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. 

My first ever multi-day hike | Preparing for the West Highland Way

A quick shot of me during a pit stop on a drive through the west Highlands

I’m doing it—finally. I’m hiking the West Highland Way in September, and as of now, I’m doing it alone.

Am I scared? Yes. I spent one night in the wilderness alone once and shit myself. But it was worth it. The self-confidence I gained from taking the plunge and wild camping alone continues to radiate from me to this day. So, I can only imagine what 8 days will do for me.

What’s the West Highland Way?

That’s right. I’ll be hiking and wild camping for 8 days straight through the west Highlands of Scotland. The West Highland Way is a trail that begins near Glasgow and extends for 154 km up to Fort William (aka the most beautiful place on Earth). It attracts around 80,000 people every year, of whom more than 30,000 walk the full route.

Although I’ve never actually walked any of the trails that are part of the WHW, I have been to a few of the destinations I’ll be seeing throughout the hike and let me tell you, I am far beyond excited to be back. Scottish scenery is some of my favourite. The green is lusher than any other green I have ever seen, and the endless supply of grassy hills and forest could steal the breath of even the most cynical urbanite.

Why am I putting myself through this?

As terrified as I am to stay overnight alone in the wilderness, nothing in this life has brought me more joy than a good hike. That said, I’ll see if I still feel that way after 8 days of hiking (or 7, depending on how much work I do on my cardio before then). No movie, book, TV show, job, game or any other distraction has fulfilled my soul and balanced my mental health the way nature can. So, needless to say, trekking into the wild for a wee while is a no-brainer.

Also, it’s a goal of mine to complete a proper through-hike by the time I’m 35—that’s one of those massive months long expeditions you hear crazy nature buffs and hippies attempt (examples include the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail which take six and three months to conquer respectively). I feel like my upcoming Scottish spirit quest is a good stepping-stone to that eventual adventure. The hiking isn’t too difficult on the WHW, and the wild camping is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any real predators in Scotland (minus badgers and angry sheep) and I think they only have one type of poisonous snake, maybe. In comparison to the other massive trails in the US—the PCT goes from the Mexican border all the way up the west coast to the Canadian border—the WHW is no big deal.

What do I have to do to prepare?

In short, A LOT. But what would I have to write about for the next seven months if I gave it all away right now? Some blog posts to come: fitness prep, buying a new backpack, figuring out how to filter water, hesitations with shitting in the ground, and more. Be sure to check back soon!

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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Tribulations of an over-thinker (and Tantallon Castle)

My brain has always worked at a pace I can’t ever get ahold of. Small worries turn into big worries which manifest new worries all together. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. Just now, my heater made a little cracking sound. Instantly, I sat up, looked at it, switched it off, and moved to the other side my bed in case of possible explosion. Which turned into: if it explodes, will I survive? Have I accomplished everything I wanted to up until this point? I haven’t. What a sad death that would be. You know what would be a sadder one? If someone broke in and stole all my things and finished me off before leaving.

As you might’ve guessed, it’s generally negative things I over-think. To a less dramatic extent, let’s say at work, it often goes something like this: Oh no. I told someone I didn’t like their idea. Ugh look at their face. Their smile faded ever so slightly. Are they judging me? Are they upset that I said that? Will they ever enjoy working with me in the future? I hope I didn’t hurt their feelings. I’m worried I’ve made them feel awful.

 I’m hoping by now you get the picture. Not only is it absolutely useless to think in this anxious cycle of negativity, it’s bloody exhausting. Friendships, relationships, all the ships, are so stressful, not in and of themselves, but because my brain makes them that way.

I know, I know. I’m working on it. I really am.

I started seeing a therapist, which I really should’ve done much sooner, who is teaching me a little about acceptance. Acceptance that I am the way that I am, and I can’t do anything to change that fundamental piece of my brain. But I can learn to reprogram those negative thoughts into positive ones, simply by accepting that I am going to feel how I feel but also offering my head a new thought to snowball from. Something more positive.

It’s definitely a process. But I’ve finally had the epiphany that maybe being an over-thinker isn’t bad. It’s just a part of who I am. And there are so many positive facets of my personality that come along with the wheels turning so quickly in my brains. I’ve become more and more empathetic with time, since I think so much about how people are feeling about things. I’m also very good at my job and problem solving because of my innate gift to overanalyze every situation (which is wicked cool because my high school math teachers would argue that problem solving was never my strong suit).

All this thinking about overthinking leads me to remember the time I spent in a cabin by the sea in North Berwick, Scotland, and my visit to Tantallon Castle. I wrote about that adventure in a blog post a while back and it’s helping me to reevaluate myself a bit. What we think of as being flaws in our personality are actually what make us special. Everything we’ve been through in our lives has brought us to the point we are now with our mental health and ability to move forward. And it’s okay to feel broken. Like Tantallon Castle, destroyed in battle to almost complete ruin, it’s our broken bits that make us more beautiful, more unique.

I’m starting to gain a little more clarity on my brokenness, and I’m finding I’m not so broken after all. It’s just a part of who I am. A part that makes me a much more deep, dynamic, and aware person. The trick is, remembering these lessons, no matter how dark it starts to get.

 

How I’m really feeling right now

Lately I’ve been afraid of being honest on my blog about how hard it’s been for me in the big city. I’ve tried to maintain an air of positivity about my personal purgatory but sadly, the happiness I feel here appears in small waves stifled by the overwhelming loneliness that comes from living in a place where people are often so disconnected from each other.

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