Spotlight: Paola Andrea
For this, 2022’s first Creativity Corner installment, I am so excited for you to meet my friend, Paola Andrea. We’ll discuss a variety of topics, including Our True Self and Creativity.
Paola and I met a few years ago via Instagram, where we were sharing pictures of small art projects we made every day for Daisy Yellow’s ICAD (Index Card a Day) challenge. We started off simply, by liking each other’s projects. But over time, we chimed in regularly with words of support, encouragement, and joy!
Now, almost every month, Paola joins us on Zoom from her home in Florida for the monthly hangout, where we do art and chat about whatever’s on our minds. These conversations are a blast!
She is a treasure–full of hard-earned wisdom, which she graciously agreed to share with us. I asked her to participate in Creativity Corner because I knew we would learn from her powerful insights. I was right, and you are in for a treat!
Here we go!
More About Paola Andrea
Tracey: First, can you share briefly about your background, where you’re from and how you came to live in the states?
Paola: I was born in Medellin, Colombia and came to the United States with my mom and sister when I was 4 years old. I grew up in New York City except for the four years I lived in Upstate New York for college. I have a BSEEd (Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education) and a MSEd in Literacy (Master of Science in Education). I’ve worked as a teacher and in customer service until 2018 when I stopped working full time due to health problems. Now I live in Gainesville, Florida with my husband, Paul, and our little Chihuahua-Boston terrier mix, Priya where I teach virtually, create art and focus on my spiritual practice.
Tracey: You’ve shared during hangouts (where conversations range far wider than just art!) that you experienced trauma in your growing up years. Would you expand on that in whatever way makes you comfortable?
Paola: As a child and teenager I experienced a lot of trauma due to dysfunctional family dynamics. My father was abusive and an alcoholic. I dealt with a lot of fear, instability, abuse, poverty and lies due to his addictions and mental problems. As a teenager, I became anorexic and self-harmed. I didn’t realize much later when I was in therapy in my 20s how much of what I exhibited was PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Journeying Out of Darkness, through Art
Tracey: Thank you for sharing some of your story with us. We’ve bonded in part over a mutual passion for speaking about mental health, which is needed now more than ever. Would you talk a little bit about how your background inspired your journey with creativity and what your preferred creative outlets are?
Paola: Growing up we didn’t have the money to buy entertainment so my mom encouraged us to use our imagination. She always found ways for us to have simple art supplies to use (paper, color pencils, crayons, etc). Some of our favorite games were drawing pictures with each other’s doodles or drawing our own games. My mom would teach me how to draw circles, lines and other shapes free hand then how to put them together to draw animals and people. Art for us was also dancing and listening to music. Putting on some classical music or Colombian children’s songs, we would imagine fantastical scenes or dance ourselves silly.
Art was how we journeyed away from all the darkness around us. As I grew up, I added writing and painting to my creative outlets. I’ve also dabbled with general crafting like needle felting, sewing, collages, etc. However, I always come back to my first loves: drawing, writing & painting.
Growing up we didn’t have the money to buy entertainment so my mom encouraged us to use our imagination... Art was how we journeyed away from all the darkness around us.“
Tracey: Can you share more about what healing means to you and expand on how creative acts have helped your healing process?
Paola: My healing has been a mix of cognitive behavioral therapy (10 years worth) and a lot of spiritual work. For me, spiritual work is a creative process either subtly or overtly. I’ve participated in sweat lodges, women’s circles, asana yoga, dance therapy, art workshops and energy healing. In sweat lodges creativity showed itself in the raw prayers that I made as I sweated in the dark. In women’s circles I drew my inner child, danced to free my emotions and visualized my future. In asana yoga and dance therapy I was creative by accepting that my body could move and breathe in ways that were unfamiliar. In art workshops my creativity allowed me to connect colors to emotions and play with materials to speak to my inner child. With energy healing my imagination had to expand to try to “see” and “feel” the unseen.
Most recently, I’ve been working with a spiritual counselor who is trauma-conscious and understands my spiritual path of Bhakti yoga. Bhakti Yoga has been critical in continuing my healing. With a daily practice of chanting the Mahamantra, offering my actions and food to Krishna (God), and reading sacred literature, I’m again immersed in that creative process. Ultimately, being creative is intimately connected with spirituality. When I am most connected to my spirit soul then my creativity flourishes and my healing truly progresses.
Ultimately, being creative is intimately connected with spirituality. When I am most connected to my spirit soul, then my creativity flourishes and my healing truly progresses.“
Creativity as a Method of Coping and Self-Care
Tracey: I ask this question a lot because answers are varied and important: A word that comes up around creativity is “cope.” Can you talk more specifically about how, exactly, creative outlets helped you cope?
Paola: “Cope” is an interesting word because it has had different meanings to me at various points in my life. Coping up until I was thirty was surviving and at times it seemed like I was barely doing so. Healthy coping skills were not my strong suit during that time as evidenced by my anorexia and self-harming tendencies. The healthiest coping I did was a lot of reading to get away from painful situations. I see reading deeply as a creative act. To fall into a book and live in the story I have to be truly engaged with my imagination seeing in my mind’s eye what is happening. I ran away to the worlds in the books and lived there for a while.
As I got older, I started writing and drawing to cope with all my troubled thoughts. I remember in college writing a series of dark poems trying to process feelings around my father and his abuse. As I got older, I’ve used my creative outlets less for shedding light on the troubles in my life and more on the positive. When I worked full time and was really stressed, I let it out by drawing doodles with encouraging words for coworkers. Cope for me now is about creating happy art gifts for others and myself.
Tracey: I’m a proponent of talking about self-care as a two-way street, meaning from the outside in but also from the inside out. Can you talk about how creative expression has impacted your relationship with yourself? In other words, how the process of creative expression is self-care?
Paola: This is so true, creative self expression is self care! This topic comes up a lot for me and my close friends. We notice that there is a pattern to the “dark” days. They usually come about after long periods of time without any creative expression. I’ve started noticing that too much time without journaling or creating art is not a healthy space for me. Personally, I get too stuck in my head which isn’t the best place sometimes. Once I’m creating and letting off that mental steam for me it always feels easier to take care of myself in other ways as well.
Personally, I get too stuck in my head which isn’t the best place sometimes. Once I’m creating and letting off that mental steam for me it always feels easier to take care of myself in other ways as well.“
Moving away from Perfectionism, towards Our True Self and Creativity
Tracey: Brené Brown talks about perfection and the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism and how perfectionism is really a shield that prevents us from being seen.
She says art helps us let go of comparisons because whatever we create comes from us, and could not come from anyone else. What do you think of this idea? Has creativity helped you become more you?
Paola: Perfectionism is a topic that comes up a lot for me. I struggle with it still. There are so many times that a creative project does not happen for me because I’m stuck in the “Well if it’s not going to be perfect then why bother” mind set. I have become better at catching those thoughts and working around them. The way I see perfectionism is that it stems from fear. Fear of not being good enough or that lack of control. My counselor has explained to me that it’s a coping mechanism that comes up a lot for trauma survivors. For some of us, we were put in the role of the “good one” in our dysfunctional families. That kind of pressure to always do everything perfectly is crushing. It really builds this lack of compassion for ourselves and others when it comes to mistakes. It’s also unbelievably unrealistic! No one is perfect except for God so how can we put that on ourselves.
Along those same lines is that lack of control when it comes to perfectionism. This would happen to me, “If I do everything perfectly then surely nothing bad will happen”. You can see that magical thinking of a child in that statement. Letting go of the need to control everything has been a struggle and a blessing. When I manage it there is a lot less anxiety in my life and a lot more hope. The saying, “Let go and Let God” helps with this for me, as well as the Serenity prayer. I also remember that though whatever I’m doing may not come out perfectly it’s the intention that counts. If I’m doing this from a space of love, an offering to others and the Divine then that is enough. Shifting from “Practice makes Perfect” to “Practice makes Progress” has helped me a lot with perfectionism. I breathe into this with each art offering I create.
Perfectionism has definitely been a shield I’ve hidden behind. I’m starting to step out from behind it more thanks to my art community. So yes, I do think that creativity has helped me become more of my truer self. Uncovering the fear and getting to that joyful blissful self one step at a time.
Our True Self and Creativity in Community
Tracey: It has been true in my life that engaging regularly in creativity has ripple effects that go out to other parts of my life, like creating community. Would you say it’s created ripples in your life? How so?
Paola: Creativity has definitely had ripple effects in my life and community has been one of them for me too. I wouldn’t have met you or so many other art friends that are so dear to me if it weren’t for my participation in Instagram art challenges. That kind of engagement has expanded my circle of friends in so many ways. I have art friends all over the world and from all walks of life. We support and encourage each other artistically and personally.
I’ve also learned to practice self care when it comes to these art challenges or the idea that I have to create art every day. In the beginning I was so excited about making new friends and art that I was doing too many art challenges one after the other. I burned myself out on them. I also was starting to treat the art I created, which received less likes, as not good enough. I was editing my creative expressions based on what I thought would be most popular on Instagram. The lesson I learned from that is that even too much of a good thing can be bad for you and also remember to create with a higher intention than social media popularity. So yes, my creative pursuits are constantly rippling into life lessons for me.
Our True Self and Creativity as Connection to Divinity
Tracey: Is there a message you’d like to share that you haven’t touched on yet about mental health awareness and/or creativity?
Paola: The last thing I would want to say is to connect with Divine self by whatever name resonates with you and be compassionate. In my experience the more we connect to something bigger than us the more we are compassionate to ourselves and others. From that compassion, gratitude and joy can grow. From that gratitude and joy the creativity can flow.
the more we connect to something bigger than us the more we are compassionate to ourselves and others. From that compassion, gratitude and joy can grow. From that gratitude and joy the creativity can flow.“
Joy Elephant Inspiration
Tracey: Your “handle” is @Joyelephant. Can you share how you came up with that cute name?
Paola: When I first got on Instagram I did so with the intention to draw and write a Joy Elephant book. Joy Elephant is a really cute, joyful, little elephant that I’ve been drawing since 2011. I think of her as my inner child of sorts and lately I realize she’s that true spirit soul self. Joyful, curious, friendly, ready to explore and create: that’s what Joy Elephant means to me. Even though I haven’t gotten around to publishing a book, I have created various handmade tiny books of Joy Elephant that I have sold in my Etsy store. I’ve kept the name to remind me of my book publishing goal and to connect to what she means to me.
Connect with Paola
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