Tattoos and the Art of Process

This February and March mark the first anniversary of my chronic illness diagnosis (the anniversary spans a couple months because as some of you might know the diagnosis process for many chronic illnesses is long and weird–arguably I haven’t actually completed it yet). The onset of my illness and the many subsequent life adjustments that I’ve undergone, necessarily made 2016 a long, difficult, seminal chapter of my life. As the year drew to a close I began to reflect on what I had learned from it, how it had shaped me, and what I wanted to be different going forward. These reflections lead me to getting my second tattoo this January.

Chronic illness has challenged me to let go of my perfectionism in new ways. It’s difficult for me to accept that I am worthy of love whether or not I’m perfect, but as I struggled to process what being chronically ill meant about my abilities and my belovedness I was struck by the realization that nothing on earth that I love is perfect. The people who I love and think are amazing and beautiful are not perfect. The natural things I love–flowers, trees, the ocean–aren’t aesthetically or symmetrically, but I still think they’re stunning evidence that God is an artist and that earthly things contain the divine. So, why would the logic be any different in reference to myself? Maybe this line of thinking is obvious to many of you, but for me it was a new framework for gently addressing the flawed logic of my perfectionism. I wanted to give myself a reminder of this framework, and extend a symbolic peace offering to my body, so I settled on a tattoo that I felt would accomplish both.

Both of my tattoos have been symbols of process and reminders of the truest things about me. I find that having physical reminders of these truths can help me to embrace them, assisting me in the process of embracing myself, my purpose, and the world around me. The roses I got on my hip this January are a reminder to include myself and my body when I think about the beautiful divine imperfection of creation. The stars on my arm that I got three years ago serve to remind me that when life is dark there is light inside of me, in my relationship with my family members, and in my relationship with God. Art is amazing because of how it not only reminds us of what is true and visceral in life, but also because of how it changes our perspectives and our processes of transition and grief and creates space for the divine to manifest in our lives. For me, tattoos have allowed me to carry a little of that power with me.

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An Imperfect Explanation

Once again I have gone far longer than I intended without posting. I would say without writing, but I actually have written several posts that never made their way onto my blog. “Why is that, Hailey? Are there backlogged posts that you’re saving for a rainy day?” No, unfortunately this hasn’t been an intentional decision, but it also hasn’t been for lack of attempts. There are quite a few drafts sitting on my computer, but they will likely never see the light of day. “Okay, Hailey, cut to the chase, what are you trying to say?” I am saying that over the past few months the little ultra-perfectionistic voice in the back of my head has gotten the better of me.

“Hailey”, the voice will say, “why are you writing about this? Everyone else who has ever been 20 years old has thought these exact thoughts. You’re contributing nothing.” Or, “Hailey, you can’t even communicate effectively what you’re trying to say, you sound both arrogant and completely inarticulate. I say just hang it up for tonight.” And I do… and I tell myself that I’ll come back to it and rewrite, but the longer I look at it the less it feels worthy of sharing with the world. Obviously, I am trying to combat this. As part of an experiment I am doing for the next few weeks I am requiring myself to write something to share at least once a week.

“Wait, you’re doing an experiment to address your lack of blogposts?” No, my overly self-critical approach to writing is part of a deeper issue; perfectionism and the insecurity that it spawns have become increasingly intrusive temptations in my life over the passed few years (although I have had perfectionistic tendencies for as long as I can remember *cue flashback to 6-year-old Hailey freaking out because she couldn’t draw a photo-realistic portrait of her favorite doll*). Weekly blog posts are only one part of my experiment to address my overly perfectionistic tendencies, the other steps I am taking include:
a) Making space in my day to be creative on a regular basis (an hour at a time at least five days out of the week).
b) Taking time to moisturize my skin at least five days a week (this sounds like a really tiny, mundane thing, but it’s a good step towards self-care and body positivity. Oddly, it’s been the hardest one to stay on top of).
c) Monitoring my negative self-talk, specifically self-deprecating comments in my conversations with others.
“Wow, Hailey, that was a startling display of vulnerability.” You bet it was, thanks for recognizing that, dear reader, have a pretty picture of a sunset.

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Like most personality traits perfectionism has its pros as well as its cons. I like it when high expectations encourage me to work hard and do my best, I like it that I have a very clear vision for how things could be improved, and I like it that I don’t settle for things that don’t satisfy or push me. However, what I really want to be addressing right now is finding the balance where I am still a hard worker and a bit of an idealist and reformer (because I think those are integral parts of who I am) but where I can also be gentle with myself when I need to and where my perfectionism doesn’t keep me from doing the things I want to do or living more wholly into who I’m meant to be. I love to write, but nothing I write is ever going to be perfect, and once I accept that I am convinced that writing will be a far more enjoyable and life-affirming process for me. The same could be said for any number aspects of my life and personal view of myself.

It’s been a while since I have actively taken on an experiment like this to help me form new thought patterns, but in the past it has been incredibly helpful. We often assume that we should be able to think ourselves into new behaviors, when it often seems far more effective participate in new behaviors as a method of changing our thought patterns. I highly recommend trying something similar to address an area of your life or your person where you’d like to see growth. Even changing really little things can make a real difference in your outlook and self-perception. A couple of years ago I was struggling with some depression-related low self-esteem, so I decided that I was no longer allowed to negate people’s compliments to me. Obviously this small action didn’t entirely “fix” my issues, but it did force me to actually listen to the kind things people said to me, which made me feel loved and cared for, and eventually, I kicked the habit of negating their compliments.

I am excited (and slightly trepidatious) to share writing with you all on a more regular basis over the next few weeks!

Treat Yourself: Experiments in Self-Care

As my fellow Parks and Recreation fans might know, today is Treat Yourself Day, in honor of the 3rd anniversary of that particular episode. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, read on anyway because I won’t be talking about TV shows, I promise.) As a dedicated fan of the show, and someone who has been thinking a lot about what self-care means to me and what part it plays in my spiritual life, I thought today would presented a great opportunity to write about the importance of “treating yourself”.

To be perfectly honest, self-care doesn’t come naturally to me (shocking, I know). I am not very good at relaxing, my mind continuously is going about a mile a minute, and I almost always feel like I could do more; do better than my best, be more productive, spend my time more wisely, etc. So often even when I have time for some self-care, there’s a voice in my head telling me I don’t deserve it because I haven’t done enough yet. Herein lies the problem, I will never do enough. I can’t do better than my best and I’m not going to perfectly manage my time and resources 100% percent of the time because I am human. Suffice to say, self-care is necessarily a conscious act for me. But I have decided that it is important enough to warrant action.

I think for a long time I felt like forgoing time set aside for self-care and relaxation was in some way a noble or humble act. It’s not, in case you were wondering. Refusing to care for and love yourself in ways that you would not hesitate to care for and love others is just illogical. Self-care isn’t a reward for your unattainable goals, it’s a necessity to your emotional, mental and spiritual health. I am of the opinion that we were not created to let treat ourselves worse than we treat others and call that love. We were meant to take joy in our own existence as well as the existence of others. Furthermore, taking care of yourself allows you to show up for others better because you’re feeling stable and energized yourself.

So, if it’s been a while since you showed yourself some love, please treat yourself! Take a bath and pamper your skin with nice lotion afterwards, eat some ice cream, listen to some music, tell yourself you’re beautiful, paint your nails, drink something tasty, eat something decadent, or even buy yourself a little something that makes you happy. You are a glorious creation and you are worthy of joy, love and care. Take some time to bask in the love of the Creator (or just of the universe if you’re not religious) and enjoy some of the many blessings that the earth has to offer.

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If you, like me, have to make a conscious effort to make time for self-care think about times of the day or week where you can carve out a spot for making sure your physical and emotional needs are met. I also find that it’s helpful to brainstorm what things will help me feel revived and cared for; sometimes this is ice cream and a movie, sometimes it’s candles and an art project, figure out what things make you feel cared for and allow you to bask a little. In case you need some prompting here’s a list of some of my favorite self-care activities:

-Eat something yummy!
-Light nice smelling candles and do something that you really enjoy but don’t do enough like reading for pleasure of drawing.
-Buy some new nail polish from walgreens and make time to try it out while watching a fluffy TV show or movie.
-Journal and get out whatever you need to get out OR
-Call someone on the phone and get out whatever you need to get out.
-Tell yourself nice things about the world and yourself and your body and the work you’ve done today.
-Tell people you love that you love them.
-If you feel cute take a cute picture of yourself, go you for feeling good about the wonderful way you were created!
-Make a mess–do art, bake brownies, color with crayons, don’t worry about perfection!
-When you’re done studying or working, just be done, do something that take your mind off of it!
-Spend time with people who make you happy!
-Go on a walk somewhere really beautiful.
-Dance around in your room to happy music (like, dorky happy music–that stuff you don’t admit you listen to, get some Taylor Swift up in there!)
-Take a nice bath and treat your skin to delicious smelling soap and lotion.
-I could go on, but you get the idea! Revel in being alive and doing something that helps you relax and feel cared for.

Happy Treat Yourself Day!