The Good, The Bad, and The Unravelling – Farewell, 2022
2022 was a year that holds a lot of emotion for me. I call it: The Year of Unravelling.
Personally and professionally, it was tough. Both wove themselves intricately through the other, like desperate co-dependants. And I am SOOOOOO ready to say goodbye to the year that was last year. Despite this, I am truly grateful for your support, even in my absence. I hope that this post will help you to understand why I wasn’t as present as an artist last year – and I hope it will also be a catalyst for me in moving forward.
How It Started.
My initial thoughts to myself while writing this are “you needed a lot of grace to get through last year – don’t be so hard on yourself”.
While that may be true, there is that part of me that feels absolutely 100% GUILTY that I let things slide. Because I accepted that “grace”, I feel I became complacent. I am not sure if it is how I deal with stress and grief, but I felt wildly out of control and would simply “avoid”, because that just seemed so much easier than giving a damn. Normally art would be my escape. Now it seemed to have its hold on me. Well, the business side of it at least.
Like many of us – 2022 was a year for getting back to reality after being locked in our homes for 2 years. I think I struggled with what that actually meant, as many people were still sick and sadly dying from COVID. I was happy, however, that our kids could go back to school full-time. Having them home during summer and winter breaks is great, but online schooling was so incredibly stressful for our whole family. I get hives thinking about it.
I started the year with a trip to Mexico to celebrate my sister’s wedding, with an estrogen-loaded bachelorette. It was actually quite fun to travel again, and it was nice to go on a trip with my mom and sisters (and more friends and more mothers!) Of course, upon my arrival home I was plagued with Covid and was stuck in bed for a good 3 weeks, and then of course my husband and children followed-suit, though my husband really only had symptoms for a few days. I did note, however, that I was incredibly tired and weak for months afterwards, and my anxiety levels that were once under control grew higher than before.
The anxiety was not about COVID, or having had it; it seemed to be a post-Covid symptom that lingered. I also developed sore joints in my hands and found that painting, drawing, and working on the computer were becoming increasingly difficult to do for long periods of time. They are still there, but like any kinds of aches and pains, you get used to it and adapt as needed. In a nutshell, those were now 2 full strikes against me being not only a productive artist and entrepreneur. Enter Life.
In Mexico for my sister’s bachelorette. Photo Courtesy of my beautiful mama.
Out for dinner to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. Of course Norah and I had to pose!
Just Keep Swimming.
Prior to this trip, we had received some incredibly distressing health news about a family member (not Covid related). As this is not my story to tell, I am just sharing that this definitely affected us all emotionally, and of course put that anxiety into over-drive.
It was also at this time I had decided to be more present on social media from a business stand-point. You know, be the jovial old Leah we have all come to know and love *wink*. But I Just. Could. Not. Do. It.
Sadly, as we were all recovering from Covid, we learned that my grandmother was not doing very well. Though she lived in a home, my mom was one of her care-takers that was allowed to visit with her multiple times a week to help her eat, etc. The week of her passing, Covid had broken out on her floor, and so access was limited and restricted. My heart was breaking for my grandmother, who I now knew with 100% certainty I would never get to hold again, or say “I love you” to, face to face.
Worst of all, my mother just wanted to make sure she could be with her mother, and comfort her in her final days. My mom had plans to go visit my grandmother one Monday morning early, but before she could get there, she received a call that she had already passed.
My grandmother’s nurse had walked into her room that morning to check on her, as she was breathing her last breath. Incredibly heart-breaking that she was alone, and I was crushed my mom could not be there with her.
Following this, there was a lot of sadness, but also the familiar relief that she was not in pain or discomfort anymore. I just really felt for my mom.
For many years, my grandmother was quite ornery – she was bitter, and rightfully so… however she never truly learned how to let things go, heal and move forward. When she slowly developed dementia a decade or so ago, she also developed a new personality. One that was very sweet, kind, and loving. A side none of us truly had seen in all of our years growing up. There was a sweet sadness to it, but to me, it was as though she finally became who she truly was inside, blossoming from underneath the years of pain and trauma she had been living under for most of her life. To see them become even more close was beautiful.
When Covid arrived in 2020, visiting her was torture. She so desperately wanted to hug us, hold us, and all we could do was say “I love you” from behind a metal fence outdoors. Her tears were like daggers, and all I wanted to do was comfort her. She couldn’t understand. I can’t imagine how awful the last years of her life must have been. This poor woman lived through so much her whole life – she seemed to never catch a break. And to have it end the way it did – more or less alone for 2 years… I shudder to think about it. One of my fondest memories during this period, though, was recording her on Zoom calls; she would sing to me or Norah. It was incredibly sweet. She would always talk about wanting to swim; every conversation she brought up swimming. I hope she is doing LAPS in heaven. LAPS.
With Grandma at the CNE, circa 1981.
The Silver Linings – With A Dash Self-Doubt.
There were of course happy moments in 2022 – Dennis and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary, Sam became a teenager (HOW!), my sister got married, we took in a Blue Jays game, and went to Blue Mountain for a few days with the kids.
I found it difficult to navigate these wonderful things without feeling a lot of sadness. I was angry at the world for a bit. Life felt so unfair. Not for me specifically, but the stress was not giving me a lot of space to understand how to be me. And so, I told myself: you do NOT have to show up on social media today. (It seemed anytime I made a reel, it would take me hours to film myself painting, then when I would go to post it, it would be gone. Talk about defeat!) Eventually I began avoiding social media altogether… and it felt really good. As an entrepreneur, this is considered a MASSIVE no-no, but I had no other choice. I was focusing on my family, who needed me. And my god, did I ever need them.
That guilt though … she is full of witchcraft. Constantly whispering to me I wasn’t good enough as an artist. But this was my job – the “thing” I have been focusing on since my car accident in 2013. If I didn’t have this, what was I then?
There was a lot of negative self-talk going on behind the scenes, too. I was convinced my reels would be crap anyways, I compared myself to my peers, and in the end was left feeling hopeless, sad, empty, and pretty much a shell of the artist I once was.
Mini-golf at Blue Mountain was actually a lot of fun – and incredibly tricky!
Exploring Blue Mountain in between snacks and drinks. And more snacks and drinks.
• final thoughts •
While 2022 was slowly closing its doors, the anxiety and self-doubt decided to stay. But before they shut completely, a glimpse of the old me came to visit unexpectedly. This glimpse is the voice of my 2023. Yes – I may be sad. And yes I may have doubts. I will also have worries, but I am learning to acknowledge those feelings, take a deep breath and step forward anyways.
There is nothing more crippling than trying to move through pain and sadness by forcing yourself to go through it, especially in unchartered territory.
But there is also no greater triumph than seeing that each step forward has been leading you to the place you were supposed to be all along. Most importantly, there is nothing more inspiring than doing this all with your family and those closest to you by your side – and that my friends, is a GREAT way to start the New Year.
Hi! I’m Leah!
I am an artist & illustrator from Ontario, Canada.
When I am not creating, you can find me outside enjoying the
sunshine in the shade wearing sunscreen usually with a glass of wine
or Perrier in my hand. I love to travel, but my happiest days are days spent
with my family or friends, simply talking, eating food together,
and enjoying one another’s company.
Written by Leah Straatsma
Leah writes about topics near-and-dear to her heart, ranging from art to mental health, family, and everything in between.