Laughing

When I was a kid and a teenager I laughed a lot. And I mean a lot. I have a rather ruddy complexion that colours easily and have a tendency to go bright red when I laugh. Consequently every photo of me with my friends always came out awful. Me with my hair everywhere, bright red face, hiccoughing… it took me many years to realise that I didn’t always look like that.

When I got depressed I stopped laughing. I forgot about laughing. Things weren’t funny anymore. When I saw something that might be considered funny at some point by some people I would note it completely straight faced and miserably. Some distant memory would tug deep in my mind that I would have found that funny in the past. But I didn’t believe that memory, because I was probably deluded in the past anyway and I was just a kid. It didn’t count.

Laughter has been a miracle for me and reappeared well into my third year of recovery. The idea that I don’t have to force laughter anymore, I even have to repress it if it bubbles up in some inappropriate circumstances. Although maybe I don’t bother doing that much, I need to make up for lost time! Last summer I rediscovered the joy of laughing and then finding my own laughter so funny I had to laugh more. That kind of bubbling infectious sound that is already there but I’m unaware of until some miraculous joke or surreal image pops in my head.

It is the best.thing.ever.

Still going… just

Just hanging on. Another late night blogging and another day of tiredness and frustration of not being able to do what I want to do. Turns out I like working. When I was depressed I would fantasise about getting ill so I would have an excuse not to do anything. When I get that thought now I know my mood is going downhill and I watch it carefully.

Tonight I realised another thought. I didn’t do my mindfulness practice today and I asked my boyfriend to help me to do it tonight. He was ill and we ended up watching the Hudsucker Proxy and I was getting ready for bed when I realised I hadn’t done my mindfulness. I had a token, rushed effort and realised I hadn’t blogged. I felt so disappointed with myself. I’d failed, I don’t take this mindfulness practice seriously. The killer thought was I don’t take my mindfulness practice seriously enough so I deserve to get depressed and stay depressed.

That’s the problem with taking responsibility for your own mental wellbeing… on the one hand the fantastic optimism and empowerment that comes from having the tools to your own recovery, on the other the terrible burden of blame that you can pile on yourself when things go “wrong”.

This week has been tough, difficult people, a couple of stressors, lots of meals out and not much time to myself. My boyfriend says that I’ve been dealing with it very well and I should have compassion to myself. I believe him intellectually but if I told you I believed him properly I’m afraid I would be lying. I think in my heart I do believe I’m failing, I’m not trying hard enough.

Maybe back to the metta meditation for me?

Just too damn tired for Ashtanga

This week has been refreshingly easy and productive after weeks of dragging through the mud of low moods and disappointments and illnesses. I have painted everyday, gone on runs, meditated and practiced yoga.

Today is the exception.

I got some half-hearted painting out of the way (currently composing a ridiculously overcomplicated painting that is taking eons and I’m not entirely happy with) and then decided that I was going to practice me some Primary series instead of going for a run. I was a bit tired but there was no rush, I had hours of free time- bliss!

I got some headstand and handstanding preparation out of the way as well as lunges and pigeons for my tight hips before standing at the front of my mat and starting the Sun salutations. I whimpered my way through the first one and then promptly burst into tears in downward dog. I tried again. I collapsed in more tears. I thought “I haven’t practiced this all week and I said I was going to and I won’t be able to this afternoon and what else am I going to do now and I was really looking forward to it and I should be able to practice my way through it and I should find something else that will “cure” my mood but I don’t know what that is and I just want to go to bed and do nothing…” I promptly started hyperventilating. With no signs of low mood, just tiredness, I can still get this reaction.

I think this is my body way of saying “not now”.

So I’ve gone to bed. Just because.

Self-reflection and introversion

Continuing on my investigations into introversion

I have always been a thinker, and a watcher, and a listener. I’m not so much a person who “gets involved” and I have certainly never been the life and soul of any party. Nothing interests me more than how other people behave, unfortunately I have always found it hard to understand two things

  1. Other people do not have the same brain/experiences that I do so do not think the same thoughts and…
  2. Other people do not analyse their own behaviour/thoughts/experiences as much as I do

Now I think that at the age of 26 I think can accept this… but I do not understand. Why would you not want to spend your whole life reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings and motivations and beliefs? What else could possibly be more interesting??

Consequently I find a lot of other people’s behaviour very frustrating. Like the friend who wants to start exercising but can’t quite work out why she can’t get going, or the parent who struggles her whole life with hoarding but never takes any steps to help herself. With a little bit of self-reflection I think, judgmentally, they wouldn’t have any of this confusion, they’d be able to know exactly who they are and what they want.

I disregarded my own inner compass as to what was best for me when I was 19 and at university and I ended up so mired in my own misery and anxiety I developed depression. At age 22 I came home determined to forget what anyone else proclaimed about what was “best” for me and (in between crippling episodes of misery) I sat down and thought about what I needed, for me. All around me I heard voices which said I should be getting “out there” and socialising, meeting people, taking up social hobbies, looking for jobs, moving out of my house. I ignored these people. I read a lot, researched, learned how to meditate and practice yoga. After a lifetime of sports-avoiding I took up running and strength training. I did all this alone, with the internet and my books for company and I learned the values of determined, patient persistence. Being alone was the only way I could have learned to decode the pathways of my brain and the only way I could begin to find my way out of the misery I was in.

-As an aside I do not think that this is justification for isolating people with depression, I could have recovered a hell of a lot faster if I had had more understanding, supportive people around me. I found social support lacking so I had to develop my own, anti-social support system. It basically involved getting the hell away from people who weren’t good for me, which turns out is most people-

Meditation came easy to me, it was pleasant even. I found instant (if not consistent) peace in the practice. Whenever things were overwhelming I knew I could sit with it and I could find peace. I would tell myself very often “I can find peace”. In the peace I listened to my mind, with its beliefs, anxieties and doubts and I began to understand them and live with them. Turns out most of them have as much substance as a wisp of smoke. All I had to do was listen and I could understand this.

So why don’t others just do this?

After reading Susan Cain’s book on introversion I can begin to understand why. As an introvert my brain gets overstimulated easily, especially by social activity. This may mean that I am more likely to develop depression in the first place. Introverts find much more rewarding stimulation in the safe environments of their heads, where they can control and process the stimulations. Extroverts may find disciplines like seated meditation, or the process of self-reflection boring… perhaps like the way I find meeting endless new people and making small talk boring. For me, as any introverted meditator knows, there is nothing quite like settling into the stillness and peace of your own contented brain after a long day. Everyone’s different.

So it turns out that the very thing that may have caused my slip into depression may also have been my path out of it. My fantastically analysing, easily overwhelmed brain.

Brija 2.0

I am having a low time at the moment. I know why: I’ve been relying too much on external factors for my happiness (people, money, the promise of money and success) and I have not been developing my tools of equilibrium. Namely: I have not been keeping up with my mindfulness meditation, I have not done body scans, my yoga practice has been scattered.

The silly thing is I knew that this might happen. I have spent the last 4 years living as a hermit. No job, few friends, few “prospects”. I had to learn to create my own contentment, which I did, more or less. In the past 6 months a number of things have changed and now I have a burgeoning painting career and the beginnings of a yoga teaching career. I see a lot more people, I have more responsibilities and more chances of fulfillment in my days. I saw all this happening and told myself “I have GOT to keep up the meditation, I have to have my little sanctuary in my head where I can go and keep myself on an even keel.” But I was busy, I was happy, I didn’t need it as much anymore.

I forgot.

In my head there’s a big distinction in my life: before the depression and after the depression hit. It’s like I was a different person. Before I was a person with a big sense of humour, the kind of person who could make myself laugh, I had loads of ideas, boundless curiosities and interests. But I was also a bit of a judgemental cynic, I had terrible digestive problems, I was a pessimist, I was unfit.

When the depression hit I lost my sense of humour, nothing was funny anymore. I was easy to anger and easier to upset, I felt guilty all the time, I wasn’t interested in much. I had no ideas. But I started to exercise, take an interest in what I ate and in different ways of thinking. The old me was unable to cope with what I was going through so I realised I had to find new ways of coping. I ignored my inner cynic and started doing yoga and looking into meditation. I healed.

When I realised I was healing I knew that I had this great opportunity to take the best of the before and after and create the new me. The Brija 2.0, if you will. Keeping my interests and curiosity and sense of surreal humour but dispensing with the cynical side of me and the pessimism and replacing it with open-mindedness and compassion. Using these tools of equilibrium to keep me resilient. I could be myself, but better!

Today was a low point but it did one thing: it woke me up to the realisation that my work is not done. I need to commit to this mindfulness day in and day out. The work is never done!

I must not forget again.

Confession

I’m doing well blogging every day in August! It feels nice to commit to something see it through.

This leads me into a big confession… I have not been keeping up my meditation practice.

As a result I have been riding the ups and downs of other people’s opinions of my paintings, illnesses, injuries, sales of paintings, meeting new people, thinking about starting my teaching career, how my yoga practice is “progressing”, how my painting is “progressing”… I’m exhausted. And it makes me think back to the past year, when I had little success in selling paintings, or getting into exhibitions, I talked to few people, the teaching was not even on the horizon… I was able to be content. In between the bouts of depression yes but I was able to be content and feel the misery and know it will go. I had less but my mind was calmer.

What a horrible realisation, that as soon as recovery is on the horizon I down tools and find myself lost in these mind fluctuations again. The sad fact is that the external factors will always have their way with my moods, but the good fact is that I can cope with these external factors. I have to “up” tools again, and get back to sitting on that zafu!

Say it Loud: I am an Introvert!

This is a bit of a follow on to the post where I talked about how I discovered I was a Highly Sensitive Person. I now have a new label that I will happily apply to myself: introvert.

I’ve been reading Quiet: the Power of Introverts by Susan Cain and it is just incredible how much this label applies to me. I first learned about the extroversion/introversion trait in A Level Psychology and it has been a revelation to rediscover these ideas. First bombshell: introversion is NOT shyness, it is about reaction to stimulation, introverts react more to stimulation (of all kinds, social, loud noises, music, conflict etc..) than extroverts and so will withdraw earlier so as not to become overstimulated. Second bombshell: introverts are NOT antisocial, they are just social differently. Introverts are more likely to want to engage in meaningful conversations, not small talk.

Reading the book was just like ticking off my own personality traits: disliking crowds, school, group work, small talk, loving in depth study, possessing intense powers of concentration and a few deep passionate interests. A couple of things didn’t: I am not a self-monitor, I never change my behaviour to suit other people (beyond basic politeness) and I quite like confrontation, I find it cathartic. I’m an introvert with a temper.

I love reading books like this, everyone loves to be validated! One fantastic thing I’ve noticed since I recovered (mostly) from depression is that a lot of the traits I possess which people were very keen to point out were contributing to my depression have actually been praised. My determination to forge a painting career my own way has resulted in me producing a hell of a lot of paintings, to the praise of a lot of people. Others have said I was “difficult” and “obsessed” with painting my own way, with choosing a subject and a style and sticking with it until people take notice. My “over-sensitiveness” has lead me to be a good friend who can support people going through difficult times, after all I can understand even better now.

Knowing my strengths and my fears and owning them, without letting them own me will be vital for me in my growing life. I am quiet but I know what I want and I know what’s bad for me. I may not speak if I have nothing to say but I will watch and I will learn and understand. I will put my head down and get on with what I want to and if you are making too much noise or a scene, I will be in the corner, watching, with a smirk.

Blog post to come: does self-enquiry come easier to introverts, and if so should I be so proud of myself?

Doing the Right Thing

Here is the story of my working life until early this year: After leaving school at 18 with ‘good’ qualifications I spent 4 days on an art course before leaving the course and working 4 days a week at a bookshop (the other day was supposed to give me more time for painting but I never did any). I applied to do art and philosophy at various different universities in England and Wales (philosophy purely because a teacher on the art course suggested that if I wasn’t doing art I would be doing philosophy and I then decided that philosophy was sufficiently academic so as to be completely different from that art course where I was expected to find stimulation constructing things out of cardboard with people who talked about “Jack Pollockson” and knew nothing about art, or art history, or themselves. Also I admit that I liked the idea in a lecture based course I wouldn’t have to interact with the other students, and I’ve never got on with art students anyway) I fell in love with a place in Wales where I’d applied to do art history and fine art, and I got accepted but I was too scared to take this place (that art course had put me off, I thought if I was forced to study art I would end up hating it) For various bizarre reasons I ended up on a prestigious philosophy course (read: full of pretentious Southern English posh kids who talked waaaay too much for my introverted island-self) in a city that I hated. I hated it but I stayed because I was doing the Right Thing. I didn’t want to be one of those people who people talked about who “went away to university but didn’t like it and didn’t finish their degree”. The contempt that people talk about vulnerable young people like that is awful to hear, like their lives are public property to manhandle all they want. I was miserable enough without anything like that thank you very much.

I graduated with a ‘good’ degree. A major in depression and a minor in philosophy. I sat shell shocked in my parents house for months, wondering what to do. Before I fell asleep I’d panic; I was depressed, I was unemployed, I had no friends, I lived in my parents attic, I had no plans, I had no future. A few months later I took a temporary Christmas job in the same bookshop. Everyone around me visibly relaxed, including myself. I was doing the Right Thing again. But then I started to fantasise about running away, started to cry uncontrollably upon waking, started to use the till in such a-verrrrrry-slow way as to look strange (but no one noticed). I left.

Over the next 4 years I was unemployed. I have been supported by my parents and my boyfriend. I have learned yoga, I have developed my painting, I have had counselling, I have reconnected with old friends and miraculously I have recovered from depression. These past 4 years have been so rich and transformative for me. I think they will be some of the most valuable years of my whole life. But I have been doing the WRONG thing this whole time. I have earned next to nothing. Teaching yourself yoga and meditation, painting and running and learning to live with (and now without) depression doesn’t count for anything in a lot of society’s viewpoint. At least not without an income.

It became very important to me that I was doing the Right Thing For Me. That I wasn’t wasting my life, or “rotting away in this house” as I was wont to scream at my boyfriend on a couple of memorable occasions. I’d need near constant reassurance some days from my boyfriend. I always got it.

Last month, after an exhibition where I had 46 paintings for sale (“you must have worked hard” was a common statement) I registered as self-employed. I am no longer unemployed. It was funny trying to explain to the man at the tax department (I live in a tax haven… moneymoneymoneymoney) that even though I said I wasn’t expected to make any profit, I do intend to.

Hey I’m a fucking artist! I’m allowed to not earn money now!

Sitting on my hands

Thanks to Persephone for nominating me as a Beautiful Blogger. I’d like to nominate you straight back! Unfortunately the combination of not posting for 2 months and the internet being a bit wonky today means that just posting this is difficult. I hope that is enough.

I have been unsure of what to do with this blog, because 1) I’m not depressed anymore by most people’s definitions, or my own (although the repercussions will stay with me for a long time, possibly forever) and 2) I feel I have more to lose if I was to be “unmasked”. I deliberately have not tried to post too much on other people’s blogs for fear of losing my anonymity. This leads me to question what the point of having a blog is. I got a bit of a shock when I realised that a teacher at my yoga studio had a blog and used the same tags as I did. That scared me.

Ideally I’d like to blog and for it to not really matter who reads it. I am starting my yoga teacher training in January and the thought of having a yoga/mindfuless/nice things blog appeals. I’m already on my way to having a completely unanonymous painting blog which is more professional, but I like to nourish the personal too.

So yes I’m hopefully going to be a yoga teacher! Add that to the 7 or so exhibitions I’ve signed up for (including a joint one) and I’m heading for a very busy 12 months. I only found out about this yesterday and at first I was excited, then I was petrified, then I was just stressed worrying about it all. After 4 years of being able to completely fill my days with running, yoga and painting (and with always having the option to drop any of these with no repercussions) and no responsibilites at all, I now have deadlines, I will sign my days over to the care of someone else. I could tell that my old depression demons were rearing their heads when I started to get a terrible guilt induced anxiety about the amount of wood, paper and glass my paintings use. Does my making art justify the use of these resources? These thoughts have cropped up a couple of times before bed recently, a sure sign of old anxieties. Today I was sad upon waking so made sure to take care of myself, only painting a bit, going for a run and meditating.

I’m still meditating, I ended up not doing the Sally Kempton course. My life got more busy after the exhibition, not less so after a few days of trying her meditation techniques I realised I needed and craved my mindfulness meditation. So I went back to focussing on my breath, my body and thoughts and calming myself. It’s very important for me to take care of myself like this, to be aware of how I am coping with all these changes. To not run away with “what ifs” and worries of spreading myself too thin. To be aware and to be confident in my ability to adapt to whatever happens to me. And this blog!