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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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.

Bollocks!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Yogic principle to take to my art: Acceptance

Continuing in my series about ways that my yoga practice can enhance my painting practice. Today is acceptance.

My days have been quite similar the past few weeks, mainly consisting painting, being ill, being tired and doing yoga and meditating when I can. I had a birthday last week (happy birthday to me!) and now it’s back to it.

My body has suffered from being ill, and so my yoga practice has changed. I didn’t do a vigorous practice for about a month, I had to really tone it down to restorative practices and slow, simple vinyasa practices when I felt up to it. I’ve lost fitness because of this and am slowly trying to bring my body back to the condition it was in December. It’s slow and stuttering, hence the tiredness.

Because my yoga has always been therapeutic for me and meant to make me feel better rather than worse I have always been very accepting of my body’s condition at every given time when I come to practice yoga. If I’m tired I do a slow practice, if I’m feeling anxious I do a simple practice, if I’m feeling unenthusiastic I allow myself to do a practice I find interesting. If it’s too hard I don’t practice at all, and I don’t beat myself up about it. I try to do what’s appropriate and I’m accepting of that.

Applying this to my painting would mean being aware of my current body and mind state and allowing myself to work in a way that would benefit it (or at least not harm it) So this would mean accepting that when I’m tired I cannot just push push push as much painting out as possible. I have to accept that painting is a very draining activity. I have to take regular breaks, I would benefit from being mindful of any feelings that come up (tiredness behind my eyes, panic rising from it not going the way I want it to) If I’m too tired to paint, draw. If I’m too tired to draw, look at other people’s paintings and think. And accept that I’m doing the right thing in the long term by not bleeding myself dry at the easel every day. Even external factors have to be accepted: today it is too dark to paint in natural light. So I’m not, I’m planning on what I’m going to work on next and I’m looking through my art books.

I do the best I can given the conditions that are present and I look after myself. I accept that I am doing my best.