Taking better care of yourself leads to better self-esteem!

Enjoy a blog post by Kimmy Casey, Her Art is Heart’s April guest blogger! I spent a lovely sunny day, photographing Kimmy, her daughter Riley and husband Jerry out at their house, with fancy rain-boots in toe! From witnessing stickers on the walls and furniture, and Riley’s 3 trips to the swing (because it’s just too much fun not to!!) it’s clear Kimmy lives a busy life of mommy-dom. And what’s also clear is the amount of love this family has, and the great memories that reside at their home. Kimmy and Riley gave me the full tour of what brings their family joy, and as you can see from the photos, there’s a lot of love going around 🙂

SELF-CARE = SELF-LOVE

by Kimmy Casey
When I was asked to be a guest blogger and the topic could be anything related to Susie’s passion of self-love, I instantly knew what I wanted to write about because…
the only way to show that you love yourself is to take care of yourself.
So let us dive down into the nitty gritty of what self-care truly is, how to choose activities that will bring you personal satisfaction, and how self-care has the power to drastically change your life.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “self-care”, or doing something to take care of yourself?
For me, it’s a quiet hour of getting my nails done with the faint sound of Vietnamese in the background that I don’t have to pay attention to, because I don’t know what they are saying anyways. The ONLY thing I have to do is pick a color.
All day long I talk to people for a living, and then I go home to a two year old. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having a toddler, you know that you have to give them 100% attention, and if you don’t, they find ways to command it. So if I can get away for at least an hour, where I don’t have to talk to someone, where I don’t have to “watch this, mommy”, where I don’t have to yell “stop pulling the dog’s tail”, then I am doing some self-care… or so I thought.
 There are several ways to define what self-care truly is. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Self Care in health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.” In the mental health world, self-care is your ability to take care of your own activities of daily living, also known as ADL’s (hygiene, sleep, eating, etc.).
I want to offer my own spin on what I have learned about taking care of myself. So, according to Kimmy Casey: “Self-care is the activities we do to cultivate our dominant positive emotions as a reward for ourselves”. (sounds fancy!!)
Okay, okay, so let me break this down. It is our basic human need to seek desire and reward. If you want to get into the scientific nerdy side of things, our body craves the release of the neurotransmitter Dopamine in our brain, and our brain releases Dopamine when we do things that reward our body… for example when we eat, brain says “mmmm… dopamine”. And when we flirt, our brain goes “I like the attention… here’s some dopamine”. And when we feel joy… dopamine. When we feel satisfied… dopamine. You get the point.

 Instead of the scientific word dopamine… I would instead insert my favorite positive emotions here. For me, when I get the chance to feel connection and belonging, my brain produces this feel good chemical. Everybody’s primary emotions are different. To find yours, think about 3 of your most favorite memories that you have, put yourself in those moments, and create a list of all of the emotions you experience in each moment. Compare your lists from each memory, and you should be able to see the common emotions. Is it joy, happiness, peace, relaxation, love, connection, belonging, warmth, pride, excitement? You choose! Use your own words. For me, my body craves connection and belonging, and my brain releases dopamine when I achieve these things.
 Let’s come full circle with this. Self-care, at it’s basic, is taking care of yourself. To take care of yourself is to make yourself feel good. The best self-care activities for yourself are the activities that you do that make you feel your primary positive emotions, whatever they may be. For example, where I thought my “self-care” was getting my nails done, this was an activity where I am disconnected and out of place. It was truly doing nothing to give myself pleasure. Fast forward to a time where I visited out of town family… I felt that sense of belonging, and I felt that connection with other people I loved. Or when I took a vacation with my husband at an all-inclusive resort, of course I belonged there (haha) and grew my connection with my husband. Or on a smaller scale, when I network with other people (like Susie!!) to learn of their dreams and goals and how they can support mine… ding, ding, ding! These are the things that truly make me feel alive, and when I allow myself to feel alive, I am taking care of my whole self.
  To maximize your self-care, figure out your top emotions that you love to experience, and do things that promote yourself feeling those things. So if your primary favorite emotions are to feel relaxed and pampered, maybe getting a mani/pedi is your thing. If you don’t know what to do or need examples, go to Google and type in “self-care activities” and the first link that pops up will give you 134 ideas. You see, when you do things to promote positivity and reward in yourself, your brain will automatically want you to do them again. And of course, the more positive you feel, the more you feel good, the more you reward yourself, the better you feel all of the time. And we all know what happens in our worlds when we truly feel GOOD – Our fear decreases as our confidence takes it’s place. Our procrastination disappears as our motivation grows. Our sadness and worry diminishes as happiness replaces it. The best way to show that you love yourself is to take care of yourself, and the best way to take care of yourself is to make you feel exactly the way your body is desiring to feel!

Share Your Spark: Sarah Bennett, the Multi-Passionate Soul

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You could say Sarah Bennett, of Bennett Trails blog, is my tutee (hah! Funny word, right?) Months ago, she asked me to tutor her in graphic design and photography. She has big dreams to start her own Etsy shop and loves the process of learning as much as possible. Honestly though, Sarah has become one of my closest friends here in Erie and I learn so much from her. We’ve taken sewing classes together, gone on photo-adventures, and scoured Salvation Army’s and Goodwills for vintage finds. Meeting with her weekly has been a breath of fresh air. Not only do our mutual interests stop at artistic pursuits- but she’s my soul sister! We encourage each other to follow our hearts, have guts, and to NEVER forget to love! So, in this edition of Share Your Spark, I introduce:

Sarah Bennett, age 31: Multi-Passionate Soul currently living in Erie, PA.

Myself, left, with Sarah Bennett, on right

I was born in California,

grew up in Salem, Oregon

went to college in Spokane, Washington

moved back to Oregon for a few years

then moved out to Vermont for a few years

and have been living in Erie, PA for the past four years now.

I think living so many places has shaped me to be a more flexible/adaptable individual and stronger in knowing who I am and what I value in life. I feel fortunate to have lived (in my opinion) in the prettiest regions in our country. I love New England and I also love the Northwest; both areas feel like home to me. I am drawn to green, 4 seasons, and living an active, creative life. I believe the areas I have lived in made me realize these things mean a lot to me. 

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What activities do you enjoy doing in your free time?

 I enjoy going on hikes or runs with my husband and our dog Odin. I love going on country drives and exploring back roads with some good tunes playing. I really enjoy singing/playing music with my husband, taking it easy in the morning with a cup of coffee, snuggling, and practicing yoga. Above all, I mostly just love getting deep into my creative work with no restrictions or interruptions.

 In what ways are you involved in the community?                                                                            

My situation is a bit different. We are preparing for a big move back to Oregon in the beginning of June so quite honestly I haven’t felt completely invested in the community lately! I did get pretty involved with the Erie Art Museum last year; I took quite a few classes and volunteered to take photos for an event. It was nice getting involved there– I definitely felt like I was around my people, which is good to know for the next place we are moving to! I also feel like I have been involved at Asbury Woods during my time here, just by being such a frequent visitor there. That place is a gem in this community; it has been my go-to for recharging and reconnecting over the past four years. I’m extremely grateful for Asbury Woods!

 Where do you go to find peace in the world?

I go to nature to find peace. I always feel revived and renewed after taking time to get lost in the woods or even just taking a short walk to get fresh air, away from the rat race. Also, a hot bath with a candle lights is my other place to find peace.

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 What inspires you the most?

That’s a hard question… so many things really inspire me, it’s hard to say what most inspires. Music, traveling, interactions, colors, seasons, experiences, reflection… I guess just life in general inspires me most. There is always something that pops up in one way or another that will spark an “Aha!” moment.

Creative women taking risks, following their heart, and doing things their own way are my role models; Women who are wildly successful in their specific path and living their truth, inspire me.

 What challenges have you faced in life?

I have struggled with self-confidence and pretty bad anxiety. I have also struggled with finding my place in this world. It can be hard being a multi-passionate soul because you can see yourself doing many different things and you have lots of ideas and passions. It has been hard to dig deep on that front and get clear. But also, coming to terms with being a multi-passionate and being okay with that has been a struggle. Honestly, when I heard the term “multi-passionate creative” it felt like a diagnosis! When I started hearing that other people like me were out there, I felt a little more at ease with who I am naturally. We all are here for a reason. I like the visual of seeing us all as individual puzzle pieces that are needed to complete the big puzzle-picture. It’s taken a long time for me to see what gifts I have to offer, where my place is, and where I feel most connected and understood­– But man I have come a loooong way.

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 What advice would you give others who are going through similar experiences?

I would say dig deep and be kind to yourself in the process. Find yourself a counselor you connect with and do the work to ask yourself the important questions:

Who am I?

What lights me up?

What are the things that make me nervous?

What can I do to dampen my anxiousness?

Above all, I must stress just be kind to yourself, listen to what YOU need. We’re all uniquely different and we each have our own path. Take the time to get quiet, feel all your feelings and let the healing begin.

 What current obstacles would you like to overcome?

I still struggle with some fear and self-doubt. I think it’s important to have a healthy dose of fear but I’m working on making sure fear only comes up when extremely necessary. I’ve come a long way in overcoming self-doubt and I am still continuing to work on that in life! I’m proud of where I am today and see that all my struggles are actually my biggest successes.

 How do you think you can overcome them?

I think by just continuing to be present, practicing positive self-talk and staying committed to my meditation practice I can overcome future obstacles. My spiritual practice has gone through ups and downs but it is the one thing that keeps me grounded. I devoted a year to a yoga teacher training in Vermont in 2010 and that year was the beginning of my personal spiritual path. I’m so extremely grateful for that program and the time I gave myself to devote to a yoga practice; it was my gateway.

Also, I know this isn’t for everyone– but therapy has proven to be very helpful to me. It’s just nice to have someone who listens to you, who is neutral. Therapy is my time to talk fully about me without feeling like I’m over-stepping any boundaries in the relationship.

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What is the one thing you want people to know about you when they first meet you?

I may come off quiet and reserved at first, but really I’m just taking in my surroundings and listening. I take a while to get to know. My personality has always been: if I open up to you and let you in, you must be pretty special to me. I tend to be more private and more introverted than extroverted. I have always had a few close friends I know would always be there for me rather than a ton of friends that are at a surface level. I take my relationships to heart. I care a lot and put great energy into important connections.

 How do you wish people saw you?

I wish people saw me as a woman who is driven to live a life from her creative heart. I wish people saw me as loving, devoted, and a caring person who just wants to live a light-filled life and exudes light and love!

 What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the life I have built with my husband. We started dating rather young, at age 21, but marrying him at age 26 was hands down the easiest decision for me. I love living our life together. He has been such a support in my journey; we both support each other’s dreams and are committed to living our dreams together. We truly enjoy each other and it’s been a joy to see us grow both individually and together.

I also am really proud of all my struggles I have gone through personally: The anxiety, the feeling lost, all the jobs I’ve held that left me feeling empty inside. These struggles have made me stronger and made me do the important work I am here to do: to ask myself the big questions and grow in my personhood. I am proud of these struggles because it’s brought me to the woman I am today. I know myself and love myself more and more because of these struggles.

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 Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

We’ll be living in Oregon, my husband will be finishing up residency. I see myself as a Mom to either one or two babies within the next five years. I see myself living my dream; getting paid to do creative work I love­– specifically running an online shop and doing freelance design and photography work– and growing in my creative profession. I see myself working from home in a light-filled office space and enjoying a flexible schedule, loving every moment of this precious life with the people I love.

 What is a quote you wish to live by that motivates you? Why does it impact you so much?

 Ohh geez this is hard! I am a quote fanatic. Quotes are the majority of my pins on Pinterest currently! Here are three of my current favorites that inspire and motivate me. All three motivate and speak to me in a different ways. Mostly, they each motivate me to just be ME, have faith and be grateful. A grateful heart brings abundance; I have experienced this time and time again.

 “The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” –Fabienne Fredrickson

 

 “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”– John Lennon

 

 “No matter what the situation is…close your eyes and think of all the things you could be grateful for in your life right now.” -Deepak Chopra

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 How can people connect with you?

I am very active on Instagram, @sariehere. That platform is devoted to my passions for home décor and photography. I also run a blog at bennetttrails.com.!!!

Stay tuned to recent blog posts to come here on Her Art is HEART! Sarah and I took many photos at our last shoot have many exciting images to share!

Don’t Make It a Thing

Photo taken by fellow photographer and graphic designer, Sarah Bennett. See her blog at www.bennetttrails.com !

Photo taken by fellow photographer and graphic designer, Sarah Bennett. See her blog at www.bennetttrails.com !

So I wasn’t always this way.

I wasn’t always easy to laugh, easy to forgive, nurturing and patient. I didn’t always have the ability to laugh at myself for the mistakes I make, or even to allow myself a Big Ole’ FAT ugly cry when I was upset. In essence, I used to be young. I used to be 21.

Maybe you’d assume I was a victim of the drink’, being the age at which I can consume alcohol. But no, actually everything got rough when I was 18. By age 21 though, I realized I needed to change something up: I realized I needed to start loving myself. That first step I took? I wrote myself a letter.

Dec 12, 2009. Not any kind of remarkable day with a remarkable story, just a day I chose to sit down and talk to myself. The catch was this letter I wrote? I couldn’t just look at it willy-nilly as I liked. I made myself wait until Dec 12th, 2015 to reveal it’s original contents. I guess even then I realized my overwhelming sense of urgency and noticed I lacked the patience I desired. So I made myself wait. I guess I was also trying to give myself something to look forward to, something personal: A secret- just for me, to myself. I guess that made it pretty special… I needed that.

Yeah… well… about that letter: I had forgotten about it! Dec 12th came and went, and I had the letter openly sitting out, ready for the BIG DAY. But it wasn’t until a good week and a half after the date when I happened to remember,

“That friggin’ letter!”

I wasn’t doing anything remarkable at the time.

You know how sometimes making a space, making something a “thing”, a ritual or tradition, giving it this air of significance makes a moment more momentous?

It wasn’t.

It was an off hand realization. I was running around my room, as usual, cleaning, hanging up clothes, and I remembered…

“The friggin’ letter!”

I believe my exercise playlist on iTunes was playing, bumping out some high-octane fuel. I didn’t switch it to low key, emotional music. I didn’t try to set the stage, center my emotions.

I didn’t make it a thing.

I opened the letter, and read it.

 

Self Portrait taken in 2009

Self Portrait taken during the dark years! 2009.

Now, back in 2009, my life was pretty damn different! I was a lonely, severely depressed, highly anxious college student with no free time because I overbooked myself with classes. I was stressed and decided I was to blame for that stress. I treated my body like it was public enemy #1 because I was the determined bounty hunter. Not an ideal person to be attached to! Every chance I got, I attacked myself, blamed myself, and tore myself apart with the guilt: Guilt on top of guilt, on top of guilt. I had so much anger but was so depressed and lost that I didn’t know where it was coming from. I blamed others and was a very, very difficult person to be around sometimes… especially if you were someone I loved and truly cared about. They took the hardest and most hits. Some stayed with me, some got the hell outta there. I never blamed them, although outwardly it would seem I did. Inwardly, I knew it was all me- but I was the queen of denial, queen of unhappiness, and queen of “I’m a freakin’ loser, woe is meeeEEEE!!!!”

But despite the terror that was I, I always had a spark. I knew what happiness had felt like. I knew I wanted to learn how to love myself better, and to treat everyone with love and respect.

Sadness? Dance it out!

So yeah, I knew vaguely what to expect from this letter. My past has been pretty well recorded. I’ve kept a personal blog since I was 14 and during 2009 in particular I wrote in it up to 9 times a day to relieve my mind of the destructive, obsessive thoughts that were morphing my mind into an all encompassing black hole of BLAH and AHH! And although throughout the blog I would curse myself, blame myself, tear myself apart- I knew it was because deep down, somewhere in the great abyss, I KNEW I had it within me to be better and find the light again. I just had no idea whether I was supposed to go right, left, – wait, did I pass go? I had never been lost before. And I had yet to find a working compass.

Alright, so I didn’t allow myself to think about all this the morning I remembered,

“That friggin’ letter!”

I just did it. I jumped in and didn’t have time to be a judgey-McJudgerson to my past and myself. “I’m sorry Mam’am, the baggage claim is on the wayyy other side of the building.” I was leaving my suitcase behind. All I needed was my ID and wallet: aka identity and abundance!

And so I read:

Dear Susie,

You know how you can be. You’re unbelievably talented and ambitious. I know you’re probably killing yourself right now to make things “perfect” or “just right” in your life. Just think like Eckhart Tolle- and think in the NOW- not the future.

You’re so smart and beautiful. You have so much going for you- so why create extra stress? I hope you’re still writing in your online journal- that’s good therapy. I hope you are where you didn’t expect to be in life- but in a good way. I’m only 21, young, naïve- you’re an uber adult now! What’s that about? Haha

I feel like I’m writing a letter to my older sister- because I just want things to work out for you/me. I hope you can make it happen- and you DID make it happen.

I think that’s all I’m going to say…

I’ll keep it short because I know it’s hard to read my own handwriting.

Toodles Susie!

I hope everything worked out

Love,

your younger self.

 

As soon as I read it, I wanted to write about my reaction, get my thoughts on it out. But life had other plans. Life reminded me that we’re constantly moving forward and not to focus on the past too much. As my mom always told me (especially back in 2009!) Rumination leads to Ruination.

Rumination Ruination

So, I moved on. I didn’t make it a thing.

This morning I wrote a new letter. I won’t say what’s in it- that would spoil the fun for Dec 2020! But I wanted to keep the tradition going: I wanted to have a reminder in the future of what it was like, and what I was thinking here in 2016.

It’s fun thinking how different I was in 2009, how much I’ve grown within that time: What I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, who I cared for. And I no longer harbor resentment for the pain I caused. I have learned from my mistakes, forgiven myself and I believe that is why I went through this ordeal: to strengthen myself.

And yeah, everything did work out. It’s still working out. I have much to be grateful for. When I was 21, I didn’t know these words: Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Abundance… I didn’t even know

Love.

Now I’m pretty confident I know what love is. I see it all around me, am able to connect with it, I feel it within me. Before, I would feel “love” but couldn’t communicate it, wanted to understand it and analyze it, ultimately stripping it of it’s magic. Now I just let it happen, I go with it. I can cherish others and especially myself.

I no longer need a letter to give myself something to look forward to. I look forward to everyday- but there’s something powerful about getting a glimpse of the past and recognizing the growth you have undergone, subtle or bold. It’s pretty remarkable.

So I’m making it a thing.

 

Photos taken by the lovely Sarah Bennett of www.bennetttrails.com

“She is Me”

2007

2007

I took the job.

Ridiculously happy? Me? Ermmm YEAH!!! This new job solves so many problems in my life! Moolah! Opportunity for leadership! Creative development! It opens up a world of possibility! But man, is this a transition period. Following that pure joy comes realization of things I must leave behind. I did not comprehend how hard it would be to leave my current job. I have grown very fond of the atmosphere, positive music, encouraging bosses and fellow employees. My friends are there, mentors in life! And I fear that sense of loneliness as I part ways with them.

Yes, I will make new friends.

Yes, I will find other mentors.

Yes this job is a leadership position, with new opportunities- and yes! That can be scary.

This is all a good thing.

I am ready for this opportunity. I am hungry for it, even! I have realized the strength within me, my capabilities, and I know I can rock the socks off this new job. I believe in karma, and for years I thought I was being punished for choices I had made, actually a negative attitude I had trouble letting go of. But now I realize that I was doing it to myself. As my mom used to tell me (ok, yeah, pretty often) “Susie, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face!” I was my own worst enemy. I was terrified, fighting for survival. There was no need for that; I was alive, I was capable of happiness and love. I created my own suffering. I was punishing myself, thinking myself small, weak. This perspective was self-fulfilling. I think therefore I am (err, was!)

But giirrrrllllllllLLLL, look at you now! And most importantly, look at the people in your life that stood by you as you found your way.

Gratitude.

Recently, it was Appreciate yo’ awesome Bosses day! At the retail job I work at, a customer was buying a gift for her boss and informed me of this. I knew it was a perfect opportunity to show my bosses, mentors, friends how I felt about them and how much I appreciated their patience, kindness, and support. It was even more apparent I should do something for them because now The End was in sight! How I would miss them! How they have helped me get to where I am going now! I am overflowing with gratitude.

So, I bought them gifts. I took the time to write letters to them, letting them know how their leadership affected me. I wrapped their gifts, folded their letters, all with love. I took my time.

I never really did that before. I never really put effort into wrapping a gift “What’s the point? They’ll just rip it open! Neglect the wrapping!” But at my sister’s baby shower, I saw a woman make a Tricycle out of baby supplies and it made me rethink that belief.

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Oh, wait… that’s creative! Time was put into that! I was so impressed!!

So what if I approached things differently? I knew I wanted to be more open with friends, family, hell– even strangers!– About the light I see within them. I wanted to encourage and support others as I have been encouraged and supported. Talking can be challenging for me, I get self-conscious, pull inward. However, writing and creating have always been my best forms of communicating. And what’s nifty is a creation hangs around, tangible, recorded. Spoken words can be floating, lost, forgotten, jumbled around by faulty neurotransmitters.

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Taking the time to take the time for others really made me feel good (and it’s all about me, right?). Writing those letters really solidified my future for me too. I’m moving on to a bigger job, more responsibility, and without my last job I would have never been prepared to take this on. I am forever grateful for that experience, for those friends. I learned how to treat everybody with kindness, patience, because I witnessed others doing just that.

Gabrielle Bernstein once mentioned a thought her inner voice mentioned to her. She was upset, taking her anger out on a poor worker behind a desk. She was mad at the situation, not the worker and suddenly she had the thought:

She is me

She instantly pulled back her anger, apologized, realized it was misplaced aggression and voiced her fears. This vulnerability, honesty, broke down the wall that her fear and anger were creating. The result? They both relaxed, were able to open up to each other, and create a harmonious interaction, even making a new friend!

I wrote that phrase down as soon as I heard it. It’s GOLD! Often we can place ourselves higher than others, or the opposite by putting people on pedestals. Each time we do this, we fail to see that person as equal, one of us. She is me. He is me!

The day after I heard these wise words, I applied it to my job. Each customer who came up to ring out, I practiced letting my guard down, placed my judgement of whatever they were wearing, or whatever look they had on their face aside, and did me. “She is me. I am talking to me.” I knew, on the flip side, I would have appreciated a genuine interaction with a sales associate. I am quirky, fidgety, I hum a lot! I used to view these traits as “abnormal‘ appropriate for scrutiny, but in reality, it’s just me! It gives me joy to hum, gives me joy to dance around, tap my fingers. If I can share my joy openly, that shit is usually contagious! I told myself each customer who came my way had that same joy, that same desire to dance and sing! They get it! And I Tore Down That Wall, released that leash!

And it was one of thee best day‘s I’ve had to date.

Not only did it help the other person relax, open up, tear down their walls– but it released my social anxiety. I was being me, and I was reaping the benefits! Learning about others, hearing their stories propels me, motivates me! If I clam up, censor myself and my feelings, I lose that opportunity to be inspired by the fascinating lives around me.

And who wants that?