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Updated: Jul 25, 2023

You can still have your dreams and passions if you suffer from mental illness. Just because someone puts a label on your “disorder” or “illness” doesn’t mean you can’t have goals or one daydream about opening an apothecary.

In fact, I encourage you to have dreams and passions, creative projects and goals. These are the motivators for getting through the day, especially on the hard days. Lord knows as mental health warriors, we have a ton of those. While our moods and stress may go up and down like a roller coaster, it is our dreams, passions and even long-term creative goals that stay more consistent. You continue to dream of one day becoming a photographer, that has not changed. It’s just the road to becoming a photographer when you struggle with anxiety and/or depression, is bumpier. You often feel “stuck in the mud” and have difficulty getting back on track to pursuing that dream. That voice in your head, or if you have quite a few (that’s okay too), may be telling you that you are not worthy of this creative passion, or that it’s a waste of time to pursue a dream such as becoming a photographer. I am here to tell you that is not true. And here is how you can better plan to make that creative aspiration and dream come true and… Having passions and dreams are actually a key tool in recovery. Yep, that’s right. That passionate desire you have to open an apothecary or creative aspiration to become a writer, photographer, or to simply practice guitar more — these passions are all critical and can play a huge role in your goal to reduce anxiety, get out of severe depression, or to recover from past trauma.

Here is what I recommend — first, imagine your passion. If you have many, pick one. Really picture it. If you want to become a writer, imagine what book you’ll write. Then dream of getting it published and having a book-launch party — who would you invite? How would you feel on that magic day of finally accomplishing your dream and turning your creative passion into a reality? Follow GROW I want you to then GROW that image further by writing down this mini goal-setting formula for rethinking ways to propel your dream forward: G = Goal — what creative dream/passion do you want to focus on specifically? R = Reality — what is happening now that is not propelling this forward? What can you really do to propel this forward? (Example, for me it's painting but my time is limited and I often feel unmotivated. So I decided that realistically, I can accomplish 1 painting, of my choice, a week) O = Options — what options are available for you to move forward? (Example, your options may first look like setting boundaries and intentions to allow you to create with peace and safety — read more about this below) W = Way forward — What will you do? Will this action meet your goal? What obstacles might you face? How can you deal with these in advance? (Example, sometimes a way forward is simply acknowledging you will have bad days and to prepare for those) After you have written out sentences for this acronym, filling each of the letters for G-R-O-W, try to commit to baby steps. Not easy, trust me I know, but have a little faith. You may be asking yourself right now, “I suffer from anxiety and depression, so how can I make my creative passions and dreams come true?” That is a perfectly fair question. So you wrote down your passion or dream you want to GROW. What’s next? Set boundaries and intentions. Make these boundaries and intentions part of your healing and daily self-care routine, if you have one.

It’s important that in the pursuit of a creative endeavor, to set boundaries because setting boundaries will require you to be more in tune with yourself, and this kind of honesty with yourself will help keep you accountable and realistic throughout the pursuit. Boundaries are necessary for yourself and others. What if you have social anxiety and can’t enter your creative zone or space with others around you? It’s important to realize this and set that boundary. Then set the intention of creating a physical space and time away from that trigger, to pursue your creative project. Doing so will help you to be assertive and build confidence in yourself. Those feelings will then transmute into your creative juices and carry over as confidence into your project. You can now create more peacefully and with a larger sense of safety. This is all part of what is next after following the process of writing your GROW plan. Practice Self-Forgiveness and Congratulate yourself for SHOWING UP While small consistent actions help pave the way for your creative passion or dream to move forward, I truly believe that this last step requires a nurturing gentle hand, especially in managing your mental health.

So what do I mean by this? Your way forward is planning for your up days and your down days. Plan for getting stuck in the mud and how you want to pull yourself out. If you love working with your hands, watching comedy movies, or playing guitar, on your down days plan to give extra space and time to do those EXACT things. But only after practicing a little self-forgiveness: Say aloud an affirmation of self-forgiveness. Why? The reality is you have fallen off the bandwagon, and the goal here is to get back up so you can play that guitar. You may say to yourself, “what does it matter if I practice self-forgiveness, let alone say it aloud?” Well before you dismiss the power of affirmations and spoken words, did you know that the lack of forgiveness can decrease your lifespan? Yes, you read right. According to Huffington Post: “People who practice conditional forgiveness — in other words, people who can only forgive if others say sorry first or promise not to do the transgression again — may be more likely to die earlier, compared with people who are less likely to practice conditional forgiveness.” This was discovered in a study by The Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Whether you are in a state of anger or sadness because you know you are having a bad day, choosing not to forgive yourself won’t help you push forward. Choosing not to forgive yourself definitely won’t help you grow and manage your mental health. So you have everything to lose by not saying this affirmation on your hard day, and everything to gain if you do. So say it with me now. Say aloud: “I forgive myself for having a bad day, a hard day. I forgive myself for the demons I am struggling to keep at bay, especially today. I forgive myself for feeling stuck in the mud. I will now let all of this go. I will try my best to let this moment now, be the last of my bad day.” And that’s it! Now break out that guitar! Pull out the brushes and paint. Grab a piece of paper and write your novel or simply journal!

Lastly, it is time to congratulate yourself on showing up in that way. That is half the battle and the more you do this and practice that affirmation of self-forgiveness on hard days, you will find more will-power and motivation for commitment to your creative endeavor. You will start to believe more in yourself as the passion GROWs. Remember, anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar — all these mental illnesses do not define you and certainly do not stop you from having dreams and passions. You are more than your mental illness. Believe in yourself and remember, showing up is half the battle. Carry on my little warrior.

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