Episode 5: Creativity as a Mental Health Practice with Theodora Blanchfield

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Overview

Today I’m chatting with writer Theodora Blanchfield about the role creative work has played in her mental health journey. In this candid conversation, Theodora shares what caring for her mental health has meant for her in the aftermath of her mother’s death from cancer and while she’s navigated other challenges including career changes and breakups.

Guest: Theodora Blanchfield

Theodora Blanchfield is a Los Angeles-based writer and podcaster. She’s blogged for 10 years at Preppy Runner, where she’s written about everything from weight loss to marathons to grief and mental health. Her bylines have appeared in Women’s Health, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Healthline and more!

She’s the host of This May Be Oversharing, a podcast where she talks about the things we don’t usually talk about, because that’s what really needs to be talked about. The seven-time marathoner is also a certified running coach, personal trainer and yoga instructor, and she’s working on her first book.

Links

Here’s what we discussed on this episode:

Transcript

Intro

You’re listening to How to Be Creative, a podcast about what it means to be creative across different disciplines, industries, life circumstances, and career structures. You’ll learn tips for fitting creativity into your daily life and hear from a bunch of different people about how being creative has helped them reach goals, open doors, and live a more rewarding–or at least more interesting–life. I’m your host, Kat O’Leary, and I’m excited to introduce you to some of my favorite creatives, as well as to the tools that help me get my most crucial work done.

Episode

Kat: Hi, and welcome to How to Be Creative. So today I’m really excited to bring you this conversation with Tiffany Han, host of the Raise Your Hand Say Yes podcast. Tiffany is a life coach who teaches smart driven women how to become the most remarkable versions of themselves and learn to just raise their hands and say yes to all the things they want to do and say without compromising their standards or their sanity. Tiffany, thank you so much for joining me. I thank you. I’m so excited to be here. I’m so excited. So, um, as we were chatting a little bit before we started recording, um, I was saying to Tiffany that I think this episode is going to be a little bit different from some of the others that I’ve recorded so far in that, um, you know, for the past, well this is the final month actually of your year long Raise Your Hand Say Yes Inner Circle Course, um, that I’ve been a part of. And so I feel like I’ve spent the past now 11 plus months really, really engaging with your work. Um, and so I’m really excited to introduce you and what you were about to some new people, um, and then also kind of demystify sort of what, what you do, um, what you do with your students, et Cetera, and the people you coach. Um, so I guess what makes sense, um, to me it’s probably, if you don’t mind just starting out by talking a little bit about kind of the background of your, um, you know, sort of your career as a coach and how you got here.

Kat: So today my guest is my friend Theodora Blanchfield and Theodora is a writer who writes about mental health and fitness. She she does that at Preppy Runner, at preppyrunner.com, right? Yup. And then, um, she also podcasts at this may be oversharing because Theodora believes that the stuff that we don’t talk about is the stuff we most need to talk about. So Theodora and I have been friends for a few years. We met through our volunteer work. Um, and I asked her to join the show today to talk a little bit about creativity as a mental health practice. Um, so Theodora I don’t know where you want to get started on that and maybe it makes sense to talk a little bit about your mental health journey and what is that, what that has looked like and then kind of, um, how it’s sort of evolved your creative work from, um, you know, originally you were really more focused on like the health and fitness part of this, that world. Um, and now it’s really, um, more of like an overall wellness, um, kind of thing where like you talk a lot and very candidly about your mental health, which I think is awesome and stuff that a lot of people need to hear and need to talk about. Sorry.

Theodora: First of all, thank you so much for having me. Yes. Okay. I had my, I’m gonna embarrass you. I mean, no, please do hire your creativity. So I’m honored that you admire mine. Um, so I mean, I think really my mental health and creativity stuff kind of go together and are interwoven. So like Kat said, I started blogging at, well it was originally called Losing Weight in the City. I started blogging there in March, 2009 which is 10 years.

Kat: Yes. That’s so amazing. Congratulations! Your blog is in fifth grade.

Theodora: Well, if you put that way. Yeah. Um, time is weird. Um, I started blogging there because I was 2000, like I said, 2009 right after the recession, I was working at a legal print magazine, which was every bit as fun as it sounded.

Kat: That was DC, right?

Theodora: No, that was here. I had been working in an act of political trade magazine in D C and I want him to get up, move up here and in lifestyle, but I kind of got pigeonholed into working for trade magazines. I started working for that magazine in June, 2008 so I learned a few months later that I was just lucky to have a job. But I was lucky as I was to have a job then it didn’t mean I liked it. Right. So I was also trying to lose weight. I was trying to lose 50 pounds for a friend’s wedding and Aruba and I decided, okay, I need digital skills, I want to lose weight. Let me kind of start doing the two together. You know, typical blog story. Didn’t think anyone, but my mom would read.

Kat: At least your mom read it. I feel like a lot of people’s parents are eating on this podcast, so we have pastries in front of us. Yeah. Um, but I feel like honestly not everyone’s parents support their art. Even just having your mom that’s like better than a lot of people are doing.

Theodora: That’s true. Um, yeah. So I started, I didn’t, didn’t really know what I was doing, kind of figured it out along the way. Like if I look back at those old posts, like they are incredibly cringe-worthy, like terrible iPhone photos. Not that my photography has risen to some elevated level. Um, iPhones have just gotten better. But my blog kind of started, you know, I guess really following my journey and like Kat said, you know, at the beginning that was weight loss and I lost the weight successfully, thankfully started parlaying the blog into moving into a career in social media, which was also part of my goal. And then I got really, really into running and with a blog called Losing Weight in the City, people would be like, oh, are you trying to lose weight? And I’d be like, are you saying I looked like I needed to?

Kat: And it just became an awkward title and basically turned something that I think was probably very personal for you despite having a public blog about it, like into like an invitation for other people to comment.

Theodora: to comment on my weight,

Kat: which is disgusting.

Theodora: Yes, exactly. So in 2013 I had become pretty obsessed with running at that point I was training for, I think it was my fourth marathon. I was training for the New York City Marathon and I was trying to break four hours, which I did.

Kat: Oh my God, you’re amazing.

Theodora: Which is honestly still one of the best days of my life.

Kat: Wow. Um, that’s incredible. And as someone who ran the New York marathon in November and did not have a great day, I like admire you even more.

Theodora: The four times that I’ve run the New York marathon have been four of the best days of my life. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had really good experiences. Um, so I changed my blog to Preppy Runner then and it was at that point, that was when I also started writing about mental health stuff. I was connect curse. Yeah. Excellent. I was at a really shitty job and I started having these really terrible panic attacks because I felt like nothing I could do at this job was right. Yeah. I’ve been there. Yup. And I one day had to go home and go straight to my doctor because I was having such a bad panic attack. I got to my doctor, my blood pressure was something like one 40 or one 50 over like a hundred. And I was like, this isn’t okay. And she gave me a prescription for Xanax. I wrote about this all a few days later on my blog and just the outpouring of support and comments that I got was amazing. And you know, obviously I’ve been afraid to share something that personal and that raw. This was also six years ago when mental health wasn’t as big of a part of the conversation.

Kat: Yeah, that’s a really good point.

Theodora: And I was like, okay, um, this is a thing. I can talk about this, I can start this conversation. So that was 2013. I’m 20 actually at the end of that year, I got laid off and started a new job that same year. The new job that I started was basically the polar opposite of the old job. I loved it. Everyone was so supportive, except the anxiety still continued. Because at that point I was like, oh, this is too good to be true.

Kat: Oh yeah, I think that’s a very normal experience.

Theodora: The other shoe, I was afraid the other shoe was going to drop. Anytime I saw my coworkers talking, I was confused about was about me.

Kat: And the fact that you were gonna get fired. Yep. Um, so it’s interesting cause I, sorry to interrupt you. Like I had a very common experience so I had a horrible four months into the job from the fall of 2016 to early 2017 and um, yeah. And it was, it was horrific. It was so horrific that like when I left that job, the most overpowering, um, feeling that I assumed that I had through that experience was relief even though I didn’t have anything else lined up yet. But I, I’ve been, fortunately it was interviewing, etc. But when I first started the job that I have now, which I love and is the polar opposite of the toxic environment that I’d been in, I had the same thing. Like I was constantly worried. Like even if I made, anytime I made a tiny mistake, I thought I was going to get fired, which is like, actually that’s not what happens at a healthy workplace with normal people. Yeah. It’s like a bad relationship or managing their own stuff and like aren’t super ego-driven and are like just basically kind, normal people. So I totally relate. So sorry to interrupt you with that sidebar, but yeah, I get it.

Theodora: Yeah. It’s, I think it’s a pretty common experience. And I think another thing that we don’t talk about, you know, people are like, oh, it’s just work. But it’s not.

Kat: No it’s not. And in New York, especially in New York or New York.

Theodora: Where we live at our jobs, we’re defined by our job. Um, but I had started therapy when I started having the panic attacks and you know, was still after I got let go from that job, I was still anxious cause then I didn’t have a job and I was looking for a job and was convinced I was never going to find one because I was this terrible employee and terrible person because I got let go. Um, so once I started the new job I was like, oh, everything’s fine. I don’t need therapy anymore. But I realized how much those beliefs that the other shoe was gonna drop, that everyone was talking about me, how pervasive they were and how they were really affecting my ability to do my job. To do this job that I loved. Yeah. So I started therapy again. I was in the, I guess the spring of 2014 and haven’t really stopped since then. I tried and I’m skipping around a little bit now, but I tried, I’ve tried twice in those five years to stop therapy. Um, both times my mom got diagnosed with cancer. Yeah. One time was the first time and then it came back and I was like, okay, so bad things happen when I stopped there. Get so not good. Stop there. [inaudible].

Kat: What a mind fuck that is though. Right? Right. Yet you’re like, oh, I did this. I cause this, I stopping therapy and I’m bad. I’m like, I mean I worked so hard to break myself of the pattern of like thinking like, Oh, you know, everything bad that happens is a punishment for me not doing what I’m supposed to do. And I actually think now that now that I’m thinking about it, um, I have more or less broken myself with that pattern. Thank you therapy. Um, but like at that level, like I can’t even imagine. That’s, yeah. I mean, but you did not cause your mom to get sick. Right.

Theodora: Right. I know that stopping therapy did not cause that, but it certainly felt like it. Yeah. Um, but so, you know, I had started therapy kind of addressing anxiety. I got really deep to the roots of all the anxiety and it mostly went away no sooner than it went away. Did I start getting really depressed? Yeah. Which my therapist at the time told me was pretty normal. Yeah. Um, and I kind of had what felt like seasonal blues that just didn’t go away for six or seven months. And that was when I finally consented to start taking medication. Yeah. Um, my therapist had suggested before and I was like, oh, I don’t need that. And I was like, you know what? This has been going on seven or eight months that I felt this way. Like, enough is enough. And so I’m a, as I said earlier, I’d love to run and I was injured at the time that I started. I decided to start taking medication. Not being able to run was like my last straw. Like it was one of my biggest coping skills at the time.

Kat: I was going to say running is like I started running during business school because I, and I don’t want to get into a huge other conversation about this, but, um, like I went through a horrible breakup, the very beginning of business school and I at the time like was so I had so much anxiety I could not breathe. And I was like, well, I can either take a shot of whiskey, not a great idea when your class is starting before 9:00 AM or I can like go run. Even I would just run like one or two miles. And like even that like running became a huge coping strategy for me and like.

Theodora: Or you could run and then take a shot of whiskey.

Kat: Yeah, that’s true. But probably not before driving to class or like going to class at like eight 30 in the morning. Yeah. But yeah, no, I think running, running like was basically uh, like started as like a form of, I don’t like to say this. I need to think a little bit about how I want to say this, but like to me it’s like a form of therapy but I do not at all think.

Theodora: It’s very therapeutic but it’s not therapy.

Kat: That’s a good way of putting it. Thank you. Yeah. People say running is therapy in that it’s like, like what am I biggest actually scares me cause I’m like are you get, are you doing all the other stuff you need to maintain your mental health? Like, and I don’t want to project like not, I mean I think therapy’s amazing. I’ve learned so much about myself through it. Um, I also don’t like to project like my own stuff onto other people. Like I think that there are multiple ways to get to a place where you’re able to manage your mental health in a way that works for you. And like therapy I think is a very strong version of that. But it’s not, everything is for everyone all the time, always, you know, so yeah.

Theodora: So yeah. So without running as, you know, one of my biggest coping skills in my life, I was like, no. Like I just can’t anymore. I started taking medication. Then three months after that my mom got diagnosed with cancer. So kind of in retrospect, I was like, well, I’m glad I’m already on medication. Um, my mom got diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the long story short of that, she had maybe six months or so, she was in treatment. She responded so well. She went into remission and really like, okay, great. Like this was, this is John that chapters over. This was like the shitty time that we had in our lives that we had to go through and like, we’re good now. We’re good. Everything can return to normal. So we were really lucky and that everything did kind of return to normal for about four months.

Theodora: And looking back, I’m so grateful now that we had those four months. Yeah. Um, but then she, and during those four months is when I was like, everything is great now. My mommy better. Um, I love my job. I’ve made, I’ve gotten the anxiety under control. Cool. Stop therapy. Yeah. Stop for like two weeks. And then she got the cancer came back and I was like, okay. So yeah I’m going back to therapy. So unfortunately the second time around she did not respond as well to treatment as she did the first time around. Had this really big emergency surgery in December of 2016 she had an emergency bowel resection. Friends who are doctors didn’t tell me at the time, but that even without cancers and incredibly risky surgery, it’s like 50% survival rate. Like I’m glad nobody told me that at the time. Well I think it makes sense though cause my, I mean it makes sense for them not to tell you they’re going to do with that.

Kat: It doesn’t, it doesn’t change the reality. And also it, I dunno, I think like people have talked a lot about like, patients who have, you know, who are, have a positive outlook and have hope are more like to and like, so for you it’s PR and your mom is probably good for you to have like, yeah. That kind of energy around her versus like, you secretly know that like this is, I mean, I’m sure she knew the odds and didn’t tell you either, but right.

Theodora: Yeah. I think we all knew but didn’t want to acknowledge it. Yeah. Except for my dad who called the priest for last rights and I was like, nope, this lady is not dying. So, uh, no.

Kat: Yeah, I think that’s so dad-like though, right? It’s like what practical tasks can I take on?

Theodora: And it’s like, I appreciate that, but like think a little bit about how that’s going to be received right now. And he said it right in front of her too and I was like, nope, nope, nope. You go outside. Yeah. You go outside right now. So the very long story short of that is that that was really kind of the beginning of the end. Um, you know, thing after thing went wrong. Um, she never recovered from it. So she passed away in July of 2017 and clearly I’m still going to therapy throughout all of this. I, you know, knew it was coming. It was very obvious when all of her bodily system started shutting down or needed like medical assistance. Like it was, it was pretty clear what was happening. So yeah, my therapist, I talked about it a lot and I felt like I was as prepared as possible to handle it.

Theodora: I was in the immediate aftermath. Um, but that turned into a very long and very serious mental health journey. Um, so that was July of 2017 that she passed away. Six weeks later I got dumped, six weeks after that I got laid off from this job that I had really loved. Somehow I managed to make it through the rest of 2017. I was running the marathon. I went to Ireland on a solo trip right after that. I was focusing on getting through the holidays and getting my friends and I were going on a trip to South America. I kept having all these things to look forward to. That kind of kept me hanging on.

Kat: But then I think it’s also hard to be like to have your ability to navigate things like dependent on external stuff. Llike that doesn’t work for me. Sorry like not trying to project my stuff onto you, but like for me if I’m ever like–

Theodora: It’s a Band-Aid.

Kat: Yeah. To me that that doesn’t work.

Theodora: So yeah, it got me through until I got back from it kind of got me through until I got back from South America. It kept me, it kept me from entirely falling apart. Then I got back from South America. It’s mid January in New York, which is a depressing time in and of itself. If you don’t have shit going on, don’t come here to visit then God, No God, no. Stay wherever you are unless it’s Alaska, maybe come visit. Um, and then I also had to face all of this. Yeah. Not having a job, not having my mom. I honestly couldn’t have cared less about this guy. He was just a Douche.

Kat: Right. But it was one more thing on the pile.

Theodora: And there was left to face all of this and things got really, really dark for me. Um, I was thinking a lot about ending it all. And then that March I had had basically what was a really, really rough weekend for a whole variety of reasons. And I came home and after having a few drinks, I took a handful of pills. I immediately regretted it and took myself to the hospital, which ended up being a week in the psych ward. And going into that, one of my, one of my friends and her mom came to the hospital and they were like, oh, you know, you should go do an inpatient thing. And I was like, no, I’m good. I don’t need that. I’m fine. Not fine, but I don’t need something dress. Right.

Kat: Yeah. Because we always have this idea that that stuffs for other people.

Theodora: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Like, yeah, even checking into the psych ward, I’m looking around at everyone and I’m like, this is very privileged and an asshole. But like, well, I don’t, I don’t look like them. Yeah. I don’t belong here. You know?

Kat: I think that’s very honest and I think that’s, I mean, what a lot of people probably think in that situation.

Theodora: On the surface I look like, I think I can look like I have my shit together. Yeah. Um, that did not mean that I didn’t need it. They asked if I wanted to do an intensive outpatient program, which was, um, like five days of therapy a week. That’s like three or four hours of group therapy. Like three individual sessions. Still thought I didn’t need that. No, I’m okay. I can manage this. I’ll be okay. I’ll figure it out. I think I’ve really thought that that was just the wake up call that I needed and I would be able to pull, pull myself out from there. You know, with the help of my therapist, with the help of my psychiatrist, I started doing twice weekly therapy sessions. Well, it’s not really enough. I like managed to hold things together for a few weeks, fall apart all over again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Few months later my doctor diagnosed me with bipolar, which was a terrifying diagnosis to receive. Yeah. Um, but it kind of,

Kat: Because it’s so stigmatized, right? I mean that’s the thing, right. And like I will say like I, I have throughout my life I’ve had several friends diagnosed with bipolar or other mental health diagnoses that are kind of similarly thought about in our cultural narrative. And they are all living fulfilling productive lives and amid like having to man, this is just one thing you have to manage. But I don’t think that’s the cultural conversation we’re having. Right. And I think like, so as a result of that, like to be given that diagnosis, it feels more dire than it probably has to be. Right.

Theodora: I mean it is a very serious illness and you know, untreated, you know, the rates of suicide and suicide attempts are much higher than bipolar and I guess other similar diseases than in the general population. Yeah, yeah. Um, but that I think began starting to get me on the right path with the right medications. I thought I was doing a little better. I moved to California for the fall.

Theodora: It was a Band-Aid. Yeah. Well it was a Band-Aid I think. No, I think I knew that going into it too, but I had to try it. I came back and I came back right before the holidays, took another big trip, came back, basically it was on this same crash cycles I’d been on the year before. Almost 11 months to the day I ended myself back up in the hospital. Literally same exact thing. Um, even down to, it was a Sunday night again. It was after I’d been out with friends and had been drinking and took pills again. Yeah. Same time of night. Like I recognized the doctors and the nurses that were there the previous time and that didn’t feel good. And I was like, okay, now I’m like this repeat patient. And they asked me if I wanted to be admitted and I was like, no, but thank you for asking.

Theodora: Because I knew that the purpose of being admitted to a psych ward in a general hospital like that is only to keep you safe and stable. And I did believe that I could do that temporarily. Ending myself up in the hospital again like that, I realized immediately that I did need more serious treatment. So I started looking up residential treatment programs, so meaning going away, um, you know, being under 24 hours supervision. I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified. One of my very good friends said, “Okay, I’m gonna make you a deal. I’m going to help you with the research.” I was terrified to tell my dad because I also needed his help paying because these things are not cheap. Terrified to tell my dad. She was like, “I’m gonna help you with research. I’m going to call your dad if you go.” I can’t say no to that. Right. So I ended up going to a center in San Diego. Of course. Now I wish I had done it earlier. It was,

Kat: But you went when you were ready to go. I mean, and actually if you’d gone earlier–

Theodora: I don’t think it would, would’ve gotten as much out of it. Exactly. Um, like I,

Kat: I understand that you need to like re-litigate stuff like that. Right? But like, yeah, cause I do it all the time. But also, yeah. You went when you went, when you were ready to go. Yeah. And even going into it,

Theodora: I still don’t know how ready I was. I was going, I was going for other people. I wasn’t going for myself. Yeah. I was going because I knew that people in my life were worried and it didn’t feel fair to keep doing this to them.

Kat: I think that’s a form of readiness though. Yeah, I guess you know, because it’s not like that was new information that people were worried about you trio, you know?

Theodora: That’s very true. Yes. So I picked the place that I did because it also like Kat I’m into all the woo-woo stuff.

Kat: Oh yeah. Have to be, that’s why we’re friends. We live in 2019, like hand me a healing crystal fucking crystal. This plane sucks. Let’s try a higher one.

Theodora: Like seriously. So I like, you know that they considered more holistic therapies. I liked that they took us to the gym every day. If I haven’t previously established, I’m kind of addicted to working out. We also had lots of journaling groups. So the like overall structure was kind of similar to the outpatient stuff that I had mentioned. We had five days of therapy, a week, five hours, and so that was mostly group therapy other than meeting with our individual therapists. Terrified. Walking into all of that, especially group therapy. I’m like, what the fuck is this?

Kat: It’s hard for me to wrap myself around that amount of therapy as a person for whom like therapy was once a week for an hour. And like even that, like felt like so much work and so much like thinking between sessions about like what I still needed to work on. Right. Things like that. Like I it’s yeah, it’s amazing that you did this. I can imagine why that was extremely daunting.

Theodora: Thank you. The first, so the first day I wrote in my journal, I don’t know if I can ever be happy again. I don’t know if this is gonna work the first day of groups. I think as soon as we were done I just crawled back into bed because I was so overwhelmed and I still didn’t see a path to where or how that would truly help me. Yeah. Um, and yeah, it is by far the most intense thing I have ever done in my life. There were some sessions that I was literally physically uncomfortable. There was one session with my therapist that I wish there was like a time lapse video of, because I’m sitting on this Adirondack chair cause we were out in San Diego in the sun and I’m just like rubbing my hands on the chair like the entire time I’m squirming, I’m so uncomfortable. But my therapist was amazing and you know, she would just keep pulling and get this stuff out of me. I’m like, where did this come from? And then she would totally validate it. “Of course. Of course. I understand why you would feel that way and let’s figure out how we move forward.” Yeah. So yeah, it was the best, oh maybe not the best six weeks of my life. I don’t know.

Kat: So let’s get this straight. So the best days of your life have been checking into inpatient mental health, like an inpatient mental health facility and running a marathon with a lot of hills four times.

Theodora: I don’t know what this says about my personality.

Kat: I think it’s really helpful to understand like exactly what all that looks like and like how you got to that point. And I think no one fucking ever talks about it. Right. That’s a really good point ever. Like I’ve never, I can’t, I listened to a million podcasts, I listened to him, I’ve listened to a million discussions about mental health. I’ve never really heard someone talk about, “Here are the false starts that I’ve had. And then here’s like when things got real bad, and then here’s when I said, all right, I’m going to do nothing about this. And I did it. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. Um, I really feel like we don’t, we don’t have candid conversations about what like this truly what you just walked through is truly a mental health journey. And I feel like we don’t have that conversation enough right now.

Theodora: We either see people like in the midst of it or you see people who have like zero visibility to like where they are, what they’re going through. Right. Or you see like the shiny happy success story, right.

Kat: Exactly. Like, Oh, I’m, here’s my story. I went to therapy and now I’m fixed. Which by the way, not a real thing. Right. Like, it’s basically, yeah, I know, like therapy just gives you the tools to continue to fix yourself for the rest of your life. You know?

Theodora: That’s a great way to put.

New Speaker: Like probably at some point, or maybe you’ll need to go back into therapy. So I’m not currently seeing a therapist, but I, it’s not, it would not be surprising to me if at some point in my life I’m back in a place where I need some additional tools, um, that I don’t have quite yet. So, um, yeah. So I would love to kind of transition into like what, what creativity has kind of meant to you or looked like for you along the way. Um, how you use like creative practices and here this can mean literally anything. It can mean, obviously you’re a writer, you’ve got your podcast. Um, even things like, honestly just picking out like which healing crystals or like I’m looking at your bracelets, which are amazing.

Theodora: I’m wearing four different beaded bracelets right now.

Kat: Yeah. And they’re gorgeous.

Theodora: Five. Yeah. Um, but things like that, that I think, I mean, that’s a creative practice. Like figuring out like, oh, what combination of things do I need to like get through the day? So I guess I’ve, I’ve always been a writer. I was gonna say, I’ve always considered myself a writer, but that’s actually kind of a lie. Even though I have a journalism major and have been working in creative and content stuff since I graduated.

Kat: But isn’t it interesting? So you haven’t, okay. So from my, to my mind, you’ve always been a writer. True. You’ve always considered yourself a writer, maybe not true. There’s this idea that like, oh, I’m only a writer if they write in the specific under these specific circumstances or I’m getting paid for it, or other people are reading my work or whatever. And like frankly, if you write, you’re right. It’s just not true. If you sit down and write, you’re a writer. Right?

Theodora: So right after my mom died, so since I’d started this blog, you know, basically everything I had written up until my mom died, I did write for public consumption. Yeah. I had never really written for myself at all. I was a journalism major and a blogger. I was used to writing for other people. One of my friends at the time who had lost both of her parents was like, you know, you should really start journaling. I did that when I lost my parents and it was really helpful. I am so grateful that my friend suggested it because losing your mother, you have more emotions than you know what to do with more emotion being flooded with more emotions than I ever had in my entire life.

Kat: And new ones that are like, what? I don’t, I don’t recognize this. I don’t know how to name this. Yeah.

Theodora: And you know, talking to friends, going to therapy, still, none of that was enough to get all of this out of my head. Yeah. So I started journaling. I started transitioning some of my writing more into personal essays. So it was really, at that time, kind of a combination of both writing for myself and letting myself explore all of those feelings and exploring all of those feelings kind of took my professional writing in a different direction that I, you know, I don’t think I ever would’ve been able to find you without doing that writing for myself and doing that. That’s so interesting. I love that deep reflection that, you know, I don’t think I could have done if I were trying to blog about that.

Kat: Because you can’t, there are certain things that you would never put in a blog post because you, you, you’re allowed to have boundaries. You’re allowed to have things that you keep inside that other people don’t get to know about and yet it’s probably still very valuable for you to know about those things. On a level, like a, a conscious level where it’s not just like I’ve got all this buried shit that I’ve never examined. Like at this, I suspect like and I, it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation about journaling today.

Kat: Cause as I mentioned, I’m going to write a journal, a journaling class, I think it’s called journaling 101 tonight because I have decided that I need to start journaling. Um, I did all through like junior high and high school, but I really have dropped that practice as an adult and I kind of think like it would be beneficial to me as well. So, yeah.

Theodora: No, I mean I, I kind of think of it as really just like a life changing practice. So I did a little bit of research on, you know, kind of why it’s so helpful. It’s so cool.

Kat: Yeah, I would love to hear about that. Thank you for coming better prepared than I did Theodora shows up and I’m like, so I just want you to know, uh, I didn’t do any prep work for this and I’m hoping we can just do our usual conversational stuff.

Theodora: I knew that I would babble, so I wanted to at least know, yeah, things , but I mean journaling it like helps you access things that you wouldn’t otherwise. And creativity is so helpful for mental health because it focuses the mind and it’s even been compared to meditation.

Kat: Wow. Right. Okay. That’s awesome. And that is new information to me. So I love that, but at the same time though, it kind of makes sense that it’s meditative because at least for me with writing, um, you get into a flow, you get into a flow and like my brain will often just almost go blank. And then, I mean, unless I’m like trying to solve a problem in like a work of fiction, let’s say, where I actually have to like consciously think about it. And yet even still sometimes going for a walk and freeing myself of it will help. Um, but I do find there’s sort of this, there are these like lulls in my, when I’m really in flow, like my brain goes blank and then I just have like there are words, they’re coming from somewhere, they’re landing on a page. Um, but it’s not me. It’s not my brain, my overactive brain that’s like creating this.

Theodora: Right. And so actually fun facts. Oh, awesome. I love fun facts when you get into that kind of flow. So I mean, when you create things, you’re creating tangible results and creating those tangible results turns into your brain releasing dopamine.

Kat: Oh, right. Wait, that makes total sense. There’s a science reason behind this.

Theodora: There’s physical effects that it’s having on your brain. It’s literally being creative literally changes your brain.

Kat: Oh my God. That’s amazing. We have, by the way, I’m clipping that for like the Internet. Yeah. Being creative literally changes your brain. Wow. That’s amazing. Oh my God. Thank you for validating my entire podcast.

Theodora: Entire life.

Kat: Yeah. Seriously. My entire life. Thank you for validating my entire life, my entire existence. Um, wow. That’s so cool. Um, yeah. And so like, well, so that all makes sense. And then, I don’t know, is there anything, so as you, like, what do you think has most changed about like your creative work or your creative over the past couple of years while you’ve been dealing with all of this stuff that you’ve been dealing with?

Theodora: Wow. That’s a good question. You know, so actually last year, right after I got out of the hospital, I went to a writing retreat.

Kat: Yeah, that’s right. And our friend Lara went too, right?

Theodora: Yeah.

Kat: Right. Cool.

Theodora: Yes. Um, and that was honestly kind of life changing. Like if I look back at last year, that is probably the highlight of my year. Yeah. And so I would say that that really changed things in, I really felt like it was okay to consider myself a writer or to consider myself an artist. That if I had things to put out in the world that they were valuable, that my contribution creatively and artistically mattered just as much as the person sitting next to me.

Kat: Yeah. Well my whole, one of the things I really like that I think has been repeated ad nauseum is this idea that like only you are the like what your creative output or whatever you’re putting out into the world, you are literally the only person who can do it exactly in your way. Um, so I listened to this podcast, it’s called, so she’s @thealisonshow on Instagram, but her, her podcast is Awesome with Alison. I started listening to that a few times about it. Love her. I think she like amazing energy, but her like closing line is always only you can be you and you’re already as awesome as you need to be. And Like I love that and it’s just, it’s such a good reminder. Um, but yeah, this idea that only you can be you, cause I think we’re all so self critical and like, right, these are like the things that are wrong with me that everyone else has nailed and everyone else’s saying perfectly all the time always.

Kat: I mean everyone has those things but it almost doesn’t matter because whatever your mix of stuff is, you are truly the only person in the entire world who is going to be you. And that’s a good thing.

Theodora: Damn. So one of the other things that was really transformative, um, all of these have taken, leaving New York, by the way too, to find.

Kat: That actually might be a pattern that you should explore. Maybe I don’t want to be here. Oh wait, you are exploring it.

Theodora: I’m moving to California next week!

Kat: But it’s like not, I think this feels, this version of moving to California. It feels very different from the like dipping my toe into leaving California that you did before.

Theodora: Yeah. No, totally. Um, but when, so when I was in treatment, they had us do art therapy the first day. I was like, oh good God. Yeah. Like my art is words. I, I don’t know about any of this visual shit. Yeah. And we started every art therapy with meditation. Yup. Um, sort of like kind of pre get yourself into a flow and you know, we did stuff like painting and drawing and of course I start in, most of us started with, well, I’m not an artist. And like if I can’t do this perfect, then it’s not good. I never considered myself a perfectionist because I was like, well, my output isn’t perfect, so therefore I’m not a perfectionist. No, that’s not true. But over the course of all of this art therapy, which I mean, there were some days that I was kicking and screaming inside, not wanting to go. Um, you know, because that kind of art brings a lot of feelings out too, which I had never really considered it because I just didn’t consider myself an artist. Right. Um, you know, and being a professional writer, a lot of my thinking is, okay, how can I monetize this? Yes. How can I make more money on my blog? How can I pitch this to x, Y, Z outlet?

Kat: It’s like, it almost turns your life into like a content farm or something. Like you’re just going to instantly track content, ties everything you’re doing and that can’t be healthy.

Theodora: But it, it really gave me permission to do things and suck at them and still get enjoyment out of them. Which other than surfing, surfing is the thing that I’ve loved. But say it’s my favorite thing. I Suck at other than surfing, I don’t know if I’ve ever let myself do that in my life.

Kat: So that’s me with running. Like I’m allowed to be bad at this, which I think has been a very healthy thing for me to overcome. My like achievement oriented perfectionist tendencies. You’re in New York tendencies. Yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t grow up here. Like I clearly don’t. I like that you’re lying and I’m ported. That shit. True.

Theodora: True. Um, but yeah, I started, you know, I started doing stuff like drawing and being shitty at it. Coloring and not always being able to stay in the lines even though I’m 36, I’m like, I love it. When I was a little kid, side note, they said that I lacked motor skills. I’m 36 and I think I still do. I might attribute it to drinking too much caffeine. I’m gonna that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Um, you know, I, I actually am made one of the bracelets that I’m wearing. Um, you know, so giving myself permission to do that kind of stuff. Realizing through the course of all the notes that I took throughout this, Oh, I actually have pretty good handwriting. Play with lettering and realizing that I could get into all of that stuff and you could feel good and I didn’t have to walk into Michael’s and be like, I want to do this, but I suck at it.

Kat: I mean, have you seen my, like my mind, like kind of meta artwork that I did that says I am not afraid to make bad art. Yes. Soif you look at it, it’s right. Yeah. It’s like right in my living room and I like, I feel like, I love that as a reminder of like, I think and my other, my other thing is like, bad art is better than no art. It’s way better. Yeah. Um, so I love this and I think also there’s like the thing about calling yourself an artist, I think one thing, at least a struggle for me has been, oh, well I’m not a visual artist so I can call myself an artist. Yeah. And I don’t believe that anymore, but I still think it’s like a little bit of a stumbling block sometimes when I’m like, like my friend Lauren is this brilliant visual artist. She is a painter. She’s extremely gifted. Um, and so, you know, sometimes I’ll go to her studio and I’ll see the work that she’s done or I’ll go to a show that she’s done and I’m like, I’m not on that level, therefore I don’t deserve this title.

Theodora: And I never considered myself an artist because I’ve only ever written nonfiction, either journalism or now, you know, kind of creative nonfiction. Yeah. But yeah, it took me awhile to embrace that. I’m air quotes artistic.

Kat: Totally. Well, I mean, the name of this podcast is how to be creative. Right. And I do believe so. Like I’m a big fan of, um, Creative Mornings events, which I go to the ones in New York, but they have them in over 200 cities around the world now. So check out the LA one. Um, yeah, I’m going to, I, it’s amazing. But their creative manifesto begins and I’m going to butcher it probably, but it begins with, we believe that everyone is creative and like, I really think that, and it’s, I don’t know, like I have conversations with people sometimes where they’re like, oh, you’re so creative, I’m not creative. At all, and I’ve heard this from people that I think are, you know, creative geniuses in their own right. Their creativity might not look like mine. They might not, you know, sit down and like write a novel or like write an essay about their feelings or whatever. But I mean, you can be creative within the confines of like a PowerPoint deck, you know, now that entirely possible, you’re telling, you’re doing visual storytelling. And I don’t think that way at all. So to me that is like some artistic magic, right?

Theodora: Yeah. Being able to put together a good deck is a skillset.

Kat: Yeah. And then the people who design those decks, I don’t know, artistry looks like a lot of different things. And again, I think it’s just, we’ve, we’ve grown up with this cultural assumption that like, no, it looks like one way or like one of three ways. And like anything else outside of that isn’t art. So I also wanted to talk about, um, sort of what creativity looks like for you on a daily basis. Like, what is your sort of like creative maintenance, what does that look like?

Theodora: That’s a really good question. So yeah, maintenance is a really good word for it because I mean both my mental stability and my creativity kind of get I guess off center when I’m not doing these things daily.

Kat: Same. Ooh yikes. Cause I feel called out by that comment.

Theodora: So for me, I mean I’m a freelancer so I can design my day however I want to. And I always say that that’s why I like freelancing yet until a few months ago I was still trying to keep myself completely on a nine to five schedule. Like if I wasn’t sitting at my desk in my apartment by nine, then I was slacking. Yeah. And.

Kat: Wow. Capitalism.

Theodora: Yeah. Yeah. So for me it’s been realizing that if I don’t do the daily things I need to do, which for me before I can start working. And again, I’m lucky that I have the luxury because I freelance. But you know, it’s journaling, it’s meditating, it’s exercising. Um, sometimes, and it’s getting better now that the weather’s good in New York, but you know, it’s taking a walk if I can and just slowing down for a little bit and like taking life in a little bit rather than just rushing to the next thing. This is the whole new realization for me because it’s very new.

Kat: Yeah. Well, and we talked about this, we, we grabbed breakfast before work last week and talked a little bit about this, which I think is like a natural topic of conversation when you’re like, oh yeah, we both made space in our lives to do this before we were starting our work day. Right. Um, but yeah, I think it’s so, there’s such a tendency to like rush through everything in order to like do the things that are quote unquote important. Um, which in my experience has often meant putting other people’s priorities first, right. And ahead of my own. And when I have gotten too much into that mindset of like, I need to be doing this, I need to be doing that versus, oh, let me slow down and be present where I am. Like, do things that are meaningful to me and that make my life feel bigger and more, I dunno, complete maybe, for lack of a better word. Yeah. So I love that.

Theodora: I mean rushing is just not the lifestyle that I want anymore, which is also why I’m leaving New York. Yeah. But, you know, for me, and you know, since I’m a freelancer, a lot of what I do is putting myself out there and pitching and like with pretty high rejection rates. Yeah. You know, so it’s really easy to get for me to get into the mindset. Like I suck. Like no one’s going to buy my work. So this is so cheesy actually to cheese and things. Um, I, a lot of times before I start working, I write affirmations to myself.

Kat: I love it. No, that’s supposed to be so good for you. I don’t do it and I probably should.

Theodora: Um, I don’t do it as much as I should, but you know, I write like, you’re awesome or you got this or you know, whatever I’m feeling insecure about. Like I try and tell myself the opposite thing. Um, and also, and we talked about this before we started recording, but gratitude, you know, something that like literally every therapist that suggested to me and um, when I started doing it, I realized they suggested it for a reason that it does help.

Kat: Right. And like I think the most common form of that is like a gratitude journal. But I think it can look like, I think what I heard, and this is not any sort of like professional literature, it’s more like me hearing like five different people on five different podcasts say it. Um, is that the, the important thing is to have it have it as a practice. It has to be a practice because if it’s not a regular routine thing that is just built into your life, then you’re not reaping the benefits of it.

Theodora: I’ve also been trying lately, like a few months ago, I would never include myself or my skills or my abilities on it. It was entirely outwardly focused.

Kat: Oh my God, I love that.

Theodora: Sometimes, well, often, coffee makes it on it. I am grateful for coffee every day, but sometimes it made me really acknowledge my privilege and realize I have a functioning heater during the New York City winter. I have a coat that keeps me warm. Um, I know I’m just going to swing it back to myself, to go from being very outwardly focused, very inwardly focused. But you know, lately I’ve been writing like my strength or my courage to share my story. You know, like I’ve been trying to find something in myself that I’m grateful for that I can acknowledge. Which is new.

Kat: Theodora. I love that. I love that so much and I don’t think it’s honestly, I don’t think it’s um, like solipsistic or like too inward looking at all. Like, I think it’s sort of that very, um, kind of overstated. Yeah. Sorry, go ahead.

Theodora: It help me figure out like what my places in this world and what I can bring to it. Yeah. So I was gonna say, agreed and I was gonna say, um, so there’s like that really kind of hackneyed, overused phrase about putting on your own oxygen mask before you, you know, you know what I’m talking about? Like I don’t really everything everyone, I feel like I can’t read, listen to you or otherwise consume anything that doesn’t mention that. I’m laughing because I’m not sure if you remember this, but when you were on my podcast, I tried to make that analogy and I called it a gas mask.

Kat: [Laughter] Yeah. But yeah, so, but like that, but that idea, and the reason why it’s repeated so often is because it’s true. Um, you, in order for you to go out in the world and kind of provide what you bring to the table, you need to be caring for yourself. You need to be aware of what your strengths are so that as you say, you can share them with others. Um, and it’s like, it’s not, I don’t, I don’t know how to say this, but like it’s, it’s good to like yourself. It’s not self-serving. It’s not like honestly if anything, people who don’t like themselves, it manifests as narcissism. It manifests as,

Theodora: I mean more trite sayings, but hurt people hurt people.

Kat: Yes. So true. And like, it’s ego bullshit that like you have to spew outward outwardly. It’s projecting shit about that you don’t like about yourself, onto the people closest to you. It’s stuff like that and like, um, you know, I sometimes if I’m trying to have compassion for someone who is, um, really toxic or borderline abusive, um, I try to remember like, oh, this is just this person who hasn’t dealt with childhood trauma. Um, I’m not, uh, not at the place I’d like to be with, like that type of generosity.

Theodora: You’re human.

Kat: But it’s, I mean, I think it’s probably true. Like, why would you, why would you put that out into the world unless there was something going on right in you that you haven’t quite grappled with yet? So I don’t know. I really appreciate that and I, I honestly, it’s a reminder that I needed. So thank you.

Theodora: You’re welcome.

Kat: So, um, as we begin to wrap up Theodora thank you so much for joining me today. I feel like our conversations are always like, I always walk away from them with like a better sense of kind of where I’m at, which is interesting cause like we just talked about like a lot of like, you know, your mental health journey. But I think because we have so much in common, like it like kind of brings things up for me that I’m like, oh I hadn’t thought about it that way. So thank you so much. I feel like I’m benefiting secondhand from like your inpatient therapy.

Theodora: A lot of people in my life have actually said that.

Kat: It’s so true. Well and that’s, that’s actually a perfect example of what we were just talking about. When you take care of yourself, make it, it branches out and it goes outwards. So thank you for taking care of yourself and also thank you for joining me today.

Theodora: This was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for having me.

Outro

So that’s this week’s episode of How to Be Creative. As always, you can find show notes, including a complete episode transcript and links to everything discussed at howtobecreative.org.

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