When stress is trying to control me, I use art to subdue it. Life is rarely 100% bad or good. You hope there’s more good than bad. For the past couple of years, mine has been the other way around, even before the plague that shall not be named. Ever have that moment, when your life is on fire and you go, at least things can’t get worse, and life calls you’re a liar?
This is my first time sharing this story publicly. I doubt I’ll bring it up again unless someone asks. At the beginning of May, vigorous scratching woke me before my alarm. My dog, Oreo, had started sleeping under the bed, probably cause it was cool. At 14, she couldn’t get on the bed anymore.
I jumped out of bed to Oreo having, what looked like, a seizure. She made the most horrifying howl of pain and fear and then she stopped breathing. I rushed her to the hospital but they couldn’t bring her back. She was 14 but this still came out of nowhere. She wasn’t sick. Oreo never had any serious health issues. She never had a seizure. I still don’t know what happened.
Oreo had been a part of this brand and my art for years. She was sitting at my feet while I wrote blog posts over on Blogger. Oreo was my writing buddy when I published my first book. She was my comfort when my master’s degrees had me stressed out. Some days, the only time I smiled was when Oreo greeted me like I’d been gone for a year. When I got a new camera, I practiced on her. We did long photo walks around the neighborhood.
Having a pet is a lot of work. They make a mess, they’re noisy and they destroy things at inconvenient times. You have to walk them when you’re dead tired. When it’s snowing or raining. When the cold feels like an attack. Pets are so expensive. You spend about $500 per vet visit for an old dog. But despite all that, I never regretted having Oreo. She did so much to help my mental health.
This happening by itself would’ve been bad enough. as I mentioned before, life had been a struggle well before this. And it hasn’t let up. Now, I don’t have a happy dog to come home to.
Art: The Weapon Against Stress
Nothing has really changed for the better but I’ve trying to fix the things I can control. Constant stress can lead to health issues. I grind my teeth causing pain in my jaw and gums. I get headaches, not migraines, fortunately. My stress levels and heart rate are always slightly elevated. A good night’s sleep does not exist. I either sleep badly or really badly. Im tired all the time. I don’t want to be a 37-year-old having a heart attack. When life is on fire, I use art to put out the flames.
For a while, I had stopped writing. Even before what happened to Oreo. But, I did a lot of fantasy map-making, though. A lot.
Most of my fantasy landscapes, I created for fun. They aren’t for a story. I had a vision in my head that I wanted to see if I could bring to life. Designing is fun.
This one is for a story. And it was an experiment. I just wanted to see if I could make it.
Back to Writing
I’d been trying to finish two stories. But, each time I sat at my computer, nothing came out of me. I was stuck. So, I eventually stopped trying. Almost a year went by. Recently, around my birthday in August, I decided to give writing a try again. No inspiration hit me. I wanted to try since it usually gives me peace. The words kept flowing and flowing. I started taking a journal to work with me. I’d write while on hikes. And, I was finally able to finish a book I’d been trying to complete for a year.
Sent the final draft and all the images over to my publisher and editor for comments. This cover may change depending on their feedback.
I got a bit too caught up in my books not selling, in my marketing not working. I love writing and world-building, designing the cover and maps. Laying out a book is fun. I like the publishing process. It’s also relaxing to create stories in my head when I can’t break open a journal or computer to write. So, I’m focusing on that for now. I probably won’t do much marketing outside of posting on Instagram and Pinterest, and here of course. I’ll probably streamline my social media marketing to just those 2. By some miracle, despite being fairly inactive on Pinterest, my profile now gets 2 million views a month.
I started my yarn hobby with latch hooking. I was the typical bookworm bullied kid who made friends with the librarian cause I had no one else. She taught me latch hooking. That led to trying crochet and then knitting.
I only make blankets and shawls. I’ve never been interested in creating anything else. The act of knitting is relaxing. Although, I recently came across crochet animals. I may try that out.
Hiking and Photography
I never stopped photography like I did writing. No, that’s a lie. I did but for a shorter period. It’s so relaxing to get lost in capturing a scene, trying to find unique ways of photographing subjects. Hiking has become essential now. I go to the mountain and walk through my park. Either way, I need to be alone in nature, just me and my camera.
Fortunately, NY has the Metro-North train which takes me to some good trails. At $30 for a round trip ticket, it’s not a cheap trip but it’s cheaper than gas.
Some none art related things I’m doing:
- I brought an essential oil diffuser to help me sleep at night. Lavender, cherry blossom and eucalyptus are my favorite scents so far. Eucalyptus is also great for allergies, at least for me.
- This may not work for everyone but Youtube has 10-hour relaxing sound videos. Since I pay for premium, I don’t get ads. Every night, I’ll sleep to the sounds of rain or something nerdy like Zelda or Studio Ghibli music.
- Singing songs in my head often calms me down. My favorite anime, Bleach, is back. So, I have Number One playing on loop.
- Reading/listening to books. I’m currently switching between listening to The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher and reading The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates. Junji Ito’s The Liminal Zone is next up.
- Watching cozy Youtube videos or anime. Or, playing a relaxing video game.
- I’ve started spending hours scrolling through TikTok. Sometimes it’s the only time of the day that I laugh but I do have to cut myself off. I could literally waste my entire evening watching TikTok videos.
- This may be a Northeast thing, but my grocery store sells spiced apple cider drink mix. Drinking hot cider before bed is so soothing.
All these things don’t remove the stress, they give me some relief. They’re temporary fixes since, for the moment, I can’t do much about the root causes. When I feel my heart rate increase, singing in my head brings it back down. Writing stories or planning my next hiking trip are good distractions from the mess. Editing photos or reading are good ways to calm down before or after a stressful day.
How do you deal with stress?
Auden, I love, love this months blog!
Art is my way to destress, too. Drawing things, making things, you name it. I did not realize this so much until I was older and started creating my books. Yes, I’ve always made things, sewing and paper projects, etc., but I put two and two together and noticed what a calming feeling I get when doing them. The drive to get back to them when I’m not doing them was something else I noticed. I’m so glad you are finding your talented ways to destress, too.
Please know I’m thinking about you as you have had to deal with the loss of your Oreo. Pets “are our family.” Anyone that does not feel that way should probably not have a pet, right?
As you know, I love your maps and what a wonderful addition they are to your books.
Best wishes always, Auden 🙂
Thanks, Rosie. I too have always been into art, I love doing things with my hands. I didn’t start putting a name to it until I got older. I’m trying to get back to that creative side. I used to draw but stopped for some reason. As you said, making things is so calming.
I am so touched by this post. It will help so many people who can relate – myself included. So sorry about your beloved dog – so heartbreaking- especially the sudden and awful way it happened. I, too, suffer from stress and insomnia. Writing is my release as well. The concentration required usually takes my mind off anything that is troubling me temporarily giving me a much needed break. Have taken up journaling again. I use the Calm app for meditating, nature sounds, and sleep stories which helps with my insomnia sometimes. Thanks so much for being vulnerable, Auden, and sharing your experiences and emotions with us.
Thanks, Julie. Never heard of the Calm app. I’ll have to look into it. I’m the same with my writing. When I’m diving into a story, I don’t have the brain space to think about the things that are bothering me. When I finish, it usually leaves me feeling lighter.
Bless your heart! You’ve been through such a rough path, and I am touched by your resilience in such times of struggle, Auden. It loved seeing Oreo in your posts and was sad to learn of your loss. I’m glad you are still capturing nature through lens and sharing with us.
I de-stress by walking, swimming, and escaping to the beach whenever I can. I, too, knit a simple scarf each winter, but nothing like your amazing blanket pictured! Sending virtual hugs and loud kudos for you as you keep on keeping-:D!