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.

Saying No

A lot of importance is put on the power of “yes”. Inviting opportunities, “positive energy”, money etc etc etc into our lives. By saying “no” we are closing ourselves off to all the good possibilities of life, you have to grab it by the horns, live everyday like it’s your last day… insert more cliches in here please.

I have always always said no, to most things. I do not like parties, drinking, travelling, loud music, sports, meeting new people… these things make me feel uncomfortable and if there’s one thing in the world I love more than anything, it’s feeling comfortable. This is why I admire cats, being comfortable is the only thing they live for! I love quiet, peace, comfortable nooks in which to sit, think and observe the world. I observe rather than participate.

When I not depressed this was fine, just the way I was, when I got depressed this became a major character flaw… maybe even the cause of my depression.

Bollocks!

I have family over at the moment. I cannot get a word in edgeways, they are so loud and they really knock the drink back! I realise that I had begun to attach some labels to myself: nagger, bore, over-cautious, difficult… not how I like to see myself. I’d like to stop this please.

I may not want to drink 3 beers and head off to the pub for more, and I may not want the attention of everyone so I can tell another rip-roaring anecdote and yes I may tell people when they’re not being sensible but that’s ok! I need to claim these things. Like the toddler learning to say no to assert her independence so I can affirm what I don’t need in my life. It is my life afterall.

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?

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!

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!

Please Hold

Sometimes you just feel like you’re going round in circles right? Or one step forward two steps back. I want to write here but I… don’t.

Things don’t seem to be going the way I’d like them to go recently. I say recently but if I’m honest I’ve been struggling since August.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things I’ve got better, my depression has become more manageable and so I started reaching out, trying to grow my art career. Being a bit more brave and risk-taking and a bit less timid and safe.

Well you know what? It hasn’t worked. All I’ve been met with is ignorant criticism, elitism, snobbery and silence. I can’t handle this right now.

So for now I have to let go of those aspirations and concentrate on myself. My recovery. This time from now until the end of the year is deemed “Active Recovery time” and I am filling these days with mindfulness practice, playing at painting, yoga, nourishing exercise and anything I feel like doing. I am rebuilding my happy neural pathways.

Hopefully that includes writing here because I miss it.

And I still haven’t finished writing about Rodney Yee’s course… (and the Artist’s Way but let’s face it I gave up in August)

August goals

I have a strange relationship with August. I love the spring and early summer but round about where August rolls around I start to think about winter and the long dark nights ahead. It’s a bit bizarre and results in me feeling a bit glum in brilliant, life-affirming sunshine. Last year I spent a lot of August very miserable indeed so this year, I’m taking a cue from Rachel’s monthly intentions and setting some goals for myself this late summer.

  • Take 2-3 yoga classes a week to give me some inspiration and broaden my home-practicing yoga mind
  • Prettify this blog, make it a nice, uplifting place with much pictures and quotes
  • Learn some kundalini kriyas
  • Start reading all my self improvement books
  • Continue my morning pranayama
  • Sketch and doodle everyday
  • Read more uplifting, life-enriching blogs and less aspirational, healthy living blogs
  • Blog 4-5 times a week
That seems do-able and a good place to start me off. Let’s see how I do.

Proving teachers wrong and laughing at yourself

I’m out of the habit of posting I admit so this seems bizarre to be sitting down here and writing this. I’m keeping going with the blog, not letting the bastards grind me down. I’m going to make it mine, what that means I have yet to work out.

Sometimes we spend so much time wrapped up in our heads that we forget to laugh, I know I do. I’ve always been an appreciator of the funny things in life but the depression makes me temporarily forget. Little by little my sense of joy in the surreal is returning, I laugh more and I find it hard to stop. I play more, I’m silly. I’m myself 7 years ago again. It turns out I didn’t ever ‘grow up’, I just got depressed! Here’s to being silly forever!

On Monday I managed to get out for a run for the first time in two weeks. It was fantastic, the sun was shining and I knew the tide would be low enough for me to run on the beach. Now my journey to the beach involves either a) running past my old high school or b) running past some nesting herring gulls who will swoop at me in my running clothes (but not in my normal clothes, why is this?) I chose the high school but it is a hard decision. I was running past when my old PE teacher walked by on her way to torture those poor kids with Monday morning athletics or rounders or some other awful activity. I don’t like this teacher because I was an ‘unfit’ for most of my school sports career- bad knees, colds, IBS, period pain, whatever I milked it because I HATED being forced to do any kind of physical activity. I’m as surprised as anyone that I spend so much time out of breath and sweaty nowadays. Anyway she saw me and the look on her face was not at all dissimilar to what a person would look like had they seen a fish sprout legs and walk out of the sea. I saw her and I laughed out loud. That felt good! She hadn’t beat the joy I find in moving my body out of me.

My running track

In the evening I went to my first yoga class in two weeks too. For some reason I was a bit late and had to rush to the toilet in my bare feet before the class started. So I come back from the toilet and join the others lying on my back. We had an unusual start to the class, with shoulderstands and lying backbends at the beginning instead of the end. Not too sure how it would work with others who had tight hamstrings/hip flexors but I was feeling loose so I settled in quickly. At one point we were doing one legged bridges. I extended my left leg to the ceiling, admiring how long it looked, how flexible my hamstrings were, how responsive my body was. I have to say that I have some pretty damn elegant feet too. Feeling content I lifted the right foot up but the right foot looked a little weird, something was on my beautiful long toes. Toilet paper. I had a bit of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my right foot and it was waving high in the air for all to see. Oh god it was a priceless moment. I allowed myself a chuckle and had a great laughing fit with my boyfriend later on. It feels good to laugh finally!