Heart To Art: In Conversation With Kate Pullen

I am truly beyond excited, and privileged - along with a bit nervous to introduce a new segment to the blog. As I had left this idea sitting in the back of my mind for sometime, conversation by conversation with my nearest and dearest creatives - The desire to share our conversations grew. And so came “Heart To Art”, inspired by the heart to heart conversations between myself and creatives, going far deeper than what we’re working on, but also what we’re going through and how it can affect our creativity.

I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the series than not only on International Womens Day, but sharing a very special conversation with the incredibly special Kate Pullen, ALONG WITH! Our artwork collaboration, celebrating International Womens Day 2019!

Kate Pullen is a typography extraordinaire, book worm, singer, dancer, dog lover and like myself, has experienced grappled with her fair share of anxiety. From supporting each others wins, to sharing how we deal with anxiety, Kate has become a wonderful friend and support on this creative and personal journey. In this conversation with Kate, we get straight to the point on what it can be like personally dealing with and with working creatively with anxiety, the ongoing journey in adversity and balance and of course, as most conversations lead to now - how social media can affect our mental health.

“Better Together” , Collaborative artwork by Lusid Art & Kate Pullen for International Womens Day 2019

“Better Together”, Collaborative artwork by Lusid Art & Kate Pullen for International Womens Day 2019

Alex*: Kate, how does anxiety affect your work?

Kate: It affects it in I would say two ways.  One is that it influences content, so obviously my work is type-based and a lot of the content or the type I produce is often what’s going on in my head or in my life, so anxiety influences that and then the other side of it is the actual production of the work is often hampered by my inability to work because of anxiety, whether that’s like physically unable to do it because I’m too anxious that day or I’m too scared to put the work out into the public, which often happens. There used to be a time when, I just didn’t show or post anything because the anxiety was too strong.  So it does actually impact my work quite significantly.

A: And that would be from getting a response and seeing what the public think?

K:  Yeah. I think when you’re freelancing and you’re working in little bubbles it can be quite hard to get a sense of what life is like outside of your desk and so when you put something out there and it’s open to everyone and anyone can comment,  it’s really, really daunting especially because I often have issues around being original and not borrowing for anyone else’s style or work too much.  It’s definitely going to happen because, you don’t live in a vacuum.  You’re going to absorb other people’s stuff.

A: With social media have you seen a shift from being less curated and more real about what we’re actually dealing with? Have you found that people are opening up on social media about what they’re dealing with and that helps you?

K: Yes, I think I’m definitely in my own work I’m less censored and not so nervous about being real with both captions and content and also making a concerted effort to do that as well, so that hopefully it’s more relatable and that people realise, you know, that everyone’s going through shit, no matter what – how impressive it might look on the outside. And I definitely notice that with other people as well, I think there is a tendency now to be a little bit more open which I think can only be a good thing.

A: Can you talk us through your real world/anxiety series?

K: Yes, so – I think that they sometimes come off a bit sarcastic which is totally in my humour, so it feels really genuine and real to me which is important. Sometimes we get sick of the super positive mindset with all these crazy motivational things which obviously is always helpful to have a positive outlook but sometimes it’s impossible and sometimes, you’re just having a shit day and it makes you feel worse because you’re not feeling the way that you should be feeling and you’re not as positive as you think you should be.  So you feel like you’re letting yourself down.  So it was about not giving yourself a hard time if one day you’re just not feeling it. Overall obviously you need to keep things positive and you need to have an attitude of gratitude and all that kind of stuff is incredibly important but if one day, you know, you have a shit day, you have an off day, like you’re not at your best then that’s fine.  It’s just one day and that’s okay.

A: Can you explain to us what being in a rut can look and feel like to you and what have you learnt coming out of those ruts, is there anything that has really stuck with you that’s helped you for the next time and the next time after that?

K: I think one of the main things I’ve learnt in work and just in life in general is that balance of when to push through and when to take a step back.  I think it’s – it’s hard to work that out. If you’ve got a deadline you just have to push through …you‘ve got no choice.  But sometimes that is actually the best way to go and you’ve just got to put your head down and your bum up and it just has to be done, but sometimes it’s just like banging your head against a brick wall and you really do need to step away and find what it is that will, re-centre yourself and I personally enjoy being creative in ways that don’t involve work or a client or any kind of pressure.  So it means that I’m still getting that kind of creative fulfilment but there’s none of the pressure involved.  Then when you sit back down at your desk and you’re looking at the super daunting blank white page it can kind of free things up a bit.

A: And you mentioned about different ways of being creative.  What are those ways? 

K: So I grew up playing music and dancing so they’re kind of the main things and obviously with dancing comes the huge rush of endorphins.  After getting about super sweaty for an hour and a half, when I come home from class my boyfriend notices such a massive difference in my mood and my energy, so it really does have such a big effect. Growing up dancing, when I went back to it obviously my body isn’t what it once was, so that was a process in itself being able to go to class and not leaving disheartened that I couldn’t do what I used to be able to do but going to class and just enjoying it for what it was - that was a challenge in itself but I think I’m getting better at that now so I can just go and leave just feeling sweaty and happy and exhausted.

A: I think there’s certain kind of people and I think we’re in that bucket where it’s like we do put pressure on ourselves to get things right and to improve on things constantly, and not just let things be. 

K: Absolutely, It’s very hard to just let things settle but even settle has such negative connotations it feels like you’re being lazy … You’re not making the most of every opportunity, you’re being ungrateful. That’s where it comes from for me. The need to constantly push plus it’s hard to just sit, especially if you’re battling anxiety, you’re having trouble like just to sit in the yuck feelings is really hard. So the antidote to that is to be busy and to constantly push to the next think which of course is proactive but not always the best thing for me.

A: How has it helped you talking about anxiety?

K: When my anxiety was really bad I couldn’t say the word without getting panicky. So even in itself it’s like good old exposure therapy.  The more you do it the less power it has over you and the less of a big deal it is. Just like talking about it now is quite routine for me which means, anxiety itself is just a thing that happens. It’s not massive like it used to be.  Plus, you know, you need to talk about it to work out – why you’re anxious and what your triggers are, because knowledge is power. You know what’s going on but you’re still getting the feelings.  That can be really frustrating but I think understanding what’s going on is huge. I think knowing that it’s only temporary is huge because when you’re in it and you’ve been in it for ages it’s really hard to see any kind of light at the end of the tunnel, and then when it comes back again and you get a wave of it, it’s hard to see sometimes but it’s just a moment in time and you won’t feel like this forever.  I think that was one of the hardest things for me to get over.

A: This is a two-part question.  Now that you’ve identified your anxiety more have you found in more power it making it a smaller challenge to overcome and has it helped you give less fucks about it?

K: Yes and no.  Like when I’m feeling good it’s hard to imagine feeling anxious, just as when you’re feeling anxious it’s hard to imagine feeling good again.  So when it’s not there it’s like yeah cool, let’s get on with life, no problems.  However, when it pops up from time to time sometimes still it’s hard to understand why it’s there and even though you may have experienced something on Monday, the anxiety might not hit until Wednesday or you’ve got something in March that you’re nervous about but your body is reacting like a month away in anticipation.  So what I find very hard is working out sometimes what I’m even anxious about or why, like my body’s going we’re not great but I can’t actually connect that with any particular concrete anxious thought. That makes it hard to feel any kind of power because it feels like the anxiety is still dictating what you’re feeling and when and that’s really, really disheartening.  So overall, I feel like I’m managing it better and I can be confident that I’m putting in the work to overall feel better but when it still pops up it’s hard not to feel, powerless.

And like I said before, accepting that it’s just something that happens so you kind of go with the anxiety rather than fighting it every step of the way is helpful.  Just accepting that you’re going to feel crap and yes, it will pass means it’s a little bit easier to deal with.  Don’t get me wrong like when anxiety is really bad it’s horrible and it’s the worst feeling but the more that I’ve been working on it those really horrible parts don’t happen as often.

A: Do you find that you put a lot of pressure on yourself still and do you find that when you’re dealing with anxiety that you can be more gentle on yourself now?

K: Yes, I’ve definitely learnt to be more gentle and that’s been a big struggle and a big thing to overcome to be less hard on myself. It’s still so present and my expectations for myself are still so high and sometimes I don’t realise because I’ve lived with them forever. Having chats with my boyfriend helps me realise not everyone thinks this way or has these same expectations.  So it’s really nice to have him as a sounding board, because he recognises when things are kind of getting a little bit out of control if I can’t see them which is really, really helpful to have.  I think that for me is always going to be a battle, to be kinder and to recognise even that what I’m saying to myself or how I’m treating myself is not kind or not super helpful.  Even recognising that is hard I think because you’ve done it forever and these are the expectations you have of yourself, that’s just normal.  It’s really hard to like totally change that. 

A: We need to release those expectations. I have them on myself, very highly. My mum for me is a constant reminder of that.  If I’ve got a plan or a project I’m going to do and then I’m like I’m not going to be able to do this, she’s says, literally nobody else knows about that but yourself, you can let it go and no one else will know.  Even the other day I was feeling lack because of social media, and about people constantly creating and I was looking at someone else, and I appreciate their work and we support each other but I was feeling “lack” because of her. But it’s not letting you resent that person because of how you’re feeling, and if anything I chose to support her more because I’m sure she’s dealing with that stuff too. I think it’s remembering that people haven’t got their shit together fully, even if it can seem like that.  People are still dealing with things but also celebrating them instead of that lack mindset that supportive mindset.

K: I think that’s the best antidote is to increase your love and appreciation for other people because the alternative only eats away at you. I think Instagram has a lot to answer for with everything.  Sometimes I feel like producing work to put on Instagram is a job in itself. Because I feel like if I miss a couple of days I’m totally out of the loop.  I need to constantly produce to make sure people still know I’m here which means there is less room for experimentation because, one, you just don’t have time and two, you’re worried about what people think if you try something new.

A: Do you practise gratitude?

K: Yeah, I do and probably more now than I have before.  I do think it’s really important.  Acknowledging the stuff that you already have and for me acknowledging, the last job I did or the last passion project I did, how I wouldn’t have even dreamt of doing that say a year or two ago and that was on my wish list and now I’ve done it. Acknowledging that you actually managed to do that, that’s pretty cool.  I definitely don’t stop and do that enough.  Instead of giving myself a bit of a pack on the back, it’s already like okay, what’s next?  And I think that’s genuinely important because – you know, like I said a couple of years ago it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to do that. 

A: You’re a bookworm which I love because I’ve become a bookworm myself.  Do you have any book recommendations that have helped in your mental health journey?

K: “First we make the beast beautiful” by Sarah Wilson, everyone will know her as the girl who told you to quit sugar. She’s had her own significant battle with mental health, quite severe and a big part of that is anxiety, so the book was really, really interesting.  Some of it we’ve already talked about here about, like often people with anxiety can appear quite high functioning because they’re busy moving from one thing to the next.  So it’s hard to kind of spot when maybe they’re not looking after themselves and she actually talks about this a lot which I found really, really interesting. Even if you don’t have anxiety but you know someone who does, I feel like Sarah’s book was helpful for those who have a loved one who has anxiety, it would be helpful.

A: Any favourite quotes to get you through?

K:  “This too shall pass” is incredibly important and relevant to me. “The choice of putting one foot in front of the other” because, when I get anxious it’s kind of like trying to see the whole big picture and “Anxiety is about living in the future, depression is in the past” . Predicting that whole ‘what if’ is incredibly debilitating, just looking at what is directly in front of you and putting one foot in front of the other is important to look at.

A: Because we’re going to be celebrating the piece that we created and sharing this interview on International Women’s Day, I just thought I’d tie in the question, what does International Women’s Day mean to you and why do you celebrate it?

Kate:  I think it’s just important to celebrate it from a sisterhood point of view.  I think when we’re brought up we are kind of inadvertently brought up as competition for each other.  Whether that’s in work but also just in life and so much judgement, we’re torn down in so many different ways. It’s so important to celebrate us sticking together. Gender equality has come so far but it still has so far to go. So I think we’re not going to do that by tearing each other down. It all sounds so cliché but I think it’s cliché because it’s based in truth.

A: It’s such a broad reason for celebration now because I think so many people celebrate it for so many different reasons. For me, I don’t think I would be either the person I am or have come as far on my journey if it wasn’t for the women like yourself and the huge community that I have around me. People never let me forget their support and that they’re there and celebrating the successes and being there for when shit gets hard. I find that women have more of a connection with each other, even though there is definitely that comparison thing but there’s no room for that now.

A: So from our conversations, I just put down some little notes that I can remember… We’ve spoken about taking one day at a time; recognising triggers; being kind to yourself; surround yourself with good people; having people in the industry that you can talk to about what you’re dealing with. I know we’ve covered quite a bit, but is there anything that you’d like to add just to finish on?

Kate: That sounds great listening to that list.  Building a really supportive network, outside of work because you can’t do it on your own.  Recognising when you need to seek professional help which can be a really, really difficult step.  I personally don’t understand how everyone doesn’t have a psychologist.  I don’t know how people make it through.  It’s very, very hard to do it on your own and even if you have a supportive network, there’s people there that love you, they’re still mental health professionals. And there’s no shame and there’s no harm in seeking that out and I would really encourage people to look for that. It’s as important as any other relationship.  You’re not going to gel with everyone, so if the first one isn’t great please don’t stop there because I think some people have a bad experience then are turned off completely. It can be super daunting to find that right person but once you do it’s invaluable.

* (Yes, that’s my name if you didn’t know)