“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” —Andy Warhol
I started experiencing physical symptoms of stress a few years ago, sneaking up on me after having our third child. A few months in, I finally went to see a doctor for the “weird tension” in my neck and shoulders. He looked at me very gently and said bluntly, “it’s chronic stress.”
I was dumbfounded. I was not stressed out. No way. Only wimps get stressed out. Only worry warts could feel physical symptoms from stress-induced anxiety, or whatever he called it. That was not me.
Until I got a second opinion, I was sure I had a tumor and my lazy doctor had not diagnosed me properly. Unaware that I had already asked my GP, my OB confirmed his diagnosis of my physical symptoms. Stress.
It felt so vague. Short of taking medication, there was no “quick fix”… and even with the medication, it could still be a long road. She explained to me, through my tears, that life is just plain hard sometimes.
I sat there begging her to see that I wasn’t stressed, that my life wasn’t any harder than anyone else’s life - in fact it was probably easier. Yes, I had a husband with an odd set of demands that can sometimes feel lonely and yes, I had three kids now (which I am still recovering from) but I didn’t feel like I could at all quantify my life as hard.
Her response was not what I bargained for, and it still echoes in my mind when I feel guilty for feeling stressed. She said, “Becky, just because it’s not as hard as it could be doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard.”
Think about that for a second. Just because life isn’t as hard as it could be, doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard. Just because I have healthy kids and a loving husband and a happy-ish home and the woman down the street lost her husband and a mom at school is going through a divorce doesn’t mean that kids, marriage, career tending and homemaking come easy all the time. The demands of all of our mundane, everyday lives can get extremely overwhelming. And that’s okay, in fact it’s normal.
And I needed to get a freakin’ grip.
So I asked her for a prescription and instead she gave me a remedy.
Many of the things she suggested were obvious and I felt frustrated even thinking about them. Exercise… I mean, I had a brand new baby. Yoga? Please. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Hot baths? My bath tub is full of baby toys. Eating healthy? Unfortunately, eating unhealthy was my coping mechanism.
But finding an outlet? That one was tough.
I had an outlet… many outlets, in fact. I write, I paint signs, I run (when I can), I cook and I garden. So why wasn’t any of that making it better?
I discovered that all of these things I was doing out of necesity, obligation or for the enjoyment of someone else. I wasn’t doing any of these things intentionally just to settle my mind. I wrote with a purpose (you’re reading that here). I painted for a business. I ran because I was told it was good for me - and it was the only thing that I didn’t HATE doing. I cooked because my people needed to eat - and it was always a battle.
How could I do something just for me… something that would have no expectations, no limits, no one criticizing, no one watching? How could I find that time?
I didn’t until I decided at the beginning of 2017 that I had to make that time. I had to force myself to take time to do something that might feel fruitless at first because it wasn’t serving a purpose. But now I see that it was - it is - because it’s serving me.
As women, we can get incredibly caught up in serving everyone else. Even if you aren’t a natural servant, I bet you still find yourself serving someone else throughout the day. We were created to be helpmates, and that is what we do all day long. So when we are doing something that isn’t helping someone else, it feels unworthy of our time. But that’s not true. It’s a lie.
When I paint just for me, I somehow feel my mind settling. As if the insides of my mind are just starting to untangle. Sometimes I talk to God as I paint, sometimes I listen to worship music or just sit in silence. Sometimes - and don’t tell anyone else this - I crank my Spotify up real loud and rock out to Bruno Mars and Maroon 5.
It’s not always a Holy experience, is my point.
It is, however, an experience that makes me feel encouraged, uplifted and like my soul is being tended to. Yes, God gives me everything I need on a daily basis emotionally, spiritually and physically - but He also created me with a need to create. Just like He created you with your own needs too. I’m wondering if you need an outlet just like I did.
How can you carve time out for it? You just do. You just have to. It might be five minutes, it might be nine. But just set your timer and do it. Get up ten minutes earlier. Go to bed ten minutes later. It doesn’t have to be huge… just start with something. Let God speak to you as you unwind your mind through reading, cooking or catching up with a girlfriend. Find a release this week and see what it does for the depths of your soul. I bet you won’t be disappointed.