Maybe the most difficult of virtues.
Some often equate passivity with patience. Do you guys equate patience with being lazy and watching your life go by? If so, why? This seems crazy to me because if you are patient, you do not necessarily lack ambition and you are definitely not passive.
But, I get it! I was there. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. Yesterday…I woke up every day and felt like I had all of these things that I wanted to do and yet the idea of pursuing them crippled me to the point where I became, what felt like, a passive observer in my own life. Time ticked by and I just watched, waiting for whatever it was I was waiting for to happen. Little did I know that this was not all necessarily a bad thing, however, even while working towards something, being patient can create its own kind anxiety. You think that you’re waiting for things to happen and while waiting you think you are becoming complacent and not actively pursuing your dreams. And then it’s this downward spiral into self-loathing and stress, a feeling that gnaws on you until you just can't take it anymore and jump blindly, grabbing on to the first opportunity that presents itself, even if it wasn’t the best choice – it was the most convenient.
And yet, if you lack patience, if you tackle your visions and expect them to come to fruition instantly, you will be sorely disappointed.
Patience is an odd thing in this age of instant gratification. Many equate their ambitious nature with getting things done immediately or in a short period of time. What happened to the days when the thing that was valued most was working hard for longer than a minute?
Two years later, and my patience seems to be rewarding me even when I feel like jumping and firmly digging my nails into the quickest, easiest thing. I know, deep down, that this option does not make me happy and I won’t make that mistake again. I kind of cringe now, when I think of making that leap. Easier and quicker does not mean better.
I know now what I’m worth and I don’t plan on settling for less than that. All it takes is a little patience and, obviously, a lot of hard work. Still, two years later has come and gone since I started this website, and the idea that I make art that some people enjoy still feels like some strange, alternate reality that should not be mine.
For this brief moment, I will dig up some sentiments from the past.
Journal Entry, January 2015 (a while before finding my purpose)
“Anxiety smothers me like a dirty dish cloth.
I’m nervous about everything.
I wish that all of the uncertainty cradling my stomach would detach itself and digest.
I’m coasting, floating, fatigued, a figure with no definite outline.”
Ah, the beauty of anxiety.
Today, I recognize the value in reflecting, acknowledging, and celebrating milestones, no matter how big or small. For me, it’s hard to believe that two years ago I started living instead of simply surviving. A great tectonic shift occurred in 2016 and every day since then I just feel like living proof that anything is possible. During that whole process of recovery (years of it) I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to be free. I wanted to stop letting my dad pay for all of the specialists I needed to see. I just wanted...I wanted to find me again. At the time, I could not get through the steps fast enough and when there were relapses, it all just felt crushingly hopeless. Yet, without those years of trusting the process, getting over my expectation of instant recovery and gratification, I've found myself in a place that still has so many uncertainties, and yet happiness is what I feel.
It’s a strange thing how everything seems clearer the second let go of this fear of losing to an invisible disease - I’m oddly thankful for my anxiety and depression. I'm sometimes even thankful for the trials and tribulations of anorexia, though my physical setbacks are still something I'm grappling with and seem to be my last true hurdle.
Today, May 10th, 2018, I am less horrified by this idea of my being an artist. In fact, it’s one of my qualifiers now; a label I’ve collected and one I feel infinitely proud of when I’m not paralyzed by it. A lot has happened in two years, and I don’t want to waste your time, or mine, with a deep reflection on all that was accomplished (or not, definitely lots of failure!) because that exercise requires me to spend too much time in the past, when I’d rather just sit cozy right here in the present. I feel nothing but gratitude and I aspire to keep moving forward. I’m hoping that in a years-time, a handful of new exhilarating things will have happened in this tiny career of mine. And if they don't? Then I'll keep pushing forward, as we all do, patiently anticipating the next thing worth waiting, and working, for.
Each day, I wake up happy. Not this shallow, simplistic notion of happiness, but a deeply grounded contentment; a pleasure that evaded me for many years. Happy that I get to go to a job that I love, happy that I'm surrounded by like-minded people, happy that I'm not settling for less.
But then something happens. These strange thoughts try to fight their way in. These ideas that I'm not really doing what I should be doing, or that I've yet to achieve true success because everyone else is doing so much more.
Comparison truly is the thief of joy.
I then begin to think of time passing too quickly. I look at relics that hold memories, flip or click through pages of a life that no longer exists. A little person who dreamed of the world. Curly locks and gangly limbs, a future yet to be determined.
We grasp too desperately for the past sometimes. These places that we can no longer visit, these homes that no longer stand or the buildings that hold newer memories, ones we didn’t create. The faces begin to fade and so does the hope of a simpler time.
Or we dream unrealistically of the future, thinking of all of the things we want and imagine what life would be like once we've acquired them. Perhaps, finally, possession of these things would cease our desire for more.
A part of me feels as though I’m prolonging growing up because pieces of me are still so connected to that child sitting on a tree stump, blowing bubbles carelessly, thinking about nothing but the fun I wanted to share with my friends. Those times before technology, riding around freely on bicycles, hitting baseballs into the neighbours garden, sticking gum in my sister’s hair so that I could give her a hair-cut. Putting on fake nails made of play-dough, rooting through our dress up box and putting on plays, desperately hoping to one day be Sailor Jupiter.
Being a child is pure magic, pure imagination, or at least this is how most of us choose to remember it. Why do we lose this when we get older though? This sense of wonder that is so…just everything that life is not when the skin around your eyes start to crease. I think too much of what was or what could have been. I think of how I might have prevented certain things from happening, or how I might have achieved goals faster. Everything comes down to this abstract concept of time. This invisible thing that dictates our lives, this space that holds everything we know with each passing tick, each gradual stroke.
And then I go to work, a reality that centres me and rips me from these futile thoughts. Here, all of those doubts and musings pixelate, fading to white.
There are no thieves of joy here in the present. Only endless possibilities.
Today I woke up feeling a little sick to my stomach. I felt guilty and unworthy of good things. I'm in a state of constant worry that this good thing will be taken away from me and that everyone will finally realize I'm a fraud. Every time someone expresses their excitement for me, my initial instinct is to shut down their kind words. All I can think is who cares? It's no big deal. Let's not make a big deal out of this. Stop paying attention to me. It's no big deal. Really. What's happening in your life? That's way more interesting!
A quick deflect because when you spend a decade trying to hide, it is hard to be visible and accept it as natural. I struggle to accept the good things when they come.
On April 6th, 2017, I started writing about my art and my struggles with mental illness, and openly sharing it because I was tired of living with the shame I carried around on my shoulders. I was vulnerable and scared, but knew that the only way to heal was to start talking about my past (and present) without embarrassment, because really, what did I have to be ashamed of?
Today, April 5th, 2018, is the opening night of my first solo exhibition in an art gallery. My art…on the walls…of a real-life art gallery. This is real! Younger me is screaming in disbelief! And me today is crying with joy. I know that this might not sound like much, but…it is everything. My journey has literally, and metaphorically, come full circle - to the day! I went from sharing my journey openly and honestly to getting to reveal a collection of works that reflect the painfully hard work that went into my recovery. I am eternally grateful to all of the people who have stood by me through this process. There is never a right time to seek out help. You will always find excuses to avoid it and it is so much easier to just deal with it yourself than to actually acknowledge that you have a problem and let someone else take the wheel for a bit. There is no shame in leaning on others. You are not weak. You are so much stronger than you think.
The journey is never over, but I’m going to try to enjoy this moment and try not to feel like an imposter.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
It takes a village.
In March of 2016, I was tasked with an exercise by my therapist to write a letter to the younger me. It didn't have to be age specific, just younger than I was in that moment. What a task!
Today, I found this letter on my computer. Something in me told me to look for it. I was curious to see what I'd written to myself two years ago (almost to the day!), when I was at what felt like rock bottom.
Reading it today through the lens of 2018 me, I feel sad knowing that that's where I was, but so proud knowing that where I am now could not have been possible without all of those years of pain.
I wanted to share the letter with you because I think it might be helpful if you're equally struggling. It's important to know that we are not alone and that I'm here to listen if you need a friend.
This letter also made me realize the value of being honest with yourself. There was no sugar coating my feelings here. When I read this, I see myself. I hope you see me too.
March 22nd, 2016
Seeing a therapist feels shameful at the beginning. You always think about what got you there and if you could have avoided it. It’s uncomfortable opening up to a stranger you’re paying to listen to your every thought. Then you’re expected to share the darkest parts of your life and complete exercises that you feel are silly and not essential to the healing process. One of the exercises she had me do was to write a letter to my younger self. What would I tell her? There were too many things. I wasn’t sure where I should start. I’d always loved writing, ever since I was a little girl. I felt like my voice was heard when my pen hit paper. There was no judgement, no ridicule or bullying. Just trust between this book and my mind. It was sturdy and trustworthy, but I only turned to writing when I felt no one was listening and that became dangerous. The pain that poured forth from the tender age of 8 is uncomfortable to reflect upon. I felt so strongly about so many things and I felt like when I spoke, my words fell on deaf ears. And so, I wrote everything down. I wrote down my secrets and experiences I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone. I felt proud of myself for ceasing complaints about what others believed to be trivial things. I felt as though I was finally gaining control of my life, honing my emotions through this creative outlet. It felt safer than painting at the time because my parents couldn’t see it. I wouldn’t let them see me for everything that stirred around inside my mind because I felt ashamed and scared. Scared they wouldn’t understand, scared they’d shut me down, scared they’d tell me I was wrong. I was a teenager and going through a “phase” so they didn’t seem to take notice of the deeper issues, and, how could they? I made damn sure they wouldn’t be able to, locking away everything in the pages of my notebooks. Sometimes I wish they would have disrespected my privacy a little, to really see what was going on. To see how terribly sad I was, how angry and alone I felt, and how badly I wanted them to be proud of me, for something other than athletics. I feel like so many things happened and nobody knew. My sister knew, but just barely. How was I so depressed, so anxious and stressed, from a young child to my mid-twenties, and no one did anything about it? So, I’m faced with this task of writing a letter as an adult and I don’t know if there is any one place to start, any event or age, I almost feel like it had to be vague because so much of it applies to most of my life, some even still applies today. How do you talk about bullying, insecurity, self-loathing, and self-harming? How do you talk about anorexia, mental abuse, overdoses and sexual assault? How can I put this in a letter that doesn’t sound pitiful, that doesn’t sound like I’m looking for sympathy? All I ever really seemed to want was an ear that would listen and a heart that would love, and yet I was stuck in this cycle of pain that I couldn’t escape from. How could I get out when I wasn’t even sure how I got in? Writing this now, I feel like my words seek attention but it’s the opposite of their intent. What do I want? I want to be free from my demons and I want to help others be free of theirs. I often wonder what I’d be like today if people had listened to me more deeply as a teenager and young adult, if my words weren’t shoved to the side so quickly. Would I have treated myself with greater respect? Would I have loved myself more and rely less on the approval of others? Would I have been strong enough to fight off unruly hands and unwarranted attention? Would I have consumed half a bottle of laxatives in one sitting? Would I have eaten more food so I wouldn’t collapse in class and get rolled out on a stretcher to the hospital? Would I have left the house more often to avoid being paralyzed by anxiety? Could I have avoided this personal embarrassment, this unnecessary attention of my withering self? I’m not sure. There is no way to really know.
Here it goes...
Dear young Alexandra,
I don’t know exactly what age you are and I don’t think it matters because since I can remember you have felt inadequate to everyone around you, like you would never be able to amount to anything, like your thoughts and opinions were worth less than gum stuck underneath your desk. I wish you could see into the future and know that everything is temporary. That what’s on the inside outweighs the outside and that you’re going to grow into the beautiful woman you never thought you’d be. What you’re feeling right now will fade eventually. I know that sounds crazy because you’re so wrapped up in the present you can barely think past tomorrow, just know it’s true. I wish you would defend yourself better and not let the harsh words of others determine your self-worth. You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not worth loving, even though you don’t feel it now. I wish you loved your unruly hair, your braces, your rough skin, and your “fat” legs and developed female body. All of these things just make you, well, you. I wish you didn’t compare yourself to others. I wish you’d accept your unique qualities. I wish you could see yourself the way your loved ones did. I wish you didn’t see your reflection as repulsive and volatile. I wish you’d stick out the school day instead of disappearing and taking the easy way out. I wish you didn’t see failure as the end of the world. Know that failure is a stepping stone to learning. You will always be learning. I wish you knew how smart you were and that you’d spend more time worrying about school and less time worrying about some silly crush. I wish you knew how to express your feeling in a more productive way and didn’t just keep them to yourself because you were scared to be mean or hurt someone’s feelings. Honesty sucks sometimes but your lies will always catch up to you. I wish you didn’t let others actions dictate how you felt about yourself. Know that your parents are trying their best. You’re their first kid, the guinea pig. Take all of their criticisms less personally and you’ll be better off. They have your best interest at heart, they just struggle to show it sometimes. I wish that all of these harsh words and bullying wouldn’t weaken your character and the self-respect you carry with you. Please. Don’t seek unnecessary attention. You’re beautiful. Embrace that. I just wish you could be happier and know that people are proud of you even if they don’t say it. I know you till don’t feel worth being proud of or loved and that nothing good should come to you because for some twisted reason you think all of those good things belong to someone else. I just wish that you loved yourself the way you want your own daughter to love herself. You’re everything you never believed you were, you just couldn’t see it.
Yesterday I stumbled upon a quote that resonated deeply with me:
"Fear is to begin with the end in mind. There is no end."
There was more written after but I kind of liked the idea of stopping the thought here. I like the open-ended nature of it and how relatable this idea is. Fear holds us back to the point where we are too afraid to start. How is it possible to even fear what we don’t even know to be true? None of us are capable of seeing where these intricate roads take us, so why not approach our fears knowing this? There is no end! Stop worrying about what is ahead of you, rather focus on what is right in front of you. Centre your energy on the journey, not what will come once the adventure comes to a close.
I especially like this quote in relation to the process of creating art.
"Fear is to begin with the end in mind.” I always envision my end to be failure or unnecessary worry about what is next.
“There is no end." If I don’t think about failing or things beyond the present, then there is no reason not to start. There is no end, meaning, failure is not waiting for me.
Or, there is no end, art is a never-ending process that is impossible to complete.
A common question I get after “How long does it take you to finish a painting?” (no idea!) is “When do you know, or how do you know, when the painting is done?”
I usually respond in a trite manner: I just know.
But truthfully, I don’t really know. Can a painting ever really be done? Is there a true definitive end to the process of creating one singular piece? I’d like to think that when I’m done painting everything fades to black and the credits begin to roll signaling THE END, but unfortunately my life is not a movie, as much as it pains me to admit that!
If I approached my work with this fear that no one would like what I produced or no one would buy it so why bother starting, then I’ve already sabotaged myself. Fear once held me back. Fear of judgement, fear that I wasn’t good enough, fear that if I do paint something that people like, then what? Sometimes it is more than just a fear of starting, it is a fear of what happens when you start to prosper?
Can we give ourselves the permission we need to cast fear aside, move forward without thinking about failing, or worse, worrying about what to do if somehow you trick people into liking your product?
My hope is that for today I will not worry about tomorrow, or April 5th (first solo-exhibition show!) or where I’ll be teaching come September (English and Art teacher for hire!).
Today, I have no fear. There is no end, only the beginning.
To the incredible women in my life
I’m thankful for my great-grandmother, moving from Estonia to Canada with my grandpa in hopes of a better life. We are a product of that choice. Thank you.
I’m thankful for my Serbian grandmother, a woman I never got to meet, but a woman who raised my father in a home full endless of love, a home where he knew the power and influence of a formidable woman.
I’m thankful for my Finnish grandmother, who is herself through and through, a strong and passionate woman who pretends to be nothing else. She can do more push-ups than I can, and I'm not even mad about it.
I’m thankful for my mother who has shown me the power of art, patience, and compassion. Thanks for not smothering me with a pillow when I was an unruly teenager.
I’m thankful for my sister who has shown me the power of authenticity, honesty, and perseverance. You are everything.
I'm thankful for my aunts who exhibit a relentless work ethic and dedication to supporting and loving their family. Your kids are so lucky to have you. I'm lucky to have you.
I’m thankful for my girlfriends who have shown me the value unconditional support and are a source of constant inspiration. You inspire me every single day.
I’m thankful for all of the women out there who I don’t know personally who are making waves and being themselves without shame. You all make me so proud to be a woman.
Finally, a thank you the men who believe in equality. The men who support change. The men who are listening.
I paint because I feel like you don’t want to listen to me talk anymore. At least when you look at my work you can look on in silence.
I paint because when I speak, I often feel misunderstood and then I begin to doubt my voice. At least when I paint, there are no words for you to misinterpret.
I paint because when I cry, you think I’m faking it and you don’t care. Ouch. You don't care. At least when I paint, the colours can both reveal and hide how I feel, whether you care or not.
I paint because the canvas doesn’t judge me.
I paint because somebody somewhere understands me, no words necessary.
I paint because sometimes it feels like it’s all I have.
I paint because I can be vulnerable without fear.
I paint because it heals the past and paves the way for my future.
I paint because I can be me, the most authentic version of myself, and not be scared.
I paint because I can.
I paint for you in hopes that you'll see me
I paint for me.
Why do you paint?
Once upon a time I didn't love myself.
I didn't want to leave the house.
I didn't want to socialize.
I didn't want to eat.
I didn't want to exist.
All of that invisible pain felt unbearable. Wouldn't it just be easier to disappear? No one would even notice, right?
With an invisible illness it can feel hard to accept the fact that something is not quite right because, well, you look fine. If you can't see it, why believe it?
But then all that was invisible came to the surface and I wanted to hide away even more because all of my feelings and thoughts still did not feel justified - as if our feelings ever need to be justified.
This is still my reality some days, but I no longer live in a world devoid of hope. Why? Because I started to talk about my problems and little by little, I felt a bit more comfortable in my own skin. First in therapy rooms and then openly with close friends and family.
Now, I know that I am so much more than a mental illness and my hope is that all my students will know the same of themselves.
That being said, usually I just let my paintings speak for me. I like to hide behind my canvases because I, at times, fear being truly seen. When you spend so many years hiding and trying to disappear, coming to terms with being visible is not as easy as clicking your heels together. No matter how much time passes, this will never be a simple conversation, but it is an important one to have. My main concerns now rest in a lingering fear that someone will misinterpret my experiences as a weakness and view it as something that might resurface at any time and derail my productivity.
For six years of my life, I lived under these three umbrella terms synonymous with mental illness: Anxiety, Depression, Anorexia.
I let these words define who I was for so long. They sat on my shoulders, like vultures, feasting on my broken self and making me smaller.
Today, I proudly accept these terms as a part of my identity, but not all of it.
I know that I am no longer strictly defined by these words. Words only have the power you lend to them, so give with caution.
So how do we keep the conversation going? How can we relieve the stigma?
I paint and I write. I talk and I fight for what I believe in - I hope you do too.
This is how I remember all of those yesterday’s:
The control I believed I had once
Filled me to the brim,
More, more, more of
Less, less, less,
That’s what it took to win.
Until my tiny vessel overflowed with emptiness
And purging felt like a sin.
The lack of control over my perceived power
Dictated my every move.
It took all of my energy not to give in
or even worse, to lose.
I was restricted, my mind was wrought,
Until the only food that was left was thought.
Anxiety set in.
Endless hospital visits.
Too much sleep.
Not enough sleep.
The life I was living became a losing game.
And it never truly goes away.
We discuss and we eat,
But brittle bones are forever,
And they hurt when they rub against bed sheets.
Weakened organs are unpredictable
And dry, thinned hair is inevitable,
And self love seems impossible,
And socializing seems pointless,
And carbs feel reckless,
We cling to it.
Purpose, we need it.
Love, we thrive on it.
These abstract concepts become our medicine.
Goals beyond the scale.
A reason to step off of our lonely island
And swim against the current to shore.
You are worth the love you don't think you deserve and the support you don't think you have.
I believe you.
Let's heal together.
With the 2017 school year now in the books, I can finally bask in the glory of vacation, even though I'm already missing the classroom (I know, I'm nuts).
When years come to a close, there is a trend of recounting all of the accomplished goals or milestones set throughout the year, but I’m not going to sit here and reflect on all of the good and bad of 2017. I have mixed feelings about reflecting on achieving shallow, society driven goals or the many new things I tried and succeeded or failed at doing throughout the year. Do you care? Does it impact you? Not at all (hopefully). And I’m not sitting here pretending that my words can shape anything but my own interpretation of things as they were and are. I will do a private personal self-reflection, reviewing the highs and lows of 2017, but what can I take away from it other than that it’s now the past and I’m a product of these choices so I might as well just hang out here in the present?
Upon reflection, if I know that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, working hard on a daily basis to better myself in a variety of ways, putting in a consistent effort to maintain and build new relationships, then that should be enough, no? Or admitting to prioritizing naps over human interaction some days, or bailing on engagements because I wanted to be alone, or not following through on promises all of the time. I’m human. We are human. Life happens.
If we can’t accept our triumphs without summarizing them, sharing them, dare I say bragging about them, then something seems off centre. Our world is driven by immediate satisfaction and we can’t seem to stay too long in our own company without philosophizing about all of the things our brain has come up with and how we must share this immediately or risk not being acknowledged for our interesting thoughts.
Do things for you, not for your followers or friends. Take pride in knowing that waking up every day and getting through those 24 hours in one piece is enough. The books you’ve read, the drinks and food you’ve consumed, the places you’ve gone, the jobs you’ve worked, the passions you’ve pursued, all of these things mean nothing if you can’t find that place deep within yourself where you are utterly content knowing that you worked hard today and didn’t rely on others to feel like you were good enough.
In an age of over-sharing, in which we are all no doubt guilty, it’s important to remember that time can be given to things without seeking the reassurance of others. Maybe that could be a goal for 2018: make a list, and keep it to yourself. Hold yourself accountable. Keep chasing your dreams, make bold moves towards self-improvement and prioritize happiness, but know that you can find contentment without the validation of others. You are so much more than that.
2017 was what you made of it.
2018, you’ll get what you put into it.
Success is possible. Failure is inevitable. And the world keeps spinning either way.
People have asked me how long it usually takes me to complete a painting. My usual answer is, "it depends," but I'm not too sure what it depends on, aside from how I am feeling. Truthfully, this feels like a loaded question, one that is impossible to answer because I've never considered the role of time in my creative process. Things just kind of pour out at their own pace. Minutes turn into hours without me being cognitively aware. It’s like magic. Why tamper that by framing it with time?
How long does it take you to do what you love? Do you care? Does it matter?
Time as it stands is indefinite. Once applied to our lives, it suddenly feels calculated and restrictive. It is somehow manipulated into this all-consuming, life controlling dictator. To me, time spent painting is immeasurable and I want to keep that pure, limitless feeling alive, no ticks or tocks guiding my brush.
If only the ebbs of time receded with less haste in all aspects of our daily lives. If only the minutes flowed smoothly into each hour without eagerly anticipating the set stroke of freedom or the dreaded morning alarm. If only the clocks had less power. If only…
I’m grateful that there is not time restriction when it comes to artistic expression. Whether it’s immediate or a bit more languid, I know that I aim to please no one. My sole intention is to explore this compulsive need to express emotions and I don't need a stopwatch keeping track of my hours committed to the canvas.
Who cares, right?
It’s never a question of "how long will it take me to get this idea down?" or “when will I find time to paint?” but more of a “when will the moment strike and how will I seize it?”
Your time is valuable. Don’t waste another second watching the minutes drift into oblivion.