Living Expenses

Got an annoying letter from the tax office. They are not processing my tax form until I tell them how I live on such a low income. It’s not the first time I’ve got such a letter but they are equally humiliating, with the insinuations of sponging or illegal activity or laziness.

I have practically no income, I was unable to get a job after university because of my depression and I was worried (in my depressed, don’t trust anyone state) that if I asked for financial help I would be forced into a job I didn’t feel ready for. So my parents and my boyfriend have supported me and I have become a bit of a tax grey area. It worried me for years, on top of the whole trying to recover from depression thing. Just one more worry I didn’t need.

I’m self-employed now but I still make next to no money so this situation is likely to continue, with me declaring my income which would barely sustain me for a month let alone a year. Bizarrely I may be forced into marrying my boyfriend, which I’ve never wanted to do. Part of me is enjoying planning this subversive wedding and it scares me! I hate the way you have to do everything the “right” way otherwise life is made difficult or demeaning for you.

I am perfectly aware I don’t make enough money but I have people who care about me who do and who look after me. Is there anything wrong with that?

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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.

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!

Competition

Strange how the day after I admit I don’t know whether to blog anymore I find myself wanting to write. But something happened yesterday, nothing major but something.

I have said I’m not a competitive person, that people can do their thing and I’ll carry on doing mine thanksverymuch. But I do feel threatened sometimes and I do feel like I’m competing. Even in my non-competitive yoga class I think about how my strength/flexibility/general air of calm compares to those around me. These days I’m mindful of it and I say to myself “ego” or “judging” if these thoughts arise. They still come.

Months ago I applied to be represented as an artist by a gallery (the same one I’m applying to be artist in residence for). I was rejected initially, along with another painter. However, the directors of the gallery overturned this decision and decided to accept us both. Unfortunately I had already followed up my application and was told I’d been rejected. The other painter hadn’t and got accepted. Over the coming weeks after hearing about this I came to terms with the corruption and unfairness of it and I dealt with it.

Until I suddenly suspected the super-duper-ace yogi in my class was that rejected/accepted painter. She has the same name, the same hairstyle, the right accent… it all fitted.

My god I felt jealous and resentful. Jealous of her handstands, her forearm balances, her headstands, her incredible strength, her thinness, her acceptance within the yoga class, but most of all the blissful ignorance she had of the inner corruption and politics within that gallery. All that had happened to her is she had applied to be an artist and she was accepted. I (who was recovering from depression, with no other job) had to deal with the initial rejection, the criticism of my work, the hurtful comments of the director who was supposed to be supporting me, the ripping apart of my identity, the worthlessness, the doubts, the insecurity.

As you can imagine, this all put me off my yoga. I am very proud of my dual identity: my yoga and my painting. I think it makes me unique, different, special. “But this woman does both too, and she does it better!” I said to myself. This is all ego. I do what I do, let others do what they do. I am not defined by my talents or my practices, I am me regardless. I wish these lessons were easier learned.

The bizarre end note to my little story is I don’t even think this woman in my yoga class and the painter are the same after all. How does that change my little narrative?

Stable Roots?

I’m at a crossroads with my blog. My life is changing and my blog needs to change with it, it needs to serve me or I need to let it go. I need to look back at why I started the blog and whether I still want to carry on despite my changing circumstances.

I started this blog to talk about my experiences in recovering from a depression that completely derailed the first part of my 20s. I wanted to talk about my life: my yoga, meditation, my art career. But I needed to feel safe doing it (hence the pseudonym). I wanted an outlet, to have a voice because I had so few people in my life to talk to. I wanted to say something, not just read and be silent all the time. I wanted to order my thoughts and observations. I wanted to record my recovery. I wanted to have a little space on the internet to speak. This blog gave me that.

At the moment I’m busy: I’m working towards my first exhibition and I have an interview to be artist in residence at the gallery down the road. I don’t know my chances but I’m giving it the best shot (safely, with my mental health in mind) I never would have imagined this last year when I started this blog. When I was waking up 2 days out of 5 weekdays so sad I couldn’t function. But things change, amazing isn’t it? 3 years of the same old gradual recovery and then I’m pretty much depression free, with an exhibition, with a job interview (the only job I’ve ever wanted) and the promise of a yoga teacher training this year too.

With all these changes I suppose we’ll see how stable these roots of mine are hey?

Fear

I’ve had a lot of fear recently. I’m thinking of applying for a residency at a gallery (yes the one that’s caused me no end of grief lately) and it’s brought up all the old anxieties about my teeny tiny CV. I’m going to say something now that may shock you…

I have not been in any kind of employment for over 3 years.

Now after you’ve picked your jaws up off the floor I’ll explain. I had a job at a bookshop in the year after school and before university. It was pleasant enough, a bit boring and lonely. I went to university and came back depressed but still felt pressure to get a job so I got a temporary job at the same bookshop. I soon realised that this was not the right thing for me when I started daydreaming about running out and going up to the nearby hills. There I thought I’d be left alone, it’d be peaceful. I knew I was “losing it” and left the job fast. It was clear that I was not in any fit state to have any kind of job.

The years that followed have brought verrrrry gradual recovery. I still felt pressure to get a job and worry about how difficult it would be to get a job after being unemployed for so long but strangely the longer I was unemployed the less I worried about it. Everyone who knew my situation (my boyfriend, sister, parents, counsellor) agreed that not having a job and concentrating on recovery was the best thing for me.

Over this time I have thought a lot, done lots about of self-enquiry about how I want to live my life and what is the best thing for me. Money hasn’t been an issue because I live with my parents, my boyfriend has a full time job and I, crucially, don’t spend much. I still have savings from my job and every so often I get some money from selling paintings. I decided that it’s definitely the right thing for me to give making paintings for a living a go. If not now, when?

This has been the best thing for me, and if I had to live it all over again (and thank god I don’t) I would make the same decisions. But it’s so hard to go against the grain of full-time employment even when it’s unnecessary and actually detrimental to your well-being. I worry about how it looks to other people, worry about having to justify the way I live my life. Sometimes I feel worthless, like I’m not a real person because I don’t have a job.

How ridiculous. I know how boring jobs can be, how soul sucking, and how easy it is to get up and go to a building every weekday to do the perceived “right thing”. This is hard. Living not the “right way” but the way that’s right for me and it takes a lot of courage to do this. I hope that some day I can look back at this point, at my self now with pride for my choices and my courage and tenacity.

This is what’s getting me through this fear. I hope to see through it to the other side.

Quietly Committed

I’ve been exhausted recently. This time of year does that to me, what with the darkness, the pressures of Christmas and the impending lazy days ahead. I think I’m in lazy day mode already, been spending a lot of time in a funk. I’ve been making use of my subscription to yogaglo, mainly using Jason Crandell’s classes. I think I’m obsessed. I love his calm, focussed manner. Everything is so deliberate and thorough and unhurried. When I grow up I want to be just like him.

I’ve been thinking recently about commitment. Mainly because I realised that I am now committed to mindfulness practice, to meditation and cultivating it in daily life. I was talking to my boyfriend about the bewildering speed at which its given me clarity and peace (we’re talking a couple of months) and I said “I guess this is me for life now”. I realise that mindfulness is something I have to practice, not something to only pick up when I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed. I have to be awake all the time and that takes daily practice.

It’s not so much that that got me thinking as the way in which I decided I was committed. When I said “I guess this is me for life now” I already was committed, I was just saying what I already knew. But I never sat down and consciously decided that I would always have a mindfulness practice. I just knew I would in this very quiet accepting way.

It was the same with yoga. When I started I loved it, I took to it like a fish to water. I learnt all I could and had no problem starting my home practice and sticking to it. At no point did I think that I would stop and this wasn’t daunting, it was exciting! And not in an obsessed uncontrolled way, in a way that realised that there was a yoga that was appropriate for me at every stage in my life so why should I stop? I’ve found this great thing, I’m sticking with it.

The only time I’ve ever felt anything like the tight panic grip of “til death do us part” was a month or so after I got together with my boyfriend (we’ve been together now for 5 years) when I was talking to my friend about our long-term-serious-grown-up relationships. I told her the thought of breaking up made me feel sick but then that would mean we would have to stay together… forever! She looked at me with a knowing look in her eye and said: “You don’t think I think about that all the time?”

That vague panic soon passed and I shrugged and thought I did want to be with him until death takes one of us. Commitment done. Makes me wonder what all the fuss on Friends was about.

So I’m committed, to my relationship, to yoga, to mindfulness, to painting too. I don’t want to shout it to the rooftops and I don’t have to. I feel secure that these decisions are good for me and me alone.

A Little Grief

Above is a picture of Marmalade my cat who died last week, right after I posted about him. Poor thing, I think his heart just gave up. It was a quick death, my boyfriend found him curled up under the dining table. It was not a neat death though. I have never been part of the mucky parts of pets dying before but strangely enough it was cathartic. It helped, to get an old towel and wrap him up. The other grosser parts helped too but I won’t write about them here.

We buried him in the garden with the dog, the other cats of old, several hamsters and the rats. This was the first time that I dug the hole and buried the pet. It was tough physically and emotionally. So strange to be wrapping him up so tenderly and then putting him in the ground and covering him up with all the soil and worms. But it was ok, it wasn’t so terrible. It’s what happens to us all in the end. I think being part of the process helped. I was able to acknowledge that when my boyfriend brought out his body I labelled that as “Marmalade my favourite cat” but when I covered him up he was no longer there. My cat has gone, there’s just this matter there that will rot and go into the earth.

It brought up a lot of discussion between me and my boyfriend about how different cultures deal with death. About how important it is to acknowledge death and treat it as a normal and inevitable part of life. It’s easy for me to say, death hasn’t touched my life much yet so I don’t know what it is to grieve. But with Marmalade I feel like I’m getting practice. It’s a little grief.