“Even the most graceful swan questions her own beauty”. This is what is written on the sides of this canvas, for that is what this painting “said” to me. It’s inspired by a photograph by a friend and photographer, Melissa Ostrowercha . And it truly reflects what I was feeling at the time that I painted it. Just as the swan’s beauty is noticed and appreciated, I was hearing messages that I was “beautiful” and “talented” and “kind” and “lovable”, but I didn’t believe these messages. Every time I looked at my reflection, I heard my gremlins, the nasty little voices in my head that say the negative thoughts that we all have. I wasn’t, at the time, able to silence or even challenge my gremlins. And so while I “looked fine” to everyone, I was in deep emotional pain, physical confusion, and mental exhaustion…all…the…time. I wondered if anyone could tell how I was feeling, sometimes wishing they could, but most times terrified that the thoughts in my head would get out, somehow, and that people would hate me. I kept trying to get back to my “normal”, to do the things I used to do, the way I did them pre-injury. But that just wasn’t possible (and still isn’t).
It wasn’t until I was able to accept myself, as I was in that moment, and meet myself where I was at that time, that I was able to start taming the gremlins, and enjoy my life again. Even if it was just for moments at a time. Through art, I learned this, since I was never an “artist” in my mind, I had no expectations. So when something turned out well, I impressed myself, and when I wasn’t happy with the outcome, it meant I wasn’t finished, or it needed some time to sit. When I attempted a painting with an image of the outcome in my head, and it didn’t work out, for example when I tried to duplicate this swam painting, I got frustrated and felt like I failure. But when I met myself where I was, a blank canvas and lets see what happens, and I enjoyed the process rather than worked toward the end result, my paintings turned out really well! (not to toot my own horn or anything).
This philosophy has been reinforced time and time again with running for me. I started with no expectations, my only goal was to “get through” the run intervals. Just do it…and that’s success. Now, having trained, some days I go out with expectations of how I “should” feel, or how fast I “should” be running, and when I don’t, I have to look at the why. Because it’s not a character flaw. Maybe I didn’t rest enough since my last run or workout. Maybe it’s too hot or humid for running so I have to slow down. Maybe it’s raining or I have a blister. Maybe, I didn’t nourish my body well enough before the run, or I ate too much or the wrong type of food. Maybe I didn’t sleep well. There are so many factors. These are not excuses, just the facts. Only when a run is approached by meeting myself where I am in that moment, can I enjoy my run. And I don’t use these to just not run, but rather to meet myself with compassion and kindness, to see where I’m coming from, and to be proud of what I accomplish on any given day. Only when you are willing to start at the place where you are, mentally, physically, and emotionally, can you train and become “better”. If I push too hard too fast, I will get injured. I have to accept my current fitness level and go from there.
I believe many of us “know” this, but don’t know how to put it into practice. We hold the bar so high that we can’t even get started. Lower the bar, friends. It’s not a sign of weakness or failure. It’s a sign of realistically knowing where you are and what goals you can achieve. Reach for multiple small goals and build up slowly to that big goal to keep it from being overwhelming. For example, I set what seemed like a crazy goal in the New Year to lose 50lbs. 50 lbs!!! That’s a lot! But I have almost succeeded in only 10 months of setting that goal, by focusing on 5 lbs here and 3 lbs there. Joining small challenge groups for a week or a month at a time within my Beach Body community, to hold me accountable to my nutrition and exercise, and help celebrate the small successes. I believe that we need to celebrate every step…big AND small, forward AND back. Because movement in any direction is still movement, and movement is progress.
We all question ourselves, or worth, our lovability, our belonging, and our abilities. We are not alone in this trait. But we alone need to accept ourselves before we can move forward and achieve our goals and aspirations.
Melissa also just started her running journey, and is blogging about it here. Check out her story!