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.