitate to darker colors and darker moods.  I remember it was the middle of summer and I just wanted to crawl into my proverbial cave and close my eyes and hoped I would feel better when I do open them.  I wished it was winter.  At any rate, here it is.  Eyes closed and a scarf to keep me warm.  Still no yellow in sight.

2014

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“A Million Suns”

60×60 acrylic paint on canvas

This is the biggest piece I have ever done. My husband actually had to make this canvas for me since they don’t sell this size in your normal art store. This was a painting inspired by an accountant turned artist, Jonah Calinawan ( incidentally, also my brother!).  His work discovers the endless possibilities of choice, destiny, and identity using a 19th century printing process called cyanotype–which gives his images a deep blue color.   You can check out his work at  amillionsuns.com.  As I was doing this piece, I was thinking that life is not really black and white, that we have a choice in making our lives happier, that our outlook in life can be more positive… if we want it to be. I used to scoff at these sayings like “choose happiness”. Very cliche and I roll my eyes. But you know what, there was something to be said for making that choice that “Hey, I can do this.  I choose to be happy, I choose to have a more positive perspective.”  Of course, there were days when it just seemed so hard to get out of bed when I felt storm clouds in my head and I did not want to move a muscle for fear of letting all my inner demons come out and dance in the rain. (Laugh).  I found this was when my mindfulness practice helped me the most. In this painting, I finally had to courage to use Yellow!

So, perhaps, this is why this recent setback has really shaken my resolve.  I was on a roll and I was doing fine (or so I thought), then boom!  Episode in the stairway (see my previous post “May 21, 2015“).

2015

 image“A Reminder”

24 x 36 acrylic on canvas

This is my most recent painting and from  looks of it, I am getting more comfortable with using more “happier” colors.  This set back has been brief ….maybe because I just needed a quick little reminder  to “pause”.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I have gone back to work this past week…slowly integrating back…a few hours a day.

I will leave that story for another time.

At any rate, I look at my paintings over the years and while they were made during difficult times,  I am glad I made something beautiful out of it (or so I think anyway!) .

 I am also realizing that at the rate I’m going, I will be running out of wall space pretty soon!

Debbie.

Going back to basics…

I think I got lost along the way….

It was recently pointed out to me that what I thought was slowing down was really just checking things off of my mental list.

  1. meditate everyday–check!
  2. exercise everyday–check!
  3. pause–yep, done that
  4. breathe–yep, that too.

Check, check, check!

I realize that once I have checked it off the list, I move on…not really realizing that I was really focusing on the result…not the “journey”.

It’s like another saying goes…quality versus quantity.

Mindfulness was supposed to be a huge part of that journey.  Made me rethink whether I was practicing mindfulness correctly or not…or was I merely checking it off my mental list?

Perhaps.

….but it shouldn’t matter, should it? My practice is what it is.  I once complained to my first mindfulness teacher that I was trying to find the “perfect” posture when I meditate and I spent most of my time thinking about my posture instead of my breath.

He had told me that we are on a “Path of Non-Striving”…. at that moment, there is nothing to fix, nothing is broken…it is what it is.  Of course, at that time, the “perfectionist” part of me was rebelling at the thought of not doing anything! However, I remember thinking…”Okay, I’ll play along…let’s see what happens.”

Somehow, over time, I realized that he was right.  The critical part was to be in the “moment”.  Noticing this moment, and the moment after that, and after that, IS the journey.

For instance, at this moment, as I am sitting in my kitchen and typing these words…I hear the clinking of the keys as I type, I notice smoothness of my computer keys and the breaks and the pauses when I stop.  The birds are singing and sunshine is trying to break though the blinds. I can still smell a whiff of the cinnamon that I used last night when I baked Peter a paleo apple pie.  At this moment, it is what it is.

There is nothing to change–I will not change my computer even though it struggles to keep up when I type too fast, or fix the blinds as the air conditioner has to work a little harder, or clean the kitchen. Nor will I focus on the result of finishing this post so I can move on to do other errands of the day….

At any rate, this is my “journey” as I finish writing on this sunny Wednesday morning….

As for that mental list, yeah, I still have it in my head, being updated each new day…sometimes is it short, sometimes it is long …but always there. However, this time, I know that noticing the “journey ” in getting the list done is just as important as getting to the finish line.

Maybe I was not lost after all…..just taking a little detour.

Now, I just have to make sure that I don’t end up putting “#5 Notice the Journey” on my mental list….

Debbie.

If I die young….

The chorus of the song by The Band Perry goes like this:

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

These words were going through my head as I was planting basil seeds in my garden.

I had to pause since it just came out of nowhere. I did see the irony of the circumstance–this little basil seed starting its life, pushing out from its tough shell and trying to find the light of day….and here’s a song about death!

I would be a liar if I told you I never thought of just throwing in the towel. Sometimes the feeling of helplessness is so great that it takes my breath away.

I used to think that it was just me. But listening closely, some of my closest friends have sometimes thought about it.  It may be when they are alone in the house with a knife in their hands, driving the car to somewhere and thinking it would just be easy to just crash into the guard post, or just taking a concoction of too many Advils, Tylenol, or anything in their medicine cabinet that says “do not exceed the recommended dose.”

I shake away those thoughts, of course. My daughter would never forgive me. I don’t think I would be able to forgive myself…not that it would matter if it ever came to that.

It may be easy for me to just shake these thoughts off and go my merry way but I know that there are some out there whose thoughts stay with them, even in their dreams.  They truly have a very difficult road ahead.

Before my phone starts ringing with my family in a panic, I would have to say that this song made me think about how my life is not really so bad and that I may just be complicating things when really it is not a big deal or that sometimes I take things for granted when I should cherishing these moments as they may never come again.

So this past week, I have been looking at my life with a different perspective, with a fresh set of eyes. I see that my daughter is growing up quickly and I need to catch up before she leaves me behind, I see my husband of 18 years who always has dinner all ready when I get home from work, my family who always asks if I had eaten already, friends who still invite me for drinks even when they know I would decline and the list goes on. I have a lot to live for.

So, I hope that this post will also make you think that you should go out there and see the world with a fresh set of eyes. Hug your family and friends more, really listen and give your fullest attention to what your children are saying since you won’t ever have this time again–before you know it, they will be all grown up and starting their own lives, do something that you are passionate about, try something new, smile more, watch grass grow, listen to the birds sing, breathe, and the list goes on.  We have a lot to live for.

So, when this song comes on the radio, I will sit back and say that this song is really about new beginnings and it is not too late.  Life is too short.  Live it.

FYI–my basil plants are doing well.

Debbie.

May 21, 2015.

Thursday, May 21. It was 10:30 am.

I was on my way to another meeting on the 4th floor. 

Took the stairs from the 7th floor and between the 6th floor and the 5th, I fell apart.

Again.

It had been almost 3 years since my first huge anxiety attack and I had learned then that I was not perfect, vulnerable, different.  I learned then how to be more mindful, stay present, meditate to keep the edge at bay.  I’ve had mini attacks since then but I always got over it, talked myself down from the edge and all was well again.

This was not part of the plan.  This was not how it should be.

I did all the right things.  I meditated everyday, I tried to be mindful everyday.  I tried to let go of petty stuff everyday.  Each day was a new beginning.

So, what went wrong?

I saw my doctor on Friday.  I was glad to get an appointment so soon as she was always booked up. She would know what to do. She would help me make this right. 

As she said “hello”, my tears started falling. Uncontrollable.  “I failed”, I whispered.  She looked at me questioningly. “I fell apart again.” 

“But, Debbie, you were trying to BEAT IT and that you cannot do.  You have to ACCEPT IT. Make peace with the fact that THIS is part of you.”

That gave me pause. 

It made sense.  Somehow it made sense. 

So what now?

How do I accept?  Make peace?

For those questions, she could not help me. I must find that out for myself. She wrote me a doctor’s note for work granting me some time off. 

“This patient is unfit for work…”

Unfit for work…my thoughts were rebelling.  

“But there’s so much to do!  How about the accounting course that your team is hosting that is coming up in a few weeks? How about the countries you are responsible for? Am I going to be fired for this? Who is going to water my office plants when I am away?  Was there any food stuffs on my desk that is going to stink? Any leftover coffee?…and on and on it went. 

I pleaded that I really just need a few days off. I just need to get some good quality sleep and I should be ok. 

She gave me two weeks and then we reassess. 

In the meantime, I have to write, paint, garden, spend time with family, have coffee with my best friend, do yoga, meditate, read. BREATHE. 

She called it “Adjusting my sails.”

I am skeptical. I have done all those.

 I am just lost. 

…but I am patient. I have adjusted my sails this past week. 

Let’s see where it takes me…

Debbie.

“Don’t push me…please.”

dont-mistake-my-kindness-for-weakness-350x320

Those who knew that I was on this mindfulness journey were actually afraid for me…”That’s it.  Debbie is going to be a doormat once the word gets out that she is actually nice….”

BEFORE that fateful spring day in April 2012, I was the “Yes, I can handle this” type of person.  There was nothing I couldn’t juggle:

  • a stressful career and since I just got promoted, my “proving mode” was on overdrive
  • a busy family life (swimming lessons, piano lessons, Olivia’s homework, renovating the basement, laundry, grocery shopping…you get the picture)
  • running regime (trying to break sub-2 hours in a half marathon and not throw up at the finish line),
  • learning Spanish for work (fail…although, I can order a bottle of wine and ask where the bathroom is)
  • writing a children’s book (still not finished)

While I thought I was a pretty good juggler, I admit I was not the nicest person to be around.  I was more impatient, more crabby, more mean…just “more”.

I remember telling my husband that his 102-year old grandmother will die a very bitter old woman and she deserves it. Ummm, yah. Not nice.

In the office, I had just gotten a promotion and so I was so engrossed in proving myself…if someone disagreed with me, I spent the day poring over accounting rules to prove them wrong.   “I am right and you are wrong.” Ummm, yah.  Not nice.

THEN, while on a conference call that fateful spring day in April 2012, my brain and lungs decided that juggling was no longer fun. I could not catch my breath and everyone in the office thought I was having a heart attack.  They called 911.

Not a heart attack, but an anxiety attack…equally as life changing.  It took months of doctor’s visits, hours of therapy, rigorous regime of mindfulness practice and meditation to realize that it is OK to be…imperfect, vulnerable, not be in control.

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY ….

I am more centered, more mindful, more present…just “more”.

My daughter loves that fact that I am patient, calmer, and actually listens…

Work is also more enjoyable–both for me and for my colleagues.  I try to inject humor and an all-around-positive-attitude during meetings, I try to actually listen with a “beginner’s mind” even though I may have seen the issue in the past (hey, I might learn something new), and I am more patient in explaining myself (if the other person does not get it the first time, it is OK…I can try to explain again).

So, getting back to the “doormat” issue.  I must admit that I too was worried that people would take advantage of my “niceness”….and you know what?  Yes, people have tried to take advantage.  I don’t fool myself into believing that just because I am on this mindfulness journey that everyone is also on the same journey. However, as Mahatma Gandhi once said,

“You cannot change how people treat you or what they say about you.  All you can do is change the way you react to it.”

So, when someone pushes me, I generally pause, assess (the person may be having a tough day!), and say with kindness and compassion…”Don’t push me…please.”

So far, this reaction has worked for me.

However, I wonder if they had kept pushing me…I think I might have eventually taken a page from the book of one of my very passionate Latina friends…..”You keep pushing me….and I BITE YOU!!”

At that point, I would have taken away the WELCOME mat….

Oh well.

Debbie

“Patience, Grasshopper…”

I think if I were a mindfulness teacher, that is the first thing I would teach.

Patience.

This was my homework for the year (aka my New Year’s resolution, you could say). Cultivate patience. I realized from the get go though that I am definitely not a patient  person.  Some memorable instances I noticed these past months:

  • Pressing the elevator buttons more than once, as if it will make the elevator come any faster
  • Getting antsy when my computer doesn’t boot up fast enough in the morning
  • I interrupt people mid-sentence. Ugh. I hate this particular one. So very rude of me.

These little tidbits made me realize that I definitely need to work on this virtue.

I honed on to the act of impatience that really resonated with me–interrupting people.  Makes me cringe just thinking about it.

So these past months, I resolved to not interrupt anyone. Let them finish their thought and respond at the right moment.

As part of this journey, I eventually noticed that my bad habit of interrupting generally revolved with either of these two thoughts:

  • “Why are you talking so slow?! Can you hurry it up?  Talk faster?  I’m so busy! I don’t have all day, you know.  Gosh.”  This is generally accompanied by creasing of my brows and my shoulders tensing up.

Or

  • I already have a preconceived idea and cannot wait to tell the person. It’s like “I HAVE TO TELL YOU NOW!  NOW!  NOW!!”

So, like a little grasshopper, I can’t seem to stand still. I’m jumping all around…jump, jump, jump!

I tried different ways of ceasing my fidgeting.  Taking deeper breaths (this didn’t work out well since it seemed to always come out as sighs), blinking a few times (this usually made the other person uncomfortable), or doing little unnoticeable movements (moving my toes, crossing, uncrossing my legs).  Then one day, I actually thought, ” What is your hurry, Debbie?  YOU are always in a hurry!”.

This made me pause.  “Yeah, WHY do I always feel so rushed, so much in a hurry?”  Hmmm, interesting.  I am not sure–definitely something to think about.

Anyway, after this eureka moment, I don’t interrupt anymore. Oh, ok. I may slip once or twice but recently, I have been a very patient person.  I realize too that it makes me feel better since the other person actually feels that I am listening….and I am.

So, patience little grasshopper…there is really no reason to hurry, is there?

Debbie.

 

 

Hello World!

I am new at this.  Definitely out of my comfort zone but hey, let’s see where it goes….

My name is Debbie.  I think a lot.  In fact, my brain is always full of ideas, plans, what-ifs, dreams, nightmares, work, family, world peace…Musings, I call them.  My therapist called them “my monkey mind” or ” gerbils going round and round”.  It does not go away when I close my eyes…in fact, they multiply and sometimes my “movie gerbil” has a party with my “what-if” gerbil.

So, this blog will just be about my adventures, musings, running, mindfulness, muffins…and everything in between.

So, hello World!  Here I come!