Courage, Routines, and Expectations

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

Knowing what I know now, what kind of advice would I give to my younger self?

There are a good many things I’d warn myself, about dangers ahead, pitfalls to avoid, things to apply for, things to save… but I think what I most needed to hear as a young person, was that I would find love, that I really did have everything I desired, and that I would be alright.

My youth was terribly lonely and painful, which dramatically altered who I was well into adulthood. I feel like I’m in a very good place now, full of peace and strength that I didn’t have before. Telling myself that I would come to this place despite the challenges is something that would be so reassuring to me.

I think to the future, and think about what I need to hear now, and what kind of advice I’d like from my future self to tell me now. I know no matter what, the Creator will care for me. No matter what, I’ll be alright.

When was the last time you disregarded the intelligence inside you?

Intelligence says I should go to bed on time and not browse on the internet until 2 am, but I did not listen to intelligence, and now I am very tired. 😂

What are my best qualities?

I’m attentive, and kind. I’m encouraging and supportive. I’m an excellent and loyal friend. I am a passionate lover. I listen well. I am a hard worker, and I’m very talented at what I do. I am one of the best huggers you’ll meet. I’m generous with what I have. I am serious about my spirituality. I’m a great conversationalist. I know my struggles, I’m aware of them, and I work on them. I am very calm in very high stress situations. I’m flexible, and do well with spontaneity. I look good. I am strong, in many many ways. I’m a great father. I’m amiable. I am good at figuring out creative new ways of doing things. I make those around me feel comfortable with me, regardless of culture or place. I can make a client out of anyone. I hustle and I’m consistent. I’m a good cook. I have depth and levels and layers to discover. I am full of good surprises. I’m clever, when I fuss around. I am deeply respectful. I’ve got a good sense of humour. I appreciate the small things, and find beauty in every thing.

What positive changes have you noticed in your life lately?

I’ve noticed money has been flowing a little easier. I’m not entirely sure why, but people have been paying me more readily for things. I’m still trying to get more projects in the door, but I’m becoming more confident in my position. I’m hoping I can get back to the place where my company can hire more people again.

Courage, Routines, and Expectations

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

What is the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. How did it make me feel?

I think this question was asked before, and my answer was to stand up for myself and file for divorce.

I think one of the second most courageous things I’ve done was switching my major when I was in college. I had gone to school for engineering, with the goal of being a robotics engineer for NASA. I had been inspired by my father, who had worked for a submarine company called Hydrospace doing drafting work, and by documentaries I’d seen about the Canadarm, a gigantic robotic arm that lifts satellites in and out of space shuttles.

However, I struggled in some of my classes, especially the math-heavy ones. I had skipped the 3rd grade when I was younger, and had always had this sense that I was permanently set back because I hadn’t completed memorization of my multiplication tables. Though I excelled in the drafting classes (in which we had to imagine and draw 3-dimensional objects and parts) and in the hands-on building and manufacturing labs, I flailed in the mathematics and circuits classes.

At one point, my mathematics professor, Angela Hare, brought me aside for some out-of-class tutoring, and while we toiled over equations, asked me if I’d be happy doing an engineering job. She had mentioned in class earlier that it was important to love what you were doing as a profession, because it would mean that you wouldn’t work a day in your life. This had stuck with me. I realized that if I didn’t get paid a huge sum of money for engineering work, that I wouldn’t really be happy. I thought I would be designing robots, but the majority of engineering was really crunching numbers and testing materials to make things designers dreamed up work.

At that same time, playing around in graphics programs as a kid, had slowly become a hobby. People would request me to design them t-shirts, logos, and had been building websites. However, until some friends in a circuits class insisted I look into it, I had no idea it could be a profession I could make a living with. The more I researched and prayed about it, the more I felt like God had given me gifts and a passion for creation that I wasn’t truly making use of.

After a lot of praying, research, and learning as much as I could about graphic design, I finally made the decision to switch majors. I was terrified to tell my parents. Design was a much less well-earning job than engineering, and I knew how much my parents had sacrificed so I could go. And, I felt like I was following in my father’s footsteps. When I called, my father was silent for a moment, and then started cheering! He told me all about how he had also done graphic design work when he was younger, and had a full portfolio of work that he later showed me. I had no idea!

It was still a struggle to do, because many of the scholarships I was receiving were only good for 4 years of college, and I was already 2 years into the engineering major. But, despite very few of my credits transferring, I managed to work extra had and test out of as many things as I could, and graduated on time!

What kinds of routines or habits limit my everyday life?

I really feel like my life is so spur of the moment so much of the time, that I always feel like habits and routine are what help me to be the most productive. I’m constantly having to reign in some of my creativity so that I actually get things done and get paid for them, because otherwise I just forget! The limits of routine and habit actually help me to focus.

Sometimes I will do certain things out of habit just so I don’t have to think about them too much and so they’re not a distraction. For example I imagined what the most perfect breakfast would be, and so most of the time I make that nearly every day. I love it, and I don’t get bored of it, and so shopping is super easy because I just buy the same things all time. There are variables in it, like whatever berries are in season, but limiting my breakfast to a healthy, regular, fantastic meal, means my day gets kicked off in such a great way.

Am I living according to the expectations and dreams of others or myself? How do I distinguish the from each other?

I’m far to much a recalcitrant to live by other people’s expectations. I thrive at forging my own path, clearing my own way of doing things.

However, I have learned that sometimes there are others who have gone before that can teach me about my own journey, and point out roots and stumbling blocks that could trip me up.

That doesn’t mean I still won’t go and crash my own way through the jungle, but sometimes it will help me learn new ways of swinging the machete!

Honesty, Wellness, and Last Days

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

What is the most important thing for me in this moment?


Honesty is always the most important thing for me, even when it hurts. But honesty with myself is the thing that is most import for me at the moment. Making sure that I’m staying on top of my assignments, resting when I need to, and really taking care of myself and investing in myself when I need it. All of that requires a deep knowledge of self, and to be very honest about the reality of what I feel and what I need to do.

Do I want to do this thing? Am I taking enough time for myself? Is it fulfilling to me? Does it align with my standards? Does it help others? Does it help me?

All of these questions require pure honesty.

If all were well in your world, what would that look like?

All is well in my world because I know that I will be alright.

I do have things to worry about, things that make me uneasy, things that I must work on, but I have the knowledge and the assurance that my God has got me, and that I’m strong enough to adapt, grow, and overcome. Even if they hurt.

If this were my last day, would I be satisfied with my life? What would I have differently?

I think if today was my last day, I’d honestly have taken out a lot of things. I wouldn’t have gone to any meetings. I wouldn’t have let the kids go to school. I would have spent the whole day outside. I would have gone swimming.

I think most days I do things like that because I try to seize the moment as much as I can. It leaves me with fewer regrets.

Small Problems, Better Conditions

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

Hanging out at Rivera Beach

Just like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, think of a small painful experience and share how it helped you transform your strength, growth or purpose.

I got stuck on this question, because I kept trying to figuring out what a small painful experience would be.

And I can’t figure out if that’s because small stuff doesn’t bother me…

Or if so many big painful experiences have happened that I don’t notice the small ones…

Or if I ignore small problems until they become big problems…

Or if I’m really great at handling small problems that they don’t feel like problems.

I’ll have to think about that some more.

We all think that happiness is something that will come when conditions in our lives are better. What things are you waiting for before you can be happy? What if they never happen?

I’m pretty happy right now. I’m stressed about the absurd things that are happening in the country, but personally I feel pretty good. I’m growing in a lot of ways, feel loved, I’m growing spiritually, I’m expanding my business, I have good support, and I’m investing in myself.

There are plans I made last year that I wanted to have happen this year that I thought would make me happy. I thought I was going to be traveling regularly, made plans to explore the Caribbean, was looking forward to visiting my girlfriend at the time a lot, wanted to visit my parents regularly… and none of that could happen.

And… I’m still happy. I’m adjusting, rolling with the punches. I’m not always great at it and sometimes I get hit and go down, but I’m still working on it.

Getting Better, Forgiveness, and Enough Time

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

Photo by Joe Cardamone

How has your life gotten better in 2020?

Despite everything that has happened, things have gotten better, in a lot of areas.

I am definitely more motivated in my own physical health more. Though I had some setbacks with just how tough time management has been to slog through, I am taking care of myself amazingly.

I am also way more confident in my own body. I thought it was a switch that I turned on 2 years ago, but instead it’s been more of a slow turning up of the dial. I keep learning new ways to appreciate and be thankful for the ways I have been made.

My relationship with my kids has deepened, where I’ve learned the different ways in which the both of them work, and built safe spaces both for them to open up to me more, and spaces to just be kids and have fun.

My art has expanded. I’ve gotten more commissions than I ever have before. And I also feel more appreciated in my art, in addition to being more confident in it as well.

I’m getting back into photography; which I have had on hiatus for almost 6 years. My friends are really encouraging me to get back into it, and in a few weeks, I’ll have built a new section on my website just dedicated to my photography.

Who do you need to forgive, and why won’t you?

There is one person I haven’t forgiven.

But there are plenty of people who I will no allow to hurt me. And most of those people are people that I forgave.

I think ultimately people are fallible and will let you down, whether on accident or on purpose. Holding on to those things doesn’t help me in any way, but I can learn from them.

What I have to be careful of is the tendency I have to hold on to old pain. I am getting better and better at releasing it and releasing myself.

Who I am working on is fully forgiving myself.

What would I do if I had enough time?

I’d practice my music more. I haven’t touched my piano in a while just because not only does it not make any money unlike my other talents, it also requires a little money because I need to either fix my amplifier or get a new one. It feels silly to invest in it, when I need money for so many other things.

What do I do now when I have time?

I invest in myself and my drawing. If I have a moment, I take my iPad, go down by the water, and I draw. It recharges me so much. It feels almost as good as swimming.

Beneficial boundaries, Solitude, and Gifts to the World

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

Triton Beach

Think about a boundary you have had to set with someone. What were the benefits of setting this boundary?

A new boundary I just set was raising the pricing on my art commissions. I was in Pints & Prose, a writing group that has been encouraging me in both my art and my writing. I showed off some in-progress commissioned drawings I was making, and one of the members asked me how much I was charging per drawing. I sent them the Commissions page of my website. They then asked how long it took me to make a drawing. Each drawing takes me roughly 40-50 hours to create, depending on the complexity. They pointed out that I was making around $5 an hour, and said I needed to up my rates.

So, I’m going to be sending out an email to all my Patrons and art fans, and letting them know I’m raising the rates, and that they can hire me at the lower rate only until the end of this week.

We’ll see what happens!

If you had to live in a room by yourself for one month, what healthy activities would you bring in for fun?

I’ve actually thought about this, in case I was locked up as political prisoner or something. I think these are the things that I would bring in.

  • A volleyball – I have trouble working out, I have to make it fun in some way. That’s one of the reasons I’m in Karate, so that I’m having fun while working out. A ball is something I’d be able to play with, smack against the wall, volley over my head, use it to sit on or massage myself with with, practice spinning on my finger. It would help encourage me to train and focus on something else.
  • A plant – Something to tend for and help remind myself that I can continue to grow.
  • Pencils & paper – To help me practice my drawing, to help me continue my drawing, and imagine a world outside the four walls I’d be in.
  • An iPod – Music is so important to me. Giving something for me to sing along with and inspire me to do the above things.

What is my gift to the world?

I feel like I have many many gifts to give to the world, but I think most of them focus around introspection. With my art, writing, photography, design, and even my presence, I most love it when it inspires, motivates, or helps people to reflect on some part of themselves. I have a set of beliefs that I live by; taking joy in small things, defending the oppressed, and growing to be the most compassionate person I can be, and so my work tends to inspire and motivate people towards those qualities. And each part of those is wrapped in love.

Am I focusing more on what my life looks like rather than what it feels like?

I feel like I’m merging those two concepts, or at least bringing them closer together. This morning, I woke up extra early for no real reason. I’ve converted my bay window into a prayer, yoga, meditation and napping space. The sun was filtering through the bamboo blinds. My windows were open because hasn’t been as hot lately, and crickets and birds sang through on a gentle cool breeze. My palms cast shadows across the walls. My satin sheets and velvet blankets were soft and decadent, and I just felt so good. The scene looked like an Instagram aesthetic post to me, but it was real. It was my actual room, and it was that way because I had designed it and built it that way, just for me.

I’m challenging myself to keep altering my space to closer match my dreams.

Describe who you really are. What keeps you from showing your genuine self?

I think I’ve been working hard to be my genuine self, and I think that I’ve been pretty successful at it over the past few years. Tapping in to who I really am apart from another person has been key to that. So much of my identity was wrapped up in partnership before, that I had to relearn some of the things that really were some of the more nuanced things I enjoyed about my own personality.

I have felt in some ways that my complexity and depth can be a little scary for some people, so sometimes I have just opted to no talk about everything about myself when I meet people, and let things slowly be revealed over time.

This means that the people who hang around me the longest and who show the most interest in me know the most full version of me. I am a deep and multifaceted person, and I’m done hiding that for other people’s comfort.

If I didn’t feel shame or fear, what would I do now?

There is not a lot I feel shame about right now, nor fear. I’m happy to be in this place.

Think about a time in your life when you thought things were doing well in your life. How did you feel about yourself? What was going on at the time?

Other than now, I think a time where I was doing well was immediately after I graduated college and was living on my own. I had enough income to cover all my bills and a little extra, everything was direct-deposit and automatically withdrawn, and I worried about very little.

I felt good about myself. I was still in the middle of my own body dysmorphia and wasn’t thinking about myself in totally positive ways, I was lonely in some ways, but I was happy.

I feel like I’m recovering some of that same place. And I think it’s important

Why are you so afraid of being celebrated?

I think I’m afraid of not living up to the celebration, of being less than worthy.

Which is silly.

I am worthy.

Avoiding Situations, Unrealistic Expectations, and Courage

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

What kind of situations do I avoid? What does this evasion say about my previous experiences or beliefs?

I took a trip by myself to Assateague Island

Normally, I try my best not to avoid things. If I’m anxious about something or if a situation gives me apprehension, my typical tactic is to dive straight in, guns blazing. Whether I feel qualified for it or not, whether I am in company that is familiar to me or not, I’ll pretend I belong there until I actually do.

This doesn’t mean I don’t feel like an imposter; I feel that way all the time. But I have the confidence that I can fly by the seat of my pants, and fake it until I make it. And I have this confidence because 9 times out of 10, it turns out ok.

The one place I don’t feel like it always turns out well is in love. Because nearly every relationship has ended in tragedy, it’s hard for me to understand that new relationships won’t also end in tragedy.

It’s also hard for me to be ok with them ending, because I fear that tragedy and heartache as well. It’s only been recently that I’ve had a relationship that ended and there wasn’t tragedy. It was a very new and strange experience for me, but it’s made me more confident in growing and moving forward.

Talk about an unrealistic expectation that was imposed on you as a child. How did you feel about it then, and how do you feel now?

I’m not entirely sure if this was something that was put on me, or something I put on myself, but I really felt like I wasn’t allowed to express emotions fully unless it was happiness.

Anger was one of the biggest emotions I’d stifle; to the point where I would constantly stifle bottle it up , and it would inevitably explode out on its own when I could not take the pressure anymore. For a long time I just believed that I had a very bad temper, not realizing that healthy ways of releasing anger could even exist.

When something hurt or made me feel bad, if I cried I was told to grow up, and that crying was childish. That had the same effect, where I would try to hold back the tears. But inevitably, they would just come out.

Now, I’m discovering ways of letting out frustrations, and letting myself be a more whole and complete person. Writing helps.

What is the courageous thing you’ve ever done? How did it make you feel?

I had a tough time figuring out what was the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. I’ve faced down bears, helped keep peace in Baltimore in the middle of the night, and pulled people from burning cars.

But if I measure by things that were challenging for me, which required the most effort and taxed the deepest part of me, then easily the most courageous thing I’ve ever done was ending a relationship.

It meant standing up for myself, realizing that the damage of staying outweighed the benefits of staying, and making the move.

Sleep & Talking to Myself

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

Photo by Marilyne Bilo

What is something that you do that is harmful to you, a self-defeating behavior? How did you get started participating in this behavior? What keeps you doing it?

The biggest thing I’m doing is not sleeping properly. I’ve been getting slightly better at actually getting into bed around midnight, but often I’ll stay up later just being on my phone.

I began staying up late in college. I had to take a large number of credits just to pass because I had switched majors, and because of that I just got into the habit of staying up late and getting assignments done. I was also working at the same time, and ended up sleeping very little and just catching up on the weekends.

When I graduated, though I had day-jobs, my goals was to have my own design agency. So no matter where I was working, I would come home, eat dinner, and get right back to work again, staying up until 2 or 3 designing things.

Now, however, I’m just in that same habit of staying up late. It’s gotten to the point where I just don’t even design as well unless it’s late at night. And also, my body is changing, and I wake up early with the sun no matter how late I stay up the night before.

One thing I’ve started doing is darkening my room down so I can sleep later if I need to, or even take a nap during the middle of the day. But I’m still trying to get sleep habits down, and a pandemic doesn’t help!

What I need is just a more diligent schedule, because I feel so good and healthy when I have that schedule.

A pink sunset from my house

Would I be proud of myself if I spoke to other people in the way that my thoughts speak to me?

I definitely think I’m much better at it. I never talked to myself in positive ways at all, because I felt it was both conceited and a little corny.

Because of that, I didn’t listen to myself very much, and wouldn’t trust my own intuition. Warning flags would get ignored, and I would end up getting hurt by things that could easily have been avoided.

Now, because of some really gentle but strong love I’ve received from people, it’s helped me see the negative ways in which I’ve spoken to myself, and changed it in major ways. If I’m tired or feeling down, I’ll catch myself slipping back in to those habits… but this time I’ll change it and fix it.

I’ve learned that it would be very against my nature to even approach conceitedness. That has helped me listen to myself a little more, and sometimes that voice and be really encouraging. I can really be kind to myself if I let myself.

An Element, Small Steps, and Appearance

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

Take a moment to reflect and remember how badly you wanted something that you currently have today.

I really wanted a vehicle of my own that really fit me. I knew I didn’t want a car payment, and though the car I did have was dying, I went about it really slow, and saved up and did research for over 8 months. My old car died in the middle of the that period, but I kept saving, rode public transport, and just stopped going to some things. When I finally bought the vehicle, I was able to pay cash, and it was exactly what I needed. A Honda Element, manual, with a moonroof, and the ability to fold all the seats down into a full-size bed. One of my favourite things is to just go out and sit in it, watching the sunset, taking a nap in it, stringing my hammock up to the roof rack, or converting the back tailgate into my mobile desk to work.

When I feel lost and like I don’t belong anywhere, it makes me feel at home.

Think about a small step you have taken or plan to get you closer to your goal. Remind yourself that it’s the small steps that get you closer to the finish line.

Right now, everything feels like small steps.

After my marriage ended, I had big plans. I was going to travel more, to be out more with friends, to be in nature more, to work out more, and I had full plans to do all those things, little steps included.

Then, a white guy speeding in his mother’s car on a way to buy some drugs cut in front of my motorcycle and sent me flying several hundred feet. I had to relearn how to walk. Relearn how to write. Relearn how to draw and design, which is what my entire livelihood depended on. I was out of commission for over 10 months.

I took small steps, healed, and prepared to restart all those goals. January came around, and I was finally 90% of the way there. I began traveling to visit a long-distance girlfriend. I began working out again in earnest. I went out, made new friends… and then the pandemic hit. My relationship ended. I was alone, again.

So now, I’m focusing almost exclusively on the little steps. Working on the projects that I do have coming in the door, and building my own personal projects in my downtime. My art. My novel. My music.

And there are big things that aren’t goals that I have to worry about. I worry about the pandemic, about being safe. I worry about losing my house. I worry about fascism growing in this country. I worry about raising to Black kids in a place that doesn’t always welcome them.

The small steps are all I have right now. But I think that might be a good thing.

How do you think you appear to others, is it different from how you feel on the inside?

This is something I would have tremendous anxiety over. I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a good grip on how I appeared to others, and because I viewed myself so poorly, everything I would imagine would be the worst possible version of myself in every way.

It got so bad, that the way I felt on the inside completely ruined and effected how I interacted with everyone. Every time I would get a compliment, I’d shoot it down. Every time anyone expressed admiration, called me handsome, said I was smart, talked about me being kind, I would reject it and downplay anything about myself.

Trying to imagine how people saw me was terrifying to me. Body dysmorphia extended into personality dysmorphia and even emotional dysmorphia, to the point where I couldn’t even recognize myself when people would talk about me. Self love seemed empty and vacuous; something I didn’t deserve.

All this I had to unlearn. Now, how I feel on the inside matches closer to how people see me. Now I feel comfortable enough to feel confident in who I am. Now I am strong enough to love myself the most. Now I am learning that if you don’t care for me, I don’t have to change myself to meet your standards.

Fears & Toxic People

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held at the Baltimore Impact Hub.

What irrational fears did you have as a child?

When I was a kid, I had this fear that I would die alone.

The strange thing was, is that I didn’t have a great fear of dying. I experienced many many brushes with death, and I was almost always alone during them. Being from the subarctic, death was something that was nearby in a lot of ways, whether it was with friends who overdosed or committed suicide, or by the sheer level of danger that being surrounded by 300 miles of empty forest bore. Though, in the forest, I never felt alone…

What I really was afraid of was growing old, and having no one to give love to and to be loved by.

I feared deeper than anything that I would wind up with no one to hold me, with no one to hold, slowly decaying as the horrible monotony of life ate away and crumbled my bones.

And, it’s cheating to say that this was just a fear when I was a kid. This fear continued in my through childhood, through my teenage years, all the way through college, and deep into the majority of my marriage.

It held me with claws that sunk into the deepest part of me, so that I held on to each relationship, each friendship, each person I loved, with the same white-knuckled grip. I held on, even if they didn’t hold me in nearly the same way.

This ruined things. Many things. It had me hold on to my marriage far longer than I should have. It kept around me friends who didn’t have my best interest anywhere in their sphere of concern. It made me nervous, anxious, completely on edge that I was going to do or say something that would cost me these relationships.

All the while, I feared little else. I couldn’t even identify a single thing I was afraid of. I launched myself at things I was afraid of, often with dramatic results. But at no point was I putting myself and my own wellbeing as a priority.

Once I began facing my fear of being alone, through therapy and the support of close friends, I discovered this simple truth: Dying alone wasn’t an option for me.

Not only did I begin being my own best companion, and I began to not feel lonely anymore, but I realized that I would never truly be alone. People care about me. I have a family that is imperfect but cares about me. I have friends who are drawn to me and care about my wellbeing. Some deep. Some less deep. All of them matter. People are attracted to me and want to be in my company, who value my input, who love me.

Understanding not only that this is true, but that I am worthy of it, changed everything.

What was the last interaction like with the most toxic person you know?

This one is hard for me, because I think I might have a tough time labeling people as toxic.

I am constantly trying to see the very best in people, even when those people have done horrible things to me. It’s such a deeply challenging thing to call someone out for a bad thing they did.

It’s only when I started setting boundaries for myself that I realized that people I loved could be bad for me, and that I didn’t have to put up with it. Before that, toxic people literally controlled almost every part of my life, which meant that I was miserable for a good portion of it.

Now, if someone is toxic, rather than internalizing it and trying to see what I need to do to change to be less offensive to them, I am much quicker to let them, and whatever they were being cruel about, go.

That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to anyone or take advice from people. In fact, I feel like I listen more now, because I’m more choosy of who I listen to and invest time in. I have a greater bandwidth to be there for people who really care and love me.