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.


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?

Yogic principle to take to my art: Persistence

Persistence is an important principle in art and one of the ones I’ve valued from even before I started practicing yoga. It seems obvious, you just keep going.

People tell you your art is good, you keep going

People tell you your art is not as good as you thought it was, you keep going

People tell you to keep at it, you keep going

People tell you “don’t bother trying to sell when you’re 20, wait 30 years” (an “artist” actually told me that) you keep going

People buy your art, you keep going

People don’t buy your art, you keep going

People tell you “you can’t just paint”, you keep painting

Good days, bad days, sad days, busy days, lazy days, just show up and work at it. I haven’t been trying to build up my art career for very long, only seriously for a couple of years but I have had more than my fair share of setbacks. Strange mixtures of encouragement, rejection, discouragement, closed doors and complete bewildering silences. I have persisted despite being depressed and every setback being a little knife in my poor sensitive artist’s heart. But on days like today when the path seems a bit too much like an uphill struggle (or a sheer cliff face) I need to attach a lightness to my persistence. So it’s gentle persistence, not drudgery. A river carving its way through stone, that kind of thing. (I apologise for the mixed metaphors, I am not a writer)

I need persistence, yoga-style.

I have recently committed to practicing handstand everyday. This is a slow process that I realise will mainly consist of a few hops to nowhere for I don’t know how long… weeks, months? I have never done a handstand in my life before, never got anywhere close. I do not expect to be able to first time, second time or twentieth time I try. I persist. I realise the  journey is long but it some ways that is the reward, the persisting. You just do it to do it and who cares about “getting there”?

I can paint, and persist. I do what I do for me and I carry on and deal with whatever blows other people decide to throw at me. There’s nothing like a spot of depression (or 5 years, whatever) to instill a steely calmness.

So keep at it, keep going and let go of attachment to the results.

What do people really think about you?

I wanted to call this post “are you taking the piss?” but thought it might detract from the actual thing I wanted to talk about.

I’m having an ongoing battle to get my paintings into a studio. Here is the timeline so far:

  • December 2010: Started to put paintings into their shop. Paintings sell well throughout the next year.
  • March 2011: Get told that people have been asking about me and my paintings.
  • July 2011: Get a commission from someone through the gallery.
  • July 2011: Decide the time is ripe to apply to be completely represented by the gallery.
  • August 2011: Get rejected by the ‘panel of artists’. Feel completely bemused and angry and lost.
  • August 2011: Get told by one of the directors (I shall call her Magda) that I should have been accepted, she continues to support and help me.
  • October 2011: Accept “mentoring” from an “Artist” at the gallery. This woman hasn’t painted before in her life. Meeting is insulting and patronising. Decide to give up with the gallery for now and try to gain confidence in my paintings again.
  • January 2012: Magda says she’ll help me apply again so I go to meet with her. Find out that another artist applied with me and the directors overturned her rejection from the panel of artists. Next day I receive an email meant for someone else at the gallery ABOUT ME. And it wasn’t all roses and kittens.

So. Where do you begin? I certainly don’t know. I have been so harmed by this organisation when all I wanted was to put my paintings on their walls. I have not done anything to harm them, to threaten them, and I’ve repeatedly been caught in the crossfire of an organisation that is imploding. The politics and infighting has unfortunately got a victim and at this point in my life I could do without it. Even when people are friendly to my face that does not mean they will not harm me at some point.

It really is taking the piss.

This email revealed that Magda thinks I am difficult, stubborn and unwilling to compromise. She described me as “clinically sensitive”, whatever that means and said I am “obsessed” with painting my chosen way (what painter isn’t?) There was probably more stuff but I can’t be bothered going over it again.

I assume that this has happened to everyone in the past: to find out directly what someone is saying about you to someone else. It’s happened to me too but never in such a serious circumstance. I can’t deny it doesn’t hurt but my reaction was surprising. At first I laughed, then I felt bemused, then I felt angry and hurt, but after a cry I accepted it. I explained how it made me feel and about my depression.

Her reaction was a bit more extreme. I got many emails throughout the day apologising, saying she was going to resign, saying it was the worst thing she’s ever done, she’s going reevaluate how she sounds when she talks about people, she had to go for a walk to calm down, she’s probably going to wallow in the humiliation… It went on for a while. I thought I was supposed to be the sensitive one?

It did shock me the flippant, callous way she made judgements and was freely willing to discuss these with someone else. She has barely talked to me and she certainly doesn’t know me well enough to make these kind of judgements (most were wrong) It made me think about how often we’re so thoughtless at the way we cast judgements at others. How we think or say things because we know (or hope) that that person will never hear it.

What if they did?

What kind of hurt would we cause? Is it justified? Maybe we should go a little easier on other people, stop the judgmental thoughts. After all we don’t know anything about their lives, their suffering.

Or just make sure if you do say these things in email form, that you don’t send it to the person you’re talking about.

Pity vs Compassion

Recently this is a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about, mainly in relation to how my parents view me and other sufferers. It came into sharp relief after seeing their reactions to our recently departed cat.

Pity and compassion are very different concepts. If you pity someone the implication is one of ‘looking down on’ but not necessarily lowering yourself down to their level to really feel their suffering. Pity implies otherness; praying for people but not actually understanding or helping them. Being removed from their suffering, saying you feel it but maybe not feeling anything at all. It has a touch of a disdainful lip curl about it. Watch from a distance but do not do anything.

Compassion, on the other hand, is the wish to alleviate suffering. It is the acceptance that while we cannot know truly what suffering is like for others we can know that they are suffering and we can attempt to help them in their suffering. Not out of a sense of duty or for any personal satisfaction, just for the pure goodwill of wanting to give people a leg up out of their pain.

Compassion is hard for most people because it requires a selflessness, and the courage to act. This is hard. You have to forget yourself, let go of any fears that you’ll say/do ‘the wrong thing’ and not be strangled by that self-doubt. It is sad that the desire to help is often overridden by the fear of looking stupid. I learnt long ago that the worst thing to say to someone who’s suffering is “I don’t know what to say”.

My parents pity me and they pitied Marmalade. Both of us have spent a fair amount of time skulking around the house, him looking thin and blind and me tear-faced, mute and slow to the point of being stationary. My parents have never helped me, they look at me and they say “aw” or look sad. Sometimes I feel like they feel more sorry for themselves at not being able to ‘make me better’ than they do at my being depressed for the entirety of my 20s. My requests for help in dealing with my depression have turned into hysterical arguments with my parents telling me that I don’t let them help me, or they always make things worse, or they say the wrong thing, or they don’t know what to do. This then turns into a ridiculous competition about who suffers the most on their own: “I cry all the time on my own about you” vs “I’m getting very down about it”.

I may sound hard hearted but tears mean nothing to me. Tears don’t help me, pity doesn’t help me. Why are they so scared to help me? Are they scared that if they tried they might catch it?? They are good people but I think they may be addicted to misery, to pitying. Dad will watch the news and bow his head when some awful story comes on about a war or a famine. He’ll say “Christ it’s terrible, it’s fucking awful” and maybe a tear will come to his eye. But his tear won’t help those people.

Pity is easy, compassion is hard.

Jealousy and competition

This is where I wished my knowledge of yogic philosophy was greater because I could quote a passage or two from the yoga sutras or the bhagavad gita and show how it’s relevant to my everyday life. Alas this post is more of a question asked to the internet ether than any kind of philosophical revelation. I’m young, forgive me! I’ll learn.

I’m not usually a jealous person. Growing up I was very rarely envious of other kid’s possessions or friends or clothes or anything like that. I was brought up comfortable enough and my parents are kind and supportive. Still these things don’t always guard against envy. It seems to be in human nature to think the grass is greener, to always want more. I was much more accepting of what I had. I discovered that if you accepted what you had you were much happier. Oh wise child, I have so much to learn.

Also, and I think this is crucial, I was not competitive at all. I hated competition. Competitive sports I was terrible at anyway so I just accepted that. It was ok, because I was clever. In academic subjects I was always at the top of the class. I was curious and a quick learner, so I did well academically at school. But it’s lonely being “at the top” in your class. I was labelled the “clever one” and I wasn’t treated the same as the other kids. One teacher actually would goad me whenever I couldn’t answer a question or got something wrong. “I thought you were meant to be clever” he’d sneer. (postscript: he was fired some years later for hitting a child)

So all this meant that since I was so far ahead (or far behind in terms of sports) I had no one to ‘compete’ with. So I learnt my own rules to beat. I became a very good critic of my work, ultimately not really caring what my friends or teachers or even parents thought. I’m a sort of lazy perfectionist. It’s good and bad, good for bloody-minded motivation but bad for days when I can’t do anything ‘right’.

So I’m not competitive. A benefit in yoga, I couldn’t care less how far that person to the left of me is stretching. I rarely get jealous. But yesterday: I got jealous.

A painter has appeared on the scene who does very realistic oil portraits. She does idealised versions of women and politicians. Undoubtedly they take a lot of work and I admire her for that, even if the paintings are not my style. She’s had a lot of success and recognition and I was fine with that until I learned one thing: she’s my age. And she has a child.

The jealous monster reared its head. How can she have the time? Why is she so successful? Will anyone ever take me as seriously as her? Her paintings are so polished and mine are so scruffy. How can she earn so much money from ONE painting?? On and on my mind went. So how do I deal with this jealousy? How can I stop it eroding my sense of confidence in my painting and my life?

In the past the way I dealt with jealousy was, if for example someone of my age was better at playing the violin than I was I would think: that’s ok, because I’m better at writing poetry than they are. And vice versa. So by that pattern I could think: Ok this woman is more successful than me but I’m thinner.

That’s not very enlightened.

Ultimately I think I have to accept that we can live side by side. That she’s not done anything to hurt me. I have to have the strength to live my life and let her live hers. May she be safe, may she be happy, may she be healthy, may she live with ease.

Same to me too for suffering so! Jealousy is exhausting.



Highly Sensitive People Unite!

Recently it seems like everywhere I read people are talking about the Highly Sensitive Person test. As an avid link-clicker and curious person of course I went and took it myself. It all seemed fairly obvious, I’m a sensitive person and this test would tell me “You’re a highly sensitive person” and I’d go YES I AM! I’m a HIGHLY SENSITIVE person! Then I’d get on with my life.

This wasn’t quite the end of it. I took the test… and I was flabbergasted! That test described me completely! Even things that I had not even connected together, like my unbelievably overwhelming hunger and my hatred of violence on tv, the way I’m easily moved by music and the way I’m easily startled, my ability to know how other people are feeling and my love for quiet rooms when it all gets too much. The tick boxes began to add up and up and in the end there was only one tick box I hadn’t ticked: I am not very sensitive to pain (this is quite an interesting one philosophically because I could be sensitive to pain but less reactive to it than others but this is a quibble). So in the Highly Sensitive Person test I got a 26… out of 27. I now crown myself Queen of the HSPs!

This test, although I was so dismissive of it as a cynical marketing ploy at first, has somehow seeped into my mind and my identity. I now think of myself as a HSP, I define others (temporarily I hope) by their HSPness or not-so-much HSPness. I have defined people as Highly Oblivious People (joking… sort of) And I’ve found that I like this new label, I knew that I was sensitive already but this new knowledge crystallises it. It makes it more definite. I’ve always thought that I feel more than other people, but I’ve always thought of it as a bad thing. Now I think that it’s not… it’s just a thing. Good sometimes, bad others. Good for when I’m listening to music I love, bad when I’m stuck in bad circumstances and getting my mind damaged. Of course there’s that downside, sensitive people are more susceptible to mind trauma. We feel more, good and bad.

Strange I should be writing about this now because for the past 10 days my world has been a little bit quieter and less overwhelming. My right ear has become completely overwhelmed with ear wax and I haven’t been able to hear out of it since. This lovely problem is genetic (thanks dad) and is a bit of a gift and a curse. I can’t appreciate music and I can’t follow easily in a yoga class but I’ve found that a certain amount of obliviousness is peaceful! If I can’t hear it, it’s not a problem. So things that would usually bother me; my dad swearing, my mum fussing, cars, loud tvs etc. are not at all a problem. Part of me will miss the peace when it’s over. Another indicator of my HSPness.

So I’m glad I took that test, I feel like it is now my job to nurture my sensitivity and protect it and value it. It makes life that little bit brighter and tastier. And noisier.