Dear Wild Heart

Resolutions

We’re over a week into 2018 and it’s time to ask: how are those resolutions holding up?
Or more importantly: how are they going to hold up? Do you have the fuel you need to make eleven more months, or are you feeling trapped by the boundaries you’ve placed around your wild heart?

I’ll be honest, I have a love-hate with the resolution. On one hand, my favorite week of the entire year is that wobbly-in between time from Christmas to the new year. There’s a whole lot of stewing and sweatpants, hot baths and half-baked plans for world domination. On the other hand, I have completed a resolution in the way I intended, in the timeline I intended, exactly once in my entire life.

 

I don’t know what makes one resolution bloom while another wilts. All I know is that if the promises I’m trying to keep to myself and my work are too unforgiving, too sharp around the edges, I will gnaw my way out. Resolutions, like willow trees, need rich soil and regular pruning in order to bend with the wind.

 

Here is the soil my resolutions are marinating in now. My hope is that it keeps me both focused and fertile. My hope is that this map gives you a path to success while embracing your wildness.

Pick your compass point.

Those of you who are familiar with my Instagram or Danielle LaPorte will recognize this first step. Choose one word (or if you’re following the core desired feelings method, 3-5. I personally find 5 waaaay too many to manage, but you do you!). This word is supposed to be your compass point, your north star throughout the entire year. Choose wisely because you’re going to need to stick with this word for the foreseeable future. A good place to start is to dig through 2017 a bit. What happened last year that left you feeling discouraged? Depressed? Disempowered? Start there. Find a word that feels like the opposite of that experience. See how far you can expand beyond that so 2017 feeling.

 

Identify your landmarks.
When you give someone directions, you usually give them 2-3 obvious landmarks to help get them to where you want them to go. You aren’t micromanaging route—who gives a shit if they take the highway or the backroads?—but you’re giving them just the right amount of information to let them know that they’re getting close. Same concept here.

Your landmarks need to specific enough to give you some structure, but broad enough to change as you change. Think: “tree” instead of “skinny birch tree to the right.” More on that in a second, but for now, here are some pretty typical landmarks:

  • Career.
  • Family & relationships
  • Health & fitness
  • Creativity
  • Spirituality
  • Lifestyle
  • Adventure

 

Carve your path.

This next part is the secret sauce, the stuff that helps keep us structured but still free.

You don’t have to work on all of them at the same time. Rotate ‘em. 

I don’t know about you, when when I think of the sheer volume of effort it takes to write a book, run a marathon, or even clean my house in an afternoon, my body contracts. It feels like a lot of work. Like a big ol’ Thing that I don’t want to have anything to do with when there are trails to explore and poetry to read and dogs to cuddle with.

I imagine that a lot of you might feel the same way.

I imagine that setting the resolution to write everyday for a year, or work out five times a week, or save up for an exotic vacation by the end of the year seems like…a Thing. A big ol’ thing.

 

Let’s break down what we want to do into who we want to be instead.

 

I want to be the kind of person who loves what she does with her whole heart and feels strong enough to do it, and whose relationships thrive because of her work, not in spite of it. And I want it all, and me, to be seen.

 

That means my landmarks for this year are going to be career, family & relationships, and heath & fitness. Each month I pick a landmark that gets the bulk of my focused attention. The first quarter of my year looks like this:

 

January: heath

February: personal relationships

March: career

 

And then repeat.

 

I’m going for longevity, so I thought long and hard about which order I wanted to go in here. I ended up with health in January because I got sluggish in December and needed a kickstart. History has repeatedly shown me that February is usually not my best month. I almost always end up with some kind of illness, my energy is low, I’m sick of winter at this point and extra moody, and it’s just not the right time to be pumping out creative energy full force into my career. I picked my relationships for this one (Galentine’s Day, anyone?). I always pick up energy in March when the sun starts to peek out a little more, so career goes there (plus Aries is my rising sign, so it’s the start of a new astrological calendar for me, kinda like a second New Years). Then I’ll start back again with health in April and so on.

 

Note: I’m still working on my career and my relationships while it’s health month, btw. I just haven’t given myself any specific goals related to those two areas yet. I’m still writing. I’m still caring for my family and seeing my friends, but I’ll really shift my intention to how to make those areas better in February and March. (Perhaps: go away with the kids for a weekend, tell my friends I love them, and write 2K words per day, on and on). 

 

The case for staying limber

At first glance, it may seem like you may actually get less done if you aren’t going balls to the wall (I swear to you, I tried to think of another metaphor for that but nothing came to me, so here we are) with every goal, all year long. This is a trick that our “just go for it!” society has played on us. Pushing yourself in everything is a one-way street to burnout, and it’s why 32% of us have already given up on our resolutions for the year. Really. Already.

 

Besides, life never goes the way we planned, and we never go in the direction we planned either. Wild hearts are made to be…well, wild. It’s what gives us that blissful creativity and the ability to see things other people can’t. We can’t get too specific on our resolutions because we, inevitably, will change throughout the year as we make our art. Our goals will change with us. The landmarks probably won’t change, but our path to get to them might.  By switching it up every month, we keep it fresh while giving ourselves the opportunity to become more of who we want to be rather than checking things off a to-do.

 

And isn’t that the point anyway, wild heart?

 

I had something else planned for this week.

I’d been working on a love letter about the daunting task of getting started on a project.  I’d done my digging, my searching and researching. I’d laid it all out, lightning white and as transparent as I could craft it.
But then, #MeToo happened. And I knew it would have to wait.
If you’ve been on an Internet hiatus, you may have missed the rising of women around the globe hashtagging their broken hearts as they made publics their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment. A chorus of #MeToos have flooded social media, and I, for the first time in my life, wrote a very condensed version of my own story of assault on Twitter.
Wild Heart, there’s more I need to tell you about that night, because it has impacted my creative life every day since.
I had just wrapped up undergrad and had booked a train ticket to Chicago to visit a good friend. A male friend. Someone whom I had lived with for years. We used to share a bathroom. Our toothbrushes had poked out of the same cup.

 

I was newly engaged. He had a girlfriend; I brought along my girl friend. It was supposed to be fine.

 

He assaulted me in his bedroom while his girlfriend and my girl friend were downstairs. I caught a lucky break when my friend walked in on us, and I got the leverage to be able to kick him off me. But not before he looked me in the eyes, bit my lip until it bled, and growled, “You deserve that.”

 

The worst part wasn’t the actual assault. It was the blatant act of being erased. After my friend had witnessed that scene, she’d shuffled out of the room, shell-shocked and unaware at first glance that it wasn’t consensual. He’d followed her outside and whispered in her ear, “Don’t tell anyone about that, okay?” But to me, nothing. He said nothing to me ever again. He wiped the whole thing, and me, from his memory, deleted it from his database. There was never acknowledgement or apology because it had never happened. For him.

 

Our lives, our experiences, are not compartmentalized. Our bodies do not sort physical assault into one box and rejection letters into another without our conscious assistance. Pain is pain. Threats to our future are real in any form. 

 

That incident happened ten years ago, and I am still constantly soothing my body. I remind my racing heart that this is just a first draft, that it’s okay for others to read the vulnerability in my wobbly prose. That they aren’t going to hurt me. I have to swallow down the knot in my throat with every particularly harsh rejection letter (because, Wild Heart, those never stop coming. If you’re still getting them, you’re doing something right) and remind my body that I’m still whole, my work is still seen. I haven’t been deleted from the database.

 

I, and many other women (and men), are exhausted. These things we carry with us for a lifetime are so heavy, not because they are in the past, bit because they are part of our present, and inevitably, our future. I’m hungry for a different world where this doesn’t happen, but in the more realistic and immediate future, I want a world where this conversation happens in the context of men’s actions, where they, too, have to carry the burden of what they’ve done. I want to make them look at the blinking screen of their moral fatalities. They don’t get to hit delete anymore.

 

The only way is to build that world from the ground up, in small, lopsided piles constructed of open hearts and a type of bravery that is so raw it rattles us to our bones. We have to understand that our trauma bleeds into our work, and we have to give ourselves the structure and the tools and the knowing to Make and Make and Make despite it. There’s freedom in the Knowing and relief in the Making.

 

That is what I deserve.

You do, too.

 

At the beginning of summer, I bought this little swimming pool. It wasn’t majestic by any means, but it got the job done. It had soft sides that curved in a little too much, and if one of my kids happened to get caught on the lip of the plastic, a gallon of water would gush out into the grass.
We didn’t really need this swimming pool. We have access to an outdoor community pool, and a gym membership, and the whole idea of it was kind of ridiculous. I knew this going in. And yet, I needed it. It became A Thing.

 

I obsessed over the pool. I ran the filter on a timer. I cleaned that filter twice a day, scrubbed the cover on the daily, and shuffled into the dewy grass in bare feet every morning to test the water with tiny litmus papers. They’d bleed purple or, god forbid, chemical orange in the sunlight, and then I’d go back to my kitchen to mix up algae-busting concoctions. I’d dump them into the pool and watch the water fade to clear.

 

I never went in the pool.

 

I micromanaged it. I cared for it. I obsessed over it. I had to make it perfect. And I never actually, you know, enjoyed it.

 

This, to me, is what depression looks like. This was the first sign I realized I was not mentally healthy and I  hadn’t been for awhile.

 

My symptoms have not manifested in the way Web MD tells you it’s going to look like: fatigue, insomnia, lack of appetite, lack of motivation, etc. I didn’t really hang out with anyone, but I’m also a highly sensitive person and I’m a writer, and let’s face it, that alone can make you anti-social. Instead, my depression grew like ivy on windowpanes: it started off small and seemingly innocuous, maybe even kind of quirky, and then it choked out all the light. I nit-picked at unimportant things, like bloated swimming pools, nail polish colors, soap spots on plastic cups. I thought about these little things because they seemed so much more manageable than the wildfires in the West, my friend’s bone marrow transplant, the book I had planned to write this summer before my beloved grandma died. I pressed on until I “fixed” whatever problem needed to be fixed to find some small burst of control and relief, until my brain started searching for another itch to scratch.

 

I’m not writing to you, wild heart, to tell you that I’ve finally scratched all the itches, or that I’ve fully realized that the itches never really needed to be scratched in the first place and I’m now fully depression-free and at peace. I am still struggling with this. I have to make conscious choices everyday day—every hour of every day—to check in with myself about what is actually important. Sometimes it’s trip (What is reality? Which of my thoughts actually matter?). Sometimes it’s physically difficult to walk away from an itch I’d really freaking like to scratch, but I know in my heart that there are bigger fish to fry.

 

I’m writing to you to tell you that if your mental health has been suffering, or if you’ve been feeling off kilter in anyway, especially since the election, or even before the election, that it’s normal. Repeat after me: It. Is. Normal.

 

In this society, we have a terrible habit of expecting “upbeat, positive vibes” as the baseline for normalcy. If we are not feeling at peace at least 85% of the time, then there must be something wrong with the way we’re wired. We need therapy and medication. We need to get ourselves together and get on the positive vibes train along with, seemingly, everyone else.

 

The truth is, we’ve built a society that is wired for depression, not the other way around. We’ve put together a system of being that forces people into poverty, pollutes our Earth, and takes advantage of each other in a fist-fight for power. How can the most sensitive of us—the artists and teachers and creators—not feel completely messed up over it?

 

I’ve heard it said before that wild hearts like us are the canaries in a coal mine. We feel when something is fundamentally wrong first, before everyone else, and we scream the warning call for everyone to get out. But the problem is, no one seems to be listening right now.

 

So what do we do about it?

 

First, we check in with ourselves and allow whatever we need to survive in this kind of world. If your mental health is affecting your ability to create more beauty here, then you do whatever you need to get to that place. Meditate. Go to therapy. Exercise. Take your meds. Get to a place where you’re still feeling, but you’re not trapped, so that you can still Make Things.

 

Second, abolish shame. I will be the first to tell you that I still haven’t gotten over the election. That was a deep, cutting sense of loss—for myself, and for how I thought humans felt about each other and the world, and how I thought the world felt about women in general. For awhile, I felt ashamed that I couldn’t just “get over it” and move on. But there’s no place for shame in creating, not now, not ever. When shame shows up, you have to say, “I get what you’re trying to do here, but I’m fine right now. Don’t need you to help me through this.” #ReclaimingMyTime

 

Lastly, and most importantly, you still make stuff. You make something beautiful every damn day, despite your depression, or maybe even because of it. You make art and poetry and moments and meals. You cut down the ivy, leaf by leaf, until you can see through the windows again.

 

For more resources on depression as a sensitive person, click here:

 

http://highlysensitive.org/highly-sensitive-people-and-depression-overstimulation-may-lead-to-depression/

 

http://reset.me/story/highly-sensitive-person-need-know-science-personality-type/

 

http://highlysensitiveperson.net/coping-hsp-challenges/

 

And if you don’t already follow me on Instagram, I’m here. I’m always posting micro thoughts on making art over there, and I’d love to hear from you. Also, feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone you think it would benefit.