highs and lows of 2022

Happy lunar new year, friends. 2023 is the year of the water rabbit–a year of development and transformation through contemplation and connection. In the spirit of the rabbit, I wanted to take time to reflect on my personal highs and lows of 2022, the year of the water tiger.

Most could probably be individual posts with lengthier write-ups, but for the sake of moving forward and Just Writing Something™, I’ve decided to be a bit more succinct. So, in relative chronological order, here are the peaks and valleys of the last lunar year.

getting a job in my field.

In 2022, I landed my first full-time job in communications–the field I went to college for. Even though I had previously acquired clients in the field as a freelancer, it felt like a big accomplishment to be chosen from other candidates, brought onto a team, and given the title of Marketing & Communications Specialist.

I got my own office, a brand-new MacBook, and a big monitor to do my design work. Some things I really enjoyed doing were editing brochures, creating posters, maintaining relationships with partners, managing sponsorships, and executing a big ad campaign.

It was cool… for a little while! Once I started being on-call every second weekend, it became difficult to get the time to rest and recuperate. I would essentially work 12 days in a row, have two days off, then work 12 days in a row again. I also only got a 30-minute lunch break every day, with no coffee breaks. Finding a work-life balance wasn’t feasible, so I resigned after six months.

Even though it didn’t work out, I’m still thankful for the experience. It taught me how much I value flexibility, my personal freedom, and the ability to work from home. It also showed me how little I care for the Monday to Friday, 9-5 work week. That could change sometime in the future, but right now, it’s not for me.

visiting Falcon Trails Resort.

My partner and I visited Falcon Trails in Whiteshell Provincial Park for the first time in mid-May, and it was quite possibly the highlight of 2022. We rented the remote Peregrine eco-cabin on the edge of High Lake and saw so many different birds and critters during our stay. Outside our cabin, a ruby-throated hummingbird flew back and forth to a blossoming shrub, and common loons called out to one another throughout the night. Inside, my partner and I sat on cushions around the wood stove and drank non-alcoholic beer, quietly mesmerized by the flames.

During the day, we took in fresh air on the local trails and spent a lot of time trying to identify birds. Some special bird friends we saw included the pileated woodpecker, American redstart, yellow-rumped warbler, northern flicker, and red-breasted nuthatch. (I know, bird names are amusing.) While we were leaving for a hike one afternoon, we saw the cutest little weasel by a stream–it stood up on its hind legs to look at us then scurried away. Being surrounded by nature was so refreshing and grounding, and I’m really looking forward to visiting again this spring.

grieving my Grandma’s death.

The morning of July 7, I woke up to a text from my dad saying my grandma had passed away the evening before. She was my last living grandparent – only one of two I had actually met – and her death brought the pain of disconnection from my grandparents and Chinese culture to the surface.

My grandma was a first-generation Chinese immigrant who was diagnosed with a serious mental health condition in her 30s. Because of her medication along with our language barrier, we were never able to have a conversation or build a relationship. I’m honestly not sure she knew who I was. When I visited pre-pandemic, my grandma would stare into the distance and rub her hands together as if she were washing them with soap. The one time I visited during the pandemic, she was asleep and hooked up to an oxygen machine, looking thin and frail. I sat in a chair at the end of her bed and cried, sporadically resting my hand on her ankle to let her know I was there.

After my grandma died, I struggled with feelings of guilt for not visiting her more often. I wished I were a more present grandchild, even if that meant being unseen and crying silently by her bedside. I wished I leaned into the pain and sadness instead of avoiding it, and her.

My dad and his siblings decided not to have a funeral. They had my grandma’s body cremated, and one hot summer afternoon, my family and I drove to the cemetery to place a golden urn with my grandma’s ashes into the plot where my grandpa has been buried for over 25 years. Months passed and the obituary still hadn’t been published, so I took the lead and helped my dad, aunt, and uncles in editing the obituary, and collecting and editing photos for the video tribute. It felt nice to lend my skills and support in some way.

returning to freelancing.

Once I rested and recovered from burnout from my stretch as a full-time (plus on-call) worker, I returned to doing freelance work. I supported a friend with live-streaming for an event, took on a graphic design project for the Winnipeg Food Council, and began offering animal care for people on vacation. I’m still trying to figure out my rates but compared to when I first started freelancing a few years ago, I am much more comfortable talking about money and working out agreements.

While freelance work and being your own boss is definitely not as stable as being employed and getting a consistent paycheck, it seems to suit both my personality and neurodivergence far better than the outdated 40-hour workweek. Freelancing allows me to set my own schedule and prioritize mental health. I have autonomy, and that’s super important to me.

celebrating my one-year anniversary with my partner.

On December 1, my partner and I celebrated a year in a committed relationship. We went for dinner at Nola and shared a few plates, my favourites being the corn + nori fritters and Japanese karaage fried mushrooms. After eating, we drank a non-alcoholic glass of wine and exchanged handmade cards with one another. It was endearing because we shared very similar sentiments about how the relationship impacted us and made us feel.

Our one-year anniversary is a special milestone for me because this is the first partnership I’ve committed to in over a decade. It’s also the first queer partnership I’ve had in my life. Intentionally loving beyond cis-heteropatriarchy has felt very liberating, especially after growing up in a strict household and spending my teens and 20s fulfilling harmful gender roles and ideals. I’m really grateful for our solid friendship, and for co-creating a space of support and safety.

getting two new tattoos.

When I got a coverup on my neck in 2017, I left the appointment thinking, “I am never getting another tattoo again.” It was painful, and the way I had to straddle a small chair for three hours was super uncomfortable. As time passed, I came across tattoo artwork I liked on social media and realized I wanted more body art.

One artist I admired for a while was Vancouver-based queer artist, Zox. They announced a guest spot at a shop in Winnipeg, so I eagerly messaged them to request a custom piece. Part of my preparation included writing affirmations in a note on my phone because I did not want to descend into negative, anxious thoughts while getting tattooed like I had in the past.

Aside from some miscommunication about payment, it ended up being a positive experience and it didn’t even hurt that much! Lying on my back and chatting with Zox helped me feel comfortable and distracted from the sensation. A few months later, I snagged an opening on my birthday with local artist Bram Adey. They were very cool and also made me feel at ease during the session. I already have a list of other tattoos I want to get.

Whew, writing this was a lot more of a rollercoaster than I anticipated. I guess I had more processing to do. If you made it here to the end, thank you for reading. I wish you and your loved ones a year of renewal and connection.

starting a wellness journal

Ever since COVID-19 spread to Winnipeg, around three months after I stopped drinking, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways I could take better care of myself. Not because I experienced an upheaval due to the lockdowns – oddly, it was the opposite. I actually felt better. I was privileged to receive government benefits, talk to my trauma counselor on a bi-weekly basis, and have the space to grieve things unrelated to the pandemic. I was safe in my own home and I had everything I needed. Apparently, there are others who felt this sort of lockdown relief, too.

What I recognized was, for the majority of my adult life, I had been operating from a state of chaos, dysfunction, and anxiety – an extension of my childhood and teenage years. With this realization and newfound abundance of time, I wondered: What are small rituals I can add to my day to increase my personal well-being? How can I navigate difficult situations better and cope with complicated feelings that inevitably come up?

As a trauma survivor and someone who has recently become active in community organizing, I believe it’s important to ask these types of questions and find answers. Not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my friends and my community, too. Working toward a safer, freer world requires one being able to take good care of themselves first.

Here I am reminded of a passage from The Revolution Starts at Home.

We must ensure the perpetuity, health and safety of our communities, in order to lay the groundwork for deeper liberation. And similarly, as communities, we must find the existent models, re-discover old models, find new models for ensuring our healing. I am asking that those of us who are survivors use our experiences to create these maps, with integrity, love, truthfulness, gentleness and a vision for assuring the dignity and safety of our collective humanity. I am asking that we do the hard work to leave the destructive patterns behind–trade them in for new ones; that we survive our history and circumstances, allow ourselves to feel beautiful and be loved so that we can create that for each other.

Ana Lara

In an attempt to create my own sort of recovery map and model for healing, I’ve started a wellness bullet journal. My intention for this journal and corresponding blog series is to explore what personal well-being means and what it actually looks like day-to-day. My hope is to inspire you to reflect on the different aspects of wellness, become aware of what genuinely replenishes you, and maybe even start a wellness journal of your own.

With that said, each of us have different backgrounds and preferences, so what I share may not completely resonate with you, and that’s OK. As Chani Nicholas often writes, “Take what works for you, and leave the rest.”

Thanks to a microgrant I received from Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art for this project, I was able to purchase a beautiful dot grid journal from Archer & Olive. They’re a US-based business that makes ethical, hand-bound notebooks which come in various sizes and styles. I really love how bright the cover is – it brings me a lot of joy and makes me want to pick it up every day, which is important when doing healing work.

I also bought a few writing utensils from Artists Emporium, including a Sakura white Gelly Roll and a Tombow Dual Brush pen.

I started my journal by drawing a cover page that says “Alanna’s 2021 wellness journal” near the top and has an illustration of hills and earthy layers at the bottom. I used a combination of marker, coloured pencil, and archival ink, and I referenced some older drawings of mine for inspiration.

Creating this page with all the different sections and fine details felt like a good wellness practice in itself. Drawing and colouring has been an interest of mine since I was young – though as time goes on, I seem to do it less and less. So actually sitting down and using my coloured pencils, markers, and pens was really nice.

Next, I made a yearly overview – from May to December 2021 – to log daily memories and highlights. Each page has two months and 30-31 lines each, depending on the month. I wanted this to be at the front of my journal so I could remember to practice gratitude for the people in my life, and the simple pleasures as well.

If you aren’t aware, neuroscience shows that being grateful produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment. When we take time to remember positive experiences and express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin – two neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good.

A few nice memories I wrote down include:

  • eating southern-fried tofu in the sun
  • feeding chickadees with Jacq
  • smelling lilacs + cherry blossoms

As you can see, I didn’t fill all the days. The reality for me is not every day has a highlight or something memorable. I still have days where I don’t leave my apartment or do anything special – there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not aiming for perfection.

After the gratitude log, I made a spread which lists and defines the eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, occupational, and financial. I researched the meaning of each dimension and, in some cases, crafted the definitions in a way that resonated with me.

I defined the eight dimensions of wellness as follows:

  • emotional – handling life’s stressors and adapting to change and difficult times
  • physical – maintaining a healthy, active quality of life through exercise, nutrition, and sleep
  • social – nurturing relationships with friends, family, and community members, and having a strong support system
  • spiritual – expanding life’s meaning and purpose, and understanding the values, beliefs, and morals that guide your actions
  • intellectual – recognizing your creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
  • environmental – occupying pleasant spaces and creating a safe, inclusive, and sustainable community that recognizes the impact of personal and social decisions
  • occupational – choosing work that provides a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction
  • financial – being able to meet your needs and making choices to support a stable future

On the opposite page, I jotted down a couple practical items for each dimension of wellness, based on practices I find supportive and helpful.

Below are examples of what I wrote down:

  • emotional – journaling to process, understand, and validate feelings
  • physical – going for a daily walk or bike ride
  • social – volunteering with organizations that align with my values
  • spiritual – observing and appreciating the plants, animals, and seasons
  • intellectual – trying new recipes, projects, and courses
  • environmental – participating in my local Buy Nothing group
  • occupational – using my skills and knowledge while gaining new experience
  • financial – tracking my spending and not overindulging

Out of all these items, I struggled the most to figure out what spiritual practices I like and have been doing, which makes sense considering my history. In general, trying to figure out life’s meaning and purpose can be really difficult without having some degree of an existential crisis. Not to mention, understanding the values, beliefs, and morals that guide your actions requires a fair amount of introspection and awareness. It can feel like a lot. For me at least!

Anyway, I didn’t force myself to come up with all the answers – that would defeat the purpose of this journal. It’s my hope that spiritual practices will naturally emerge through further work and creativity.

In my next post, I will share more spreads from my journal and write further about the practices which have supported me in my personal recovery.

Thank you for reading, and take good care.

highlights of 2020

In late 2019, my colleague and I were having a conversation about the year not being great for either of us and that 2020 would be better–it would be our year. At the time I was struggling to deal with broken trust and crossed boundaries in my relationships, so I was drinking a lot of alcohol to cope. I wasn’t handling things very well.

Despite a global pandemic, 2020 proved to be a far better year. Since my last full-time work contract ended in March, and my college classes ended in April, I had so much free time on my hands that I was able to simply be, not to mention process things I didn’t otherwise have the capacity for before. And thanks to CERB and Klinic’s post trauma counselling program, I had financial and mental health support and didn’t have to worry about finding work or risking my health for a paycheck.

To list some highlights in the bizarre year that was 2020:

Graduating from college and receiving my diploma in communications.

In 2015 I enrolled in the Creative Communications program at Red River College and was “supposed” to graduate in 2017. However, I had a lot of personal things going on during second year and components of my Independent Professional Project (IPP) did not work out the way I planned, so I took two years off and returned in the fall of 2019 to try again. Since the IPP was no longer part of the course, I took Writer’s Craft for two semesters with the other Public Relations specialists.

While the class of 2020 didn’t get to experience an in-person convocation, we were all mailed out a cute little graduation package that included our diploma. Mine is now framed and hanging in my living room above my beloved filing cabinet. I’m super proud of my younger self for deciding to go back to college and complete the program.

Writing, illustrating, and publishing a personal essay.

The Black Hole was my final CreComm product. It’s a creative non-fiction story about relationships, music, obsession, mental health, and abandonment trauma. It was both cathartic and anxiety-inducing to write, and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to workshop my piece with a group of thoughtful, intelligent women, all while receiving support and feedback from two of my favourite instructors.

Riding my bike around Winnipeg and enjoying nature.

Cycling around Winnipeg is one of my favourite pastimes, especially in the spring when all the cherry trees and lilac bushes are blooming. There’s so much freedom in biking, and with new bike lanes popping up, cycling is becoming a safer activity.

Last year in particular, the City of Winnipeg designated 10 streets to be open routes (which meant no vehicles were allowed to drive more than one block) in order to encourage folks to get outside and be active. I cruised down the majority of these open streets and found new routes and places to relax. One of my new fave spots to sit and watch the sunset is Lyndale Drive Park.

House sitting and taking care of two quirky, cuddly cats.

A friend went to visit her partner in another province and asked me to stay at her place to care for her two older cats, Slurpee and Jerome. It was my first experience with house sitting, and it felt nice that someone trusted me to watch over their cherished animal companions and their home.

Slurpee was a major suck and needed to sit on my lap at least twice a day, otherwise she would protest by chewing on my laptop cord. A couple of her favourite activities were chasing the laser pointer and play-scratching at the pink dining room chairs while lying on her back. Jerome was a bit more independent, but definitely got his share of snuggles when he was in the mood–usually right after eating or before bedtime. He was very chatty and loved to watch me eat food from near or far.

Even though I used to work close to Point Douglas, I had never stayed in the area for any extended amount of time. It was fun to explore the trails and local businesses in the neighbourhood, like Pollock’s Hardware Co-op and Gunn’s Bakery. It was also great to have friends over for one-on-one, physically distant backyard bonfires.

Strengthening my friendships.

Although my friends and I weren’t able to enjoy each other’s company as much as we would’ve liked to, our relationships deepened regardless. Whether by phone call or text message, there were many instances where we openly discussed conflict, addressed misunderstandings, and shared our fears. In other words, we practiced a lot of vulnerability.

For example, after responding to a concern I had, one of my confidants asked me, “How do you feel about this friendship?” It caught me off guard. No one had ever asked me that before. It takes a solid person with a healthy ego to ask that kind of question, be willing to hear feedback, and adjust–if necessary.

I’m very thankful for my close friends and our mutual willingness to say how we really feel. That may sound super basic, but as someone who grew up having their feelings consistently unacknowledged and dismissed, having friends who listen and validate without judgment is extremely healing.

Finishing a mosaic that I started five years ago.

When I took a mosaic art class at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Studio, I became friends with the instructor, Dimitry Melman Komar, and helped him in assembling his installations for local schools and community organizations. Over the years, Dimitry has been kind enough to share his materials and let me use his home studio to make mosaics of my own.

The above mosaic of a street in Amsterdam was a piece I began in 2015, a couple of years after visiting the Netherlands. The mosaic sat on the shelf for years because I lost my motivation from having a lot of difficulty cutting the tiny window frames. But last year I chose to scrap the frames and finish the mosaic once and for all. It felt very satisfying to finally grout the piece and hang it up.

Volunteering with a local grassroots organization.

I joined local abolitionist group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm and have been learning so much about prisons, policing, disability justice, and sexual and gender-based violence. It’s a little overwhelming realizing how much I don’t actually know, but it’s been really great organizing with such passionate people. The group gives me a sense of community and belonging, which is so important and needed–not only because of the isolation, but also because of my recent exit from the local music community. (More on that later, perhaps?)

Abstaining from alcohol.

On December 30, 2019, I decided to take an indefinite break from drinking. I was spending too much money on booze and it was making me anxious, both financially and emotionally. According to my spending tracker, I spent a total of $1,563.36 on alcohol in 2019–enough for a small vacation!

But I didn’t spend a single penny on alcohol last year. I’m very proud of myself for this accomplishment considering how often I used to turn to drinking when I wanted to numb feelings or escape from problems.

Here’s to another year of art, friendship, community organizing, abstinence, and growth. 🤍