Learning to really see – what is social distancing?

I drew today, for the first time in a long time. A very long time, actually. Probably my first time since Scotland. I drew my hand. I like drawing hands. They get things done. I’d argue, as a writer, they’re probably two of my most valuable and beloved assets. But that’s not what this post is about.

It’s actually about one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned – in a drawing class of all places. 

Cut to 2014, Ottawa, Canada, and an eager 23-year old Dudys sitting in her new drawing class, excited to make friends and learn how to create pretty pictures. Day one, the art teacher asked her students if they were artists in any way outside of class. Everyone was quick to share with pride: “I sculpt.” “I’m a graphic designer.” “I use deli meats to craft footwear.” Etc, etc. 

When it came ‘round to me, I gave a shrug and said calmly: “no, I’m not much of an artist at all.” 

“What is it you do for a living?” asked my teacher.

“I’m a writer.”

“Of course, you’re an artist.” She said, expecting me to light up.

That was the first time I had an existential crisis about my career path. Oh, they think I’m a REAL writer. Like J.K. Rowling or some shit. Writing headlines for emails no one reads isn’t REAL writing. Scribbling thoughts into a journal isn’t REAL writing.Blah, blah, blah. I’m positive every copywriter has had this moment at parties when people ask them what they do. But it was a fresh feeling for me at the time.

Later that night, teacher posed another question: “Why are you taking this class?” 

Again, everyone shared their answers. Most were similar to mine: “I want to be able to have an idea in my mind and communicate it perfectly in a drawing.” 

To which teacher replied: “Young padawan, learn to see first you must.”

Well, she said something along those lines but in a much less Yoda way. 

What we see in front of us is not usually how we envision it to be in our minds, even while we’re looking right at it. I make assumptions about my fingers while I’m sketching. My nail is this long or my knuckle protrudes here, when in actuality my nail is shorter or my knuckle  protrudes 3 mm lower than I think. It’s easy to draw well if you see what’s actually there. But most of us don’t see things as they are.

In life, we do the same. We hear people’s words differently than they intend them based on our past experiences. We see people doing one thing but perceive them doing another. We make assumptions about the whys of the world without fully knowing. We fill in our own blanks, instead of taking the time to see people and situations for who and what they really are. 

I get it. We HAVE to do this in a lot of ways. We’ll never have the whole story. We’ll never know what is really happening, why it’s happening and our part in it. I think the key is leaving our assumptions out of it and learning to just let things be in their own state. 

Quarantine is exposing a lot of truths to me, mainly about myself but also just about living. What is social distancing for me? What is it when I look at it clearly? It’s a measure put in place to keep people safe. It’s a change for me and the way I live. It’s a change for my family and friends and the way they live. And I can choose to look at it as such. Or I can fill in blanks:

What is social distancing? It’s terrible. It’s no hugs. It’s no arm pats or drinks with friends or crying in each other’s arms or dancing with strangers or shaking hands or park hangs in the sunshine with a big group of people. It’s loved ones dying before their time, and families facing disastrous outcomes. It wears on me all the time and heightens my anxiety. I’m sallow and my skin is dry and I’m incredibly sad that I might have to postpone my hike in September. 

OR, what is social distancing? It’s awesome. I’ve connected with old friends I haven’t spoken to in ages. I’ve connected more with myself than I have since moving back to Toronto. It’s provided a level of collective consciousness we’ve been lacking in the world for far too long. It’s proven that we can fix this planet we’re destroying if we all really make the effort to. It’s helped me to save money, be more fit and feel healthier than I ever have in my whole life.

OR, maybe social distancing is what it is, and the key to making it through this, and everything to come, is staying balanced. Remembering to see the true figure and lines of a situation, and accepting that there will always be blanks to fill in. When you fill in those blanks, try your best to fill them in objectively, and SEE ALL SIDES to the situation. Really SEE that situation. 

So, I’m a copywriter. It’s not the same as being a famous novelist, or a politically-charged journalist, or an award-winning poet. But it’s also great that I’ve gotten to help small businesses brand themselves, hone my writing skills with incredible talent around me, and work at a job I’m damned lucky to have. I write every day and grow every minute. And yeah, writing is a form of art.

What’s really there, then? An artist. And two hands that are excited to punch out hours and hours of feelings and send them off into the great abyss that is cyberspace. 

What a damned ridiculous year – thank god for it

Write down what’s been hard for you the last little while. Yeah, it fucking sucks, and some of these hardships will sting you for a damned long time, maybe even forever. But never forget, that list of the great shit you’ll write, the one with the beautiful moments and powerful learnings, no matter how big or small it is, should forever be your reason for pushing forward.

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A tearful trip to Phoenix, AZ

“Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.”

-Steve Maraboli

My trip to Phoenix, AZ was the first one I’ve ever taken that was not fun. It was hard. But it was necessary.

The day of my departure was relaxing and smile-inducing. I met a friend for lunch and laughs and hung out with my mum for a bit before heading to the airport. With my old, trusty, green pack strapped to my back, I smoothly made it through the craziness of YYZ and sat down with a beer and a book, waiting to board my flight. I was calm. I was happy. And for the first time in my life, this vampire was excited to bask in the glorious sunshine and heat that was waiting for me upon my arrival.

Mellow beginnings

On my first morning, I thought I’d head out bright n’ early to the market for some tasty eats and then do some museum exploring. But, of course, I got chatting over breakfast at my hostel with a really cool entrepreneur trying to make a living in the life coaching space. We exchanged Instagram handles and wished each other good days ahead.

A little seating area in the back of HI Hostel Phoenix

The market gave me some pretty epic hummus and flatbread for lunch and the Art Museum opened my eyes, as art always does. Art inspires art as they say, but I’ll leave those learnings for another post.

The sunshine I was hoping for didn’t quite appear from behind the clouds that day, which was a wee bit disappointing, but I was still happy to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, exploring cacti-covered streets and snapping pics of palm trees.

The Foundre in Phoenix, AZ

By 3PM, I was back at the hostel reading in a hammock, loving life.

But something deep down wasn’t quite right. I was restless. The peaceful feeling I was riding from the day before was quickly evaporating and a tightness was beginning to stitch my stomach lining together. I recognized this feeling all too well. The consuming loneliness of my depression was threatening me, toying with a trip I’d been looking forward to for months.

Floating in worry

I decided that this was probably the perfect time to try one of those float tanks everyone’s talking about these days. From what I had learned thus far, they’re meant to be great at alleviating depression and calming the mind. What better time to seek mental clarity in a dark space than while on desert-y solo spirit quest?

Well, to be honest, as much as the whole thing was relaxing and good for my skin, being trapped in a pitch-black room for 60 minutes really only heightened my anxiety and led me to over think everything that’s happened to me in the last year. I emerged from the tank feeling physically mellow but mentally depleted, and incredibly lonely.

It was around 8:30 by the time I left the float centre, so I decided to take myself for a Mexican feast then get to sleep early to be ready for my big hike in the morning. I was hell-bent on conquering this wave of sadness that had washed over me by staying busy and keeping my chin up.

Climbing a mountain, and crying

That hike was incredible. It was the first of its kind for me, having to scramble up rocks for about 20 minutes near the top of Camelback Mountain. I pushed myself further than I ever had before alone on a hike and was so proud to have accomplished it. My soul felt fulfilled by an abundance of unfamiliar natural surroundings and from the hot sun beating down on me for my hours.

After conquering Camelback, I decided I had plenty of time to consume even more nature, and made my next stop the Desert Botanical Gardens (the part of my trip I was most looking forward to).

This is where emotional shit got real.

Suddenly, while regarding a host of cacti and desert shrubbery, I started to bawl. I left my sunglasses on to keep my tears hidden from the many people around me. But I couldn’t stop crying. Everything I had felt while swinging on the hammock the day before just exploded out of my eyeballs.

 

Desert Botanical Gardens view in Phoenix, AZ

You see, I’ve been working with a therapist the last few months to help me get through a very difficult year. The deeper I dig and further back I remember in these sessions, the more my wounds are opening and the more the tears spill out.

I’ve learned a lot about how I handle unpleasant emotions, especially since moving back to Toronto and being totally out of my happy zone. That is to say, I don’t handle them at all. I use alcohol, and friends, and relationships, and marijuana, and work, and exercise, and even travelling as an escape from ever feeling the bad stuff. The hard shit. Those feelings that actually just make us all human.

I’m finally starting to understand that those feelings, the ones we don’t want to feel, are wholly necessary to feel and to reflect upon.

My therapist said something like: “you need to be able to work through your emotions and face them head on.”

To which I replied: “how does one ‘deal with their feelings’? I have been doing that. Going for walks and exercising and socialising and moving forward. Yet here I am, completely depressed and emotionally fucked.”

She looked surprised and thought about it for a second.

“Tori, you just have to sit with them. You have to be sad. You have to allow yourself to feel hurt and angry and upset. It sucks, but that time to reflect will eventually help you get past them.”

Fuck, I thought to myself. Sitting around, being sad, crying. I had never once been told that those things are healthy. I had been told that my problems aren’t as bad as others’ and to be thankful for that. And I am. I still have a hard time not feeling guilty about being depressed when my life is easier than 99% of peoples’. But it truly is all relative, and the more we push down our negative emotions, the shittier and shittier we feel, and the more our mental health suffers. It’s a vicious cycle.

Final days in Phoenix

Really, the rest of my trip consisted of more of the same. I just couldn’t stop crying. But instead of fighting it, or ignoring the tears, I let them flow. This year, I faced a lot of tough shit. Shit that was tougher than I wanted to let myself believe. Everything I had been planning for, the future I had created in my mind, was totally set back by something completely out of my control.

That’s life, though, isn’t it? Nothing ever goes as planned. People come in and out of our lives so quick, steps backward have to be taken to move forward, and bad things need to happen to make us stronger. But instead of fighting against the sadness and darkness that comes with these changes, I’m learning to embrace the emotions. To cry without limits, to give myself days to mourn the loss of a life I thought I’d be living, while simultaneously starting to piece together a new future.

By the time I was packing up my bags to leave the friendly and beautiful Phoenix, I was exhausted. I was depleted. I was low. But I felt better than I had in a long time. Lighter. I felt like the sunshine I was blessed with the majority of my trip. My eyes were heavy, but my heart wasn’t anymore.

So yeah, in the end, my trip to Phoenix wasn’t fun. It was the hardest trip I’ve ever taken in my life. But it was revolutionary for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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