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Corrina Thurston: “Become a screen door”

Become a screen door. That sounds weird, I know. I talk about this in my book, but what I mean by this is: learn how to NOT soak up all the tension and stress and negativity of the people around you. If you’re anything like me, I tend to be a sponge for other people’s […]

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Become a screen door. That sounds weird, I know. I talk about this in my book, but what I mean by this is: learn how to NOT soak up all the tension and stress and negativity of the people around you. If you’re anything like me, I tend to be a sponge for other people’s emotions. I could be having a perfectly fine day and if someone comes in who is having a horrible day and is stressed and negative, my mood can instantly drop too.
I’m going to let you in on a secret though: It doesn’t have to.
Your mood doesn’t have to shatter just because the person or people around you are throwing out negativity and stress. I’m not saying it won’t affect you some, it will, but you don’t have to soak it up like a sponge. Instead, become a screen door and allow the majority of that negativity to flow right through you.
This can be especially important because we’ve all been forced to be with the same few people so much of the time, it’s totally normal to get on each other’s nerves. The little things that are annoying have been put under a microscope and are all being magnified under the types of conditions we’ve had recently.
So, when they walk in, you might be hit with that sudden burst of negativity. That’s okay, but then remember to be a screen door and let it flow through you. This is not your stress. You don’t need to soak that negativity up, just let it pass through and try to keep your positivity in the process.


With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Corrina Thurston.

Corrina is a professional wildlife artist, author, consultant, and speaker working out of Vermont, USA. Corrina has suffered multiple chronic illnesses since turning 18, some of which left her mostly bedridden for over six years. She writes and speaks mainly about art, business/marketing, and subjects like how to increase your happiness (the basis for her TEDx Talk: Why we should teach gratitude in school), anxiety, and self-doubt. Her most recent book, How To Crush Self-Doubt, is a collection of some of her best tips and techniques and will be especially helpful as we come out of our isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I grew up in a small town in Vermont, USA, which was a great place to be a kid if you like the outdoors. When I was 18, however, I became very, very sick.

I was a freshman in college and was planning to double-major in Biology and Anthropology, but before long, I couldn’t even make it to class. I went from being a 4.0 student and 3-sport athlete in high school, to barely functioning physically or mentally. Eventually, I was forced to medically withdraw from college and my parents came to collect me. No one would have guessed that for the next six years I would be mostly bedridden, relying heavily on my parents to keep me alive.

I was in excruciating pain 24/7, sleeping about 25 minutes a night, hallucinating, shaking, pain everywhere, a chronic migraine, and more. As you can imagine, that was a very dark period for me. I was suicidal many times, wondering what on earth my purpose was if I couldn’t do anything but barely survive?

Two years into this misery, for some unknown reason, I picked up a pencil and began to draw. That’s when things started to change. I wasn’t any healthier for many years, but at least I had SOMETHING I could do. At least I had this one thing to look forward to, even though I could only do it in small amounts from the confines of my bed.

It turns out, I was pretty good at drawing. Something about this illness had released an unknown talent that had been buried inside me. I even still exhibit some of my earliest drawings!

After that, I began to feel some slight sense of purpose again, but I was completely isolated and still suffering from depression on top of my other horrible symptoms. I also found out I can’t take any sort of antidepressant because they have the opposite effect on my body and make me suicidal. So, I did everything I could to try and find ways to naturally help myself and my mood. As soon as I was finally diagnosed in 2014 (chronic Lyme disease, Bartonella, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Endometriosis, IBS, Acid Reflux, malfunctioning adrenal glands, and more) I registered my artwork as a business and started my new path as an entrepreneur.

Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?

I do work from home, but not just recently. Being chronically ill means I have been unable to get a traditional job since I was 18 because my health doesn’t allow me the consistency to do that, even now after seven years of long-term treatment. However, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in December 2019, and when he was three months old and we were about to venture out into the world, we were put into quarantine for the pandemic.

Add on to my chronic illness issues the inability to have much family come to socialize and help with the baby, a traumatic labor and difficulty healing, thyroid hormones going bonkers, a huge flare of my chronic health issues, and then postpartum depression (that we couldn’t treat because I can’t take antidepressants), and you have a very challenging year.

Therefore, my biggest adjustment has been finding ways to work on my business, write my books, and create artwork while also taking care of a baby full-time because, during the pandemic, even a babysitter has been out of the question where we are.

In the first few months, I would strap him to my chest and try to do my computer work because he didn’t have a nap schedule. Then, when he did have a schedule it was a question of: do I shower and eat during this hour of quiet time, or do a little bit of work? (All while my husband was also now working from home and on zoom calls most of each day.)

What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?

The ability to see family and friends and go out in the world without excessive worry. I’m immunocompromised and I have a young child, so the virus certainly scares me. It was a difficult time to be cut off from family, with a new baby and lots of health issues. It was hard to take care of a baby and try to keep him quiet while my husband was on his zoom calls from home. I’m looking forward to days where we can just play as loud as we want and go to story-time at the library or the playground and have dinner with family and friends.

The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?

We need to focus on ways to connect as a community, as socialization and connection are a huge key factor for mental health and well-being, even for us introverts! We need to better recognize and respect those who we now know are essential workers. Here in Vermont at least, we need to realize that lack of internet and cell phone coverage can be hugely detrimental to a region. We need to teach our children about the pandemic and what happened so that if anything like it happens again, they’ll be more prepared than we were.

What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.

I think there’s certainly been a coming-together for a lot of communities, despite the circumstances. I think a lot of people who didn’t realize they could work remotely found that out and there have been a lot of improvements in that area. I think teachers *might* be held with higher respect after so many parents have been forced to homeschool. I think some people have been able to step back and take a look at their life and make some changes that have been for the better, like finding time to exercise, experimenting with cooking healthier meals and getting to spend more time than they ever would have before with their kids and immediate family. For us, my partner was working out of the house about 10 hours or more a day, with only two weeks for paternity leave. But when he was made to work from home, as challenging as that has been, he’s been there to see our son grow up for his first year and hasn’t had to miss nearly as many “firsts” as he would have otherwise. That was a blessing for him.

How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?

As unexpected as this pandemic and quarantine were, I came at this whole situation from a different perspective than most. If you’ll recall, I was socially isolated for over six years in the past, so that wasn’t new for me. It was like stepping back into that nightmare, but at least this time I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

So to help keep my mood up, which was especially challenging and important due to my postpartum depression, I had quite a few techniques at hand to call upon, many of which I talk about in detail in my book, How To Crush Self-Doubt. Here are a few:

  1. Power Poses. There’s a good TED Talk by Amy Cuddy that talks about this, but power poses are really helpful when you’re feeling down, anxious, or overwhelmed. When done every day, they’re especially helpful, but whenever I’d start to struggle and have a bit of a breakdown from everything that was going on, I would hop into a power pose, like the “Superman” pose with your back straight and hands on your hips, to help lower my cortisol levels.
  2. Positive Affirmations. While in my power “Superman” pose, I would recite positive affirmations to myself, even if I didn’t feel like they were accurate at that moment. These are really powerful, even though they’re simple. Just use “I am” statements and say to yourself things like: I am strong. I am important. I am capable. I am talented. I am attractive. I am loved. I am worthy. I am intelligent. Etc.
  3. Gratitude Journal. One of the biggest keys to happiness is gratitude, as I talk about in my TEDx Talk. Therefore, a great daily habit to get into is to write down 10+ things for which you’re grateful in a daily gratitude journal. These can be big things or small things or anything in between! It’s even better if you think about things in the last 24 hours for which you’re grateful because then you are training your brain to search out the good things in your life each day, and the more you do that the more your brain will start to look for the positives naturally and not pay so much attention to the negatives.
  4. Find a Hobby. My new hobby was taking pictures of my son, but any hobby, especially ones that are creative in some way, is shown to be a huge help to decompress, distract yourself from the stress and negativity, and boost your mood.
  5. Going Outside. If you can, going outside is supremely beneficial for your health and mood. If you struggle with sleep, being outside helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, too.

Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?

When relating to the pandemic, isolation has been that most difficult part. I had a newborn and family and friends of course wanted to come to see him. I also had many health issues that would have been a little easier to handle if I could have had more help from my loved ones, but we were too nervous about contracting and spreading the virus. Not to mention, I’m taking care of my son full-time, which was an adjustment anyway as he’s my first child, and despite everything going on, also trying to run my business. A babysitter once a week to give me more time and longer chunks of time to get more work done would have been extremely beneficial!

I also had to adapt my business. I had been doing many in-person speeches, and those were taken off the table during the last year. I had to move more and more of my business online and adapt. I even started making masks featuring my artwork on them.

Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Find any way you can to connect (and get help when you need it). Connecting and getting help have been especially challenging these days with social distancing, masks, etc. Therefore, people have had to find more creative ways to connect with one another. For example, my family all downloaded the Google Duo app and we send videos of our kids to one another and our parents almost daily so we can see them grow up. They don’t have to be anything special, just my son leaning against a bookshelf trying to pull out his favorite book, or him learning how to blow kisses. Some people have met with at-risk loved ones through glass doors. Some do family Zoom sessions. That’s what we did for Christmas. Texting, an email, or an old-fashioned phone call can go a long way too.
    We don’t realize how important it is to socialize until it’s no longer there. I lacked socialization for those six years that I was mostly bedridden and I lost just about all my friends. By the end, I was pretty socially inept and had to crawl my way back into society.
    It’s the same when you need help. Help these days has been hard to come by due to the social distancing, but when I had a severe reaction to a medication this past fall and absolutely needed help, we brought my mom back into our “pod” of people, accepting the risk that might come with that. I also started therapy for a couple of months via telehealth and started seeing a naturopath and an acupuncturist to try and get as much help and as many second opinions on my situation as I could after my regular doctor said they didn’t know how to help me.
    It’s okay to need help. Knowing where to find it during these times can be frustrating, but keep searching. Do whatever you can to get what you need.
  2. Focus on the techniques proven to boost your mood and do them DAILY. Like I talked about before, there are some very simple and hugely effective techniques you can do to boost your health and mood, but they work best when you do them DAILY. These techniques — saying positive “I am” statements, like “I am strong, I am worthy,” writing down 10+ things for which you’re grateful, doing a power pose where you stand like Superman, and others — can help you right that instant, but they’re even more effective when you do them every day. This is because these techniques are actually training your brain to be more positive. It’s an exercise for your brain and mood and the more you do them, the better you’ll be at them and the more effective they’ll become. They only take a few minutes out of your day, but they can completely change your perspective on life. Trust me, it’s worth it!
  3. Don’t ignore the signals your body is giving. Trust the chronically ill person when I say, if your body is saying something is wrong or that you need to rest, please listen to it. We get so caught up in “pushing through” something, whether it’s a headache or tiredness or whatever else, and it usually hurts us more in the end. I “pushed through” when I first fell sick, trying to stay in college, trying to keep my life together and be a functioning human being, until I pushed too much and nearly died.
    Learn when it’s okay to push, and when you need to rest, when to resist, and when to give in. This can take some experimenting to learn your own personal boundaries and limits, but try not to go beyond them on a regular basis. Put sleep before work. Put your health before anything else. Put your family before your job.
    One thing about this pandemic is that a lot of people have been able to take a step back and analyze their life a little, to see better what is working and what isn’t. If your job makes you miserable, perhaps it’s time for a change. If your weight is causing you stress or health concerns, maybe it’s time to make it a real priority.
    Death has been all around us and it can put things in perspective and force a person to think more critically about their life. What are your priorities? Are you making time for them? How can you make more time for them? What makes you the happiest? Who do you love being around the most? Once you figure it out, put a plan into action to try and gradually (small consistent steps are way better and more successful than giant inconsistent ones!) get yourself to that point.
  4. Become a screen door. That sounds weird, I know. I talk about this in my book, but what I mean by this is: learn how to NOT soak up all the tension and stress and negativity of the people around you. If you’re anything like me, I tend to be a sponge for other people’s emotions. I could be having a perfectly fine day and if someone comes in who is having a horrible day and is stressed and negative, my mood can instantly drop too.
    I’m going to let you in on a secret though: It doesn’t have to.
    Your mood doesn’t have to shatter just because the person or people around you are throwing out negativity and stress. I’m not saying it won’t affect you some, it will, but you don’t have to soak it up like a sponge. Instead, become a screen door and allow the majority of that negativity to flow right through you.
    This can be especially important because we’ve all been forced to be with the same few people so much of the time, it’s totally normal to get on each other’s nerves. The little things that are annoying have been put under a microscope and are all being magnified under the types of conditions we’ve had recently.
    So, when they walk in, you might be hit with that sudden burst of negativity. That’s okay, but then remember to be a screen door and let it flow through you. This is not your stress. You don’t need to soak that negativity up, just let it pass through and try to keep your positivity in the process.
    NOTE: Remember, it’s a screen door, not a shield. What I mean by this is: don’t get so good at this that you just push everyone else’s feelings aside. You can still feel that negativity and empathize with someone if you’re a screen door. You don’t want to block all of it and stop being able to do that.
  5. Focus on the now. It may sound crazy saying to focus on the now, when right now is so difficult with the pandemic and everything else going on. A lot of us want to focus on the future when things hopefully get back to normal. However, I’m here to warn you against that, to an extent. No matter what your circumstances, tomorrow is not guaranteed and today could be all you have. Even if bad things are happening, I try to focus on the present and get the most I can out of it and focus on even the tiny little positive things to get me through. Of course I think about the future and am trying to plan and have goals and am looking forward to when things are better, but I try not to let that have me lose track of right now. We have a tendency to be too focused on the future, looking for happiness in the NEXT place, the NEXT thing, the NEXT achievement. No one thing is going to make us happier, it is a bunch of small mindset changes, and it starts with trying to find things that make you happy right NOW, in the present moment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?

I have a motto I chant in my head (sometimes out loud) that helps me when I’m feeling anxious about something and that is: Whatever happens, happens.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I don’t have control over everything. Some things are going to happen no matter what and the most I can do is control what I can, do my best in the moment, and leave the rest up to fate. So when I’m feeling anxious about something, I say this to myself. Then I take a deep breath and keep going.

There is a quote I like from Georgia O’Keeffe that goes along with this and I feel connected with, which is: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are so many, for so many different reasons! But someone I’ve wanted to chat with for a long time has been Ellen Degeneres. She promotes kindness every day, including to be kind to yourself, and between my wildlife artwork/love for animals and wildlife conservation, my work with my speeches and recent book about happiness and crushing self-doubt, etc., I think we’d have a lot in common! I’d love to be on her show, I think her audience would align well with what I do/talk/write about.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Here are a few places to follow me online:

My Website: www.corrinathurston.com

My Etsy Shop: www.etsy.com/shop/catstudiosart

My Other Website: www.findyourhappiness.info

Facebook: Corrina Thurston Studios

Twitter: @CorrinaThurston

Instagram: @CorrinaThurston_Art

Medium: Corrina Thurston

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.


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