Finally, I can breathe

Things are different in my reality right now. Slower. Calmer. Happier.

Make that immensely happier.

You may have noticed I was going through a terrible time a few months back. Then you may have noticed how quiet I’ve been since. That’s because this year of confidence has included a lot of change with it:

1. I started caring for my mother-in-law full-time in January.

2. I went on family leave from my job.

3. I questioned every single thing in my life, including my writing career.

4. I quit a few things that were once very important to me.

5. I went back to work with a new attitude, and felt lighter after my time away.

6. My mother-in-law moved into a new apartment, and life went back to normal.

7. I quit my job.

breaking freeWait, what? Yep, you read that right. I QUIT MY NEWSPAPER JOB! For those of you following along, you know this is huge. I’ve been wanting to leave for years. When I published my first book 6 years ago, I was certain I was only steps away from leaving my full-time job and writing for a living. It didn’t happen with that first book, but I figured maybe it would with the second. Then the third. Then the fifth, the seventh, the ninth… When I published my tenth book, my hope was lost and I stopped seeing the point.

Here’s the thing. I was putting so much weight on my success as a writer that I stopped feeling joy in it. I was miserable at my job and I was desperate for my writing career to save me. But it just wasn’t happening. I stopped enjoying writing, which was kind of like not enjoying breathing. Writing is everything to me. I love the shape of words, how they sound to the ears and feel in the mouth. I love the way they look on paper, the swirl of cursive or the nobleness of typed fonts. I love the way you can string words together in ways that evoke powerful emotions or breathless moments. I love reading these strings of words, and I love creating them. So when I stopped seeing the point in writing, I stopped seeing the point in life. Couple that despair with the immense weight of stress from my job, and I was absolutely miserable.

And then there was that mental breakdown thing. All that angst I was feeling served as a monumental block against all my creativity. This was not only devastating, but a blow to my ego because I’d stepped away from everything I preach about when it comes to staying creative, including the tips I’d laid out in Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

In other words, I was human.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mental breakdown was just me reaching my breaking point when things were about to change. EVERYTHING was about to change, and it all started when I took time off work to care for my mother-in-law. Not only did it help my mother-in-law and me to develop a much closer relationship, but it also gave me the space I needed to BREATHE, to put things in perspective, to figure out what I wanted in life, and what I didn’t want. I began letting go of things that were no longer feeding me. I slowed down. I prayed more, and sat in silence more. I felt the grip of fear release its hold on me, and began experiencing moments when I knew what I wanted out of life, and it wasn’t at my job.

This wasn’t a new revelation, but for the first time, I experienced what it was like to not have to know everything that was going on in the world, keep my eyes open for trending stories, think up new ways to grab people’s attention, be on at all times… I experienced what it was like to move at a regular pace and do one thing at a time, and I liked it. And I realized that I could no longer move at the pace I was going at my job. I also realized that it wasn’t my job, but me. All this time I had been hating this job and feeling like it was the job’s fault for being terrible. But really, it was that I wasn’t meant for this job. It just stopped being the right fit, and I’d tried to make it work for far too long.

Taking 7 weeks off work helped me to not only see my current job a lot clearer, but it also helped me figure out what I would enjoy instead. During my time away, I found that job and applied. After I’d been back at work a month, that other job contacted me. I gave my two weeks’ notice a few days later. I’m now the marketing coordinator at a local real estate company, where I’ve been working for a month. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I love the work I do, and feel like I finally get to utilize the skills I have…many of which I actually gained at the newspaper.

Even more important, I feel the sunshine when I go outside, hear the birds, smell the roses, feel the ball of happiness expanding in my chest. I feel joy. I feel light. And…I feel like I can write again, which means I can finally breathe.

And it feels really, really good.

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Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

Avoid a mental breakdown by adding margins to your life

doingbest

I’m keeping this image huge so that you don’t miss it. I shared this from another page on my Facebook yesterday. It not only hit a nerve for me, it hit the nerve of people who came across it. How many of you can relate to this? Are there commitments you’ve made that are now consuming your life? Are you really required to keep those commitments? Can you take something off your plate for an hour? For a day? For a week? Forever?

Last weekend I had a nervous breakdown, melting into a crazy, sniveling, pathetic creature right in front of my husband. I’ve spent months caring for his mother, something I’ve taken time off work to do. But in doing so, I’ve gone weeks without any kind of break except for collapsing into bed after putting her in bed. I’ve spent every waking moment with her. This is not exhausting work, except, it is.

Thing is, I was the one placing the shackles on me. I waited until I was going out of my mind before I finally pleaded with my husband that I needed a break. It got to the point of desperation before I said anything because I was determined to be strong and white knuckle my way through this. Also, I was the one choosing to remain in the same room with her instead of going up to my own room for some moments of solitude. I was choosing to be a martyr, giving until I couldn’t give anymore.

But that does no one any good.

This past week, I have made it a point to take at least an hour or more to myself. The difference has been amazing. Before, I felt resentful every time she needed something, and if I wasn’t careful, it showed in my attitude. But once I took regular breaks, my attitude changed. The resentment disappeared. I began wanting to spend better quality time with her instead of being in the same room and hating it.

On Thursday, my husband gave me a full day off. I slept in until 7 (I start my caregiving at 5), sat in a coffee shop for 4 hours, took a nap in the afternoon, and went to the gym in the evening. I did everything I wanted to do, which wasn’t anything exciting or glamorous, but amazing just the same. I took a day when I wasn’t needed for anything at all, and that was exactly what I needed. The next day, my MIL and I had coffee together, then we watched a movie together in the afternoon, and in between, I went grocery shopping without her and read.

If you’re life is filling up too fast and you’re feeling like you’re being pulled in all directions, it’s VITAL that you take a break. You need a margin, that empty space beside the busyness of your full-time life. It may mean you can only take one hour. If you think you can’t, you’re wrong. Ask for help. You need it. If you can manage a whole day, do it. If there’s something taking up your time without adding anything to your present or future, LET IT GO. Seriously. Remember that you’re only one person, and we’re all so much better when we let others step in and give us a hand, and when we rest so we can recharge. You are not a machine, you are human. So give yourself some grace and space.


Looking for ways to create space in your hectic schedule? Check out my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

Being too busy to write, and why it’s ok (for a season)


I’m in the final weeks of my 2nd semester of college, and it’s kicking my butt. Any quality time I have to devote to something substantial is spent on studying and doing homework. The manuscripts I’d rather be editing are pushed to the side. The book ideas I want to write are put on hold. The books I want to read for fun are saved for later. All creative projects, besides my morning journaling, are not happening right now. 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated. My creative soul is screaming to stretch and grow, to create something – anything! – just to release some of this pent up creative pressure. However, it just isn’t the time. 

In my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I shared the secrets to making room for your creative endeavors, even with a busy life. However, I also talked about those times in your life when things are so busy, it’s near impossible to find room for creative time. This includes times when your kids are small, when you have a big project at work, when your focus is needed on something huge, and when you’re in the middle of midterms and preparing for finals. If trying to fit creative time into a mandatory busy time is going to make you go insane, it’s ok to put creativity on hold for a time. 

But that’s the difference. It’s just temporary!

While I’d love to be more creative right now, my schoolwork is demanding my attention. Writing and editing will have to wait. I have only 2 1/2 more weeks left of this semester, and then I can dive headfirst into my creative life. Until then, I’ll have to be patient. 

If you’re experiencing an overly busy time in your life, give yourself some grace. If this is becoming the norm, you may need to shift a few things so that you don’t completely lose your motivation to be creative. However, sometimes we need to focus all of our energy on things other than our creative projects just so we can clear them off our plates (and then have the room to create). We just have to ensure it’s only for a season, and not forever. 

How to take a soul retreat, part 1

Yesterday, I took the day off of everything to come back to center and seek answers to the path I need to take in some very perplexing areas of my life. I called it my soul retreat, as it was my chance to reconnect with my soul in ways I hadn’t been able to for months.

Let me start out by saying that the day was a success. I accomplished everything I had hoped I would, and received some very clear answers to my dilemmas, offering me a sense of peace. I won’t share all of these here, as they are very personal. But I do want to share some of my experience. Because this is kind of long, this post has been broken into two parts.

The day started out with a drive to the coast. I set my drive to the soundtrack of Sigur Ros, one of my favorite bands for getting out of my head and immersing myself in the task at hand. Usually, it’s my writing music. Today, it was my transition from a too-busy life, to time with my spirit.

I was battling two overwhelming emotions on this drive: fear and hope. I was hopeful that I would find the answers I was looking for, and looking forward to this time I’d set aside to seek them. But I was fearful that I wouldn’t find the answers. Even more, I was afraid I would find the answers, but they wouldn’t be ones I was happy with.

There were tears on the drive, and it took almost the whole Sigur Ros album to get there. I found the exact portion of the coastline I’d envisioned, and pulled into a parking spot that faced the ocean. Then I let the album finish out as I stared out at the ocean, losing myself to the vastness of the sea.

When ready, I came out of the car and found a spot on a picnic bench. I brought with me a box of Kleenex (which I had to buy on the way there since I’d forgotten!), and my journal. Then, as I watched the waves crash against the rocks below, I began my soul retreat.

Throughout the day, I felt myself being told two things: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND. These were the central answers to the dilemmas I brought to the table. Take a deep breath in and let it out slow. Pause.  Take a moment. Open your eyes. Look at your surroundings. Breathe.

Most of my stress has been the result of extreme busy-ness. In my life, I have many hats I wear throughout the day, and it’s hard to not feel pulled in all directions. But that busy-ness isn’t necessarily caused by those different hats in my life, it’s really about what I do with the time in between.

Let me ask you, what do you do when you’re bored? How about when you have a moment when nothing is being asked of you? How about when you’re waiting for dinner to be done simmering? What do you do the moment you wake up, or right before you go to bed?

For me, I reach for my phone. I check my email. I peruse Facebook. I check my book stats. I watch interesting videos. I play a game. I do anything that will keep me from doing nothing. I remove myself from being where I’m at, and place myself in dozens of different places via my phone in a matter of minutes.

This is true for many of us. And in doing this, we’ve lost the ability to just sit and breathe, and to be aware of our surroundings. We’ve forgotten how to see the world around us. Maybe it’s because life is unpredictable. We can’t control what happens to us in the real world. We can’t control the hurt, the anger, the sadness, the boredom, the fear. But when we’re immersed in a little 2”X3” screen, we can control everything we watch, feel, and experience. We make ourselves feel better through a heartwarming video. We share a moving article and feel like activists. We comment on a friend’s Facebook status and feel as if we’ve socialized.

But we’re not living in the moment. Me. I have not been living in the moment. I’m not allowing myself time to breathe and take in my surroundings. I’m filling my pockets of free time with moments of busy-ness instead of taking a deep breath in and letting it out slow.

Breathe. Take a look around. Be where you’re at. Such concepts…

See part 2 here.

Taking a soul retreat

It’s the first time in a long time that I’m not working on a specific project. I finished my latest editing job, and there’s nothing specific I need to be working on for my book – at least not until I get my cover. It’s a strange feeling. I don’t know what to do with myself.

This morning, I set my alarm for 6, as usual. I like getting up early before work because it allows me a pocket of “me time” between waking up and getting ready for work. Usually I spend that time editing other people’s manuscripts or working on my own WIP. But since I had no specific project, I figured I’d find something to bide my time in that early hour.

Here’s what I could have been doing in the hour and a half of extra time:

  • An hour of yoga
  • Prayer/meditation
  • Planning my book launch
  • Plotting my next book
  • Re-reading my Come Here, Cupcake manuscript
  • Writing my first chapter of CHC 2
  • Planning this year’s NaNoWriMo story
  • Reading a book for liesure
  • Create marketing goals for CHC
  • Write a poem
  • Update my Facebook covers
  • Plan out my work day

Here’s what I did:

  • Perused Facebook on my phone

At least I only did that for 45 minutes. But what a waste! Now I’m making up for it through journaling. 🙂

I’m taking tomorrow off work just to have a day of rest, when I can get back to center. But if I don’t come into it with a game plan, I’m bound to spend it playing on my phone and surfing Facebook. I will come back to work unrested, and the day will have been a waste.

The biggest purpose of tomorrow is to make personal time with God through meditation and prayer. I have a particular burden in my life that I need help lifting, and I haven’t paused long enough to hear what God wants me to do with it. This time alone is also about becoming more in touch with my own soul, whether it be through writing poetry, reading a book that helps me gain perspective, writing a short story for no one’s eyes but mine…

Here’s what tomorrow is NOT about: Finishing must-do projects, editing other people’s work, stressing about my writing path, thinking about my job, guilt, perusing Facebook.

For one day, I will not be burdened with anything, if I can help it. I will not be a worker, a mother, a wife, an editor, or anything but me. I will spend time with myself and my creator, and just enjoy the miraculous beauty of life.

Tomorrow, I will pause and just be.

Final thoughts: Sometimes we make ourselves too busy so that we can avoid our own creative endeavors or life goals. For the most part, this is because we are living in fear…fear of failure, fear of success, fear of screwing up, fear of the unknown….just plain old fear. I’m realizing that I’m slipping into this routine, making myself so busy, I “don’t have time” for my own projects. Are you doing this, too?

P.S. My friend, Molly, just started a new blog that will address getting back in touch with your spirit and doing what moves you. Check her out at her blog, As the Spirit Moves Me.