There’s been a book sitting on my bookcase for the better part of the year. It has sat there among others, and I started it, but I never really dove in. I thought I didn’t need it, and thought I’d get back into it when I did. But in the wisdom of as Ze Frank:
When you’re most in need of help you the most vulnerable to bad advice. Probably the best time to read self-help is when you least need it [and can chew on it with a bit of vinegar].
2012 has been a year of changes for me. And while many of these have been amazing, and large, lately, I’ve felt that the greatest barrier to my success has been myself. And as I was flying high on cloud nine, seeing my work pay off after seven years of blogging and making videos and sending in submissions, but I wanted to do more. I knew I needed to change from the inside out. And you might have seen the beginning of this shift when I finally decided to create for the niche that I felt in my heart for so long (and thanks to Alice for letting me know that even if you don’t have a chronic illness, you can still relate to my work and words!).
And so, I pulled down that book; it’d been sent to me by my dear friend Roben-Marie: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. As a recovering perfectionist, the easy-to-read yet digging deeper format energized me to begin making much-needed changes in myself. When I finished, I knew I needed to go backwards; I needed to read her first book, I Thought It Was Just Me.
I know I’m not alone; this knowledge is the driving force behind why I share so much; I want to tell people they’re not alone, that they’re not the only one with FMS or an illness, and that beauty and art can be captured no matter what your background or physical/mental state you’re in. That’s not what tore me open. It was this, her definition of Shame:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.
As I read the first few chapters, I felt something shift within me, and all of a sudden, I cried. I cried for all the times I might have shame someone else to make myself feel better. For a long time, whenever I was in pain, I felt so ashamed and disconnected, I felt that the only way I could get anyone to help me was to go for the throat. And I’m not proud of this or saying any of this with pride; but it has to be said. And I’m sorry.
I had already started practicing mindful authenticity and ordinary courage after finishing Brené’s second book, but now I had to re-learn empathy, and how to really connect with others. One helpful thing I’ve been doing is sitting with my emotions instead of simply getting angry or frustrated. I figure out what, exactly, I’m feeling, and why. I now better understand my motivations and am less unsettled about myself, which has me creating more authentic connections and communicating with more empathy.
I remember one afternoon, as I was eating lunch with Becca, completely breaking down into tears. My heart had broken open, and it seemed I had a lot of sorrow and regret to get out before I could even begin to go forward. I spent the day painting, allowing these previously-hidden emotions to come out through my brush. And it’s taken a long time to finish the painting I began that day because it is, in itself, the process.
It is the process of opening yourself up to what you may have done in the past, and remembering to forgive yourself. I think that is so important. Before you do anything else, I want you to sit, in this moment, and forgive yourself for anything you have done recently that you may be ashamed about.
Brenè says the guilt is more motivating than shame. Shame makes us feel less than worthy, less than perfect — makes us feel less, period. And that’s the thing — we are all imperfect. It’s our imperfections and this state of authentic being that we should be celebrating!
So stop trying to make your journal pages, your art, your photos, or your blog perfect! Make them more you. That’s what speaks louder than anything else! It is that essence of personality, of a person truly trying to connect with others, that will bring people back for more.
(At least I’m hoping that’s the way it works!)
So this painting was the process of me cracking opening open and sobbing with my friend, sobbing while driving home. I love the message I got from my mother and daughter who said they are looking forward to this painting being available for them to have on those days when the pain is too much and they need something to allow them to be. I had to pause in dictation; I just started to tear up and cry.
I am by no means finished with the book, and my copy looks more like a high schooler’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, full of annotations they’ve been forced to make by English teachers, than that of a twenty-something woman reading to better herself. I’ve been reading with highlighters and pens in bed at night because I see more than just a book for me. I’m reading now more for my tribe, my community of artists and followers. Listen to this quote, and see how someone with a chronic illness may respond to reading this:
We equate more ability with weakness, and, in our culture, there are very few things we abhore more than weakness.
I know a lot of you who read my work have illnesses, and you may be ashamed of yourself, and your weakness. And I want you to look at this painting and take her message to heart: for your protection immediately forgive yourself.
And then go create something beautiful, if only for five minutes, today.
Grab her in my Etsy shop, or browse all my other paintings now availiable (a few originals are left; contact me if you're interested!).