For those who are new to what I’m doing with this cluster of “Hat’s Story” posts…  first read this – and then this.

Okay – moving on, cheesecakes….

This SECOND Hat Story (& resource) post is about changing direction:

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • Some tough questions and issues I needed to address after shutting down COPS
  • My burdensome issues with low self-esteem, body-shaming and binge-eating (and what affect they had on the direction my life had taken)
  • Redefining “success”
  • Permission to DREAM
  • My Change List
  • Art Journals and how they can help you figure stuff out (plus photos of mine and tips on how to make your own)

CHANGING DIRECTION…

After I had shut down COPS Creative Corporation, I found myself in a bit of a pickle.

“What now?”, I asked myself.  “Where to from here?”

Those weren’t simple questions to answer.

I knew what I didn’t want out of life.  I didn’t want to settle for survival any more.  I didn’t want normal any more.

I also knew that I wasn’t meant for a routine of sameness, money-management, corporate-schmoozing or office admin… but I wasn’t sure what I should be doing.  I knew that suburban-life, soap-operas and shopping-malls weren’t for me either… but I couldn’t imagine an alternative.

I mean… what else was there – apart from the normal way….?

_Normality is a paved road.It's comfortable

To complicate matters, my self-esteem was at an all-time low.  Many factors contributed to this (I could easily write a book about it all)… but, in a nutshell… I was miserable, unhealthy and oozing shame and self-loathing.

I weighed 131 kilograms (288 lbs) and had gotten into the habit of escaping my office daily… to binge on double-cheeseburgers, packets of chips and slabs of chocolate.

Food was my drug… a numbing mechanism of sorts.  But also… a way to hide.

People don’t really see you when you’re really fat.

I remember saying to Nick:

“People judge this book by it’s cover – long before the pages inside have been read”.

Anyone who has struggled with obesity and food addiction will know what I mean by that.  When you’re fat – people tend to see the fatnessbefore they see you.  You are, in a sense, defined by your fatness.   I felt at my most invisible – when I weighed 131 kilograms.

(This – by the way – remains a sore point for me and one of the things that frustrates me most about the way our society is wired.  It’s also the reason why I try to see people for who they ARE – rather than judge them by what they look like on the outside)

Ironically… at the time… a large part of me wanted to hide.

I was filled with so much shame and self-loathing that it felt – in a sense – safer NOT to be seen.  There was this weird tug-of-war happening inside my head.  Deep down, a part of me longed to be seen and heard and got… but that yearning was usually always overwhelmed and shoved out of the way by a deep sense of shame and embarrassment.

And so… I blended into the background like the proverbial wallflower.  I slunk along the sidelines… in the shadows.  I didn’t speak up or voice my opinion.  I wore black, baggy clothes.  “Hide” clothes.  My hair was tied up in a messy top-knot.  My shoulders – slouched.  Eyes… focused firmly on the floor-tiles.  Hoping that nobody would notice the “shame” that was me.

And – indeed – nobody did notice.  I was like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To most people (if they even acknowledged my existence in the first place)… I was either “the-fat-lady-with-the-small-children”… or “Nick’s wife”… or “Morgan and Joah’s mom”… instead of HEATHER.

Few people knew who Heather was… least of all me.

Morgans 2nd birthday 008

After I had made the Big-Decision and shut down COPS, I came to realise that I wanted more out of life… I wanted it for myself and I wanted it for my family and I wanted it for other folk too.  I wanted a beautiful life.

But what was a beautiful life?  And… what might my beautiful life look like?

Before I could respond to those questions, I realised that I first needed to figure out who I was… and what I actually wanted out of this precious, mysterious, temporary existence we call LIFE.

I know that people often talk about living a “successful” life… or being “successful”.  But “success” means vastly different things to different people.

The traditional understanding of “success” (largely perpetuated by our status-driven society) is some – or all – of the following:

  • Big house in nice neighbourhood… filled with lots of stuff
  • Status symbols like posh cars, designer clothing, accessories (watches, bags, shoes, etc) of a certain type of brand
  • Well-paying, corner-office job
  • Recognition or a “high social standing”
  • Being perceived as hot, sexy or good-looking (or having a hot / sexy / good-looking partner)
  • Titles, qualifications, awards or other kinds of recognised special’ness
  • Money in bank (the more money… the more “successful” you are, apparently)

By the time I had shut down COPS, I had been well aware (for a long time) that the traditional views of “success” just weren’t… y’know… ticking my boxes.

I have never cared about status symbols, brand-names or special titles.  Money in the bank is, of course, a great thing to have… but I have never viewed “money” as a measure of someone’s success… or someone’s worth (including my own).

So… one of the first important questions I needed to ask myself was:

“What is MY definition of success?  What does *success* mean to ME?”

Because… (well, this may seem obvious to many people – but I missed this logic for decades)… we have two choices in life:

  1. Drift along aimlessly and indefinitely for the rest of our days… on our little life-rafts… allowing the tides to take us where they will… as we endeavour to simply “survive” and “make-do” and “get-by” with our allocated-LOT;  or…
  2. CHOOSE WHERE we want to go (and WHY).  And then chart a course.  And then set sail towards that destination. This is called Living Deliberately.

My years of mucking about and passively drifting along (COPS being a prime example of that) had just created misery and frustration.

So I decided to try option 2:  DO something.  Take deliberate steps and DO something.

And the first DO‘ing step involved figuring out the WHERE… and the WHY.

And so… I started to think a lot about transformation.  I had met (and read about) a number of people who had managed to turn their lives around… and I knew that it was possible to change (I don’t buy into that leopard-not-changing-spots nonsense).  I knew that it was possible to slowly but surely… change course and head off in a different direction.

The question, however… was:  WHICH direction?

So… I began journalling ideas of what a different life might look like.

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I started by giving myself permission to DREAM.

My dreams spilled out onto paper and notebooks.  I drew pictures of the possibilities.  I made lists.  I cut photographs out of magazines.  I created mood boards.  I bounced ideas off Nick – and close, trusted friends.  I asked myself:

  • “What do you actually want, Heather?”
  • “Who do you want to be?”
  • “Who do you NOT want to be?”
  • “What is your version or your definition of success?”
  • “What kind of lifestyle do you want for yourself and your family?”
  • “How do you want to live?”
  • “How do you NOT want to live?”

In response to those questions, a few important themes slowly started to emerge.  And (because I am a sentimental creature – and I keep all this stuff)… I still have the notes I made during that time.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • For a start, I’m tired of hating my body.  It has become exhausting and dull.  I want to re-think the whole “beauty” ideal.  I want to know what it might be like to treat my body with love and respect.  Is it even possible for such a prolific self-abuser?  Would it be possible to like the person I see in the mirror… or… (here’s a crazy thought)… even learn to LOVE her?
  • I’m tired of diminishing.  I’m tired of hiding in the shadows.  I’m tired of pushing myself down, biting my tongue, shrinking, allowing my boundaries to be trampled.  I don’t want to be a doormat.  I don’t want to diminish and disappear.  I’m tired of being “less”.  Invisible.  Silent and submissive.  I want to be *SEEN* for who I truly am… I want to be *HEARD*… I want to have a VOICE.
  • Oh, and I am SO bone-tired of people-pleasing.  Of trying so desperately hard to fit-in and live up to the expectations of everyone else (often at my own expense).  Of trying to mould and shape myself according to who other people think I should be.  To behave how other people think I should behave.  To do what other people think I should do.  To live how other people think I should live.  I’m SO tired of that.  I want to rediscover the Authentic *ME*… and life life on my terms.
  • I want to write my own rule-book and chart my own course.  I want to live deliberately… on purpose.  I want to CHOOSE where I go from now on.  I want to take control of the reigns of my own life from now on.  I don’t want to be passive any more.  I don’t want to drift aimlessly any more.
  • I want to learn how to focus on my strengths, talents and gifts… and the GOOD things about me (instead of constantly berating and criticizing myself for my perceived weaknesses and flaws).
  • I want to seek out a new career.  I don’t want to do any more graphic design for nasty corporate clients – ever again!  I DO want to generate an income – but I want to ENJOY what I do.  And it needs to be creative… and diverse… and different.  Also – importantly – I want my work to somehow impact others in a positive way.  I want to leave a positive fingerprint on the world… to contribute towards the Greater Good in some way.
  • I want to connect with like-minded people.  I want to feel less alone.  And I want other people to feel less alone too.
  • I want our family life to change completely.  I want us to work on ways that we can spend lots of quality time together… instead of just passing each-other in the evenings, like ships in the night.  I want to figure out ways that we – as a family – can re-write the rule-book.  What kind of lifestyle will work best for us?  What kind of dreams do we share?  How can we downsize the stress and the debt… without being broke?  How can ALL of us do what we love?  I think we should throw out the rule-book completely… and just start-from-scratch… and choose a way – a life – that will work best for us… for who we are as individuals – and who we are as a family unit.
  • My version of success:  a happy, content, meaningful life… doing what we love… spending lots of quality-time together as a family… a life of adventure, travel, learning, growing, creativity, diversity… income generated with work that we enjoy… AND… making some kind of positive difference in the world.

RESOURCES & ART JOURNALS

OKAY…  here’s some thoughts and resources for anyone who is reading this (and still struggling to figure out the WHERE’s and the WHY’s)…  (we’ll get to the how’s later)…

Firstly… the resource list at the bottom of my previous post has loads of relevance to THIS post too.  Chew on the questions in there… and, the books I mentioned there are also hugely helpful for those who are still trying to figure out where they fit

Strengths Finder is another helpful resource.

This personality test is a fun (and free) little exercise that adds all kinds of insight (and is a great conversation generator too).  PS:  I’m an INFP.

Ask yourself (and ponder on) the following questions:

  • What can you do better than your closest family and friends?
  • What were your favourite things to do / hobbies / games / activities (when you were a child)?
  • What excites you?
  • What kind of causes get you the most worked up?

ART JOURNALS

who I am

My art journals (and I now have a small mountain of them) have been one of the most important tools in my self-discovery / healing / life-changing arsenal.  And yes… yes… I am a creative-creature and illustrator but you do NOT need to be “an artist” to be able to create an art journal!

ANYONE can create an art journal.

There is no “wrong” way to create an art journal.  It’s not for anyone else – but you.  It doesn’t need to be pretty… or correct… or ordered… or neat… or anything else.

Art Journals are not scrapbooks (scrapbooks are lovely – but they are usually meant to be seen and appreciated by otherslike family photo albums – so folk spend a lot of time and energy making them beautiful and perfect).

Art journals are not meant to be beautiful or perfect.  Your art journal is for YOU.  In fact, leave all perfection, politeness and expectation at the door when creating an art journal!   An art journal is… a SPLURB!… a big, fat, messy… splurb!  It’s where you can take all the noise in your head… and let it flow out of you on to paper.

Make as much mess as you want.

Don’t hold back.

Express your anger and frustration.  Vent!  Be as potty-mouthed and foul as you like.  Even if you’re the sweetest, nicest, most polite person… your Art Journal is the place where you can be whatever and whoever you want… and SAY, WRITE or DRAW whatever you please!

the fuck-it list

Talk about what enrages you.  Write about what angers and frustrates you.  Express your thoughts… your fears… your hurts… your dreams… your desires… your gratitude… your regrets…

Talk about who you ARE… and what you want… and what you love and what you hate.

Write stuff… draw stuff… paint stuff… stick stuff in there… scribble…

(My art journals are filled with paint, ink, glue, paper, stickers, photos, cardboard, foil, rubbish from the dustbin… dirt, sand, blood, pressed flowers, used tickets, old letters, string, stamps… and yes – a couple of tears have fallen on those pages too!)

I once wrote this post about How-to-Spot-a-Dream-Poo'er... (a Dream Poo'er is, of course, the well-meaning person who finds it necessary to poo on your dreams and aspirations and tell you that your dream is a terrible idea... and you shouldn't even bother because it will never work... and they end by saying something like: "I'm only being realistic, you know".... or "I'm telling you this out of love"....

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There is nothing too taboo for an art journal.

There are no art journal rules… except this one:  allow yourself to be completely free and completely honest in your art journal.  You will be amazed at what you find out about yourself when you give yourself permission and the freedom to be completely… unreservedly… HONEST.  About everything.

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TO SUM IT ALL UP:

In a nutshell… these are the points I’m trying to make in this long-winded post:

  1.  If you change nothing… nothing will change.
  2. If you’ve decided that you DO want change… then there MUST be some kind of deliberate action that follows the decision (change doesn’t just drop from the sky… you don’t *wait* for change… you CREATE change).
  3. In order to live deliberately – you need to figure out where you’re going… and why.  You need to have goals, dreams and direction.  You need to know who you are and who you’re not. What you want out of life… what you don’t want out of life.  The things that are important to you… that things that aren’t important to you.
  4. For me… the process of figuring out the answers to the questions above… took quite a bit of time, pondering, questioning and inner-wrestling.  It didn’t happen instantly.
  5. One of the most helpful things I did (during the process of figuring out who I am and what I want out of life) was to create art journals.

Okay… this post is LONG-winded (and over-due).  We’ve been on the road again – so my internet access has been sporadic (and – most of my time is going into the book… hence this blog being a bit neglected).

My next post in the Story & Resources series will be about the practical steps I took to create change (after I had figured out the “what’s” and the “whys”).

You guys are awesome… thanks for reading… following… and connecting!  X


PS:  Anyone interested in an art-journaling course?  Online – or otherwise…?  Add a comment on this post or drop me an e-mail:  heather@themadhat.co.za  so I can gauge the interest and see whether I should start putting something together.  x

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