This Is Why I Started Watercoloring: My Story

Today, I’d like to share with you why I started watercoloring.

If you’re on my email list, you may have already heard this story. We all have a story behind why the desire comes up to try something new - even something fun like watercolors. A lot of times it appears as a simple need to be creative, but more often than not, the story is deeper than that.

While I’m still hesitant to share this here on the blog, I am doing so in hopes that it inspires you to start or keep going with your creative pursuits. You never know how it will help you and where it will take you.

 
  Photos by:    Joy Theory Co.

Photos by: Joy Theory Co.

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This is Why I Started Watercoloring…

It wasn’t just because I was inspired to try something new or wanted to share my work. I turned to watercolors during a time of desperation.

At the end of 2016, I resigned from my corporate job as an architect. After 4 years of college, 12 years of experience, 10 licensure exams and many stressful days and nights spent at the office, my body decided it had been abused enough. I knew deep down something wasn’t right and decided to listen to the little voice inside me that told me it was time to leave.

It wasn’t easy to walk away from all the time and effort I put into building a career. Especially a career with momentum that was full of potential for future growth. I used an excuse for leaving, not wanting to share the real reason. I was afraid it would make me look weak. I was afraid of being judged.

I didn’t believe anyone would understand or respect me for leaving to take care of my well-being. My own inability to say ‘no’, to stand up for the value of my own time, and to stop being a perfectionist all amounted to a lot of stress, too many hours at the office, and a subsequent relapse of a chronic condition.

The first few months after resigning, I got a lot of comments about how amazing my new life probably was. But the reality was that all my time was spent in labs, doctors offices, and at home. I saw my body swell so much from edema that it was painful to stand and walk for more than 10 minutes. I had my second kidney biopsy and my lab tests just kept getting worse. The hardest part of this time in my life was seeing my mom worry because she couldn’t do anything to help. There was a lot of frustration, tears, and endless searching for answers that weren’t there. I had never felt so helpless.

I was going crazy doing nothing except for worrying about my health and attending appointments. I kept being reminded that I was “not normal” and should sit around and do nothing so I didn’t aggravate my condition. Going from being productive and goal oriented to doing nothing and feeling helpless was difficult to say the least. 

I figured painting was an activity that wouldn’t add any extra stress but would give me something to do. (I had started calligraphy the year before, and wanted to do that, but I actually get too focused and tense while writing.) So I dug out an old watercolor set and gave it a try. I finally had something to look forward to everyday - it made me happy. And you know what? Slowly my health began improving.

 
 One of the first things I painted when I started watercoloring in 2017.

One of the first things I painted when I started watercoloring in 2017.

 

It’s been such a journey, but I am so much better now. I think watercolors, among other factors, played a big part in my recovery. It is widely believed that stress is one of the biggest factors in illness. I thought I managed my stress by leaving my job, but looking back, watercolors helped fill a void and give me a renewed sense of purpose. After I started sharing and connecting with a community through watercolors I didn’t feel so lost and alone.

In retrospect, I’m really grateful that all of this happened.

In fact, I needed the reminder that I shouldn’t take my health for granted. The first time I suffered through health issues and was diagnosed with my autoimmune disease, I had pushed myself too hard (stress, lack of sleep, poor diet) during the first year of college. The doctors couldn’t figure out why I developed this chronic disease. But I was young and I responded well to the medication and eventually returned to “normal”.

I took it for granted and 10 years later, when I found myself in a similar situation (stress, lack of sleep, poor diet) I didn’t even stop to assess the situation. The desire to be “successful”, to prove I could keep up, and my perfectionist tendencies were running my life. I worked A LOT. I didn’t have a life. Work was my life in a very unhealthy way.

My body put up with me for almost 3 years. And then decided enough was enough. I should have seen the warning signs:

  • One day I saw rainbow sparkles (I’m not kidding) - I was told it was an ocular migraine

  • I started getting headaches that lasted days at a time

  • I always felt cold (I would put my scarf over my head at work - I didn’t care that I looked ridiculous)

  • My fingers and toes would go numb while working

It’s no wonder that once I removed myself from the stress my body totally crashed. Have you heard of the phenomena called “the let-down effect”? I think that’s what it was.

So that’s two warnings for me and I don’t want to get a third. I’m not sure if my kidneys can take it. In our lives, the most valuable lessons come out of difficult times. I’ve learned a lot about respecting my body. My mom used to tell me “without your health, you can’t enjoy anything”. In my early twenties it didn’t mean much. Now, it means everything.

After this last episode I completely changed my diet and habits to help my body heal in any way I could: more sleep, nutrient-dense foods, and stress management. It’s given me perspective and an intense drive to create a lifestyle that allows me to stay healthy and happy. Especially now that my husband and I will soon be responsible for another human being, it’s even more important to me.

So that is why I started watercoloring. I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. I didn’t plan for it to work out this way, but watercolors have become part of how I am building a new lifestyle for myself and my family.

And for that I have to say I am so grateful for you. Whether you’ve purchased a print, been a student of mine, shared encouraging words, or are just here reading my blog, all of it matters. So thank you.

I’m not sure what your situation is today. But I know there’s a bigger reason behind your inspirations, your dreams, and your ideas. Hold onto that and keep going.

As always, thank you for reading and for being here!
Susan