“Hi, I’m Val, and I’m an empath.”
What that looks like for me is that I often feel feelings that aren’t necessarily my feelings to feel. I feel the energy of the new person who enters the room as if it were my own. I feel the stressors and triggers of people whom I don’t even know. And I feel them deeply. I feel the good and the bad of not only my own circumstances, but also of those around me.
For many years of my life, that also looked like a lot of anxiety.
I grew up in the 1980s, and from second grade all the way up until ninth grade, I would literally vomit, sometimes multiple times, before going to school.
This was before the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder was a thing, and so, the countless doctor visits to get to the root of my aversion to school was almost always met with “he’s just a nervous child.”
Through years of practice I actually had a pretty good handle on my social anxiety. I was able to work as an actor for over 20 years. I was able to show up at social events with little to no appearance of the dreaded “plus one” of my old pal “Panic.”
In fact, through years of practicing meditation, breathing, and setting some healthy boundaries, I was even able to switch careers to that of a spiritual teacher and life coach when I felt the calling to share what I had learned with people battling their own setbacks; I had it down to a confident and manageable art form.
Then came COVID-19, shutdowns, stay-at-home recommendations, mask mandates, and social distancing.
Honestly, staying at home and maintaining a distance were quite easy for me because of my natural leanings to avoid social situations that would trigger my anxieties, and I was so okay with just managing my own feelings for once.
It was okay…and then came the election, protests around the country, around the world. I started feeling the collective energy that was being emitted through news broadcasts and social media feeds, and I started reverting to my childhood state of letting that affect my health in a negative way. In the summer of 2020, I was hospitalized for an anxiety attack; I was not doing well.
I reached out to my mentors and sought therapy. I started reminding myself of the tools that I had acquired throughout the years, but nothing was working.
As things slowly started to open up and socialization started to reenter the arena, I felt the expectation of participating again, but I didn’t want to. I was that little boy again, asking his mother to pull off to the side of the road on the way to school because he was going to be sick.
Intellectually, I knew I couldn’t live in that state of fight-or-flight for long, and so, I challenged myself to make plans to join friends for a lunch date or go see a movie, but ultimately, the day would come, and I’d be sick and ask if we could reschedule.
I decided that I was going to be okay with isolating throughout the 2021 holiday season. I gave myself permission to stay home and just have fun.
Then, I picked up a new hobby: tablescaping.
It went from a creative and fun pastime to a full-blown obsession! I started with a few fall gourds in a centrepiece, and it quickly became a spreadsheet of upcoming holidays, themes, color pallets, and even constructing faux topiaries. I got excited about making each new table bigger and more grand than the last, and it was fun.
Next, I started to want to build up my supplies. I started to want to visit estate sales and thrift stores to find new and unique glassware for my next tablescape. I started to actually look forward to leaving my house to search for the golden nuggets that would make my next table fun, exciting, and gorgeous. Without realizing it, I was less in isolation mode. My partner and I invited a friend to accompany us to one of our favorite antique shops to look for plates, and soon, that became meeting up for coffee or for lunch.
When I took the focus off of my fear and shifted to focusing on something that I loved, something inside of me shifted. I was letting inspiration take the lead, and I was slowly stepping further away from desperation. I realized that desperation and inspiration cannot coexist in the same vessel, and so, I started leaning into the inspired ideas, and I let them draw me toward a healthier and less anxious me.
I saw my fear, but I saw something that was bigger than fear, and that was passion, creativity, and love. It was the same shift that I experienced when I went from being the anxious school boy to a young adult who was so driven by his passion of acting that he overcame those fears by focusing on his love of performing.
I am now toying with the idea of teaching others the art and therapeutic possibilities of creating beautiful tables in their own homes. I’m thinking of publishing a coffee table book with “how-tos,” tips, and techniques. I’m focusing more on love than fear.
All this to say that when the darkness of your anxiety feels overwhelming, the best thing to try to do is shift your gaze to that which inspires love, joy, and peace.
For me, that’s tablescaping; for you, maybe it’s picking up your saxophone that you haven’t touched since high school’s marching band. Maybe it’s baking, or painting, or running, or writing poetry, or folding laundry (hey, some people love to clean!).
When you are starting to become a prisoner of your fear-based thinking, start an inspiration revolution by leaning into your creativity. It’s about taking baby steps every day toward that which inspires joy, and by doing so you’re also taking baby steps away from that which gives rise to fear.
I hope that my story inspires you to find your inspiration again, and hey, if you need any pointers on tablescaping, drop me a line.