I am in the middle of listening to the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. So far, I can say it is the most inspirational book on creativity I’ve come across in my life.
This post is not solely about creativity, so please keep reading even if that doesn’t appeal to you.
She addresses feeling blocked or stuck as a writer, and sitting at her desk, mind wandering, nerves all a-glow, when she reaches for her one-inch picture frame. She tells herself she only has to write what she sees through the one-inch picture frame.
Just the scene on the porch…
Just the setting in the town…
Just the page where we meet the old woman.
In terms of creativity, I loved it. In terms of psychotherapy, I drove to Michaels and bought a handful of frames so I can use them as a tool to illustrate the importance of self-care, and managing expectations.
So many of my clients are ready to throw things at me if I say to them one more time, “Remember, baby steps.”
I hate baby steps.
I am the kind of person who wants to plow through something, overload myself, so it’s just done and I’m on the other side of it.
That’s landed me a lot of bronchitis, tears, and therapy bills over the years.
My motivation is there, a roaring fire that is to be contained and handled with the utmost care, not unleashed upon my world without restraint.
Sometimes we need to manage our expectations for ourselves.
Many people have a lifetime of struggle they bring in to our office, and they hand over their world and say, “Here, can you help me with this?”
How unethical of us it would be to say yes, and then toss the whole thing back at once?
Our task as clinicians is to make facing these struggles more manageable, to carve out a piece at a time to look at, examine, process, shed, slough off, face, or knock out of the park.
Our task is to help our clients shift the focus from plowing through to selecting what’s first, or next, and pace themselves to ensure success, not feeling overwhelmed.
Avoidance, denial, and detachment are adaptations we’ve made to continue to function in our lives as best we can, without allowing our pain and trauma to swallow us whole, leave us immobilized in bed, have us drinking and drugging, or drown us.
There’s a healthy component in there somewhere. It isn’t to bury the pain, or lock it in a tower to be freed when our prince comes or when a fair maiden has accepted our dew-dropped rose. It is to compartmentalize.
We do it everyday. Have a bad day, but have to go to work. We take our game face out of the drawer and put it on, carry out our responsibilities to the boss, to our kids, the PTO.
We get home or put the kids to bed, go to therapy, call a friend, and we take off the face.
And we feel…
That’s compartmentalizing, putting it aside to get through our workday, or a big meeting, or a medical procedure.
Just as long as the goal is to go back to it, and not stuff it down.
Compartmentalizing is also for just having too many rough days in a row, and deciding you want to just relax, unwind, disconnect, push the pause button for a while.
Again, just as long as the idea is to go back to it.
And then you go back to it, and look through your one-inch picture frame, and decide what you will process through next.
The idea of facing one’s trauma, one’s darkness, can be very daunting. It isn’t always the best idea to hold your nose and jump in. Sometimes, putting in a foot or even a toe is the best place to start. Every single person’s window of tolerance is different, and that’s OK. Remember, the picture frame is about managing our own expectations for ourselves as well. It doesn’t matter how your cousin or your friend faced their stuff. They’re not you. Only you can determine your healthy pace.
And if you aren’t sure how to do that just yet, that’s what skilled professionals are there for, to help you sift through some of it and help you figure it out.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Step by step, you’ll eventually take enough that you can look back and notice how far you’ve come.
Putting one foot in front of the other, again and again, can feel frustrating at times, since we can’t fly or teleport, but eventually, you’ll reach your destination.
What’s the first thing you see through your one-inch picture frame?