The lure of early mornings

I used to label myself a night owl, as in I loved being awake late at night and couldn’t function in the morning. Now I wonder if maybe I just hated school and would rather be up all night online.

Nevertheless changing my sleeping habits was quite a traumatic undertaking. When I was 20 I spent a summer trying to make my bedtime reasonable and my waking up time earlier than 10am. It was hard but I succeeded. Gradually, over years, my waking up time has eroded (whilst still getting my 8 hours) further and further back until now I am getting up (on a good day) at 7am.

But I want it to be earlier! There’s something about early mornings… the peace and quiet, the promise of early productivity and later rest, the optimism that comes with wanting to do something difficult and thinking you really can succeed. I would love to get up early, do some blogging, get some drawing practice in, do a bit of cleaning. All these things I push back and back in my working day. Maybe when my schedule is busier I would have to do my yoga or my mindfulness practice early. That appeals too.

As it is for any depressed person, mornings have been the worst for me. Most mornings I would wake up with that heavy, debilitating sadness on my chest. The weight that made me realise that my day carried the promise of being 3000% harder than it should be and 6000% more terrible. I spent most days undoing the terribleness of the mornings, only to wake to another horrific morning feeling.

I’m going to take mornings back from my depression.

So this week I’m tracking how I’m spending my hours and I’m going to ease into early mornings gently. It’s something I can get excited about. And I love those things.

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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.

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!

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!

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?

Eh…

I’m struggling with keeping up writing in this blog, not because I don’t want to, but because I got out of the habit. I have many plans, many drafts but I postponed them until after I had done my post generalising the events of last year. As January goes on this post seems less and less important but I want to do it for myself.

Things are changing for me. Slowly but definitely. I seem to… not be suffering from depression anymore. No bad days and good days, just days. I tell you living without depression is so easy! I just do things, I just live. It’s amazing. It hasn’t been an overnight recovery and it has been hard work but I feel like I’ve made it (I say that very tentatively) I need to write more on this.

I’m working on my exhibition which seems an impossibility at the moment. One day at a time. It’s difficult because I’ve been ill for about 3 weeks and getting back into it is always hard. One thing I want to work on is making my art practice like my yoga practice, accepting and nourishing.

Is my Bum too Big to do yoga?

I discovered this week that I’m still not committed enough to this blog to do it when I’ve been busy. My weeks holiday is now over and it’s back to it. Got to be patient with these changes of habit and new responsibilities.

Recently I’ve been worrying about my body and my weight. I mentioned before that I had a blood test to find out if I have an underactive thyroid. The reason for this is since May last year I have gained a pound every month without eating any more than I did before. It started with a strange bloating, digestive type issue but that’s receded now but I’m still left with the creeping weight gain and I’m already over a stone heavier than I was when it started.

Strangely enough I have never really had any eating/weight issues before. I was a healthy child and wasn’t ever considered ‘overweight’. In my teens when other girls were worrying about how their bodies looked I was happy in mine because it was mine. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the way I looked but it was good enough. This wasn’t entirely commendable because I was plagued by terrible digestive problems, I had no idea what healthy food was like and I was pretty unfit. As a result of this blissful ignorance my weight crept up unnoticed until at the age of 21 (if you regard the BMI) my BMI was 29.

Around the same time I was becoming increasingly depressed and incredibly guilty and aware of my impact on the world. I vowed to lesson my impact and the first thing to go was any food that I did not gain any pleasure or nutrition from. Then I decreased my consumption of meat and replaced it with vegetables. Then I discovered whole grains.

After 9 months I had lost 2 and a half stone and for the first time in my adult life was a medically acceptable weight for my height. And it felt good to be approved of. I started doing yoga, running, wearing sleeveless tops and buying narrow jeans. I thought many things during this time. Weight loss is easy! Weight maintenance is easy! Exercising is fun! Yoga is fantastic! Over the next 2 years I tried to get used to my new body, other people’s perceptions of me whilst trying to keep that little voice out which said “If you were a bit thinner you’d be a bit happier…”

I was getting there too, I was almost used to my ‘new’ body when this whole weight gain thing started. Now I don’t know what to think. All of the weight is concentrated on my legs and my bum and I can’t help but look at other people in my yoga class and wonder if they’re looking at my humungous thighs. Am I too fat to do yoga? People who do yoga usually have thin legs, is it not acceptable to have big legs? All the while I know this is ridiculous because the extra fat I hasn’t actually stopped me doing anything… yet. That’s the thing… the yet. I don’t know when this weight gain will stop and I feel like my body is on loan. I can’t get too attached to it because who knows how it will have changed 6 months down the line. Will I still be able to run? To do bakasana? Will I be able to learn how to do headstand?

I go to the doctors on Friday, in the meantime I will practice metta on my poor, fatty bummed self.

Chaturanga!

I’m not entirely happy or entirely sure what I’m doing yet with this blog but often the best thing to do, I’ve found, is to just dive straight in and have a go. So I’ll keep on going, hoping I’ll learn on the job.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about change and about stability (or stagnation depending on your point of view) My life for the past 3 years hasn’t changed much in terms of routine or circumstances. I moved home after university to live with my parents, my boyfriend stayed over and never went home. A few things have changed, I had a short lived job, I started and stopped counselling, I started going to yoga classes, I started running… but essentially I am at the same state: an unemployed depressed woman living in her parents attic. This has been necessary. It has provided me with the security to recover from this debilitating problem. Still, sometimes I think: “3 years… a long time, and what have I done?” and I think there’s people I know who have had 2 children in the time I’ve taken to recover from depression. It scares me.

But then I remind myself that it’s essential and inevitable in life to go through periods of extreme change and therefore periods where… nothing much happens. If you’re lucky things just tick along, if not well, you can do something about that.

This roundabout route takes me to the title of my post, the fantastic yoga asana of chaturanga dandasana. Like a lot of people it hasn’t been an easy relationship. The first time I encountered it I wondered why it was necessary to have this strange press up thing in the middle of everything. It wasn’t possible for me, it was uncomfortable and bewildering. But I stuck with it, armed with my new knowledge that if I practiced this strange move I would get better at it! What a revelation! So after a few belly-flopping months I had built enough strength to sort of follow along (at this time I was only doing dvds) I summoned up enough courage to go to a class, sure that my lack of ability in chaturanga would be weeded out at once. It wasn’t, my strength was definitely above average and I was shocked at all the sticking out elbows and bottoms everywhere. My first yoga class was a revelation I can tell you, I thought everyone did yoga like Rodney Yee or Shiva Rea.

My ability with chaturanga has steadily improved since then, 2 years ago when I first stepped in a class. I can hold it, I can repeat it over and over again, I can sort of jump back into it. However I still wasn’t happy with getting out of it. Somehow my knowledge of this was missing. I lowered into it fine (elbows in) then I clumsily jumped onto the tops of my feet into upward facing dog before going back into down dog, turning the left foot and then the right foot over the toes.  How do those people glide so gracefully through this vinyasa? It was a mystery. So to try to solve this I did what I do best: I turned to the internet. To this post and I tried it. 3 weeks later it almost comes naturally. Mystery solved! But I still was walking back into down dog from up dog. Tuesday I was doing just that when I thought, why don’t I just try to roll over my toes? So I went back into up dog and prepared to roll back and it just happened! Strange to think of 2 years worrying about not doing it right, of breaking my toes when all along it was there.

My yoga practice recently is changing in leaps and bounds. And the thing is, I’m not even trying to make it change! It is just happening, these little changes, shifts of viewpoints and realisations. So sometimes things change if you just carry on, without grasping at a result. You do what you want to do, you will get to where you want to go.

That’s a relief!