Phe – The escape artist
One thing that is true in this life, in every existence, is that we have our vices. Those imperfections that create chaos for us and which limit us like cages. If we are not careful, our cages can become our tombs. As humans, we wage war against ourselves to escape the confinements where we battle, struggle, dispute and hopefully conquer our way into freedom. Freedom from our vices, our villainy, and heads. This week’s Sunday Story is that of Phe, the girl who escaped her cage fabricated by anxiety, stretched her wings and flew and this is her story.
This story is an extended cut as there are two quotes that have played the leading roles in her life. The first, she stumbled across on Pinterest that seemed to stick – “creative minds are rarely tidy” – and relates to Phe both literally and figuratively.
“This is my favourite quote and describes me best especially because I love being creative. If you come into my room when I’m in the middle of drawing you will find paper, sketch books, pencils, and other drawings scattered absolutely everywhere. It’s just how I work. Some how I am able to get my best ideas in the mess of it all. The quote also describes my mind perfectly. Even I’m scared to enter it some days. There are literally millions of thoughts buzzing around up there and I flick from one idea to another nearly every 5 seconds.”
As we bond over a mutual love for Pinterest, I have two realisations: 1) She has great taste in websites and 2) I am amazed that she is able to unscramble her way of functioning to an intelligible and understandable state effortlessly. Without even realising, she is able to love herself for her attributes that others may see as unfavourable (messy, creative, over thinker, anxious) and has realised that these traits make up her composition. This puts her light years ahead of those still hating themselves for not being the society’s version of what is acceptable and for not fitting in. Phe’s ability to understand the significance for diversity within our culture showcases her advanced self-development.
“It also gives people an insight into what it’s like having a creative mind. Personally I think most creative minds are messy. Everyone else I have met who likes to draw or paint or write has always told me they have so much going on in their mind and that’s why they do what they do. I think that’s why I have so many unfinished drawings, because I go from one idea to the next so quickly that I’ll never finish the last one. But you never know, some creative minds might be organised with everything thought out and planned.”
So quick psychology fact: when I researched the authenticity of the first quote, I was surprised to find it credited to Carl Jung. He is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. One of the core concepts of analytical psychology is individualisation and considered this to be the central process of human development. Without realising, Phe has tottered across a quote that seems so appropriate for her personality. She believes in being yourself because well that’s who you are meant to be. Your strengths as well as your weaknesses were designed with you in mind and Phe has shown me that all of us should celebrate the qualities that make you most unique.
Her second quote is a firm favourite of mine. In realising that I had already blogged about it, I found that this quote has always gotten me through my tough times as well as it has for Phe. It has been a firm torch of light in the darkest of nights, for myself and Phe. There is certain contentment in knowing that some one finds these words as much as a comfort blanket as I do.
“My boyfriend introduced me to this quote one day when I was struggling with my anxiety. I was at a time in my life when I felt like I was going no where and he told me that right now life is pulling me back but eventually it will let go of the hold and I will be able to fly forward into something amazing. At first I wasn’t to sure of it but the quote has stuck with me through those hard times and my boyfriend still reminds me of it on difficult days. The quote really did help at the time because I guess you could say it gave me a different perspective on how I was feeling that day. It was like I woke up to the though that day that “this isn’t forever” and I can get through it. The quote has definitely helped me not to fall back in when I have come close to the edge.”
Now if you are thinking along my wavelength, then are you wondering ‘what’s the story here’? These quotes have substance to them; they are meaningful. As I quiz her more, Phe drops the “A Bomb” – anxiety. The invisible scars on one’s body, the secret road maps to personal histories, the endless dialogue without a trace of ink. We all feel this to different degrees but I have a feeling Phe has experienced a black hole of toxic worry to which I am about to discovery.
“The ‘hole’ is something I use to help me explain to people who might not understand anxiety just what it’s like. I explain that it’s like your travelling along in life’s journey and all the sudden you fall into this big hole or ditch. The hole represents anxiety. I tell people that once you’re in it can be really hard to get back out and feels like each time you try to climb out, something drags you back down. Usually with my panic attacks I feel light headed, disorientated and lost.”
We discuss anxiety and the daunting task of dealing with it, and on occasion, this being a damn near impossible task. We irrefutably agree that the solution is not something so temporary as a smile from someone or a hug (as much as those do help) but it’s deeper seeded within people and requires immense strength. It’s like a rush of blood to the head without a warning. It’s quick, and powerful – blurring your vision and relishing in your inability to keep going. We discuss that people have trouble understanding that, after a panic attack, you are not just mentally drained but physically drained too. Without a doubt, it takes a lot out of someone. The salvation to this, which I have learnt from my conversation with Phe, is to know yourself well enough to know your triggers. That’s half the battle won right there. For Phe, she is rehearsed in the identification of these.
“It can be generalised to day-to-day things, like if I’m having a stressful day, which everyone goes through. Mine just feel a lot worse than what it actually is. There have been times though in my life when my anxiety was because of something, like when mum and dad separated. Let’s just say that did not help. Another theme in my anxiety would be relationships. The relationships I have with people have been a cause of a panic attack here and there. I worry that I’m a burden to them when I’m going through my hard times so I tend to stay quiet and push people away. But in the end that just makes me more worried because I don’t want to ruin the relationships I have with those people. It’s a vicious cycle. You worry about one thing then begin worrying about why you’re worrying and you find yourself back at square one.”
We discussed her love of art, specifically drawing and how this has broken through to her when anxiety has torn through her like a hurricane. It is a profound love fuelled with incredible and verifiable talent. I was lucky enough to be able to see some of her drawing and let me tell you, this girl has more talent than she is willing to admit. She types with passion about her chosen subjects (animals, landscapes with a special love of drawing patterns and eyes) and is able to reflect on this without a scripted view of self-reflection. She is honest in her answers, which is a rare yet refreshing quality to find in someone you have physically never met.
“I have pretty much been drawing for as long as I can remember. I wouldn’t say as much it has saved me but it has definitely helped me to not fall back into a hole. I think dad taught me how to draw as he is a jeweller and designing pieces is a big part of what he does. It has always been a love of mine and a way to get things off my mind. I draw as a hobby. There were always kids at school getting excellence awards and sports awards, but that was never me. I was presented with art awards and it fuelled my passion for drawing even more. I draw whatever I feel like at the time. Patterns are my favourite, I love seeing how small I can draw the lines and swirls of mandalas. I also enjoy drawing eyes. I love eyes because you can see so much through them and I find them really intriguing, like they say ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’.”
As I try to compliment her on her art, she gracefully acknowledges my opinions as my opinions. Phe does not tear herself down trying to valid her own interpretations of herself. She simply and sincerely thanks me for my admiration of her art. As any human being would expect, self-conscious kicks in and she throws the compliment over her shoulder with a simple “something I did on a rainy day”.
This is not a sign of arrogance. She is wise beyond her years and realises that one’s opinion is not given to valid or justify her abilities as an artist. Instead she is able to show her appreciation for my views. I count that as a true reflection of artists who’s work is solely intended to help grow themselves as a person.
“I would say that drawing has helped. It helps me to get my mind off things. My sketchbooks allow me to draw what I feel. This helps a lot, as when I am going through a panic attack, distracting my mind is the only thing that will help me get through it. There is not one particular drawing that is personal to me as they all mean the same to me. I love them all equally you could say. I have a few favourites but I also have a lot of unfinished ones. I like to doodle and my sketchbook happens to be full of unfinished drawings.”
Phe is also able to reflect upon the company she keeps, her boyfriend, in particular. She types highly of his presence and companionship within the domains of her life.
“He really doesn’t know just how smart he is. He really understands what I experience. At first it was a bit hard for him to understand because he had only ever experienced the usual anxiety of public speaking, he never realised it can effect someone so much to the point of my whole body shaking. We have been best friends for 5 years now but officially a couple for 3 years. I like to think it is a strong relationship haha. We admire each other so much and I love that even though everyone else may see him as this tough bloke, I’m the one that really knows what’s on the inside. You know, that why he seems stronger than ever to me.”
I like this girl, she is heartfelt and passionate. Roald Dahl said “I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good”. Phe has passion in her heart and she is unapologetic about this. She is unpresuming that the people in her life have any requirement to be there and modest about her talent as an artist.
Phe and her story have taught me two lessons, which seems to be a returning theme from last week. 1) Appearances can be deceiving and 2) Life is about learning to dance in the rain until the storm passes. Some people in the world struggle to understand that our external selves are not mirrors on what we feel on the inside.
“It’s funny cause I get a lot of people look at me with a shocked expression when I tell them I have anxiety. They always say “but you’re so happy”. Haha I guess you could say that, I still struggle with it some days but I have been dealing with it for 6 years now so I guess I’ve learnt my triggers.”
We, as humans, do not walk around honestly displaying our true feelings. Some people will say, “You don’t look anxious though.” It is not our fault as individuals that we forgot to bring our literal dark raincloud with us on every outing. A smile can be a sign of silent pain as much as a tear can be a sign of unspoken happiness. She has learnt to harass her anxious and put it into beautiful works of art. Granted that it was not always that easy nor it is ever going to be easy. Phe has taught me that anxiety is a feeling where you are up all night, staring at the ceiling, asking yourself an infinite number of questions, then sitting there and debating whether you want the answers. She has taught me that anxiety will make you wonder who cares about you and who cares that you fail. Anxiety will question your worth, your values and your abilities for you. She has taught me that living with this consistent worry does not have to be limiting. Anyone can be their own ladder out of the hole. And when you get better at knowing your triggers, you can even be the bridge over the hole.
The second lesson, life is about learning to dance in the rain until the storm passes, is a take on the quote “thus too shall pass,” I guess. Phe has taught me that everything gets better. I believe, as I am sure Phe will agree, that if it is not better then you just need a little more time, a distraction and maybe a bit of self-love. Repeating sentences to yourself until you believe it may help to ground you and bring you back from your inception. Anxiety can feel like a dream, swirling you down internally to a pit. Repeating affirmations can act as a grounding technique that will make you feel the warmth of the light when you do not know where you are coming from or running to. When the truths are inseparable from the lies, the act of repeating something like “this won’t last forever” or “you’ll be okay” may be enough to see beyond the darkened skies. By focusing your mind on one thing you allow yourself time to feel the heart beating inside you, when the storms have roughened your seas. Phe has not only learnt how to grab a lifeline but she has learnt to build rafts. She has always known that she has to bide her time, that the tides will change and how lonely this world can feel when you don’t know that others are out there feeling the same. But what Phe has done, with her whole heart, is learn that you don’t have to struggle against the crashing waves, gasping for air and fearing for your last breath. You can ride the storm out knowing that it is not the end and that you are doing the best you can. Phe has taught me that a storm is as evitable as the breath I take, regardless of the effect it has on each of us. Its about knowing your strengthens and your weaknesses.
In terms of her ikigai, I think she found her reason for being within her storms. She spends time, drawing and creating beautiful art solely for the development of herself. She rides her storms out in the comfort of her creativity however messy the raft may be. Her secret to ikigai is to do it with meraki. Meraki is a Greek word meaning to do something with soul, creativity, or love; to put something of yourself into your work. Simply put, it means to do something, any task at all, with all your heart, with love, with your very soul. Phe puts her heart into surviving her storms, into her drawings, into her relationship with her boyfriend, into her blog, into her own self-discovery. She has learnt when she finds herself in a storm she always has her art to help her survive. I think that Phe is a true escape artist as she has eluded her anxiety throughout the unfinished pages of her sketchbook. I adore her art because I know that there is a part of her in every line she has drawn and there is a part of her survival from every storm she has endured in every stroke of her paintbrush. It is truly inspirational. She is truly inspirational.
Wow! Second Sunday Stories completed. I hope you like it. Thank you to Phe for sharing her story and art with me, you are absolutely incredible and I hope this story reflects that. Phe’s blog can be found here: Life of Bee
Please, if you have any comments, questions and thoughts then leave then below. However, if you want to get in touch privately, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Likewise if you want to be a Sunday story, please write to me.
Until next Sunday,