This summer I joined forces with a group completing The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. In week one, themed “Recovering a Sense of Safety,” you’re assigned to list three old enemies of your creative self-worth, as well as three old champions of your creative self-worth. Upon that initial reflection of what the book rightfully deems “historic monsters” who’ve given you “the building blocks of your core negative beliefs,” I got really snagged. I couldn’t believe the extent to which I was still carrying these monster messages with me.
Slowly, however, as I acknowledged, wrote about and processed them, I found momentum to move on to the champions, and the depths of what came up was equally as profound as the enemy exercise had been. I followed the instructions to write a thank-you letter to one of these long-lost mentors and chose to write to my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Nancy Hastings. I found in an old journal a single sentence Mrs. Hastings said to me more than 20 years ago that potentially changed the course of my life.
I’d like to share my letter with you, as I know all of us are teachers of someone, in some form:
“Dear Mrs. Hastings,
Thank you for believing in me during an especially tough time in my life, during high school. You helped me feel seen for the truth and goodness inside me, and that is an incredible gift in this world.
It’s hard to describe all the ways your teachings and influence still impact me regularly all these years later -- certainly any time I crop a photo, write a caption or media piece (or virtually anything), or view any sort of layout of copy/images -- but on such a deeper level, too. I believe you would always say, “Show me, don’t tell me.” And I think in saying so, you were teaching us about effective journalistic styles...yet as I’ve grown, and learned a whole lot more about interpersonal dynamics -- well, DANG if your words aren’t one helluva cornerstone for healthy relationships. They run through my mind often.
As I transitioned to a second career the past several years with work that includes serving teens, I decided to unpack even more of my own “stuff,” in hopes that furthering my own healing would lead to more effective healing work with others. While literally unpacking my then-new office in 2016, it occured to me that I had moved nine different times with a red notebook I kept as a high school journal in tow, and never had the courage to even open its cover. The first time I read it fully, it knocked me flat on my butt for several days. To open my eyes to the emotional and mental health struggles I faced, the isolation I felt, and the number of times my thoughts and feelings darkened to the very brink of survival -- it all landed on me with the weight, debris and fog of a ton of bricks tumbling out of the sky. Since then I’ve read it a few more times, and have been able to cull the lessons from it more objectively so I could share them with others. I’ve also noticed the bright spots along the way during that foggy, tough time of high school -- e.g., the difference-makers who had something profound to do with me still being on this earth and putting one foot in front of the other to live my truth.
And you, Mrs. Hastings, are one of those difference-makers.
A journal entry I wrote on 1/17/96 reads,
“I’m actually not doing as bad as I sound right now. When I was leaving Pub today, Mrs. H. was talking to me and she said I’m a great writer. I was dumbfounded…” (and yes, I do know that the adverb “badly” would have been the correct way to say that :))
For a kid and adult who’s struggled hard with berating herself and retreating into her shell...I’m not sure how to describe what these words from you meant to me. It’s also quite the coincidence how the more I have focused on healing and embodying my true self, my writing has unexpectedly gained ever-increasing importance in my life.
Though I judged myself for journaling in my teens, I have been diligently been keeping journals in adulthood since January 2012, and I now write every day. I’ve started typing up the journals’ contents, with the intention that their lessons -- gleaned while trekking through some big life transitions, falling on my face many times, and standing back up with a new little nugget of guidance/truth each time -- could one day be useful for others. I have two draft books underway and over 260 pages typed up so far, and while I don’t yet know what it will take to call a first piece of writing “done” or fit for public consumption, I am making continual progress. Interestingly, my writing also planted the seeds for me to start my business seeking to prevent violence and abuse and unlock as many unique gifts into this world as we can. And because I’ve implemented the “Show Me, Don’t Tell Me” principle in relationships, I also know that I am never alone, and I am grateful for the giving and receiving of support to keep moving forward.
When I think back to high school, I spent a lot of time unknowingly battling depression and anxiety and feeling painfully inadequate in who I was. This was sometimes reflected back in the ways others treated me. Some teachers seemed to not know what the heck to do with me, and I felt invisible in their presence. A couple of them expressed concern, which was very thoughtful, but unfortunately without an adequate followup system in place, I internalized more fear that something was very wrong with me. Some teachers punished me for not falling in line with their expectations; some even suspected me of substance abuse (something I’ve actually never done)...yet when I think of you, I recall you treating me just like everyone else.
I now understand a bit more about what a gift and skill this is. I don’t know how many students you’ve taught during your career -- several thousands? -- but I would bet I’m not the only one who has felt the profound positive impacts of your influence.
Thank you, Mrs. Hastings, for who you are, and for the self-regulation, care and wisdom that you kept deploring and giving day after day, despite the exhaustion and huge challenges that come with being a teacher. If you haven’t heard it many times before, I can assure you that you’ve touched many lives and had an indelible impact on this world. I can only imagine how many writers, journalists, photographers, designers and countless other creatives are out there expanding and connecting hearts and minds because of your influence.
I’m really grateful to be still standing, and to have survived the difficult years with the help of support like yours, so that I can give what I’m here to contribute.
Thank you, profoundly, for believing in me.”