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.

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?

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!

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!

Too good to be true?

Recovery is rarely linear. I always get frustrated by those stories in the magazines, you know the ones. Where someone is suffering, then has a breakdown and then reaches rock bottom and then gets help, and gets a little better, a little better and then is better. The end. They never mention those worrying days when you feel like you’ll never get better, or the bad days among the good months.

I’ve been sick and sad for a few days. The brakes are on, the long mindful meditations are back.

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?