Valentine's Day 2020

Every year, my mom has sent or given me a Valentine.  Sometimes at my seat at the table, sometimes wrapped in excelsior.  Some years it was expansive- candy and stuffed animals, some years it was small- but every year at Valentine's, I knew I could look forward to a sweet reminder from my mother that I was loved and valued as a person.

This continued well after I started having boyfriends- I knew no matter what was going on (and one year, I got dumped on Valentine's Day), my mom had my back on Valentine's.  It's a tradition that continued into Undergraduate, where my Valentine would be waiting for me at the house, and into Graduate school, where my Valentine was mailed to me, and has even followed me here to Nashville.  As I got older and had some income, I was able to return the sentiment and send her Valentines (usually flowers) in return.

It's not really about receiving a gift.  It's about exchanging a sentiment between two women who sometimes struggle with vulnerability.   It's about taking the time to express love and affection.

Valentine's Day isn't really a romantic holiday for me.  I don't like fighting the crowds to eat out, and while I like chocolates and flowers, I'm happy to wait a couple days and get them half off.  I treat Valentine's Day as a wonderful excuse to tell the people (and animals!) in my life that I love and appreciate them.  While I ALWAYS love them, sometimes I need an external reminder to be grateful, appreciative, and demonstrative in my esteem.  So many people don't hear "I love you" or "I value our friendship" or "you make me smile" enough and it can be easy to assume we have no positive impact in the lives of others without this external validation.

So I hope you guys will take some time out today to tell others in your life just how much they mean to you!

Valentine's Day is also a great day to remind yourself of all the reasons why you love YOU.

You guys are probably wondering what this has to do with art, or watercolor, or comics.  I see so many artists online who hate themselves- it's pretty obvious.  Attacking other artists who are more popular than they are over micro transgressions, constantly dogging their own work, forever putting themselves down.  I think a lot of artists struggle with feeling like they DESERVE to love themselves.

 I've been there, and it's something I struggle with daily- which is why it's so important to try and love yourself as you would a friend.  Sometimes you have to separate and talk to yourself the way you would a friend you value and trust- because you work hard, you put yourself out there, and regardless of whether other people see your value, YOU HAVE VALUE.

It was the culmination of failing to meet my goals (which, admittedly, were often set outside the realm of my control), difficulty in maintaining boundaries (after years of unemployment, I struggle to say no to 'feature creep' from employers), and feeling isolated from the comic community in Nashville.  A heady dose of 'unemployed and can't find work' added to that bad brew- I created the echo chamber that was killing me.  I really didn't think someone who was so unemployable, someone who could draw and share work every day, but still couldn't find work- deserved self love, and I reserved that 'privilege' for when I felt like I was actually worth something.

Beating a dead horse doesn't bring it back to life.  It doesn't make it walk, and a dead horse can't carry any burdens.  I was emotionally abusing myself to suicide.

I was so lucky to befriend Kabocha at this time.  Our friendship inspired me to take the first steps in turning my life and viewpoint around.

Depression, anxiety, mental health or disability drastically color how we view ourselves, our interactions, the world around us.  I have ADHD, depression, and anxiety, so you can imagine the weird tints my feelings color the world and my experiences.  For years, I really struggled with confidence issues and asserting myself- I would let opportunities pass me by without even trying, or self sabotage my efforts because in the back of my mind, I was SURE I'd let them down.  Working on loving myself has helped me ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression by inspiring self care before things spiral out of control- taking breaks, taking walks, eating regular meals, stretching, getting some outside perspective, and loving myself has allowed me to embrace my ADHD and try to work with it, rather than fight it.   Eating a meal before the anxiety got too bad and made me sick.  Going to bed before the 'witching hour' arrived and depression clawed its way in.  Accepting that as someone with ADHD, I am creative, engaging, empathetic but also that my feelings are often more intense than a situation merits, and the feeling of never quite measuring up and being good enough might be all in my head.

The struggle out wasn't and still isn't easy.  It's been almost four years since I couldn't even look at myself in a mirror, even in passing.  Now I can smile at myself, compliment myself, tell Becca she put in a good day's work.  But it's been four years of actively trying to rewire my mind, how I think about myself, and how I talk about myself.  Shutting down the negative self-talk just as it starts, putting on music or reading a book to drown it out and distract me just enough to focus.

Here's your permission.  Please start today.  Try to see yourself as a friend, an ally in your struggles and a companion in your life's journey.  Try to see your body as a loyal and hardworking vehicle, always trying to serve the needs of the mind, even if sometimes it cannot succeed due to the limitations of health and humanity.  Take the steps necessary for self care- turning off social media notifications, finding or creating a group of supportive friends you can turn to, eating regular meals and drinking plenty of water, setting and keeping a reasonable bedtime.  While these won't cure anxiety, depression, or mental illness, they definitely make it a lot easier to tackle the symptoms.


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