Lately, I’ve been holding a workshop on creating a calm space. I started on Facebook for two weeks and then branched out to both Istagram and Facebook at the same time - a little of a challenge but manageable. The reason why? To help and it does. It helps me, every day. Not only do I log on to teach the half hour lesson which gives me purpose, but I get to do these grounding and mindful techniques for myself. I have needed it lately. As I tell those who watch me in the workshop, your nervous system reacts to threats however it wants, you can only respond accordingly. You cannot stop the physiological changes from happening - fight or flight is part of the autonomic nervous system.
When you have significant PTSD, you can have so many intricate triggers that you may not have even identified. Today, prior to my workshop (really, it’s a video class - you can send message during and I will answer, but you don’t have to interact and no one will know if you’re there or not, unless I see you pop up during the live session), I was triggered from some “threat” but I had idea what it was. My temperature plummeted. So, what did I do. I sang. I danced. I jumped up and down to get the blood flowing and change my state of mind. For the record, when my system is triggered like this I’m not dealing with obsessive or negative thoughts. It is purely body sensations. Tremors, jittery, cold, fear, stuck, shut down, disassociated, there are a host of symptoms depending on the trigger and how I am triggered.
Singing has been a huge part of my recovery and I talk about it often. I think any creative activities are beneficial to us in general, but essential to someone recovering from trauma or mental health issues. It helps us to explore our emotions and express them when we cannot find the words. When I was in the midst of some of my initial breakdown and I was trying desperately to heal so I could return to work, I sketched every day for a minimum of 30 minutes. I tried not to be competitive or put pressure on myself to do well. I failed at that more often than I succeeded. It’s part of the ego, the drive for competition and comparison. We want to be the best, better than, like it somehow proves our worth beyond a shadow of a doubt.
When you step back from it, is that really what defines your worth? If you’re a big executive, what does it mean? When you are home, dealing with a stubborn child, does the worth you assigned to yourself based on your job matter? If we assign worth to the external, we need to be constantly in search of it because the external is always changing and entirely beyond our control. If society decides this year that big hair is in and you have fine, wispy strands, do you some how lose value or worth? Look at the evolving idea of beauty, from women like Twiggy to Kristie Brinkley, incredibly different and you cannot possibly look like both. Do you lose value when the tides change directions?
With singing, I had to overcome the understanding I acquired growing up that I could not sing. The memory of phrases like: “You couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket;” “You should be seen not heard;” and every other snide comment, joking retort, ear plugging or face making charade, lead to a deeply ingrained belief that I could not sing. I wanted to believe I could. I loved to sing. But, to my own ear my voice sounded terrible and I had very little confidence. I would occasionally sing though and more often with people whom I was really comfortable. My defiant spirit would shine through with the “tough,” I’m going to subject everyone to this because I like it. But, it was from the standpoint that I couldn’t sing. And I sang quietly.
I had to step away from being competitive when I decided to use singing as a therapy tool. It does not work when you get angry because you didn’t get a perfect score. I had to let go of perfection. I came up with my “99 is just fine” statement. Instead of being competitive with getting a perfect score or beating someone else, I changed the mindset to be “Working towards excellence.” I decided to only compete with my previous score and when I didn’t do better, well Tanya from yesterday did better than Tanya of today, but maybe Tanya of tomorrow will do better. As I sang and improved, I realized I wasn’t singing in my natural voice, I was mimicking others. Another thing someone with low self esteem does.
I wasn’t comfortable being me, truly me. I wasn’t enough, I was awkward, I was not worth listening to, I was too this or not enough of that. I had some pretty bad opinions of myself. I had to learn they were not true. And in the end, singing was the way. As I let go of the need to be perfect and I started to sing for fun and really tried to define my voice, something miraculous happened. I fell in love with myself. There were moments when I would sing in my own voice, in the perfect pitch and hit a beautiful, long, expressive note and a feeling of bliss would well up in my chest. And it was for me. It was bliss towards myself. I found it by playing.
We stopped playing. We started just existing. We get up at 5 or whatever time, we get ready for work, we work, we come home and eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed and do it all again. We fade out and numb out. We have shut down our light for so long that we are just dim impression of who we could be. We don’t LOVE our lives, we just live. We make the choices that ultimately keep or put us there. That doesn’t mean that change isn’t difficult, challenging or terrifying. But, it is always possible and it’s always within your control. Even if you can’t change your external environment, you can change your internal. And trust me, once you start doing that…..ahhh, that’s the magic moment……when you change your internal, everything else changes. You start to light up, you start to attract other things that are light, life gets colour back and you feel alive, full of love and bliss. When you feel that good on the inside, you want to spread it around.
That’s why I do the Calm Spaces Workshop. I want everyone to have a calm or joyful space they can create, anywhere, any time, to change their internal environment, regardless of the external. Slowly, our calm states will spread to others. We can spread light and love and bliss. One person at a time. We can bring light and colour back to the world.