Image by Valentia (click on the image to go to her Etsy shop)
If you could do anything in the world instead of the job you are doing right now, and had the funds to do it, what would you do? What would you be? Is it the same thing you wanted to be when asked the same question in your childhood? If it is, why haven’t you made that a reality? What is holding you back? What steps would you need to take to make that happen for you?
I was asked this question this morning by my carpool friend and while growing up I wanted to be a fashion designer, a teacher and a marine biologist – I am none of these. My life has taken many twists and turns and to be honest I’m not sure that at nearly forty years old I’d really still want to have any of those careers. Sure, parts of them still appeal to me like spending time near or on the ocean as a marine biologist.
So, what would I do now if I had the money in my bank account to throw caution to the wind and just “go for it”?
I contemplated my answer for a minute or so. After all, I had been in these shoes before. I had taken that leap of faith and opened a photography business. That was a passion I wanted to turn into something more. It did, but as I also rationalized with my friend – the question is a loaded one because there’s a fine line between turning a passion into a means of earning an income, and doing something for pleasure. While having a profession that allows you to do something you love everyday is ideal, there’s also that point where it no longer feels like fun and you’re working with deadlines, etc and it loses all appeal for you as well as the pleasure component.
I thought a bit more and contemplated honoring what has been nagging me from the back of my mind and the depths of my heart for a very, very long time. Finally, I said it. I put it “out there” into the universe and admitted it.
I want to be a writer.
That felt equal parts freeing and absolutely terrifying.
My hesitancy in revealing that inner dream or desire comes with the fear of the eye rolls and the “who doesn’t?” remarks and in a world where everyone has something to say and a million mediums to convey their ideas it kind of feels like even if I do take the plunge, my composition will be like a very tiny pin in a giant haystack. What could I possibly have to say that is so different or unique that I’d think anyone would care to read it? Which is why so many people never realize their dreams – they’re so afraid of other people not believing in them that they forget to believe in themselves.
Just think for a minute what could we accomplish if we stopped worrying whether other people believe in us or not. Just because we set out to write doesn’t mean it has to be with ambitions of having our work published. Writing is a very therapeutic form of creative output and often times it is in the process of pulling a scene or a thought together that true beauty exists. If others appreciate your words, great. If not, the end result is still rewarding.
A part of me however, can’t stop thinking that when I walk into a library or a book store that every one of those titles is on a shelf because their authors were in the exact same spot I am right now. Thinking about writing. Daring to think about the possibilities. All writers start from the same place – that limbo of having a pen or pencil in hand and a blank page before them – trying to garner the courage to write that first word. It is only because they overcame the paralysis and put their thoughts down that it eventually translated into being published – that they went from being a writer to an author.
In my teens I wrote poetry. My favorite part of any English class was always creative writing. I took part in some creative writing classes in my twenties as well. The bug has always been there. In fact, in my Grade 12 high school yearbook, one of the English teachers (who by the way I did not have the pleasure of being a student of) took it upon himself to sign my yearbook with “I look forward to seeing your book on my shelf“.
I’ve never forgotten that. He didn’t even teach me in my 3 years of high school level English classes but his belief in my future abilities has always stayed with me.
I’ll admit, I’ve had an idea for a novel floating around inside my head for years. Little bits of plot ideas, characters, a setting. I had a picture in my mind’s eye of where the story would take place and last summer that imaginary location literally came to life. As if I had already seen it in a crystal ball, I stood right where I had imagined my story would take place. It was a surreal and extremely emotional experience for me. It was like I had been transported in time and placed inside my mind’s landscape. The experience only solidified my desire to do something about these notions of writing and begin the process.
Still, no matter how much I endeavour to write, I keep waiting for the perfect time, the perfect spot to put pen to paper. As an aside, I have always had an obsession with pens and blank journals. I own many journals that have never been marred by ink. A hundred times I’ve opened them with pen in hand and been caught in that never ending limbo of having a thought and there being a disconnect before it can escape my finger tips. I rationalize that whatever goes into those journals has to be worthy of being expressed.
The other day, author, Ami McKay, wrote a blog post about the importance of doodling (read it here) and it was like a moment of sheer epiphany for me. The beauty of her thoughts for her next novel displayed in such a tangible format. Words and drawings and visual references. All of it looked so beautiful yet so ethereal. These pieces of plot and characters and scenes all finding temporary homes before they all get intertwined into the larger tapestry. It dawned on me that this was the exact process I’ve been avoiding because I thought I had to rush right into the sentence structure and the opening line.
What I realized is that that will all come in due time. My first step needs to be documenting all these swirling ideas in a place where I can let them go so that they are able to be recalled and revisited but in doing so it will free my mind to explore other thoughts and ideas to add to what I’ve already woven in my mind. In order to get from one place to another you have to be willing to shove off from the safety of the shore and just start sailing.
I’m hauling anchor.
Imagine for a moment the following scenario…
You’re in a car. You’re driving down a deserted country road in the middle of a severe blizzard. You’re finding it hard to distinguish what you’re seeing because the snow is creating that “I’m flying through outer space” effect only the stars are snowflakes in this case. You squint your eyes and try to just stare straight ahead without focusing on each flake but it is difficult. The windshield wipers are doing their swish back and forth across your windshield and for brief seconds everything appears clear but then your line of sight is clouded by the snow again. You keep looking out at the unknown in front of you, hoping you make it to your destination but doubts keep sneaking into your thoughts. Then you briefly lose control of the car as you hit a patch of ice. The car swerves, you try to correct as you quickly rifle through the different worst case scenarios and what each one would entail. You gain control of the car again but for how long, you’re unsure. Then for a brief moment you remember other times you’ve been in the same situation and you were able to come out the other side unscathed, safe and with a sense of pride that you did it. Oh how you long for summer when you don’t have to worry about the weather every time to want to go somewhere! How carefree you feel when you don’t have to navigate with all these unexpected and unpredictable factors. Not that every drive you take in winter is worthy of a death grip, but more often than not, it is a struggle, is stressful and causes other people to worry about your safety as well.
Now for a moment consider that the above scenario is actually an analogy about mental illness.
Go back and read it again. I’ll wait…
For someone who is afflicted with mental illness the above scenario is a very real experience. You feel as though you’re trapped in a moving, unpredictable vehicle that while you do have some ability to maneuver in ways you want to, there are other external (and in this case often internal) factors that prevent you from navigating things smoothly. Your thoughts are often clouded by altered versions of reality. You often feel things much more intensely than you do when not battling mental illness. Things seem overwhelming to you and you begin to quickly catalogue all the possible things that are/might/could happen to you while in this state. This just creates a more taxed brain and often worsens symptoms. You either find sleep difficult because your brain will not shut off or you sleep so much that when you wake up, dealing with reality is difficult. The summers in the above analogy refer to the periods of time when you are not in the depths of your mental affliction – when things seem clear, you cope well with responsibilities, you feel energized, capable of handling even the most complex challenges thrown your way and you feel on top of the world. But as those with mental illness know, sometimes those winters can be very, very long and the summers all too brief. Much like literal winters and summers we cannot predict the weather accurately. We sometimes do not see the flash floods or the avalanches coming. All we can do is try to prepare for the aftermath when they do occur or put measures in place to counteract the disasters so they don’t have as much of an impact.
Sadly, the majority of us who deal with mental illness do so in silence and in solitary confinement – feeling unable to reach out to others and share our struggles. Why? Because society has placed such a negative connotation on mental illness.
THIS HAS TO STOP.
We need to collectively take a stand and be vocal about our stories and our experiences with mental illness so we can live our lives honestly. So we can feel a sense of community, gain access to resources and so we can create a support network amongst ourselves so we don’t feel alone when we’re in the dead of winter.
If someone is diagnosed with an illness that will forever be a part of their life we instinctively reach out to them, tell them stories of others we know who have the same afflictions, offer our support in various ways and most importantly we never turn our backs on them. Can you imagine what our society would be like if we turned our backs on those who were diagnosed with cancer? I know we all know someone who was/is afflicted with this horrible disease. Our first instinct is to embrace them, comfort them, offer support and share their story with others so that the circle of support will keep growing in their time of need. Make no mistake, I’m not comparing cancer to mental illness because they are very different. But, they are also very alike in that everyone knows someone who is afflicted at one time or another with mental illness – the key being that you might not KNOW you know someone because they have been afraid to share that information with you. They’re afraid of being judged, afraid of being seen as a failure for allegedly not being able to cope with life’s challenges and most of all, are afraid of being shunned by you and others if their story were to become common knowledge.
Mental illness is a disease of the brain. Your brain is an organ of the body just as a heart, a kidney, a liver, a lung is. So why, if our brain is afflicted with a medical condition do we equate that as being the person’s fault? Why do we feel it is their responsibility to deal with things on their own, without fanfare? Why are we made to feel that we are the only ones who can fix us? That divulging this information is detrimental when in every way, owning our illness would be the key to possibly helping us through this blizzard?
If you were driving that aforementioned car through that blinding snowstorm and came upon another person on the side of the road and their car had broken down, would you keep driving? Would you leave them standing there in this midst of this snow storm by themselves and keep on going, pretending you didn’t see them? I’m going to guess the answer you’d give would be no. Then why do we keep on driving past others when we suspect something “just isn’t right” or that they “seem off” or “not themselves”? Why do we wait until they typically have a breakdown of some sort to stop and see if they are okay or need assistance? Just because they aren’t setting off flare guns to alert us doesn’t mean we’re not seeing signs of trouble down the road or don’t notice that perhaps a wheel seems squeaky and the steering seems a bit off.
The really ironic thing about mental illness is that when we’re having a difficult time we tend to follow society’s lead and shy away from sharing our stories. We feel we’ll become a burden to others and others “have their own problems to deal with, they don’t need mine too”. We internalize everything, isolate ourselves from others, lose touch with people who we care about and distance ourselves because society has told us it is our problem to deal with – much like the quarantine of a communicable disease. But the thing is, most people we know already have this disease as well. They aren’t going to catch it from you and having the support of someone who knows what you’re going through would be invaluable. But still we keep it to ourselves.
We need to work on creating an environment where we embrace being open, honest and genuine about our illness without the fear of being judged or looked down upon because the bottom line is NOBODY ASKS TO BE AFFLICTED WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. We don’t walk up to the ticket booth of life and say “1 ticket for depression, please” or “1 ticket for anxiety, please” or “1 ticket for bipolar disorder, please” no more than someone walks up to a ticket booth and asks for a ticket for cancer, diabetes, heart diseases or any other medical condition.
By the same token we need to also create an environment that embraces those who share their stories with us. We need to support others when they come to us and share their stories and show them the same kind of compassion and understanding we would if they told us they were afflicted with another disease of another organ. We need to stop using the horrific labels of “crazy”, “mental”, “psycho”, etc. We need to stay in contact with those who share their stories with us, check in on them, ask them if they need help with anything. We can’t continue to avoid them or let them feel alone and expect that they can “snap out of it” or “deal with it” or any of the multitude of other things we dismiss the situation away with.
The truth is we all have the ability to create a big web of support for those around us so they don’t get left by the side of the road in the height of the storm. We need to know we can reach out and trust others with our stories because isolation can’t heal with the speed that a combined effort of support can from those who care about you.
I’ll leave you with some of the song lyrics from Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”. Think about them next time you think someone is struggling. Extend your hand and heart. Listen to their story. If they’re not willing to share it, ensure them you’re there to listen and to help and that’s there’s nothing wrong about reaching out for help. If you’re struggling, don’t isolate yourself. Lean on your friends and family. They are there for you. YOU’RE NOT ALONE.
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tommorow
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show
I wrote this post in honour of
Quick Facts about Mental Illness from the Mental Illness Awareness Week website:
Mental illness affects more than six million – or one in five – Canadians. Of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide, five are mental disorders. Close to 4,000 Canadians commit suicide each year and it is the most common cause of death for people aged 15 – 24. By 2020 it is estimated that depressive illnesses will become the leading cause of disease burden in developed countries like Canada.
Marked personality change
Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
Strange ideas or delusions
Prolonged feelings of sadness
Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Thinking or talking about suicide
Extreme highs and lows
Abuse of alcohol or drugs
Excessive anger, hostility
I have had bouts of intermittent depression and anxiety since my late teens (perhaps even earlier). I know my triggers and the hugest one for me is a feeling of isolation – working in an office where I was the only person for weeks at a time, being on maternity leave, being away at university where I didn’t know anyone, etc. I am now an expert in my own mental health and can feel minute changes in my mental health before they typically can manifest too quickly. I’ve coped with my affliction through behavior therapy, short-term use of medications and most importantly, removing the triggers. In my case, that usually means a change of some sort to eliminate the circumstances that have instigated what I like to refer to as a “flare up”. In the past, I have tended to distance myself from those I care about and who could likely help me the most if they knew my story. It usually isn’t until after I’m “better again” that I feel comfortable in sharing. I’m now realizing that if I were more open about things when they were occurring that the support would come flooding in and my rehabilitation would happen much more quickly and effectively than trying to rely only on myself to do this.
Living with someone who is afflicted with a mental illness is not easy. It is challenging, frustrating and exhausting. I thank my husband from the bottom of my heart for standing by my side when I’ve encountered this unwelcome demon in my path. He has been part of the reason I’ve come out of the other side many times – because a promise of support, compassion and most of all understanding has made all the difference in the world. We all have the ability to be that someone for another person encountering mental illness. Won’t you be that person for someone in need?
Today a new sun rises for me; everything lives, everything is animated, everything seems to speak to me of my passion, everything invites me to cherish it.
~ Ninon de L’Enclos
Passion is defined as “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept”.
There are things we encounter in our lives that we are inexplicably drawn to – that we seek because in doing so they provide us with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and joy or a perceived sense of contribution in some way. Most often we think in general terms of a passion as something we do in our “spare time” that we wish we could do on a constant basis and get paid for. Instead we spend many hours of each day doing something we’ve become complacent about and that pays bills but does not bring us that innate sense of pleasure.
Then one day you feel as though everything is right in the world at that singular moment. You are motivated to pursue your passion even further and after weighing the pros and cons of it all you decide to jump in, feet-first and take the plunge. You take a leap of faith, stepping away from all the self-doubt and the various scenarios of what could happen if you do decide to listen to your heart. In that single moment you redefine yourself. You’ve placed a marker on the time line of your life where you can clearly distinguish your life “before” and your life “after” that juncture. In that instant you went from “hoping and dreaming” to “doing”. Just making that conscious decision without having even acted upon it – just the sheer thought process, has opened up a whole new world to you.
You enjoy this new found sense of euphoria – what we usually denote as being a direct result of “following your heart”. You bask in the warm rays of positivity. Your friends and family applaud the risks you’ve taken to realize this dream you’ve been consumed with for possibly many years. They’ve always known you were talented – they’re the ones who have been encouraging you all along to cast your fears aside and “do this”. You’ve always known your inherent talent existed as well. How could it not? It has been your passion! Word spreads quickly. Your family and friends make sure of that. You’re doing what you love and getting paid for it. Isn’t this the epitome? Isn’t this the way everyone wants to live? You’re doing it. You’re REALLY doing it!
Years go by. You’re more successful at this venture than you ever dreamed was possible when this all began. Your talent is appreciated and in demand. You’re reputation precedes you. People you’ve never met know your work by sight and tell you how much they love it. You begin to wonder if any of this is truly real or if you’ve actually been living inside a very long dream! Could life get any better than this? After all, this is the success you dreamed of, the outcome you only hoped to realize and now it is your reality!
…but what happens when your passion starts feeling more like a burden?
While your passion has been evolving from a hobby into a sustainable interest, along with it comes increased responsibility. You’re no longer doing this for fun and have real clients and potential clients to answer to. While you’re your own boss, you also know that the real bosses are the people you provide a service or product to. They’re dictating to a certain extent your time and where your energy is going in managing their requests. With increased demand comes an increased need for output to supply the demand. The increasingly obvious challenge being faced is that we’re only afforded twenty-four hours in each day. In order to devote time to one part of our life – in this case our passion, we must simultaneously transfer that time and focus from another part.
But what happens if the cache you’re trying to siphon is no less deserving of your attention – and perhaps even more-so? What if denying those competing responsibilities for your time and devotion could have serious repercussions? What if those competing responsibilities are not tangible assets you possess but are measured in terms of people and time?
I took that leap of faith back in 2006. I daydreamed and ran scenarios through my head for years about what it would be like to put an end to the self-doubt and just cut the ropes of uncertainty and let myself spread my wings and see if the wind would take me where I longed to go. I built upon my years of scenic photography work and branched out into photographing people, doing portrait shoots and photographing weddings. I was beyond overwhelmed at the positive response to my work…what I still considered my passion and anything but work! I was inundated with requests for sessions and meetings with brides and grooms and my spare time was quickly booked up with meetings and shoots and editing time. So much editing time!
Then I had two babies within eighteen months – I had TWO new(er) passions.
The past two years have been nothing short of a circus act when you consider the juggling I’ve been doing in trying to devote the required time to my craft while also working a full time job and raising two young children with my equally busy husband. I still only have twenty-four hours in my day. If anything I feel like I have a deficit in hours at the end of my day. There’s always far more to accomplish than I have time for. My To Do List never seems to be getting shorter but instead, longer. I can’t get excited about checking items off because I’m too busy adding new task on to the list. I’m missing out on time with my ever-evolving and changing sons. I’m missing out on time with my husband. There’s a disconnect in our little world because if I’m not physically separated from them when I’m out shooting a wedding or off in another room editing for hours on end, I’m mentally not available to them either because I’m so caught up in stressing myself to the point of exhaustion about all the unfinished tasks at hand.
The most challenging part in this equation is that I truly am still passionate about my photography. It is such a part of who I am. Of what I feel defines me. It is a way in which I creatively express myself.
After much soul searching over the last few months I have finally come to the conclusion that an incredibly difficult decision needed to be made. I can no longer allow myself to feel pulled in a million different directions. I cannot lose sleep at night worrying about how I’m going to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished because I’m putting unrealistic pressures on myself. Most of all, I cannot continue to put my family last on the list of competing priorities. They deserve my time and undivided attention. We only get one day a week to spend together a family. ONE DAY. So, do I spend that one day a week shooting photographs for other people or editing photographs or do I spend it with the man I love and the beautiful little humans we’ve created together? Do you know that I didn’t even capture a single photograph of my family at Christmas this year because my camera had come to denote “more work, more stress” in my mind? How heart breaking is that?
They are only going to be this little once. I only get one shot to be all that I can be in their eyes as a mother. There will come a time when they won’t want to cuddle up on my chest and allow me to rub their backs before bedtime. There will come a time when they won’t want to spend their Sunday mornings with us having brunch because they’ll be teenagers that will sleep in until 2pm. There will come a time when going to the beach with Mom and Dad won’t be cool anymore. So why am I missing out on all those irreplaceable moments now? Because I’m following a passion? Because other people’s special moments mean more than my own family’s? Because I fear disappointing other people?
As I said, it took a lot of soul searching and has been an extremely difficult decision to make but I’m officially announcing the closure of the photography business at least for 2012. I’ll reevaluate and decide at a later time if I will reopen next year or not. Maybe it won’t be for several years. I do know that I’ll go back to it because after all, it is my passion. That will never change. It is too much of the tapestry that makes up my story – of who I am.
Make no mistake, it is not without sadness that I close my virtual doors. It will feel odd to not be a part of so many couple’s wedding days this summer nor capturing a family’s first photograph with a new baby. It will feel equally odd not to be attached to my camera for hours on end nor my computer! I will still be shooting a wedding I’ve already committed myself to and will still do an odd shoot here and there for family or friends and for special instances where repeat clients are in town visiting family and have traditionally always had me photograph them. I don’t mind those types of shoots because I’m familiar with those people. They know my story, they know my family and the demands I am working under. They respect my time and recognize the sacrifices I make in order to work with them and I know that they will also respect my decision to decline if I feel the sacrifice of my time to my family will be too great. I simply intend to not formally seek out new business for the foreseeable future. When a passion begins to transform into what feels like more of a burden because of changes in circumstance then you know it is time to reevaluate your life’s direction.
What I will gain though is priceless – the ability to rest peacefully at night knowing my To Do List is manageable and enjoying every single one of those hugs and kisses my boys shower me with. For the first time in five summers I’ll be able to watch sunsets and spend my evenings and weekends at the beach or at the family cottage – things we could not do because I was either shooting a wedding most Saturdays or I was holed away in a room editing from the time I got home from work until the wee hours of the morning during the week. I’ll be able to go for walks and enjoy fresh air. I’ll be able to attend family reunions, BBQs and just simply be there for my husband and boys. I’ll have time to read again and time to write – both things I enjoy immensely. Following my heart is what allowed me to transform this passion into something beyond my wildest dreams in the first place. I’m simply following it again
I know this year will be a bright and happy one. So full of new moments of adventure with my family. I’m excited about capturing those moments with my camera and all the beautiful things we will experience together. I’m not putting away my camera completely, I’m just going to have a different focus