The Hidden Power Of Checking In

In the past year, my life has taken sudden and unexpected turns in many ways, from classes to career choices. I feel that I’ve managed to maintain a relatively strong sense of self and of creative direction throughout all of this, while leaving room for change and opportunity, and I’d really like to share my strategy with all of you: I check in with myself.

For me personally, these check ins take the form of list-making supported by yoga and meditation. In the past, I’ve also created private video diaries as well as written journal entries and poetry. Realistically, no matter the method, if I am continuously setting time aside to take stock of my life and my values, then I am moving towards goals that suit my core motivations.

Pushing wholeheartedly for progress while leaving space for unexpected changes can sometimes feel like an impossible task. The tool that currently allows me to feel most reassured that my goals suit my current situation and abilities is list-making. Every time that I begin to feel caught up in a tidal wave of seemingly meaningless tasks, I sit down and remind myself of my priorities. These priorities allow me to re-centre myself and continue on with my day to day tasks with a sense of purpose. I tend to create lists of 6-8 priorities, from two or more areas of my life (for example, career and platonic relationships). The priorities are not centred around material possessions or specific people, but rather the values and motivations that they represent. For example, I could say that I enjoy having my own apartment, but that desire is simply a surface manifestation of a fierce independent streak. On my list, I would say that I value my independence, and in my day to day life I would remind myself that by working hard I am supporting my ability to move freely through the world and make my own decisions.

Continuously collecting a list of values, and translating them into motivations, has given me the gift of agency over my own life in ways that I could never have imagined. In the past year, I have learned that unless a difficult and stressful task will further a goal that reflects my core values, it is no longer worth pursuing. I do not feel that this willingness to abandon “the plan” and start anew, infinite times if necessary, makes me flaky or unpredictable. In fact, I feel more in control of my own happiness than ever. This wild and wonderful journey of life is entirely my own, so long as I have the courage to make it so.

Why Photography?

As I send in submissions to magazines and other publications lately, I’ve had to sit down and give some solid thought to the meaning behind my photography. As I write up two-sentence elevator pitches and artist biographies, as I repeatedly ask myself “What do I want people to take away from my work?”, the question has become somewhat all-consuming.

Fundamentally, at this point in time, I think that I’m trying to use my photos to convey the same message that I have wanted to drive home since I fell ill: that life is fleeting and, while painful and messy, beautiful and deserving of deep respect. I’m trying to capture moments that are often forgotten, from musicians losing themselves momentarily in their music, to familial love, to streetscapes and my dog falling asleep on my lap. Throughout the past year I have explored different mediums through which I could express this sentiment to it’s fullest extent possible, and I believe that I have found a home for my mission in photography.

As humans, we are so often consumed by regrets of the past and goals for the future that we forget to appreciate the moments directly in front of us. Sure, there are milestones that absolutely deserve to be recognized and celebrated, this I would never deny. The small moments, however, the day to day monotonous tasks and interactions which “glue” together these milestones, deserve equal recognition and celebration. Life is beautiful as is, major accomplishments or not.

Being sick has been extremely painful and difficult, in the physical and emotional sense, but I believe that it has also blessed me with an incredible appreciation for every single experience that I am so fortunate to have. From being severely ill I have learned to take nothing for granted, and to wonder at even the simplest and most fleeting moments. Summed up in one sentence, I have seen too many sunsets from hospital windows to not appreciate the ones that I experience while walking my dog.

If viewers take one thing away from my work, I hope that it is a newfound appreciation for their own lives. I want my followers to begin to notice the beauty in their own lives, and to be able to shift their perspective, even slightly, without encountering the hardship that I have had to.

I guess you could consider me a music photographer with a mission.

Much love,

Sabina

One Year Later

It’s been about a year since I left university with no significant long term plans, and I’m ok.

If living with unpredictable health has taught me anything, it’s how to accept the fact that, as humans, we control very little of the major outcomes in our lives. Illness happens, financial difficulties happen, and family and relationship difficulties happen; regardless of whatever “good”/”bad” decisions we may make. In many ways, it would appear that we have very little say in our destinies. Our main source of control, however, lies in our ability to choose our reactions to those situations and to use the situation to our advantage as fully as possible.

In many ways, by leaving university for a world of unknowns and what-ifs, I feel that I have opened myself up to playing a more active role in my own destiny. While this choice to leave was not initially my own so much as my body’s, I’ve come to appreciate it for the opportunity that it was.

As I have created my own path through this world throughout the past year, I ultimately have answered to no one but myself. I pay no high fees, leaving me with no obligations that I resent. I pursue my interests and opportunities as they present themselves to me, and fulfill as many goals as possible that are within my immediate means. I live independently, I have a pet, and I chase my dreams.

In the past year I have travelled and I have become a puppy-raiser. I have taken private music lessons, music production classes, and a music business class. I’ve taken advantage of YouTube and the knowledge of friends in order to learn more about photography, a long standing interest of mine. I’ve done my best to attend as many live music events as possible, and recently I began to learn about taking photos of said events. I’ve made an effort to write more, even if it’s only poems in a journal. I’ve come to recognize the importance of balancing meditation and self-reflection. I’ve made countless new connections, both in real life and online, and I am so incredibly grateful for every single one of them. Coming back to Ottawa when most of my old friends had left was more difficult than I expected, and you all made it feel like more of a home than ever. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Much love,

Sabina

On Barriers

Many of my passions are not fully accessible to members of the disabled and chronically ill community – and I’m angry.

I derive a great deal of my joy from two passions: time spent outdoors, and time spent creating and consuming art, especially photography and music. Fortunately for me, I am at a place in life where my body allows for the pursuit of these passions with very little adaptation. I have not always been so lucky.

Several years ago, shortly before my diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome , I suddenly lost near all of the strength and range of motion in my left hand and half of my face. Having already been forced to back away from the sports upon which I had begun to form my teenage identity, the additional loss of the ability to play guitar, a personal coping mechanism and a hobby since age 12, was a hard blow. I attempted to re-teach my left hand to form basic chords numerous times throughout the years that followed, to limited success. I would finally make some progress, only to be struck down by a flare of my CRPS. Eventually, I began to accept defeat and slowly backed away from music as a whole. Only in the past year have I been able to return to playing guitar and see any real progress. This progress is only because my condition has, four years later, finally stabilized somewhat.

Take a moment to consider how many creative pursuits rely on the artist having not only fully functional arms, hands and facial muscles, but well developed and trained muscles at that. Consider how mainstream artists are represented: able bodied, often even graceful and athletic. In my personal experience, very little support is offered to disabled and chronically ill artists. Myself and many of my friends who face similar struggles simply abandoned our creative pursuits when our bodies began to deteriorate. I do not believe that this is an acceptable ending for our complex narratives. We lack adequate representation, and we lack adequate adaptation.

As long as there is little to no visibility for disabled and chronically ill artists, it will not be perceived as an attainable goal to those who might aspire to become one. As long as there is limited to no support available to aid artists in working within their physical limitations to achieve their creative goals, there will continue to be those who are forced to accept defeat.

Members of the disabled and chronically ill community have some of the richest, most beautiful and complex life stories that I have ever encountered. These stories deserve to be told, and deserve to be told on our own terms. I hope to some day see change within creative industries that allows for this.

On Earning Joy

Maybe this is just me, but sometimes I feel as if society is trying to sell me the idea that the presence of joy in my life is something that I have to earn.

Nearly every person at the centre of a major success story in the media appears to have faced significant difficulty in their lifetime, often leading right up to the moment that they “broke through” and achieved their dreams. Time and time again, we hear tales of ordinary people achieving extraordinary athletic or artistic feats directly after being pushed to their near absolute mental and/or physical limits. We hear of impossibly hard working athletes and starving artists, we witness their successes, and we aspire to be like them some day.

Maybe it was exposure to these stories through the media, or maybe I did this independently, but somewhere along the line I began to correlate suffering with eventual success. I began to accept struggle and suffering as facts of life; necessities along the path to comfort and joy. It is my belief that this acceptance is absolutely unacceptable, that hard work is not equivalent to pain, and that joy within suffering is entirely possible.

Joy and comfort are not items to be earned or destinations to be reached, but rather repetitive experiences to be had. They can precede suffering, be preceded by suffering, or, in my opinion most commonly, accompany it. It is entirely possible to simultaneously achieve one’s goals and to enjoy the journey. Realistically, the pursuit of a goal likely makes up the bulk of the time dedicated to it, and if we aren’t finding any joy within that process, is the goal ultimately a truly fulfilling one?

I encourage you to find the joy in daily pursuits, friends. Find joy in going to practice, in repetitive music theory, in math homework and in essays. And, if your pursuits truly no longer serve and fulfill you, replace them. Life is far too short to waste time making yourself miserable chasing goals that no longer suit you, you all are worth so much more than halfhearted effort.

Much love,

Sabina

Stress and Soaking Up Sunshine

Hey friends! I’ve missed you all! Life has been crazy lately… I’ve been caught in a current of near constant productivity as far as work and school go, with not much if any time left for art or writing. As I find myself with a couple of days of breathing space, I wanted to take this moment to check in with everyone here and with myself, and to breathe in the beautiful sunshine that has hit Ottawa today.

How are you doing? Are you holding in any tension or anxiety? If so, where? I invite you to take a moment and join me in breathing peace into those spaces as you read this, incorporating all of the positivity and hope that warmer days such as today bring.

Personally I have been holding a lot of tension in my neck, as I hunch my shoulders quite a bit when I am stressed and/or extremely busy. Meditation has particularly been key in maintaining a sense of inner peace and grounding, as my schedule currently varies greatly from week to week and can occasionally be quite chaotic.

Working nearly every day for weeks on end can be extremely exhausting, but I am noticing an interesting phenomenon within myself as a result. Now, when I have a day off, I appreciate it exponentially more than I would have six months ago. Twenty-four hours devoted entirely to myself and my desires has become an absolute luxury, often spent simply walking with the dog and doing chores around the house that are otherwise neglected. Today, the sunshine on my face and a warm breeze felt nothing short of magical.

In the past year, since leaving Waterloo, I have noticed myself developing an even deeper appreciation for life and it’s many joys. I believe that my existence is full of nearly endless wonderful possibilities, even when I am forced down paths that I did not choose. I have discovered that there is beauty in all situations; sometimes we just need to shift our perspective in order to see it. Difficult seasons of life do not last forever, and inevitably we are eventually repaid for our struggles with successes beyond our wildest dreams. Sometimes that payoff takes years, sometimes that payoff takes days, sometimes the payoff is initially small, sometimes inconceivably large, but we are always repaid. I find myself repeating this mantra internally on long workdays as of late, and I hope that those of you working through exam season right now could perhaps do the same. Regardless of your test results, you will ultimately be rewarded for your hard work. If you find yourself disappointed, try your best to remain calm and wait things out. Another path, perhaps one that suits you even better than your current one, may be waiting to reveal itself. Be patient, be understanding, be kind. Your life is precious and beautiful as is, and no test result can take that away.

Much love to you all ❤

Sabina

Keeping Perspective Through Fatigue

Hey friends, long time no speak! How are you all? I’ve missed writing to you! It’s been… a while since I’ve been active on here. I’ve taken on a second job at a climbing gym which, when piled on top of school, puppy raising, exercise and my first job, is proving to be thoroughly exhausting. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been doing a fair bit of living moment to moment and neglecting creative projects such as this blog in the process.

In exhausting seasons of life such as this, I think that it’s important to remember that they are only that: seasons. They are transient entities of sorts, periods of time which do not necessarily have definitive beginnings and ends so much as retroactive “before”s and “after”s. Often I personally don’t notice my schedule filling up until long after I have become overwhelmed by it. At this point, I find that there usually isn’t much to be done about the reality of the situation so much as there is an opportunity to work on maintaining a perspective which is as positive as possible.

I find that it is often useful for me to ask myself questions about my perception of my situation more than it is useful for me to analyze the situation itself. For example, today I chose to consider how I might look back on my current situation in ten years’ time. Will I regret my current hard work? Will I be proud of having pushed through my exhaustion in favour of education? Will I regret working to stay financially independent and taking on extra shifts so that I can afford to travel? When I take a stance which is as objective as possible, the answer to potential future regrets is, consistently, “no”. In my experience, hard work very rarely amounts to regret when applied with specific goals in mind.

Life may be exhausting at the moment, but none of the items in my schedule have been added without a specific purpose. For the time being, I think that that will be my mantra. Everything is being done with a purpose, Sabina, you may be exhausted but all of your obligations have a purpose. I hope that those of you who find yourselves in similar situations can perhaps adopt a similar mantra.

I’ll do my best to get a proper update up here this weekend, but, in the meantime, I hope that you all are well ❤

Have a good rest of your week!

Sabina

Reframing Stress

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, and I apologize if this post doesn’t make much sense as I’m writing it late at night, but I find myself more and more able to reframe my everyday stresses lately. While experiencing severe illness provided me with a certain amount of perspective, there is an additional amount that I have worked, and continue to work, to refine and grow. I’ll probably work on growing this perspective forever.

No longer do I obsess over negative thought patterns for hours or days on end. I do not generally catch myself feeling consumed with anxiety over crowded to-do lists. With time and experience has come this unexpected ability to re-frame the things that, pre-illness, used to take over my thoughts to the point that I could not act on the tasks at hand.

This being said, I do still feel anxiety. I do still feel anger and stress. I do still feel fear and sadness. My life gets really busy sometimes, and I struggle to keep up with the ever-spinning hamster wheel that I have created for myself. The difference between my present and past selves, however, lies in gratitude and frame of mind. I am able to remember times in which a full schedule such as my current one would have been impossible, and I am able to appreciate the progress that I have made over the course of several years, even months.

Yes, I am busy, yes I have stress, yes my health isn’t ideal, and no I don’t have a completely clear vision of how to achieve all of my goals yet. I have, however, come an incredibly long way both spiritually and physically from where I was two years ago. I am developing the ability to acknowledge my day to day struggles without letting them consume me. I am developing the ability to maintain the perspective that the experience of being ill has granted me, even when I hit a low on the rollercoaster of life.

In a way, I have become grateful for my everyday anxieties. If a stressor is not health and/or mortality related, I am so fortunate to have it in my life, for there have been times where it would not have been able to exist. I now catch myself, often multiple times a day, telling myself how amazing it is that I am experiencing stress over something so mundane as school or work or scheduling. I urge anyone reading this to look at their lives and attempt to do the same once in a while; I urge everyone to find gratitude in their mundane worries, for we are all so incredibly lucky to even be experiencing them.

Ebb and Flow

*Note: I originally wrote all of this out in a notebook, mostly for myself, unsure if I would post it or not. As I feel that handwritten notes carry a certain amount of character and emotional vulnerability that typed text cannot offer, I’ve attached them at the bottom of the page here. Feel free to have a look through if you want.*

Hey friends… it feels like it’s been ages since I posted here (I think a month or so?). I suppose that’s just the ebb and flow of life for you. I hope you’re all well! In a way, I’ve been busy living… and some days busy just existing. I’ve been struggling increasingly with new and troubling symptoms; symptoms which I had been trying to push away and deny for as long as possible. I had maintained some, admittedly naive, hope that I would be able to largely avoid the medical system for several years. Despite everything, my hope for a fully “normal” life, whatever that is, persists. The universe, however, has other plans, and that hope has currently been somewhat squashed.

All of this being said, I am so fortunate to have wonderful distractions from the pains of life surrounding me at every turn. I have a puppy who demands a fairly large portion of my attention, but gives me unconditional love and companionship in return. I have an incredibly supportive work environment, and a school program that I am fully interested and invested in. On my good days I have my rock climbing, and on all days I have my art; be it photography, or writing, or music.

Regardless of circumstance, there is always art. Even during the darkest periods of life, there is art to be sought out, to be experienced and to be created. It can be difficult to keep sight of this fact sometimes, however, from what I can tell, it rings true in perpetuity. I am blessed with the ability to create perfectly imperfect snapshots of my own beautifully messy human experiences. I am blessed with the ability to curate and share pieces of myself which will carry on touching lives for far longer and with far greater reach than my mortal self ever could. The most amazing part? As humans, we all carry this ability within us; it is only waiting to be accessed.

Through all of the pain that I have endured, and all of the pain that may be to come, there is always art. I only hope that I may continue to hold this truth at the forefront of my mind.

Holidays Have Changed

To be honest with you, the holiday season hasn’t really been the kindest to me in a while. It seems that nearly every year since I began high school, something happens to my health around Christmas. In some weird way, I’ve come to expect it, and dampen my own excitement surrounding the season in the process. It became difficult to maintain child-like joy surrounding the holidays when circumstance was forcing me to grow up, and now I simply can’t seem to find it.

My feelings surrounding the holiday season have shifted in the past five years. More than anything, I now love to plan and give gifts and experience a genuine connection with the people that matter most to me. Food has very little relevance in my holiday experience, and receiving gifts doesn’t matter much to me. Christmas has become less of a holiday to me and more of a seasonal state of mind. It is a time to intentionally practice compassion and selflessness; a time to give to those who matter most to me. Christmas is somewhat of a platonic Valentine’s day in my world.

I may be a little bit of a Scrooge sometimes, insisting that disaster could strike me at any moment at this time of year. Focusing on making others happy has proven to be the best possible cure for this, as seeing others smile because of me is the greatest gift of all. Joy is, after all, an experience intended for sharing.