I discovered this amazing blog today and believe everyone should read it.
Hopefully this explains why I started recording my therapy. I wanted a way to remember all the important work that was happening. It also became a great way to communicate to my therapist some difficult thoughts, feelings and experiences, and for me to chart my progress. So it was meant initially as a way to express things going on for me. My hope by putting it ‘out there’ on the ‘tinterweb is that it may help someone is some small way as it has helped me. Therapy is not easy. I wish I had known some of the things I know now when I started out! I’m not an artist, nor am I very good at spelling – but well, they are not the important things.
Today was one of those days I wish I could have every day, and it still had its bumpy moments. I was able to move through it with confidence and take care of some important things. My one concern is that I hope I haven’t burnt myself out by doing too much in one day.
I attempted to ignore my alarm for half an hour this morning, then finally reset it to (ostensibly) give myself an additional 90 minutes of sleep. I didn’t exactly sleep during that time, but my body was relatively rested and my mind got to run though some things. When it went off again I was quite grumpy, but I pulled myself out of bed and started my day with a breakfast of cold cereal and milk. I ate most of it before plopping down at the computer to pay my credit card bill (in full, on time, booyah!)
A sadness has been descending upon me every morning that I can’t quite explain. I attribute it to the family wedding ceremony & reception we’ve been planning (it’s very fresh in my mind, especially since Mom and I ordered my dress on Monday) and the fact that my father can’t be there. Now that I’ve forgiven him, I kind of wish he could come. I’m also a bit raw from the memorial service for my undergrad mentor who died last year, which was very beautiful and nostalgic and extremely inspiring but during which I kept expecting him to show up and had to remind myself… well… yeah.
Anyways, I let myself feel the sadness and cry a bit and not try too hard to rationalize it. My emotions come and go like waves on the shore; it’s much easier and safer to let them do so unimpeded. The really strong waves will break down any defenses I try to put up, so I’m better off directing my energy elsewhere.
Fast forward a bit to find me power walking across campus to meet with my academic adviser. We came up with a plan for me to get back on the horse and trot around a bit before the show jumping that is applying for internships. He seemed happy to see me again (for the first time in about a year, actually) and I was glad to see him as well.
Next I was power walking across campus to participate in a LGBTQ group I’ve been meaning to join since I found out about it in January. My mind kept repeating something Mom had said about punctuality: “If you aren’t where you intend to be at least 10 minutes early, you’re late.” I asked it if that thought was going to help me get there any sooner; obviously the answer was no so I gave the order to stop thinking it.
I got there just in time and had a rather enjoyable experience talking with
absolute strangers friends I hadn’t met yet about topics ostensibly connected in some way to the gender binary. They kept thanking me for coming, so I imagine they’ll be pleased if I show up again next week. Honestly if this was the only thing I’d done today I would still say it was epic. I overcame a lot of insecurities about not only groups and social anxiety but my own identity as well; I felt accepted and comfortable (well, mostly) and contributed in a positive way to others’ experience. It was definitely a huge improvement over feeling too anxious to get dressed and go.
I had some time before my piano lesson, so I grabbed something to eat. A wasp of some description seemed inclined to investigate my iced coffee; this made me very uncomfortable. My bee/yellow jacket/wasp phobia has been becoming more severe; just this morning I had a nightmare involving them. But I remained calm, gathered my things without making any sudden movements, and walked away like a sane person.
Okay, here’s the really nifty part of the day – and where the Zentangles come in. Since Monday I’ve been following the instructions in One Zentangle A Day by Beckah Krahula. I sat down at the beginning of my piano lesson to play an exercise from Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises that I haven’t practiced very much and didn’t look at all week (oops). As I played it my mind was completely clear; there were just the written music in front of me, the sensations in my body (especially hands), and the sound of the music I was playing. I was completely in the zone, just like that, no real conscious effort required!
Even after I had a thought and trainwrecked, I was cool and confident talking to and playing in front of my teacher. Maybe the beginning of a piece or exercise wouldn’t be as strong as it could be, but once I got into it… Boom! Like someone had flipped a switch, everything else just melted away and there was just the music. It flowed through me. My teacher said I have an instinct for piano and she wishes I’d started playing when I was much younger. It’s another thing I got from my father – another thing I wish I could share with him now.
It was our most productive lesson to date and I think a lot of it – possibly my entire day – was made possible by the meditative practice I’ve been getting from the Zentangles. I’ve been able to calm and focus my mind so much more easily. I love the way I can direct my energy when I’m drawing (or playing music, or doing anything else creative), to have some party of myself – my will – flowing out of me and onto paper or into an instrument. It feels good and it helps me develop my confidence.
After the lesson I went to talk to someone in the graduate school about a failing grade I would love to remove from my transcript. It’s from an independent study I attempted 2 years ago and was unable to finish. I had an incomplete but by the time I was ready to try and complete it the grade had automatically converted to an F. To be honest I’m not sure why I didn’t address it sooner. The person I talked to was very nice but she doesn’t have the authority to help me, so she gave me the contact information for someone who (ostensibly) can.
Based on our conversation, I expect I’ll have to come out as having depression. It’s the best explanation I have for why it’s taken me 2 years to address this. I’m not sure if I want to bring up the anxiety as well, but I am prepared to mention the self harm and suicidal ideation. I can ask Wakana for documentation and might also contact the psychiatrists I saw to request their diagnoses and the dates when they treated me. Thinking about my difficulties (especially having to drop my graduate-level classes last year) was very painful, but… well, I hope it will be worth it.
On the way home (after spending 5 hours on campus) I realized I was utterly exhausted. Fox invited me to join him outside while he practiced using his new katana, so I agreed. He taught me a couple of moves that involve the whole body, big muscles moving together. The katana is simply an extension of one’s arm, oneself. As I became familiar with the movements and comfortable using my whole body as one unit, I could really feel the katana as an extension of myself; I could feel my energy flowing through it. That was awesome.
I sat on the stairs watching him dance with it and listening to him talk about the history and how those blades are traditionally made. I’m somewhat interested in the topic, but mostly I was interested in seeing and listening to him. His geeky interest in and nerdy knowledge about an esoteric topic, the sound of his voice, the way his body moved, the way he was enjoying himself… I haven’t seen him like that in years. It was amazing.
And I continued my daily practice by drawing my fourth Zentangle. I don’t like it quite as much as I like the others, but then I didn’t like them either while I was drawing them and now… well, let’s just say my opinion of them has improved. I do think I managed to use shading to make it look like a light is shining from the upper left corner onto 3-dimensional objects. So… it’s another 30 minutes of practice, another learning experience. It’s helping me overcome my perfectionism, too!
To end my epic day of being awesome, I have written this blog post! Without further ado, here are my most recent Zentangles:
Banji’s gotten me into a new trend: Zentangle. The basic idea is to use drawing purposeful, repetitive strokes to enter a calm, zen state – what artists tend to call being “in the zone.” I’ve been having a lot of fun flipping through Banji’s Zentangle books for inspiration and trying things as they meet my fancy.
One of the books she has is particularly interesting: One Zentangle a Day by Beckah Krahula. It teaches the Zentangle method over the course of 6 weeks. I like the idea of having a more structured approach to learning an artistic method, and frankly I need the daily zen practice. I’m hoping it will help me to quiet my mind, focus, and be more intentional in my everyday living – and to manage my anxious depression symptoms.
I started out on the kitchen table with just the book, the same sketchbook I drew the dark horse in, a regular ball point pen (black ink), and a mechanical .7 mm pencil.
After practicing today’s tangles a few times in the sketchbook, I started my Zentangle. I took a 3.5″ x 3.5″ piece of acid free drawing paper, used my pencil to draw a dot in each corner and connect them, and drew a couple of lines to separate the drawing area into 5 sections. Then I used my pen to fill each section with one of the 3 tangles I’d just learned.
The process was relaxing and a lot of fun! I love focusing in on one small area, doing the same repetitive motion over and over again, and then zooming back out to see a much more interesting and dynamic whole than I had expected. Happiness rushed through me – not the calm, contented, “zen” happiness I had expected, but an excited, engaged, and active energy. I focused it in on each stroke of my pen and savored the feeling of that energy flowing through me.
In the meantime, my mind would allow only brief moments of silence, when the only thing happening was drawing the Zentangle. I didn’t have any music playing, so it decided to play “Let It Go” from Frozen. I’ve started learning the piano part, so I’ve got the introduction fresh in my mind, playing on repeat, very slowly. It’s in minor, so if you slow it down too much it gets rather depressing. I’ve been trying to nudge my mind into playing the whole song at the correct tempo, with the lyrics in the correct order.
My mind decided that, instead of acquiescing to my request, it was going to play around with the melody and rhythm – essentially, creating its own variations on the opening of “Let It Go.” I grinned. I can totally do that for fun, and I’d love to jot down the melodies as my mind comes up with them. They could make great inspiration for an original composition.
I liked it a lot less when my mind decided to start going into things I need to do in the near future. I told it that this is time to focus on drawing. The redirection was a lot easier than I’d expected. Drawing is fun and relaxing, and my mind likes being creative.
When I finished working in pen, I started to feel anxious and a little angry. I didn’t want to be finished! I wanted to keep Zentangling! But then I realized that I still needed to add shading. “You wanted to keep going. Well, we’re not finished. Help me shade this.” Once again I zoomed in, not worrying about how the gestalt would look, but following the procedure. “You’re supposed to shade this part of the tangle.” I had my own interpretation for one of them, but I was consistent. I relished the new visual textures I was creating.
Then I zoomed out, and wow! My Zentangle looks as good as any of the ones in the various books I’ve had the pleasure of flipping through. I love looking at it as much as I enjoyed drawing it. And I get to make one of these every day! It’s fantastic. I want to share it with everyone.
On the back I wrote: “One Zentangle a Day, Day 1, 3/31/14, [my home address], kitchen table.” I appropriated a plastic storage container for this and any future Zentangles, my remaining 3.5″ x 3.5″ squares, and the cardboard cutouts I have for making new squares and circles. It, unlike far too many items in this house, has a specific home that is easily accessible.
I’ve been feeling really low the past couple days, especially yesterday. Low energy, sad mood – almost on the verge of tears. I told Fox I didn’t think I had the energy to cry. I’m worried because I’m going to run out of my medications soon and I still haven’t even started trying to find a new psychiatrist. But I don’t have the energy to make a phone call. I really wish someone would hold my hand through the whole process.
The ironic thing is, Sunday night is the first time in weeks that I slept anywhere near a normal amount of time. Fox and I went to bed around 3:30 am; I woke a little bit before 7:30. Then, I fell back to sleep on the couch from about 8-something to 11:30 am. So, I got about 7-8 hours of sleep. And a comparable amount last night. That’s about twice what I’ve gotten used to.
I have had the energy to explore knotwork some more. One of my favorite things about Celtic knotwork (besides the gorgeous designs) is following the path(s) through all the different knots. I decided to color my Josephine knot panel from my last post in order to help myself visualize the path.
As it turns out, there are actually 4 paths that intersect each other, two at a time. In other words, “the knot is not continuous.” I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed to learn this because I really prefer continuous knots. However, I was able to use the process of coloring the different paths to explore how different parts of myself interact.
From left to right: the blue represents the depths of my emotions; they are complex and flow one into another, like the waves of the ocean. It’s hard to understand them because the light from the surface only goes so far; beyond its limits it is too dark to see what’s really happening. But the emotions are there and they are an important part of me.
The red represents my passion, life energy. I thought it would be one of the colors to stand out the most, but it’s actually quite subdued against the purple background. That’s actually quite fitting because my passion’s been lacking – everything from libido to motivation to do anything, even activities I enjoy. Passion is kind of important for expressing emotions; without the energy to move them outward, all they can do is sit and fester inside me.
The dark brown represents grounding and the Earth. There’s an element of fertility in there – creativity – as well as holding and nurturing. It keeps the passion from getting out of control; it helps the emotions stay manageable. Too often I’ve used it to keep calm for others’ benefit, at the expense of my own emotional well-being.
Finally, the gold represents intellect. It works best from a place of grounding, calm, rather than passion. It’s my major coping mechanism: focusing on cognitive tasks to distract myself from my emotions; trying to understand and/or explain what’s going on intellectually so, if I must feel, at least I can throw words and ideas at my emotions.
This is the filter through which I try to share my experiences in blog posts. If the emotions could speak for themselves … well, I’ll admit, that idea is kind of scary. But Wakana did get me to start improvising on viola again, at least for a couple of days. I need to find a safe place for it to stay out of its case – visible and ready to play.
Yesterday I wanted to make a continuous Celtic knot panel, so I made some adjustments to the design. I removed one of the rows of knots, creating a more rectangular shape, and used foundation knots at the top and bottom of the panel. This created one long circuitous path that was quite fun to trace.
As I was drawing this design, I thought about how sometimes we must leave certain things unfinished, and go off in an unexpected direction to take care of something else (e.g. dropping my graduate classes to focus on recovering from severe depression and anxiety). This can be hard for me to deal with; I’d much rather complete the thing I’m working on right now – especially since I have a bad habit of starting (often expensive and/or time consuming) projects and then never finishing them. I have a lot of guilt around that. But maybe I just need to learn to trust that, if something is important enough to me, I’ll come back to it in my own time. If I never get back to that thing, it’s really not the end of the world.
Wakana strongly encouraged me to try something new. So, I pulled out a book that’s been on my shelf for a while now, Celtic Design: Knotwork by Aidan Meehan. It has instructions for drawing your own Celtic knotwork, starting with how to create various grids (e.g. 2×2, 5×5) and moving from simple to increasingly complex patterns. After experimenting with it for a couple of days, I have a few drawings I would like to share:
Although artistically-speaking it’s probably better not to allow the grid to show through, I love how it remains visible in this final piece. There were many overlapping layers involved in the creation of the grid, and the knotwork forms yet another layer on top of it. I love that the knotwork serves as both the focus of the piece and a means of seeing parts of the process that went into its creation.
I see it as a metaphor for how people have multiple layers of being – thoughts to words, emotions to affect, impulses to actions, etc. What anyone sees me doing at a given point in time is only a small fraction of who I am.