Ongoing

So I did it, I blogged everysingleday in August. I went away for the weekend and it was gogogo. Several art galleries and much bridesmaid dress shopping (my sister is getting married and I’m a bridesmaid) I came home and I painted every day that week. I started 7 paintings, went to a preview and dealt with the strangeness of people who aren’t me publicising my work. Workworkwork. I decided I could cope with that, and not only that but I loved it. The enthusiasm of going somewhere, starting something and seeing it through to the end. Exploring, producing, thinking and learning. I love making paintings!

But then I got sick and everything stopped.

The thing is it’s hard to say if it’s “sickness” or “depression”. I woke up on Monday morning with that terribly familiar ache in my chest and the realisation that everything was terrible. But then the aches started in my shins, the cough appeared, my limbs took on a lead-like quality and the violent sneezes threatened me. So am I ill or depressed? It’s hard to say. It seems like the ill-er I feel the more content I am. When my symptoms lessen the more I am inclined to start the self talk “Oh I have to work today and I have to exercise and it’s going to be so hard and I don’t want to I just want to go back to bed but then I wouldn’t have worked and I’ll get fat and unfit and I’m very very very lazy” It’s like I have a perfectly reasonable excuse to rest once I get past this certain point of illness but other than that I’m just a big lazy lump.

My path to self compassion is, as always, ongoing.

 

Advertisements

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!

The Lows

This is a low. I haven’t relapsed, it isn’t a depressive low. I am, like I posted yesterday, suffering from a major confidence dip in terms of my painting career. More like a plummet. It’s one of those days I spend in front of my easel where I doubt everything: my subject, my medium, my talent, my drawing abilities, my painting abilities, my ability to convey something to an audience, my ability to produce a painting. All I can see is all the uninterested, hostile faces who’ll pass over it disdainfully. Last year I thought I was producing paintings that no one will ever see, this year I am terrified that people ARE going to see them.

It’s been like wading through mud recently, my painting practice. Have you ever tried to paint while crying? It’s hard. And faintly ridiculous I realise too, how melodramatic!

So back to mindfulness. No believing the thoughts, simply observing them as they come and go. And observing the low days (and months) as they come and go.

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!

Changing and Growing

I’ve spent the morning ill in bed, planning my next move. I’m sick enough to enjoy doing nothing but not too sick to think so that’s perfect for me right now.

The past 4 years since I left university not much has changed for me- I haven’t had a job for longer than a few weeks and so no responsibilities, few friends, just hours and hours and hours of “spare time” which I have filled with exercising, meditation, yoga, reading, walking, running, thinking, painting, and have also been filled with fear, loneliness, crying, anxiety, isolation, frustration, confusion, anger, bitterness and most of all: sadness. I thought things might change but couldn’t see how. I made small steps to change my life, reaching out to things I thought might help. Some helped, some really didn’t, some were denied to me.

The overwhelming feeling of the past 4 years has been that life is really really really incredibly hard. I knew I wanted to recover and I knew that all that work would have to come from me and I knew that not everyone else would help me. People would even hinder my progress. Depression makes existing hard, even intolerable. Days when you wish you didn’t have to exist in your skin, when your skin is so uncomfortable you wish you didn’t have that restriction. The hours stretch out, the whole day empty, daunting and meaningless. It is up to you to fill that day. Every day. Somehow I got through these days, towards the end being taunted by easy afternoons and evenings, free of depression, only to wake up to sadness and another leaden morning.

Then after about 2 years of dedicated (when I was physically and mentally able to) painting I got my first break, I got my exhibition. This year has been strange. I worked hard to get my exhibition together, I even applied for a residency which was due to start at the beginning of this month. I applied thinking there was no way I would even be considered: I ended up being a very close second, getting a very gushing evaluation of my work and a position as an artist within the gallery. My exhibition opened on Friday, I spent a few hours in complete overwhelm while people gushed and praised me and my paintings (I even sold some and got a commission!) On top of that an exhibition I was in over Easter has brought in a lot of praise and another commission for me, people are googling me! The curator of the exhibitions at the museum is a fan! I have spent days waiting for more good news, opening my email with excitement and expectation, instead of fear and dread like I have been doing for years.

It feels weird. I spent a long time wondering why it feels weird. But I know now: it is so EASY! Life is so easy! I have become so accustomed to hard work that to have people coming to me to tell me good things just feels bizarre. What you’re saying is I don’t have to do anything, I just have to do my paintings and you’re happy with that?? That’s good enough??

Still with all the external rewards I worry that I will neglect my internal life. I don’t want to attach my happiness and self worth to something as fleeting as a yearly exhibition. This is why I’m back here, and why I’m going to do Sally Kempton’s 3 Week Breakthrough meditation programme from her book Meditation for the Love of It starting next week. Because as Jon Kabat Zinn says, we have to adapt to any change, whether it be good or bad.

I’m just glad that it’s good change I have to adapt to, for once!