Category Archives: on my mind

Existential Panic Attack Brought On By The Green-Eyed Monster

Have you ever had an existential panic attack? That moment where you wonder what your life is all about and if you are heading in the right diection? I originally posted this on March 5, 2012 (not that long ago) and I am kind of amazed at how much I have changed since then. In just a few months I have transformed from scared and insecure to goal driven and hopeful. I wanted to share this for anyone out there who is feeling stuck, scared or unsure right now. I have so much more confidence in myself today, just a few, short months later. There is hope! Hang in there.
We were recently visited by friends with a seven month old baby. This is a baby that is the same height and weight as my 21 month old daughter. When they held him up in a standing position he looked directly into my daughter’s eyes and smiled condescendingly (OK, I may have imagined that last part).  My daughter is skinny and small for her age, according to the doctor’s growth chart, but still, this was kind of amazing to see. “He’s very laid back and happy,” his mom told me as my daughter collapsed on the ground in a dramatic heap; crying over something horribly wrong that went completely unobserved by the rest of us. He also sleeps through the night which my daughter does only occasionally and sporadically and when the stars align and the tides come in and hell freezes over and pigs fly. Already, I was feeling green with envy. No wonder these people were able to complete so many projects, go on (what seemed to me) nonstop vacations and make enormous leaps in their careers and education all while toting their little, or gigantic, bundle of joy around with them. They were actually sleeping – unlike me. Me, I look like the poster child for a movie about the walking dead. Me, who thinks getting dressed and washing the floor is a major accomplishment. Me, who was six days behind on her online art class only a day after it began. Then, just to punctuate their personality differences, my daughter chucked a yo-yo right at the baby’s head and then screamed for him to give her back her toy (like he had wrestled it from her tiny hands in the first place). Luckily, the yo-yo missed, but I understood how she was feeling. At least I could relate a little bit.
I felt so inadequate when they left that I immediately ran to my laptop and logged into the website of the local college. “What are you doing?” Jim asked me. I told him if I hurried I could still apply for the fall semester and enroll in classes so I could get a job that makes LOTS and LOTS of money. I need to do something to increase my status and vacation opportunities. What about my retirement?!!! I need to BE somebody. If I hurried maybe my life wouldn’t suck. My heart was beating fast. I was having an existential panic attack brought on by the green-eyed monster. “I thought you wanted to paint. I thought you liked your life,” Jim said quietly. “I do like my life,” I sobbed, “but I don’t think I SHOULD like it. I’m not accomplished enough. I didn’t even have one thing to write down in a family Christmas newsletter last year.” Then, realizing how absurd I sounded I started to giggle. Then I cried some more.
It’s so easy to compare your life to someone else’s and find yourself coming up short, especially when you don’t have all the facts. Other people’s lives look so perfect on the outside, but in reality each of us has our doubts and concerns that we struggle with. It’s not easy to prioritize children and family in a culture that worships money and status and tanned vacationed bodies and gigantic credit card bills. I often worry that I might be making some terrible decisions and wonder if other people are better at this whole life thing than I am. “Maybe you are doing it wrong!” the little voice in my head shrieks with maniacal laughter. I am, after all, my own worst critic. Will I ever reach the ridiculously high standards I have set for myself as either a mother or a painter? Probably not, but it’s not for lack of trying. The best I can do is to learn not to beat myself up for falling short a little or sometimes even a lot. I’ve got a great life, a great kid, a wonderful husband, and my career is moving forward, albeit slowly like maybe a snail and a turtle were taking turns driving the proverbial car.  Anyway, it’s time to stop being a whiner or a quitter, or a winner or a loser, or whatever the popular saying is now. It’s time to stop the dramatic sobbing on the bed and grow a stiff upper lip. I’m picking myself up and dusting off my maternity pants (the ones I should have stopped wearing 21 months ago). Besides, not too many people can go to work with a smashed banana on their pant leg or purple paint in their eyebrows. I do have some advantages in this world.
Sometimes all this envy stems from stage fright. When things start going too well I get a little nervous. I guess that’s why other people’s plans look so much better and easier and of course safer than my own. It’s easier to toss my life overboard and follow the status quo. It’s easier to agree with people that their way is best. It’s easier to pretend to be someone than to actually be someone, to actually be me. No more easy stuff for me I’ve decided. I’m taking a stand. I’m proudly taking the road less travelled and choosing to go uphill both ways. My accomplishments are sometimes small when compared to the accomplishments of others, but they are my own. Plus, with just a few hours of sleep each night and a not-so-laid-back toddler (go get ‘em kid) I’m kind of impressed with all that I am able to accomplish. I did write this blog after all. It’s much more coherent than my speech is at this point. That has to count for something. My life isn’t exactly glamorous, but I don’t have the energy for that anyway. Excuse me, but I have to go wrestle a permanent marker, a penny, and an Elmer’s glue stick from my toddler’s hands before she eats them or uses them as a weapon against the dog. After that I am going to high five myself and write “Life Saver” on my resume.

Hey, Loser, Get A Job: Thoughts On Choosing My Career Path

As a new mom, one who had chosen to stay at home with my daughter and turn art making into a job, my career status had been questioned multiple times by all kinds of people. If motherhood alone was not considered a job being an artist certainly wasn’t an acceptable form of employment either. The whole “get a job” mantra was delivered to me in many different nuanced ways, some subtle and some more direct. Mostly they were used to shame me for the choices I had made. This is a little about my experience and how I overcame or ignored criticism and judgements from people who just didn’t understand the choices I was making. To anyone who is going through this same experience, don’t worry, there are people out there who think and want to live the same way you do. Don’t give up until you find your tribe because that is when amazing things begin to happen.
Hey, Loser, Get A Job! Thoughts On Choosing My Career Path
Hey, Loser, Get A Job! A real one.
“You haven’t found a job yet?” She said, her voice dripping with accusation and complete disdain for me. I could feel my face redden with the shame I was feeling. I had not been looking for a job. Jim and I had decided that going to college full time, working on getting our business off the ground and maintaining the house was enough for one person to handle. I knew it was enough for me, but still I felt guilty and then I felt angry for feeling guilty and then I just felt plain tired. I was tired of explaining myself to people who didn’t hear me. This wasn’t the first time my choices were questioned and certainly not the last time. Little did I know how many negative comments I was about to receive.
Yoda-Booda dog painting
At the end of my last semester (of the graduate program I was enrolled in) Jim and I decided to have a baby. So, there I was pregnant and doing my best to complete all my coursework in between the vomiting and the doctor visits. Friends and family were constantly asking me when I was going back to work. Where was I going to work? Why wasn’t I working?! I didn’t understand what all of the excitement and panic was about. Jim and I had spent hours and hours discussing our plans. When I came home from my counseling classes exhausted and stressed out Jim said, “Are you sure you want to be a Counselor? I’m not sure you are suited to it. You worry too much about people. You absorb all their pain. I’m worried about you.” I thought about that. I was not very good at keeping good boundaries and the stories I heard broke my heart and kept me up all night. Not to mention, I secretly had a feeling I wasn’t going to be able to help many people. I couldn’t untangle myself enough to look at their lives objectively. I was living their failures and pain right along with them. That’s when I started painting again. It helped me think and sort out my feelings. Jim’s reaction to my painting shocked me. He wanted to know why I had been wasting my time doing other things when I could have been painting all this time. I confessed that I had moved to New Mexico in the hopes that I would find more time to paint (in such a laid back atmosphere), but had filled my time with so many other things. Things I had much less passion for.
 

Then my daughter was born and still people asked, “Aren’t you going back to work soon?” and “Don’t you think it’s time you started working again?” I didn’t know how to answer them. At first I thought they were plain crazy. I hadn’t slept more than 90 minutes at a time for weeks and sometimes didn’t even have time to brush my teeth. I already had a job. The hardest job I ever had! Plus, I waited almost 35 years to have a baby. I had spent most of my life taking care of and loving other people’s children. I finally had my own child. I didn’t want to be away from her all day and I didn’t need to be. Not to mention, between taking care of a baby, supporting a budding business, maintaining the house, and of course painting I didn’t see much room for a typical job. When your husband can make more in one hour than you can in an entire day and daycare would eat up most of your income what would be the point? Especially when I was already doing what I wanted to be doing. We decided that this was the perfect time and opportunity for me to concentrate on becoming an artist and to enjoy being a mother. I know I have disappointed some people with my choices, but this is my life and my time. Shouldn’t I spend it the way I feel is best?

 

Nobody asks me about working anymore. They have either given up on me or have accepted me for who I am. I don’t feel shame or doubt anymore when I say I am a Stay-At-Home mom who paints. I know I am not some lazy, shiftless person mooching off of my spouse. I am not eating bonbons and watching TV all day. I am busier, more creative, and more productive than I have ever been at any other time in my life. Jim tells everyone I am an artist with so much enthusiasm and joy that nobody can ever say anything negative in response. It feels good to be doing what is right for me and for my family. I don’t judge other people for their choices because I know they have good reasons for making them. There will always be naysayers, but I don’t want to be one of them. Most importantly, I try not to let other people extinguish my pride anymore. Sometimes I completely fail in those attempts, but I laugh because both my mom and my husband always say, “Don’t listen to them. They are just jealous!” How can so many people be jealous of me? It sounds so ridiculous, but maybe it’s true. I am pretty happy and I know that just drives some people crazy. Isn’t there an old saying that goes something like “Living a good life is the best revenge”? To all those people out there living a good life despite set-backs and criticism I applaud you and your efforts. Keep up the good and sometimes hard work of living an authentic life! In the end it might be the only thing that matters.

Painting As Passion

Painting as passion
Painting, after some success, can quickly become an obsession. It sure has for me!
Painting as passion: Tea House in San Francisco
I recently dove back into using watercolors after about a twelve month love affair with acrylics and collage and now I-just-can’t-stop. I’ve been painting flowers and more flowers. I have created an inside garden complete with flowers that probably wouldn’t even grow in my actual, outside garden. This can be dangerous. The laundry, dishes, and floors have completely been neglected. My email goes unanswered. My family can survive on frozen pizzas and other convenience foods for only so long! I have been bitten by the painting bug and have come down with a severe case of painting fever.
watercolor flowers
This seems to happen to creative people. We can go days, months, and even years without succumbing to our creative work, but when the passion and obsession strikes we can become very prolific and completely consumed by our creative work. This can be very difficult to reconcile with the demands of a small child and the obligations and responsibilities that come with being a Stay-At-Home-Mom. I cannot hide in my studio or concentrate on what I am doing for long periods of time like I did before my daughter was born. At this stage, she is usually redecorating my studio while I paint or, trying to stick a paintbrush in the dog’s mouth.
watercolor blanket flower
Watercolors are terrific for this mode of painting because if the paints dry out while I am wrestling my most-loved paintbrush from the dog’s mouth, I can just add water and be back in business in no time. I often paint while my daughter is napping or has gone to bed for the night. I spend quite a bit of my day lost in thought about what to paint next, which color to use, or if my painting would benefit from some pen and ink details.  I can only hope my daughter doesn’t notice my distracted interactions or, even better, I hope she will grow up and find something that she can be just as passionate about.