Our sixth Kick Ass Warrior Woman being featured on the Fifty and Other F-words Book Launch is Lille Diane. Lille is a creative chameleon, a Renaissance Woman, an artist, vocalist, writer, healer, and 'human sparkler.' She radiates pure joy and shines it on everyone she meets. If you’ve not joined her Soul Picnic yet, you should. Lille's life has been a wonder filled journey of exploration even in the darkest of moments. Her talents seem endless. She’s turned her challenges into her gifts, sharing them with due reverence sprinkled with a judicious smattering of whimsy in her art, music, and musings.
After a devastating automobile accident, and a horse riding accident she’d had years before that resulted in traumatic brain injury, Lille was plunged into the depths of PTSD, multiple chronic, debilitating illnesses and MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. The physical assaults on her brain, body, and spirit sent her into a spiral of dis-ease, depression, isolation, self-doubt, and fear. Through focusing on creativity, Lille was able to make her way from the darkness back into the light.
Lille has synchronized her creative gifts and the lessons learned as she lifted herself out of the undertow in a series of workshops, classes, essays, videos, and content to heal PTSD she calls Armchair Adventures. You can explore it all on Lille’s website Your Soul Picnic. Even if you don’t have PTSD, there is lots of juicy good stuff there.
“I created this picnic basket for all the armchair adventurers out here who are in various stages of healing and for those of you who are traveling alongside the one healing. I made this for people with PTSD. I made this picnic basket for myself and others like myself who are back out into the world functioning, thriving and embracing their newfound freedom. I made it for you reading this page. I made it especially for you, dear one.” Lille Diane
You’ve taken what could have been a life sentence of darkness and turned it into a high beam of light. That’s magical, truly. Was there a moment in the darkest part of your journey when the light was switched back on, or was it a series of incremental moments? How did you start your journey back to you?
Great question, Margot! I lived in varying degrees of shock for several years after the auto accident, especially that first year after my life flipped upside down. My brain was a jumbled-up, sticky mess as life became a series of surgeries, doctor’s visits, and psychiatric care appointments. I had no magic mirror to see myself clearly and my rearview mirror took a hit, too.
PTSD is a wily foe. It doesn’t play fair. Nor does it show up in a logical, chronological order to help you sort your shit out. Trauma stacks, shifts, shape-shifts again, and hides in crevices in our brains. I’d never experienced something smacking me down so hard even though I’d gone through far worse trauma in my life. The old ‘me’ that bounced back effortlessly with a dimpled-smile and brightly, colored cartoon Band-Aids on her knees after the shit storms in life pummeled her was now MIA. Poof—gone! I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. Try as I may, I just couldn’t resume life as it was before. I was forced to go on disability through my employer while seeking psychological help so I could work again.
While I was receiving treatment to help me locate my missing sassy pantaloons, I decided to use writing to help me unscramble my brain. Journaling and songwriting had always been my go-to self-help therapy when my life was happy, victorious, sad, confusing or tumultuous. I tackled a book idea about an event during the late 60’s, the Summer of Love era, when I was a teen and ran away to San Francisco to be a part of the Haight-Ashbury experience. I’d had this book and screenplay idea on a back burner for 20+ years so I jumped in with an almost hyper-focus to give it life.
The story line bounced between flashbacks of childhood trauma and ongoing tribulations of a 15 year old trying to escape an abusive step-father which in turn told the story why I became a habitual runaway in the first place. Yes, #metoo. I wrote page after page of graphic details about my childhood as a victim and my teen years to set the story line up as it happened. Unbeknownst to me I inadvertently unlocked Pandora’s Box letting loose villains, old ghosts, and wounds I was certain I had dealt with, yet, apparently I hadn’t. Combined with the recent trauma of plummeting 125 feet off a cliff, literally, I didn’t stand a chance. PTSD had me by the adrenal glands.
While it appears this might have been a negative unfolding of events, I can assure you, it was not. Shining a big ass flashlight on the accumulative layers of trauma I’d buried gave me much needed clarity and understanding why I needed so many fricking Band Aids in the first place. Shit happens and sometimes poopage hitting the fan isn’t a bad thing. It can be the beginning of fulfilled hopes, dreams, and opportunities to connect wayward dots to find true inner freedom. My seemingly rude, abrupt bump off the road of life was exactly what I needed to have the amazing life I have now. Transformation begins when we can say thank you for the shitty days as well as the sweet days.
You’ve packed several lifetimes into one, I relate to this on a cellular level. As you know, we live in a time when becoming a shape shifter is a necessity for survival. That lifetime career track has disappeared, and people are finding themselves having to continuously reinvent. This is particularly challenging for women over 50, because we are the least employed demographic. You’ve stitched a variety of things together to make a pathway forward. How did you weave the fabric of your current career track? What did it take to make this happen?
At the time of the accident I worked for a national art college and traveled extensively for the organization as a recruiter. I was diagnosed with acute and chronic PTSD and placed on disability before being dismissed permanently because I couldn’t drive or be in a car. I was crushed hearing the news, “I’m so sorry but we have to terminate you.” I was in my mid 50’s when I was fired. My boss, a woman I loved to bits, didn’t know the depths of hell I’d gone through to find that job after my 25 year marriage came to end and how damn hard it was to find employment at midlife after divorce. I choked back the guttural wails until I hung up the phone and spent the next couple of days in a prenatal ball.
I’d worked hard to build a successful music and speaking career before my divorce but without a partner I couldn’t do it and raise my teenage son as a single mother due to the cross country travel involved. I canceled my bookings; some nearly two years out, and reinvented myself (again) to support my situation. That being said, it took me almost seven years after my divorce to land a better paying job with health benefits because my work history of being self-employed and time off for motherhood disqualified me from getting hired. However, my biggest disqualifier was being in my late 40’s and it only got worse as entered my 50’s. It was the first time in my life to experience discrimination because of age. Not lack of experience. Now here I was again only ten years older in the same sinking raft.
My son was now grown and away living from home. I sunk my teeth into my new career working for the Art Institute and soon became a top recruiter. How could one not love being a cheerleader cultivating creative soils, planting seeds of possibility, and watering seedlings who dared to dream? Each day, I would tell students with heartfelt enthusiasm “Don’t settle! Live your wildest, creative dreams like you were born to do! You can be an artist AND survive because the entire world is run by artists: from the artists who create the food we eat, to the cars we drive, to the clothes we wear, the chairs we sit in, the magazines we read, the movies we watch, the houses we live in, and the devices we use! Art is Life and Life is art!” And yet, deep inside I knew I had stopped living my own creative dreams years ago.
When our van was tumbling down the steep mountain side I had the experience many say happens when you are close to death’s door. My life flashed before my eyes with my son being the brightest thought and then a brief sadness filled my heart. I was sad I hadn’t done all the things creatively that I’d dreamed of doing. I thought to myself, “Oh no! Not now! I still have so many dreams to fulfill, art to make, songs to sing, and people to love! I need more time!” I clearly saw I’d put my creative life on hold and was merely sleep-walking through my life. Then a tranquil peace filled me seconds later. Profoundly beautiful peace, with no screams leaving my mouth, as our car rolled onward to what I was sure was my impending death. Death did not take me that day. Instead, depression killed me softly with its unending song one thought at a time as soon as I left the hospital.
After having such a profound aha-moment in the car during the accident I sunk deeper into depression which I didn’t understand. Instead of becoming a human whirlwind of creative genius because I got a second chance at life I became lifeless and paralyzed with fear. I wondered in silent horror what would become of me during the next decade and beyond. I fought flashbacks flying at me left and right and sleep didn’t happen unless I was medicated. The accident became my identity--not all the wonderful things I had done in my life. Down, down I fell in a spiral all the while hoping Scotty would beam me up from the nightmare my life had become.
One day I looked around my office and faced the hard facts I wouldn’t be returning to the corporate world or most likely any job for an unknown amount of time. I couldn’t even leave my house to go to the store for food let alone a 9-5 job. That’s when I got the idea to toss anything that resembled a typical office décor or reminded me of my former corporate lifestyle. I no longer called my desk a “desk”. I called it my play station. I unpacked my art supplies that had been in boxes for over 10 years and turned the space into an art studio. Next I sat down and wrote a list of 100+ creative things I wanted to do and set about to check them off the list. I was surprised to see how quickly and easily my list grew.
This act alone was the visual and physical stimuli I needed to kick all my gears into fast forward. I ‘pretended’ I was an artist, acted like an artist, and practiced answering people when they asked what I did by saying, “I’m an artist.” I immersed myself daily in art making and discovered not only did it help me to focus—it calmed me. On days when I was bedridden, which was often, I’d watch artists teaching others how to make art on YouTube. I stumbled onto creative journaling and jumped in full throttle. Then I started taking online classes and began making some kick ass art. What flowed out of me astonished me with its beauty. Art making became my mental therapy and consistently worked to calm me. Eureka!
Out of nowhere I got an idea to start a blog which I named Woodstock Lily to document my journey as I crawled through the trenches of PTSD using creativity as my road map and healing method. Making or doing the items on my 101 creative thing’s list, and checking them off, began a life changing act of rewiring my brain. Then one day what began in April 09 as writing to an audience of one, my Superman, turned into an audience of thousands as I chronicled my PTSD journey on my blog. I never imagined anyone would ever read my blog that first day I hit “post”. I was wrong. I discovered people everywhere were dealing with PTSD and looking for a way out like I was.
The benefits art making provided to my overall physical, spiritual, and mental health was enough for me to see I had an opportunity, and a responsibility, to show others who were dealing with similar issues how art making could benefit them, too. My life changing event labeled “an accident” provided me the next steps of becoming who I am now, doing what I do now, and gaining my life back even brighter than before I gave up my creative life to raise my son 20 years ago.
Music is a large part of your story, and music is a universal healing force. Sound reaches into our primal brain, resonates deep into our bones, and alters us fundamentally. You are using your music as a healing tool. Was this always your approach to music, or was this a revelation that came later in your life? What role does music play in your Soul Picnic basket?
I haven’t been able to sing since the accident like I used to. I recently learned I have scar tissue on my vocal chords and in my neck that affects my ability to sing. I’m currently undergoing treatment to remove the blockages in my throat and diaphragm. I have no expectations or lingering sadness about this situation. It is what it is and I had 45+ years being a songbird. So, for now I mainly listen to music and inhale the healing benefits like I do the negative ions here in the Colorado Rockies. If we experience a breakthrough in my ability to sing again, I want to belt a tune out with you, Margot. I’ll use this as my carrot to keep on trying.
Your art is an explosion of color and happiness, much like the maker. Have you always been an artist? Do you recall your first artistic explorations? Creativity is the opposite of destruction, how has making art helped you heal yourself? What would you say to someone who thinks they aren’t artistic or creative? How do you use art as a tool for healing?
Art and music have been on my radar since my earliest memories. I guess you could say, “I was born this way” but Lady Gaga already said that. In fact, art and music are what kept me interested in school. That and boys, however, I digress. I was the kid that lit up like a Christmas tree when the hot off the press stinky mimeographed paper the teacher passed out was something to color instead of math problems to figure out. Academics, especially math, put me to sleep or offered me legitimate reasons to daydream. Art and music—I’ll continue to date them heavy until I put on my sparkly suit.
I love it when someone tells me they aren’t creative or they can’t draw a stick man. I smile and ask them if they can make the number 10? Usually everyone nods yes because everyone knows it’s a straight line and a circle. The exact same components it takes to draw a stick man.
More often than not, it’s this very person who thinks they have no natural skills to make art that totally rocks the art project I’m teaching and blows everyone away with their talents. All it takes is some art tools, a little time, and some encouragement for most people to remember to remember that enthusiastic kid they once were that loved art making, too. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than observing a person finding that sweet spot of fully engaging with their creativity again.
In regards to how I use art as my healing modality I think my paragraphs above tells the readers how art saved me, bathed me, and illuminated my soul beyond the stars and still accompanies me on my Earth walk today. How grateful I am for this!
What’s next for Lille Diane and Your Soul Picnic? Do you have a road map or are you allowing the journey to unfold organically? What’s on the menu for your Soul Food?
During the past three years an amazing amount of longtime goals, dreams and aspirations have come to fruition in my world. It feels like the Universe poured honey all over my life. I find myself saying “thank you” over and over again with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I’d like to share one last short, sweet story with your readers as I approach the ten year anniversary of the accident on May 4, 2018.
My word for 2015 was Emerge. I did that by pushing through the debilitating pain of fibromyalgia, broken ribs and torn abdominal muscles from coughing due to pneumonia, and an out of shape body to get our home ready for market, pack and move cross-country to CO in early April. Later that year in October I emerged on a mesa top in Mesa Verde National Park victorious after a strenuous, not-for-sissies 8+ mile hike on my 63rd birthday. Sassy pants and girl-spurs! Boy Howdy!
In 2016 my word was Engage. Superman and I became part of a tour team here in the majestic Four Corner’s area. I worked the Tucson Gem Show with the team, who appeared on TWC’s hit TV show, “Prospectors”, climbed and hiked all over the southwest with our guys finding dinosaur fossils, gems, minerals and groovy rocks galore. I created my first online creative classes on SkillShare and learned how to use Adobe Premiere Elements, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop. It’s also fair to mention, I survived being bitten by a brown recluse—twice, two weeks apart! Bought a house and moved again to our forever home! Holy moly, what a difference a year makes!
In 2017 my word was Miraculous—a year of miracles… and oh baby, that’s exactly what happened! My new website Your Soul Picnic was created by my husband and myself and launched May 4th. I created and held my first art related gathering/retreat in Mancos, CO at the Painted Turtle Studio & Gallery in the downtown creative district. I began volunteering at the Turtle and became the gallery manager which included redesigning the gallery and helping to boost sales tremendously for this non-profit art studio and clay-co-op. I started teaching locally, sold bunches and bunches of my art (squeee) and was invited to become a board member for the Mancos Creative District. Whoa! That’s a whole lot of miracles right there!
This year, 2018, my word is Illuminate. I’ve dedicated this year to help others shine and sparkle. To uplift, encourage, exhort, showcase, walk-beside, support, and spotlight others that are Human Sparklers. I’ve had a dream for years and years to work with teens and teach them about art making as a tool to help with mental well-being. This fall I will be helping our local art teacher with her high school and middle school students to make murals and art journals. Pinch me! No, don’t! I love this fantastic dream!
And lastly, I have plans of doing more online and in-person teaching, blogging with more intention and regularity, making more art, and helping our community of Mancos, CO, the gateway to Mesa Verde, grow as the 17th Creative District in the state of Colorado. I trust the Universe that I am right on-time to shine, sparkle and illuminate organically as I continue to support the Turtle, other creatives, our youth, and beautiful souls like yours this year, Margot.
Thank you for inviting me to sprinkle some inspiration on the topic of midlife for your fans and readers, Margot! I love being in this grand stage of life called Grandmother Wisdom in many cultures. I choose to look at myself as a faerie godmother to those who see my sparkle and shine. If I’m invisible to some it’s simply because I am not their personal faerie. I’ve honestly never felt freer and more alive in my entire life! The only challenge I see ahead is bargaining for another 65 years to do all the things percolating in this silver-haired head.
Bio: Lille Diane is a lifelong creative entrepreneur and human sparkler. She lives in Mancos, CO with her super hero husband and rescue LabraDane. Her great hope is that her mini mesa she planted with thousands of Hollyhocks will become the largest Hummingbird haven on the planet and the luscious colors will be visible on Google Earth for the entire world to see. You can find out more about Lille at yoursoulpicnic.com and follow her on Instagram at lillediane.