Ongoing

So I did it, I blogged everysingleday in August. I went away for the weekend and it was gogogo. Several art galleries and much bridesmaid dress shopping (my sister is getting married and I’m a bridesmaid) I came home and I painted every day that week. I started 7 paintings, went to a preview and dealt with the strangeness of people who aren’t me publicising my work. Workworkwork. I decided I could cope with that, and not only that but I loved it. The enthusiasm of going somewhere, starting something and seeing it through to the end. Exploring, producing, thinking and learning. I love making paintings!

But then I got sick and everything stopped.

The thing is it’s hard to say if it’s “sickness” or “depression”. I woke up on Monday morning with that terribly familiar ache in my chest and the realisation that everything was terrible. But then the aches started in my shins, the cough appeared, my limbs took on a lead-like quality and the violent sneezes threatened me. So am I ill or depressed? It’s hard to say. It seems like the ill-er I feel the more content I am. When my symptoms lessen the more I am inclined to start the self talk “Oh I have to work today and I have to exercise and it’s going to be so hard and I don’t want to I just want to go back to bed but then I wouldn’t have worked and I’ll get fat and unfit and I’m very very very lazy” It’s like I have a perfectly reasonable excuse to rest once I get past this certain point of illness but other than that I’m just a big lazy lump.

My path to self compassion is, as always, ongoing.

 

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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.

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!

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?

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.

Is life ever easy?

I probably have more insights about the similarities between the practices of painting and yoga to share but right now I just wanted to ask:

Does life ever get easier? Or does it just involve accepting one bad thing after another?

So I (mainly) recover from depression. After 5 years I don’t wake up sad for no reason anymore. So the universe decides to give me reasons to be sad. The past few weeks have been very frustrating, hurtful and lonely for me. I’ve had to deal with tiredness, other people’s issues, realising that years of painting and work does not mean I will get support and help, not being invited to an old friend’s wedding, my parent’s inability to help me and a very rainy miserable birthday.

To counteract this I’m doing two things: I’m getting a couple of pet rats and I’m starting a morning yoga and meditation practice. I figure that I need something that will love me unconditionally and a morning practice will mean that I can start the day off mindfully and peacefully no matter what crap happens during the day.

I can find peace in whatever happens to me.

Last Christmas

Last Christmas day was terrible, it was a really bad day and I felt awful and my family felt awful. And it was all because of my depression and my parents attitude to my depression. There is no getting around it. The worst Christmas of my life so far.

It is strange because at the time I considered myself *getting better* and would be able to avoid such meltdowns. But it came like such a bolt from the blue I had no chance.

Briefly what happened was I had offered my help for the Big Christmas Dinner. My mum and my sister were to do everything and I would cook a lovely red cabbage dish. Except when it came to it mum decided we had too much food and told me I wasn’t needed anymore.

Cue meltdown.

I felt so worthless, so useless, so surplus to requirements. I am a good cook, I enjoy cooking. I cook everyday for myself and my boyfriend (if he wants it) and I love it but what I really want is other people to cook for, people to provide for, to receive my gifts. Sally Kempton did an article in the last Yoga Journal about the importance of being able to give, I wanted to give but no one wanted my gifts.

My mood worsened and worsened, made a million times worse by my parents ignoring the weeping, silent mess at the dinner table. I began hyperventilating, I couldn’t speak, I moved at my glacial depressed pace. Still they said nothing. I went away to cry, my boyfriend trying to coax me back to myself.

Later dinner was ready, we all ate in miserable silence. Suddenly my sister burst into tears. She told my parents she hated the way they ignored me, they weren’t helping me. She was worried about me and they weren’t trying to help me get better. They said the usual things “she won’t let us help her, don’t know what to do, make things worse” etc etc but my lovely sister wasn’t having any of this. It was fantastic, someone was on my side! After that night things did improve a bit with my parents, the effect did wear off eventually though, but the knowledge that my sister cared warmed me for a much longer time.

And this year I am making the Christmas dinner. The whole Christmas dinner.