Do you ever catch glimpses of the sun between dark patches of old?
When the world opens up for you like a woman and shows you the way
Suddenly every road, every stone is a gift to unfold.
Do you ever catch glimpses of the sun between dark patches of old?
When the world opens up for you like a woman and shows you the way
Suddenly every road, every stone is a gift to unfold.
When my therapist confirmed that I have an anxiety disorder with depression lingering not far behind yesterday, I wasn’t surprised. Instead, I felt relieved OR was it more like validated? It was a mixture of both. It’s strange how visceral the rush of serotonin was that came over me in that moment. It felt like I wasn’t carrying the load on my own anymore. Oddly enough, it didn’t matter that I had already guessed what was wrong and that my therapist had only confirmed it — the fact that I was having an open conversation about it at all and that my concerns were valid…? Groundbreaking.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a diagnosis means. Does it change anything? No. Does it magically fix the problem? Not at all. What it does is offer a point of reference, an outline to work off of so we can take the actionable steps needed to function with our diagnosis. It’s like adding another flavor to the rich, complex meal that is your life. If you’re anything like me and have to work a little harder to find order in your life, a diagnosis can help break through all the abstraction and confusion to give you something solid to hold onto. The irony is, it can actually help you feel like you’re not crazy at all.
Up until very recently, unfortunately, I thought I was defective. I thought everyone around me was moving through life normally and I was five steps behind. When I discovered that drinking made the symptoms go away, I leaned on that like it was medication. It was especially bad during my freshman year of college when I was pretending to be someone else and fear filled every room I was in. I was drinking constantly, numbing myself in social gatherings to present myself as fearless and crying myself to sleep every night. Eventually, I flunked out. The sad thing is everyone around me thought I was outgoing, happy and calm. Inside, I was working overtime to make it appear that way. Nobody knew. It was exhausting and I needed help.
I look back at this time in my life and if it hadn’t been for a hip injury that forced me to sit at home for months, I don’t know how I would’ve found my way. I so deeply wanted to be happy and stable that I did everything in my power to start over. I know now that I’m very fortunate to be able to say that, not everyone has the ability or the support to keep climbing. Although I developed healthier habits as time went on, the fear was always present. That’s where the diagnosis comes in.
There’s comfort in knowing that I’m not weak, off or incapable. Those were the labels I put on myself when I didn’t have an answer for why I was struggling to do seemingly normal things. Now, when my hearts starts pounding in my chest and it’s hard to breathe, I know why. When the weight of the world seems to press down on me, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. Even when I fail to manage the symptoms — and I know I will sometimes — at least I won’t feel alone and broken. For a long time, I put off seeking help and addressing what I was feeling. It kept knocking on my door until it kicked the door down. Just last month I opened a bottle of wine at 9am to get through something that most people do every day, but that was making my whole body shake because it meant that people would have to really see me. While I feel ashamed and embarrassed sharing this, it’s worth it if my story helps someone out there who’s perfected the art of pretending everything’s fine. It’s okay if it isn’t.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you’re all doing well and intending to prioritize some much-needed self-care this year. Whether you’re planning on starting your mental health journey or channeling those buried feelings into art, I sincerely wish you the best along every step of the way.
Let’s talk about anxiety!
We’ve all experienced it at one point or another. Maybe it was before you had to present something in front of a class or maybe it creeps into every conversation you have with someone. However constant or random it is in your life, it’s there all the same and it is the worst.
My relationship with anxiety is still very much a gray area in my life as I’ve only recently found a therapist and haven’t been properly diagnosed. I don’t have a professional’s stamp of approval that I’m an anxious person but trust me, when answering phone calls at your job makes your bowels contort and has you looking for any excuse to run to the bathroom so you can cry and breathe, you know something’s off. That’s been an ongoing pattern in my life since before I can remember.
I don’t understand my anxiety yet, but I’m looking forward to getting to know her as my therapy journey unfolds. She’s sort of like a very on and off again partner — sometimes we can’t help but fall back into our toxic patterns. In the past, that’s shown up as getting drunk before noon to head into my serving jobs — it’s how I would transform into my “calm, cool self,” into a version of me that didn’t shake in challenging situations where I was being watched. I convinced myself that handling stimuli like this was okay, that it was only temporary and that I just needed a push before finding my footing. Now I realize I was harming myself to appear like I was healthy.
Anxious feelings are a common thread in all of our lives, which is why many of us find unhealthy ways to cope with them. More often than not, people think “the anxiety label” is only for people who’ve been told they’re “sick” and need medication, when really there are millions of anxious people out there who don’t have the proper resources or privilege to even get diagnosed in the first place. They go their whole lives with that fear left unchecked and numb it the only way they know how…alone. And that, my friends, makes me so fucking sad.
Therapy and mental health education weren’t prioritized discussion topics in my upbringing, which I know is the case for many other families. In my Portuguese household (at the risk of speaking for a group of people and being misunderstood), I was taught to be resilient, to repress things and to carry on. Having a therapist or talking about seeking professional help just weren’t commonly on the menu, but Bacalhau was (gotta love a silver lining). Looking back, I know this wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just the pattern we knew best. Unfortunately, it’s the pattern most people know best.
While I didn’t have a point when I started writing this, I guess I just wanted to remind people that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Humans have an incredible knack for burying their shame, even if what they’re afraid of is nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m still very anxious (roll credits) about sharing my own mental health experiences. I would never have made it this far without the help of all the people who shared theirs so boldly. So, with that being said, I want to open up a nurturing space to talk about it, to remove the shame and to make getting help something worth being proud of.
If you got this far, let me know if you want more blog posts about topics like this. I’d love to go more in-depth about my own experiences, too. Please feel free to share your own with me in our judgment-free zone and know that you’re never alone, even when it feels like no one gets it.
YouTube’s been a friend to me for years, through the growing pains of high school with beauty gurus and vloggers helping me feel seen and into adulthood with art and spiritual channels inspiring me to find my own voice. It’s been both a place to shut out my real life by getting lost in someone else’s and a deep well of information to use for my own benefit. For years, I watched other peoples’ content and couldn’t figure out why I was so hooked. It wasn’t just that I loved watching other people create and share their stories, it’s that I was being lured into overcoming my fears to do the same. I just didn’t know it yet.
I can’t even tell you how many YouTube videos I recorded and edited on iMovie over the years, none of which ever saw the light of day. I even published two of them on my YouTube channel back in 2014, one was a “Get Ready with Me” and the other a “Get to Know Me.” I deleted both of them after about a week. The fear got to me again, and Lord knows I knew this routine well. I’d step out onto the stage for a quick high and then cower away after a few views, the familiar feelings of relief and shame flooding back. After many failed attempts, I eventually laid my budding YouTube curiosity to rest. It had been tucked away for years until one of the first nights I spent in LA in 2019.
Most of my dreams are fairly abstract. You can make out the general themes they might be trying to convey but they seldom give me a clear answer or task. So, when a resounding voice in a dream said “buy a vlog camera and get over yourself,” I woke up in the middle of the night with a stir in my stomach that was unmistakable — I was being poked with a stick by the Universe and she had HAD ENOUGH of my whiny bullshit.
I heard that message loud and clear this time around. Problem was, I didn’t know what content I had to offer on YouTube — but just like all things the Universe has up her gorgeous sleeves — there was a plan already in the works. All that time I had spent painting, writing and thinking about what to do instead of actually making videos turned into fuel for the videos.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a YouTuber yet (I’ve only made eight videos lol) but there was this moment after I finished exporting the “My Story” video that the initial stir from the dream turned into gratitude that actually had me looking up with my arms stretched out, tears streaming down my face repeating “thank you” and “I’m so grateful” at the abyss. I never do this. In that moment, I understood what I had studied so many times. I understood how you can only hide so often from the things that you’re being called to do, no matter how scary they might seem (and they’re always scary when it counts). I realized these stirrings of inspiration will work endlessly to find you because they want you to find your courage.
I don’t have many views, likes or subscribers, but I’m the happiest creatively I’ve ever been. I’m putting something out there! Doing it for those shallow reasons and wanting what other people had is what stopped me from doing in the first place. Now, when even one person tells me something I created or said inspired them, I think about the sixteen-year-old under her covers watching video after video, shrinking into darkness. I think about how that girl felt the stirring to try, but chose not to. I think about how I would give her a long hug and tell her that it’s okay to be afraid — it’s how you carry that fear on your back and show up anyway that matters.
Do you ever feel like you’re stuck because pieces of you are split up in different places?
Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m in limbo. The feeling first started creeping in when I was living somewhere I was anxious to leave and I knew that better opportunities were waiting for me somewhere else. It’s like I was saving my creative energy for a new setting and until I was there, I’d keep coming up short creatively (or at least, that was my excuse). I thought paintings and blog posts would pour out of me the second I moved into this new apartment. But, I felt more uninspired than ever when I arrived at the “better” place.
I repeat this mistake a lot — making a change of scenery responsible for providing me clarity. In my experience, however, focus almost always comes from the inside out. It doesn’t appear out of thin air in a new place, as much as we might want or need it to. You have to go digging.
When you feel overwhelmed and you’ve been staring at that blank canvas or empty journal, ask yourself: what’s really slowing me down?
For me, the answer took a while to excavate but when I touched the nerve, it all came pouring out. I was grieving the fact that my family and I were separated by a greater distance than I had ever known. My parents had moved back to the Azores in July and I stayed behind in Los Angeles, which meant that we now led separate lives in different countries. It was a lot to take in and a little too much for me to acknowledge. You could say I felt those growing pains hard.
Things proved even more difficult with COVID-19. Whenever I thought I’d be able to see my family, new obstacles popped up threatening to separate us even longer. I’m certain many of you understand and I think we’re all missing someone or something more deeply than ever. You can almost feel the collective fear of time building in the atmosphere.
The point is, when I finally allowed myself to look at the source of my blockage, all of the reasons I was exactly where I was supposed to be revealed themselves too. All of the friendships, opportunities and moments my boyfriend and I had created in LA came up. It was this incredible life we had built even if it was separate from my roots — what a scary and beautiful thing.
What I learned through facing my blockage head on was that I had been making people and settings responsible for my ability to create, and that’s why I kept finding myself in the same spot. I was giving outside influences all of my power even when there was little I could do to change them. When I finally acknowledged the distance from my family objectively, I realized what I actually needed. I needed to fill my own cup.
Now I know that whenever I feel creatively stuck because my heart is in different places or lamenting something, I can always choose to find beauty in where I’m standing now. People, settings, and things will constantly change and I can still choose to show up for myself. In the past, I might’ve thought this way of thinking made you a selfish person. Now, I realize it’s the kind of thinking that can save your life.
Get in front of the camera, they said. People want to actually *see* the artist behind the work, they said. I heard all of this repeatedly and continued to ignore it until finally, I didn’t. That’s the thing about slowly conquering your fears though, resistance loves stepping in and making sure you avoid exactly that. The War of Art, a book by Steven Pressfield, is a powerful resource all about fighting these creative blocks if you’re looking for a push. It’s about battling the urge to run, hide and avoid the work you’re called to do. When you do finally push through, you’ll find that people resonate with you more than you ever imagined.
For my latest video, I took a leap outside of my comfort zone and a step in front of the camera. I take viewers on a behind-the-scenes look at my day when I have art projects to work on, showing them the art materials I use and chatting about how you can find a space to paint even when you don’t have a studio (most people don’t). I also include a time lapse of my latest painting, “Pressure” where I get real about my insecurities and the pressures to be perfect online. I found piecing the visual work with my writing to be especially cathartic. I even include some clips of what it looks like to ship a painting amidst all the clutter of an apartment we’re moving out of. It’s all imperfect, and that’s the truth.
From the Facetuned and polished Instagram influencers to the YouTubers with every brand deal under the sun, we live in a time where new creators feel like they need to compete at that same level right away to be seen at all. Remember when people created content they were passionate about instead of trying to sell themselves and their surroundings as a product first? Those were the days, and that’s what I turn to for inspiration when I need it.
I’d like to think that 2020 is a catalyst for change in more ways than we’re yet aware of. One of those shifts is that people are being forced to be still and honest with themselves — they’re getting in touch with what matters to them for the first time in years. I think this is calling for a new era of content. People who want to bring honesty, light and empathy onto popular platforms in a way that’s been missing in a sea of superficiality and commercialism are coming out of the woodwork.
At the end of the day, the importance and beauty of art is that it connects people from all walks of life — they see themselves reflected in someone else’s work and feel like they’re a part of something. When we’re honest about who we are and we show all the bits that aren’t always beautiful or easy, we create a space where people can unite and find common ground. I believe now is a crucial time in our lifetimes to shed our facades and lead with authenticity so we can come closer together.
My longterm goal is to never stop being sincere, never forget what this pandemic has taught me and to share work that spreads light in times where it’s needed most. I think we’re all being called to connect on a deeper level and I’m eager to see where it will take us if we listen.
As my relationship with abstract art deepens, I find myself wanting to share all the juicy benefits it’s provided me with the world like a healing elixir. I think if more people knew how welcoming and nurturing painting like this could be, we’d alleviate a lot of the collective tension. Who doesn’t want that?
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing three ways abstract painting can help you achieve mindfulness and how you can start benefitting from this creative process regardless of your level of experience.
Let’s start, shall we?
To begin, I want to try to describe the process of abstract painting and what it feels like. To me, the thrill of it stems from freedom — every ounce of feeling and subconscious thought makes its way to the canvas without hesitation. It’s grounded in pure expression and never dictated by the pressure to create something perfect or recognizable.
That’s what makes it so inclusive. Whether you’ve been painting for years or never held a paintbrush in your life, you know you’re safe to channel your authentic creativity on the canvas and give in to the process as it unfolds without fear of judgment.
This specific type of freedom always reminds me of how you create when you’re a child; without inhibitions, not trying to stay in the lines. I remember coming home from school and spending time at my desk with all this energy inside that needed somewhere to go. I would tear through construction paper, rip apart old fuzzy posters, and start throwing any paint and assorted crafts I could find into this mass of controlled randomness. All the pent up energy made its way to this thing that wasn’t a thing at all. I didn’t think the result was pretty when I was done, but the aftermath was a fullness that’s stayed with me since. I’ve come to understand that these are the reasons why:
For anyone with a busy mind, abstract painting can provide a comforting stillness much like meditation. When you’re not focused on a clear vision, result or specific form, you let yourself wander into the subconscious. Vered Aviv writes in his Frontiers in Human Neuroscience article that “abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling it to flow within its inner states…and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to access…it enables the exploration of yet undiscovered inner territories of the viewer’s brain.” With this freedom, you can express feelings and forms of energy that don’t fit the mold of something humans have quantified or defined.
For example, last year I went through something physically and emotionally traumatic that left me feeling deeply isolated even when I was given support. I wasn’t prepared at the time for the feelings that came up and I didn’t know how to articulate them. I tried talking about it (to myself and loved ones) and writing about it, but words didn’t do the experience justice. So, on one of the days when it all felt especially unbearable and claustrophobic, I pulled an old canvas out of my closet and faced the discomfort head-on. I poured every tear into a process that had no structure and allowed myself to feel each emotion while the painting naturally unfolded. It was the most healing I had felt since the experience because I didn’t have to define it — what came out of me was unfiltered feeling itself, all the ugliness and beauty of my “inner states.” While the process of painting through the trauma was painful, the aftermath when it was done was like drawing a full, clean breath.
2. Abstract painting helps you focus on the present moment
As previously mentioned, even if you’ve never painted before, you can achieve the mindfulness from abstract painting very early on in your practice. All you need is a canvas (or your medium of choice), some paint (I recommend acrylic to start) and paintbrushes or palette knives. The real magic unfolds the moment you begin concentrating on the canvas and experimenting. As you mix colors, discover new textures and play, you find yourself so focused on the task at hand that you enter the flow state. The flow state or “being in the zone” is a psychological theory that describes being so fully consumed by the present moment that the outside world, time itself and self-conscious thought slip away. You step outside of your typical thought patterns and into something bigger than you.
Often when I tell people about these benefits they’re reluctant to paint because they think of art-making as daunting, something you need the perfect training and materials for. While I won’t deny that my time studying art in college helped me build a strong foundation, it upsets me how many people feel like they don’t have “what it takes” to paint. Sadly, I think a lot of this shame stems from childhood. It might’ve been a bad teacher, hypercritical parent or friend who judged your artwork so harshly once that you gave up on art altogether. I understand, and I faced that shame every day in many of my art classes where the pressure to be perfect clouded the high of free expression. It took time to find a space where I could express myself without limitations, and when I finally did I stopped obsessing about the final result. Abstract art allows you that freedom to rediscover your voice.
3. Abstract painting can change your brain
Once you get comfortable enough to start playing with your new materials and painting consistently at your own pace, you’ll start to notice a drastic mood shift. For me, this was gradual but also completely life-changing. I’d notice the same release of energy and calmness wash over me that followed after a yoga or meditation practice. The more time I committed to creating freely like this, the less my anxiety or depression crept in (which was especially healing during the early stages of quarantine when I thought I might lose my shit for good). I was able to address those feelings, release them and put them somewhere.
Research shows that through this process you activate your brain’s pleasure and reward system (serotonin). In one particular study done in 2014, fMRI scans were used on two different groups of post-retirement adults — one half of the group engaged in a 10-week art intervention while the other did not. The results showed a significant increase in stress resistance through more functional connectivity in the brain for the group exposed to the art-making. No effects were reported for the group that did not participate, which further proved the “neural effects of visual art production on psychological resilience in adulthood.” You can read more about this study and others here on Art4Healing’s special report. The results are mind-blowing — from improved critical thinking to increased empathy and reduced depression/pain.
All of this research and information is to say that abstract art (all art really) is nourishment for the soul, and the benefits are universal. Whether making art helps you translate feelings that are otherwise impossible to explain, stay focused on the present moment or heal longterm wounds, I’m a firm believer that this practice is worth every bit of effort. For me, it’s made all the difference — it’s been a friend, support system and a guide into my inner self that’s helped me grow more than anything else ever has.
For those of you who are curious but embarrassed to try, please take this blog post as an official loving push into your abstract art journey. For those of you as deep into this practice as I am, please let me know if any of this resonates, and let’s connect!
If you enjoyed this post and would like an in-depth guide on what materials I recommend starting with along with some tips and tricks I’ve learned over time, I’d be happy to share what’s worked for me. As always, thanks for reading and happy painting. 💕
In one of my most recent “From the Art” abstract painting time lapse videos, I experimented with something a little out of my comfort zone. I combined a developing spiritual practice with my painting practice and became the vessel for what unfolded. While I do this often in the comfort of total solitude, sharing it on the internet felt like a major step forward. Let me try to explain why…
While I’ve been interested in all things magic and spiritual since I was a kid, I didn’t fully dive into how that could translate into my life as an adult until I moved to Los Angeles. I think the distance from my family and the drastic change of surroundings were the catalysts for an urge to look inward and find answers within myself. It started with listening to podcasts about astrology, mindfulness and manifestation on train rides to and from work. Then, as my interests became more abstract, my paintings started coming out more freely. I didn’t know then that what I was developing was my own version of sacred meditation.
When quarantine began, I found myself looking for answers more desperately than ever before much like everyone else. I was educating myself and creating during my free time more than usual and the result was two-fold. On the one hand, my creativity was at an all-time high. On the other hand, I was awakening to the parts of my subconscious that scared me most, the uncomfortable bits that scratched, tugged and pulled me until I paid attention.
In the three-card spread that I shuffled before painting “Orbit” as seen in the video above, I received The Empress, The Tower and the Seven of Wands. All three messages together advised me to connect to intuition, not to fear change even if it hurts and to persevere in spite of judgment or adversity. This felt glaringly personal and yet so necessary to share as universal truths. As I began painting the infinitely spinning shape on my canvas, I thought about the cyclical nature of our universe — how there are always lessons circling around us waiting to be resolved so we can truly make the most out of our lives.
A personal example I’d like to share to help further explain this dates back to when I was about five or six years old. For several nights during that time, I was visited by what I guess could be called a dream guide. He was a man with dragon-like features and an iridescent blue sheen who’d hover over my bed immediately after I fell into deep sleep. He was like a genie — a wise figure who’d talk to me as if I was an adult, emotionally preparing me for whatever dream adventure I’d be soon experiencing. Each dream was different, and so every lesson to learn from him was special in its own right.
Like a dream conductor, he’d guide me into some of the best dreams of my life where I’d lucidly fly on a broomstick over a breathtaking landscape or I’d shrink in my childhood room and toys towered over me like amusement park rides. Other times he’d calmly prepare to send me into nightmares that brought to surface my worst fears. For these, I would beg him not to take me with him, but he earned my trust and convinced me that it was essential I brave the bad as much as I indulged in the good. If I could gather the courage to bear the discomfort of pain and suffering, I’d be strong and emerge from the experience wiser. While it was never easy, he was always right. Eventually, the nightmare would end and I’d wake up in the safety of my warm bed again.
As I put all of this together, I realize that the lessons that have been circling around me for 25 years have been begging to be addressed and were even buzzing around me when I was traveling in and out of my subconscious as a child. The more I pause to look inside or stop to paint for hours at a time, the more I see them. They’re the same fears of trusting my intuition or the unknown blindly, showing my authentic self and being judged and of loss that have been weighing me down since I was young.
While this pandemic has brought so much pain and suffering, it has also brought to light many truths that we were burying under the constant busyness of our lives. I’ve come to believe that these quiet moments of introspection are contributing to the great “orbit” we all find ourselves in, moving together in time and space just trying to be present and not crippled by our fears. For me, this has meant working on being as authentic outwardly as I am inwardly. From sharing my artwork openly online to standing firm in my convictions and letting go of the constant need for perfectionism, I think I’m finally listening. I’m still working on it, but I am working on it.
During this major collective shift in our understanding of “normalcy,” what important themes and truths have resurfaced for you? Are you finding ways to channel what comes up and address it? Please, please, please feel free to share if you’ve made it this far. Thanks so much for reading if you did. Happy quarantining!
This little video and project took two whole weeks to shoot, edit and finally export. I had so many technical difficulties, I thought it would never see the light of day. Somehow, through hours and hours of resistance, “Fogo” still managed to come together.
I can’t express the relief, excitement and passion I feel toward it — I hope that comes across and fills you with warmth and inspiration. “Fogo,” which translates to “fire” in Portuguese, was a labor of love, sweat and heat (mostly from my laptop, which is seconds from bursting into flames).
I got completely lost in this process, listening to songs I included in the video that inspire me to let go. As always, thank you so much for taking the time to watch and stay tuned for the next installment! Sending you all love and gratitude.
Hello everyone! I finally committed to something that’s been a passion and fear of mine for YEARS — YouTube baby. 😳✌️
This new “From the Art Series” will feature a time lapse of my abstract paintings and illustrations every week. I might also record some audio explaining what the pieces mean and how I get through the process. The idea behind “From the Art” is to uncover how certain feelings, thoughts and ideas make their way into our artwork to heal us. I hope that by showing how deeply cathartic expressing freely in this way can be that I’ll help others find their freedom too, or at the very least just give you something fun to watch when we need it most.
Feel free to follow, subscribe, and let me know what you would like to see. I’d love some feedback. 💜