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Archive for the ‘alternative therapy’ Category

Ok, I’m way behind in getting some images uploaded…long story, will update this over the weekend, but here’s the last image I was working on yesterday.  I’ve been drawing, but had to modify to cope with lots of stuff going on.  This one has lots of meaning for me, but will revise this post with that later this week/weekend.  Here’s an image.  Direction in drawing has become very integrated into medical treatment now, and I’ll explain that, too.  I may yet tweak this one a little bit more, but this one was done in pen & ink, watercolor, and colored pencil.  The book is actually just a retail catalog that someone had discarded that was on fairly heavy paper and the size seemed suitable for my purposes (app 7.5” square).  On some pages, like this one, I have glued some cheap manilla-colored children’s drawing paper over the catalog pages to give it some thickness.  I use this book for random doodling like this.  Odd how I often do some of my favorite drawings in recycled books like this. I have a smaller one that I’ve been working in, that I’m going to have to rebind, as the painted pages have torn away from the stitching somewhat. 

For the most part these drawings at least start and progress for quite a while as automatic drawing, and later compositions arise out of them as the image begins to take form.  If I had to plan this picture, I probably couldn’t have done anything that I would enjoy nearly so much or that would mean as much to me.  That process of not planning that seems to have been consistently successful in my drawing apparently still holds true, although I did set an intention to use a limited pallet, primarily blue(without regard to what the actual image might become). 

 

Small Worlds, Big Potential 012810

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IMG000049 Some days I don’t really have energy to do much of anything, and it affects my creativity and also my positivity to navigate my way through the day’s challenges, whatever they may be. I am posting a list of tips that I will update as I think of/discover additional tips for boosting energy. 

This first list is derived from one that MSN had recently posted via Redbook Magazine, called “12 Surprising Things That Are Making You Tired.”

  • Have I taken a pleasure break lately?  Read jokes, share them with others, flip through a magazine, call a friend, daydream, doodle, waste time, play a game, play a CD while you’re doing routine tasks.  Mini-breaks will make your time more “ho” than “hum.”
  • Have I had my light boost today?—get outside for a 10-minute walk of some kind at least once during the day or when you’re most tired—bright light has a caffeine-like power to make you more alert. Even if it’s cloudy, you get more light exposure than sitting in your studio or office. If getting out isn’t an option, at least try to spend a few minutes in a room with lots of natural light, and if that isn’t possible, use natural spectrum lighting in your workspace.  Some people get the seasonal blues and blas when the days get shorter and they are outdoors less. 
  • Am I Breathing?  breathe from your diaphragm several times each day—when you’re feeling tired or you’re about to go into an energy-draining situation. Put your hand over your belly button. As you inhale, focus on making your stomach and chest move. This will automatically expand your lower lungs so you take in more air with each breath.  The increase in blood oxygen is rapid and the energy boost and relaxation enhancement is significant.
  • Have I Moved Lately?  Doesn’t have to be dramatic to work. At the gym, I had a 5 minute promise to myself to HAVE TO spend only 5 minutes exercising, and if I didn’t feel like doing more,I could stop.  Before I hit 3 minutes, I was always energized and motivate to continue.  The 5-minute rule has changed for me during flare periods, with so many co-morbid illnesses that fight with each other, but even then, I can do what I can to stretch, walk wherever I can, even yawn (with the whole body). Even striding to the bathroom. When I feel better, I try to break up long periods of immobility and concentration on a project with little breaks to keep my body alert. I’ve found that with doing detailed art, intensive research, and concentrating on a project, being in the flow, I lose track of time, but my body feels some effect from long uninterrupted periods without much body movement, and my eyes become strained when I don’t change my focus periodically.  So I try to look off into some sort of distant point about every 30 minutes or so to give those muscles a rest. Feelings of eyestrain can bring the whole body down into a state of fatigue and strain.  If a long involved project has left me with severe eyestrain, I may need to take a break for hours or days and do something else for a while that gives my eyes a little more rest, and come back to it when they feel better. 
  • How is my sleep hygiene?  It is important for me to try to go to sleep as close to the same time each night as possible, and wake up around the same time, to keep sleep cycles stable.  This is less stressful and fatiguing on my body, and enables it to cycle more efficiently. Lack of good restorative sleep is probably my biggest aggravator of uncomfortable physical symptoms and stress, which drains energy, and makes it more difficult for my mind to shift into a creative and relaxed flow.  Flares, for me, are both an indicator and a cause of sleep interference, so when I am having them, it is even more important for me to pay special attention to getting myself to sleep on my schedule the best that I can, and to eliminate anything in my environment that may interfere with that, such as caffeine, worrying about stuff, clean & comfortable sleep atmosphere (clean room, fresh air, humidity, clean air filters, no noise or late night TV), avoid stimulating activities just before bedtime (TV, work, exercise, arguments & other stressful things), wind down period, avoid daytime naps. And make sure to dim the lights leading up to bedtime, to get your brain shifting into the sleep mode (the opposite of “lighten up” above).
  • Am I getting enough water?  By the time you’re feeling thirsty, you are already somewhat dehydrated, and your heart has to pump harder to circulate blood and get oxygen and nutrients to your brain, so your energy drops.  9-12 glasses of water a day, depending on how sedentary you are and the environment.  Fresh fruit and vegetables have very high water content (as much as 90% and more) in an optimal form for absorption by the body, so use these when a bottle of water isn’t within reach.
  • Did I eat a healthy breakfast?  Usually the answer for me is no, but it matters.  Eat a healthy breakfast—make sure there is good quality protein and long-acting complex carbs.  I’m bad on this one, just because I am almost NEVER hungry, and food is hard for me to handle anytime, as eating easily sets off problems for me rather rapidly. Two things that I currently do ok with, is part of a chewy TLC bar by Kashi (my favorite is the Trail Mix bar). Each 140 calorie bar contains 6g protein, 20 grams carbs w/4 g fiber,and 0 trans fat, and the 5g fat comes from nuts & grains.  I used to do well with oatmeal, but the last 2 times I tried that didn’t go well; not sure why.  Probably because I don’t eat often enough.  I can also handle limited quantities of fresh fruit, and protein powder, and I should at least get in a protein shake made with fresh fruit and a scoop of protein powder, to get me going with 20 g protein plus some fiber & carbs.  Raw veggies & raw fish (sushi/sashimi) generally always are ok to my gut, but not exactly the breakfast of choice!
  • How’s my posture? Check my posture and body language—if I’m slouching a lot, energy isn’t flowing properly.  Change positions, straighten up, pay attention to ergonomics in my environment that may be creating chronic stressors and setting me up for some sort of repetitive injuries (i.e., carpel tunnel syndrome) that will drag me down.
  • Get away from noise.  Noisy environments can be draining to cope with.  Bring down the volume when you can on noise.  It’s ok to play stimulating music for exercise, but control what you can of interfering extraneous noise.  I personally enjoy the morning hours, sometimes most of the day, with virtual silence, since my ADHD is managed effectively now, I really cherish the quiet.  Before the ADHD was being managed, I used to work in a really noisy loud environment as it seemed to somewhat dampen the constant noise and clutter in my head.  I don’t know why it worked, but playing bagpipe music at maximum volume on headphones was the only thing that managed to drown out the noise in my head and enable me to focus enough to get through law school papers & exams.  After 49 years of perpetual noise, movement, and chaos, it is almost shocking to a lot of people at how quiet and still I prefer to be a lot of the time.  But it’s so peaceful now, and I don’t like to disturb that precious calm.  When I have to be around much noise for long, I get tired quickly, and look for somewhere quiet to escape to.  I don’t so much find the noise to be distracting now, as irritating.  It’s like screeching chalk across a blackboard for me now, and it feels like a roadblock to my flow.

    If I am trying to do something creative, and having difficulty shifting into flow, the very first thing I have to do is to quiet and still my mind—to bring it down to a state of openness to flow.  If I am having a flare, I have to do exactly the same thing before I can begin to be able to use creative activity to manage pain effectively and get through the flare with the least impact, but I am starting even farther away from a flow state when I am in a flare.  At that time, my entire body is more sensitized to every kind of external stimulation—light, noise, smell, taste, touch—they all increase pain and spasms—so it may be necessary to go to a quieter room, what I might call a “clean room” that is as devoid of harsh sensory stimulation as possible, to get my mind in the right condition to shift into flow and access positive energy.

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This Is What I Had In Mind

So I hope I’m coming off a 2+ day flare (fingers crossed), and yesterday was really yucky, so I drew this last night in my 5”x7” sketchbook that I doodle in at bedtime, and yes, those are some tiiiiiiiiny lines!  I added the color this morning just for fun.  I’ve been working on a post to describe some options for accessing the power of your brain to improve pain, stress, and other discomforts, with references to the experts in the relevant fields, and links to more info, but the flare sidetracked me (can’t do words or critical thinking when flaring and trying to manage without meds), but still had the brain in the back of my mind, so I just went with it and let the flow just go with whatever came to mind.  As you can see, I have doodled this freely, and used a brain sort of outline to frame the doodling.  And, of course, whatever ended up in that frame was what spontaneously flowed out of my mind, with no plan whatsoever.  I really think that zentangles like this work best for me when I’m in a lot of pain, and they give me so much enjoyment, as well!  And while I’m actually doing them, my perceived pain levels are minimal for large chunks of time.  I’ve been told that the more I practice this during pain periods, the more effective it will be for me, and the easier it will be to tap into this powerful strength of the brain!  I’ve already seen improvement since I began doing this just over the last few weeks.

This was done in graphite, pens, markers, colored pencils.

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Come Fly With Me If you’ve read my early blog posts here, you know that I started art journaling as a form of therapy to deal with the emotional impact of “stuff happening”, like the onset of one illness or permanent surgical complication after another, that have left me permanently and severely physically debilitated.  A far cry from the body builder/singer-songwriter/can-do-anything person from the not-so-distant past!  I had a dynamic and brilliant career in the corporate world, picked as a “Top Talent” in the company, positioned to soar, and a true innovator.  And though I bravely fought back every time the flesh took me down, and returned to deliver even more amazing solutions to the company’s problems than before I’d left, one extended medical leave after another chipped away at the potential that was seen in me, and the periodic ravages to my body were stripping away my ability to do a job with any degree of consistency or predictability. 

In the last year, that has taken me down to the point where I spend large chunks of my day in bed or in a recliner, recovering between physical efforts, or riding out flares of pain, nausea, and muscle spasms.  I often need help with daily living functions like dressing myself and preparing meals.  I am quite literally deathly intolerant of pretty much all “mood management” medications for reasons that doctors have only been able to speculate about, the leading theory being multiple brain traumas.  Which means, of course, that if I become depressed, I cannot simply take Prozac or some other antidepressant and shake it off.  So I explored art journaling to keep my head together and to keep me from falling into depression or chronic anxiety patterns.  This has been far more effective than I’d ever imagined.

But there is more to cope with besides the emotional impact, and I live with chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms on a daily basis though in varying degrees of severity.  My medication intolerance extends to medications that control pain, muscle spasms and inflammation, as well.  So how does one manage these things without meds, when exercise is also not a realistic option at these times?  How does one experience a satisfying quality of life, and limit suffering under these conditions?  Since my philosophy about most things in life is that there are always options in tackling most every problem (maybe not all of them are desirable), my challenge has been to discover/develop solutions that could enable me to get through the bad spells, minimize stress responses that would aggravate them further, and find a way to “feel good” when my body doesn’t.  Many tell me that it is difficult to even imagine that I would be able to do anything more than just try to get life over with. 

But the thing is, that has never been me, or how I choose to experience life, and “there’s nothing you can do about it” has never impressed me as a life strategy.  I’ve heard stories of people who can walk on fire, sleep on beds of nails, do great things during times of extraordinary pain and devastation, without drugs or external help, in fact, with only the power of their minds at their disposal.  How do they do that?  What is the process to change how the brain functions, as needed, to control perception and filter out certain things while allowing other processes to happen?  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers; I am only beginning to discover bits of it through what works and doesn’t work for me.

So let’s look at how this process works for me, just using yesterday as an example.  Yesterday was another heavy pain day, so I had to come up with something to do that could push my brain away from pain focus and help me to be comfortable riding out the pain.  The challenge at these times is that I am well into the pain portion before it registers that I can’t simply ignore it by force of will, and it is so compelling that at that point, I’m not capable of choosing complex thoughts or organizing myself to do something in a linear, left-brain fashion.  I know that if I can access right-brain “flow” creative processing, I can get myself more comfortable while whatever is happening runs its course.  Watching TV only seems to exacerbate things—too much movement and noise–, and carrying on a conversation, or doing any kind of critical thinking or mental organization is too exhausting to try to start at this point.  I hit overwhelm easily and the next thing I know, the pain is escalating and I’m losing it, start crying, body tenses up, and I’m toast till I pass out from it.  Starting some emotionally intense art journal page is not a realistic option because the stress zone is not a good place to be while in this state.

Enter the doodle.  Given that I’m already in the pain zone, not in “flow-space”, making creative decisions of any complexity and other problem solving is out of the question.  I couldn’t even think of what to doodle, much less where to start.  So I printed off a freebie foot stencil that is used for spray painting, and thought I’d just doodle in that.  footprint-stencilNo critical thinking or real problem solving required.

So the conversation in my head at this point goes something like this:  “Ok, this should be pretty simple.  Focus on these simple lines, sure, I will try this.”  Pens are right by my chair, along with a cheap dollar store notepad that I use for doodling.  But as I looked at that foot stencil, and tried to make a decision about where to put a line, it occurred to me that this foot seemed too flat and was a little boring.  “What if I instead did it in a 3/4 view of the bottom of a foot, but what does that actually look like?  I don’t sit and stare at foot bottoms all day, or really, ever.  Oh wait, let me look at the bottom of my own foot, which, since I’m in a recliner in my pajamas, is actually easy to do!”  As I looked at this 3/4 view of my foot, I noticed the hills, valleys, angles, shadows, and interesting perspective, and I just started drawing.  How strange a subject, I thought, yet how fascinating it actually is!  Now, I was in the flow!

I started mapping out sections to isolate for patterns, like pieces of a puzzle, such as the bottom of the heel,  toes, ball of the foot, arch, etc., each of which had shape to play with dimensionally, and I laid in fun patterns in each, then I started applying shading and color with pens, just whatever felt good and flowed out of me.  As the flare raged on, I kept drawing and coloring, and adding layers of doodles, feeling good as long as I remained plugged into that flow, and creativity continued to expand and the drawing became increasingly more complex.  A couple of times I had to stop what I was doing, and focus on something else, like helping with some household organizational thing, or answering questions, which pulls me completely away from this mental state.  When this would happen, the pain would drift back into the body, not immediately, but gradually, and I would get the point where I had to cut it off and shift back to the doodle before the pain took over completely.  And so went my afternoon and evening.

Eventually, I finished that little zentangle, and scanned it into my computer, and here’s how it looks:

Put My Foot In It Again 

Fascinating what the brain can do when one can open up the flow state!  This is the exact angle of my foot as I looked at it, and the perspective is right.  Bizarre, yes, but I’m ok with that.  But wait, there’s more!  I started spinning this around on my computer, and chopping it up and combining the patterns (still in the flow), and I started to see other images in the patterns when manipulated. 

I saw the beginnings of a really cool moth, once I fused pieces of the image together, so I took these fused pieces, printed off this new image foundation, and drew the rest of it and shaded and colored it, and arrived at a new image:

Come Fly With Me

This one I really love!  The furry details in the body and wings, the tail, the way parts of the body seem to dip and others move up or away, all so dynamic and fun!  If that were a giant moth, I could see myself riding on its back to some magical destination.  And it’s clear that it is intricately detailed and elaborate, yet there is no way that I could have chosen to design this piece in the state of pain that I was in, which is the importance of the process of starting with something that I could wrap my brain around, like the stencil above.  I’m not a neurobiologist, so I don’t know if pain stimuli that are floating around in my body are experienced on any level by me, or to what extent they influence what is going on in the flow part of my brain, but I do know that just because I am in a flow state doesn’t mean that those parts of my brain aren’t functioning; they are, however, in a relaxed state, and are running more on a kind of autopilot.  They may influence the art in some way, but my subjective experience, at least, is one of relaxation, pleasure, creativity, and the resulting output gives me pleasure beyond the doing!  And the ravages of the body are meanwhile doing what they do, and I, at least, have done a very good thing to help my body with that by keeping the body as relaxed as possible while the flares run their course.

Summing up the process: when I find that I’m in severe pain or discomfort, I find something simple to look at and manipulate, and create an intention only to make marks of whatever kind arise spontaneously, no plan, no criticism, just make marks, doodle, make squiggles, doesn’t matter what, just the doing.  If my creative brain kicks in, it will create what it chooses and it will be fine.  If I fall asleep in mid-squiggle, that is fine, too, because the relaxation allowed my body to choose what it would do without the interference of my stress responses.  If I get energized around the doodling, flow has taken over, and I’m on my way to wherever the flow ride takes me.

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Sonja Memory Page -2

This maybe should not be considered Stage 1 of this piece, since I’ve done some sketches in graphite to try to reconstruct Sonja as my childish memory could recall when I was about 12-13 years old, but this is the first one that starts to put the image in context for me emotionally/spiritually, and where my mind was trying to take me, I think.  What has hit me about this, is that I am currently grappling with my own illnesses, that are now complicating each other, many cannot be corrected or cured, and I am trying to find a way to live with it, as well.  I needed to understand how & why Sonja arrived where she did, what it meant for her, and consider what, if anything, I could learn and apply to my own perspective and mindset.  It took me back to that time in childhood, when we were together for a few days at Grandmother’s house, and seeing each other truly for the first time. 

We were each in our own personal prisons and lost souls, and I just felt that there was something really important that I was trying to remember and learn that had everything to do with what I was grappling with now, that seemed to be really connected, both then and now.  Working on this journal page has helped me to uncover something extremely important that I really needed to get RIGHT NOW.  I needed to get this clarified in my head to get perspective on my own health issues, self-esteem, choices, what I believe about myself around these things, what I can do, and what I want to do.

What I want to do is to keep my humanity and am invested in maintaining my connections to extracting every ounce of value from my existence for as long as I can, accept the things I can’t change in my health, and physical limitations and unpredictability, and making the most of what I have.  That is not just a mandate to myself, but my belief about what I can do, and that will make me happy.  The rest is just stuff, and I’ll deal with it as I can.  I will do whatever I can to avoid depression and try my best to take good care of myself and stay as stress-free as possible.

Thank you, Sonja, for the lesson.  I’m so sorry that life took you so far away from bliss.  I always wished so much that you would get a break and be able to have a happier life.  You didn’t fail; you just lost your way.  Peace, Cousin; I will always love you.

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If you’re an artist, you might find this interesting, and perhaps relevant for you, as well.  If you start reading and your eyes glaze over, I won’t feel offended if you aren’t interested in the "how it works" of it all, even if it is absolutely amazing to me.  Some people have artistic technical ability, and like being able to use it, in a mechanical sense, but may feel less interested in how the inner workings of the artistic/creative process work within the brain, or the potential for how to use them together as various tools to enhance brain function, and for the enhanced brain function to enhance their artistic expression and to potentially apply it to every part of one’s life.  I happen to be highly sensitive to patterns and connections between things, and the inter-workings of the whole, which is really core to my own creative processes, which appear in pretty much anything that I set my mind to do.  For someone with MS, where optimizing and prolonging brain function can become key to longevity and quality of life in an urgent and immediate sense, being able to tap into these kinds of skills could literally be life saving.  There are many ways to do this–art journaling happens to be the activity that is most effective for me, but it is one very powerful tool to accomplish this.

Art journaling as therapy has been more successful for me than I could have ever imagined, and no one is more surprised by that than me.  In fact, my counselor says that she has read about people being able to utilize it successfully at the complexity and speed that I am doing, but she’s never worked with anyone that was actually doing it this well before.  That’s not a statement about the "art" of it all (though from a technical standpoint, I see skill growth as well), but using it as a tool to access, integrate, and accelerate, and expand brain function, and what’s happening as a result is a virtual evolution in my own mental processes.  It’s like my brain has been rewriting all the rules that I’ve lived with all my life, reprogramming itself.  She describes it as throwing open all the windows and doors of my mind, getting out of my own way, and letting my mind do the work to take the raw data that has been stuffed into nooks, crannies, and various piles (much like my house), and to evaluate and reorganize that data (i.e., memories–childhood through recent), revise connections & significance, realign my world view and self view with my core values.  And the weirdest thing about it is during that work much of the time I feel like more of a passenger on the bus than the driver, with my brain set on autopilot.  It’s like being on this trip and I see the views out the windows as we go and I get these waves of awareness, insight, and clarity just come together.  it’s like being out in the middle of the ocean, and out on the horizon is a haze, and I don’t know exactly what it is, so I wait and I draw the shapes as I am seeing them right then.  As the image comes closer to what I can see, I see more details, more shape, more definition, I render that in the progression of the image that I am creating.  I just ride and let myself go where my mind is leading.  I don’t know why it is leading me toward a particular image, but as the image evolves and I take breaks, things come to me quite naturally, in bits and pieces sometimes, in tidal waves at other times.  When I have only a few pieces of the puzzle, what I imagine things mean are incomplete and sometimes incorrect, because I am interpreting before I have the whole story. It’s a big “what if” kind of thing, which is by itself a part of the creative process, as it requires being “open” to possibilities.  The two questions that I think are in my mind in this part of the process, is, “What is the story?” and “What am I trying to tell/teach myself?”  The process I am becoming familiar with, and I have a growing ability to utilize it as I get more practice, yet the outcome or output of the process each time continues to be invariably fascinating and unpredictable. 

That probably sounds like a bunch of psycho babble, but the incredible thing is that it is actually completely true, and is not about doing "couch time" in a therapeutic sense as much as it is based on hard science around actual brain function.  What is happening on a physical level started with removing bad drugs (all the serotonin-elevating drugs that I am allergic to, translated:  most of what I used to take), and adding good drugs (ADHD meds, which for me is Adderall and Provigil by day, and a tiny dose of Clonazepam at bedtime to counteract any residual stimulant effects of the daytime meds), which stopped what was physically interfering with how my brain was supposed to be able to work–stopped the sleep impairment, and shut down all the chaotic *noise* in my head that was a 24/7 thing my entire life.  I had no idea how noisy it really was, until it stopped. 

But getting the right balance of brain chemistry was only one element required to enable this to work for me like it does.  The next thing that had to happen was to actually learn how to shift how my brain managed workload distribution, and give up control of a lot of things that I used to try to control consciously, and open up my mind in this way.  Given that I had no previous points of reference to understand even what that was, much less how to DO it, fortunately, that part developed quite naturally on its own when I started doing art journaling.  As it turns out, with my brain chemistry in balance, and the good "brain genes" that I got from both parents in different ways, what I inadvertently triggered was a type of meditative state through journaling.  The reason that it worked this way, is the same reason that it worked as a stress reduction technique, because it actually causes a shift in the part of the brain that is actively working on a conscious level, and this frees the other part of the brain to work without interference on a subconscious level, while being completely awake.  While being in a “flow” state like this, the body is completely relaxed, and the fight-or-flight parts of the brain, the critical, judging, protecting, etc. areas stop carrying the burden of everything.  The next part is where the good genetics comes in as a bonus–potential for high integration between left and right brain is optimizable.

What had to happen first was for me to be able to just be still in my mind, which I couldn’t possibly do before I got my "head meds" straightened out.  I couldn’t have sat still to do visual art because my mind couldn’t be still enough for me to do something like that.  Spontaneous creation of a visual nature comes from the right brain, but critical analysis, verbal structure, and conscious control of things is a left brain or for those with highly integrated brain function, a dual-brain function.  With chronic left-brain dominance from previous dysfunction, it was habitually trying to control than it really should have had to do.  When things are noisy in one’s head and the brain is constantly struggling to control that kind of chaos, left brain is even more controlling than normal in an exhaustive effort to balance.  In this environment, it is impossible for the left brain control to relax and let things just "flow."  As a result, the individual never feels truly relaxed, is in a constantly hyper vigilant state, almost like perpetual "fight or flight" syndrome.  There may be variations in the intensity of this state, but a truly relaxed state is virtually impossible.  It’s like living in a hurricane all the time.  The winds die down a little sometimes, but the storm never completely stops. 

The process works something like this:  I let go of control by focusing solely on spontaneous creation of whatever image comes to mind for me, what I am sensing and seeing in my mind’s eye (the first time was so hard that I was miserably uncomfortable in the beginning), and I don’t focus on how the final product will be, or try to control it or worry about whether anyone would like it, or if it would be "good enough".  I just express the image that I am feeling, as clearly or as hazy as it felt to me as it came from my mind.  And this part of the process involves a complete absence of verbalization.  In fact, I can’t think in words and do this exercise at the same time.  If I have to listen to dialogue on a program or answer a question, or read or write something, my brain has to make a shift back to the verbal side, and then shift away from it again to resume what I am doing.  I am new enough at this that it takes effort and time for me to flip that switch, though I expect that it will get easier and quicker with practice.  But as I progress through each stage in the rendering of the image, when I pause and shift out of the flow, my conscious mind starts receiving massively complex and comprehensive ideas and insights that are new, and then I can verbalize what my mind has conceived at that stage.  But honestly, when I start a piece, I don’t know how the story will unfold, or how the chapter will end.  I discover that through the process.  And I guess this is also a metaphor for life.

I not only had no experience or technical skills whatsoever with rendering images before I did the first art journal page, and am not aware of having any particular skill to make them look "realistic." I doubt seriously that I have looked at many things in a visually accurate way before either.  I wasn’t really capable of doing that before, and just seeing things is a whole new thing for me.  Just like not being able to be still enough to create art, visually seeing things as completely and accurately as possible requires an ability to focus on those kinds of details.  You have to stop to *see* things in detail, and at least on a top level consciousness, I have skimmed through life and the world around me, aware of only bits and pieces and a lot of haze until now.  I believe that more registered in my visual memories on a subconscious level than I was aware of, or focused on, but couldn’t compete for attention. 

I also had no basis for understanding the "rules" for using various media, and on the front end, have had to expend a lot of effort fighting media issues, and learning more effective ways to work with them.  A metaphor for relationships in life, I think.  It all boils down to what works and what doesn’t work, and learning that stuff to accomplish what you are trying to accomplish through how you apply it to communication.  These are those things that can go wrong if you use it in ways that are inconsistent with the media’s properties or capabilities in working together to render the desired result.  In terms of media, examples would be things like a haze called "wax bloom" that can occur when applying many layers of dark colored pencils, or problems with trying to color on top of thick layers of textured acrylics with pencils, charcoal, or chalk pastels, or starting with dry media on drawing paper and then trying to switch to later to add paint and retain the ability to work on the same paper without it falling apart.  But even working through these kinds of complications are valuable, as long as I see those complications as a part of because the process of learning effective communication, and my focus stays away from being critical of the image or viewing the challenge as failure, and remains on the goal of rendering the image in my mind into something visual and/or tactile.

I *love* being able to flip through the journal pages that I have done at will.  I keep a little notebook with me most of the time, that has reduced copies of each page that I’ve done glued into a small notebook.  No matter what is happening around me, looking at those pages instantly changes my mood.  I like to look at them before I go to sleep at night, or when I’m physically sick and in pain.  My mental/emotional connections associated with those images are profound and extensive, and very useful to eliminate unhealthy distractions that pop up and reconnect me with my core strengths.

I actually wasn’t expecting any of this to happen, mostly because I’ve never experienced anything like it, and couldn’t even imagine it if someone had tried to explain it to me in words.  I was doing the art journaling as a way to stay calm and as unstressed as possible while I waited to get better physically, and not to ruminate about things that I couldn’t control.  That was the goal, and if I had accomplished just that (which even that much I couldn’t imagine being successful when it was first recommended to me), I would have considered it to be an amazingly mind-blowing success just based on that.

More to come….

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The process of art journaling is like a form of meditation for me.  The process of developing a visual image in this way takes me away from words, labels, definitions of things, and pushes me over to a more heavily right-brain oriented activity.  Once I transition to right-brain emphasis, I easily get into a “flow” mental state, but what I am discovering is that, just as when I am sleeping & dreaming, my left brain isn’t turned off, though on a top level of consciousness it would seem so to me.  While my right brain has my main consciousness busy with lines and colors and shapes and texture and media and tapping my memories and imagination to create an image that represents something about my thoughts and feelings, there is also this heavily integrated left-brain/right-brain activity going on very intensely while my hands are working on the details in the journal page.  But the words and the story start flowing later, and the messages that my brain is sending through the journal page, and the significance of it really unfold and present themselves to me when I stop working on the image.  It’s an incredible thing, that I liken to how can go to sleep with some unresolved problem hanging out there with no clear solution (sometimes even the problem itself is not clear to me), and I wake up with an amazing perspective, both on the problem, and options for resolution.  This process is like doing that but I’m still awake.  I’m not even aware of this process going on while I work on my journal pages, but I am seeing a clear pattern emerging that this happens, even when I think that I am doing a journal page about one thing, but by the time I finish, I realize that it represents something very different that I had imagined was going on in my head.  It’s like the process throws open all these windows and doors inside of me that I didn’t know were there, and the bits of data that are related to one another seem to find each other and have tearful reunions in my head, and then catch each other up on what’s been happening with them since they were last connected.

 

I have a very strong ability to sense patterns (another right-brain characteristic) and relationships between things, and seeing as much of the whole picture as possible in order to put things into the proper context is something that I gravitate towards.  I feel the similarities and differences in things, and connections between them, even when someone is attempting to conceal them.  My brain apparently does this even better in auto-pilot mode when I am doing the art journaling, and my brain is getting a rest from words, labels, criticism, etc.  In that flow state, my brain seems to be able to see everything, and accesses it all, and when I stop doing the art, it tells me what it’s discovered while kicking around in my head, and as that happens, these realizations get incorporated into the next revision of the current image, or it may inspire a future image.  Ultimately, I find that with each journal page that I have completed, and even each time I do the process, I feel less burdened than before I did it.  I’m still amazed by that, and I wonder what others experience when they do art journaling?  This is dramatically obvious to both myself and my husband, and our amazement continues to grow with each new step in the process.  Who knew?

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Ok, this entry is not about a particular entry in my art journal, but my thoughts about what I’m learning about myself in the process today.  The pages are me getting down visual representations of thoughts and feelings at a given time, sometimes in a given moment.  It doesn’t even matter for me if that moment has passed in terms of time, because the image flashing in my mind’s eye brings me back vividly to the memory and how I felt and thought at that time quite easily.  What is helpful about bringing those images out of my mind and onto paper, is that looking at that page allows me to reflect on those thoughts and feelings in a different way, and I find myself trying to understand both where I was coming from and what I can learn from that, to shape my perspective and expand my own toolkit of life.

 

So I have been thinking about the journal page that I posted yesterday, and trying to decide what I was trying to tell myself.  The facts are that information/instruction/treatment was provided to me in a form that I was supposed to rely upon, and that information was wrong.  Where I have been feeling stuck is that the survival adaptation part of my brain is screaming that the rules as I understood them and used to keep myself safe were wrong.  Relying on a pure left-brain approach to the problem to understand and apply generally accepted rules for living, interpreting facts, acting in reliance upon professionals based on a set of assumed criteria, and even the criteria for extending trust and having confidence about what they provide—is broken.  What I have been feeling unsure about is what is exactly broken, and more specifically, how can I feel safe and confident to go back out into the world and be effective as a whole individual?  And what have I actually been doing as a process to achieve that?

Well, first was recognizing that something was clearly broken somewhere, based on the facts.  Something was wrong, I went to doctors of various kinds that I was sent to as recognized and recommended experts, in many cases specialists in particular kinds of problems, sometimes generically expert, like my primary care physician, Dr. Clark, and the outcome of all of the time, money, surgeries, treatments, drugs, tests, evaluations, was that the truth of what was wrong with me was missed-repeatedly and consistently by almost every single doctor.  I believe that I am developing, through my journaling, what was missing, and I have some the beginning of some ideas about how to address that going forward.

First, I’m looking at my process for problem-solving when faced with a new situation/set of facts and the need to adapt and survive.  Before I know that I’m dealing with something new that I don’t already understand, and that adapting to that new reality is necessary for survival, I have probably been feeling ill-at-ease in some hazy amorphous fashion, without a clear sense of what is underlying these feelings.  I’m distressed and uncomfortable, but I don’t know why.  Before I begin to feel that way, I’ve probably been working mostly in a left-brain sense with a set of rules that I apply to my situation, and for the most part, the parameters that I am relying upon seem to be working, and my right-brain function is something that I do for personal pleasure and balance.  The left brain world is a predictable and safe world because things fit together in logical, predictable ways, over and over again. 

Background

I don’t know if I ever was attracted to pure left-brain modes of thinking and living.  If I was, I can’t remember it.  I don’t know if I was pushed into right brain perspectives by exposure to life being inherently unpredictable and unsafe since an early age (even predating the fall at 5 years old, there was serious illness requiring hospitalization even before that), or to a parent’s perception that life was this way because they grew up with a “rulebook of life” that taught them that life could be devastatingly unpredictable and unfair, and survival required a great deal more than what could be extrapolated from objective analysis based on generally accepted facts.  I do know that what most distinguishes my parents from one another and why their marriage was doomed from the outset are how polarized they are in this regard. 

My mother grew up in a somewhat parallel world to me (perhaps to a lesser degree), where the generally accepted rulebook of life and assumptions that people generally relied upon to survive and prosper did not work in her childhood.  She had a very abusive father who maliciously hurt his wife, children, grandchildren, and others, and a mother who was not capable of protecting herself or her children.  I think she spent most of her life struggling with how to reconcile that, and her own self-esteem suffered as a consequence.  I feel certain that at least one of her assumptions was that she was supposed to be able to see the world and function in the world as if the standard rulebook applied to her, yet she knew that things didn’t work that way in reality, though the enforceable rule was that one was never to air one’s dirty laundry in public, so secrets were kept and as a child, predictably, she internalized a sense of failure.  This approach, however, has proven untenable for her, and in order to survive has repeatedly had to adopt more right-brain approaches to problem solving in order to survive.  The emotional conflict and the underlying damage to self esteem of trying to apply a “round peg” set of assumptions and rules to her “square peg” reality that she knew intuitively would work has been profound.  The irony of it all is that most of the time she devalues in herself what are strengths that actually positively set her apart in an evolutionary sense (in my opinion), and focuses on the damage that actually resulted from trying to “fit in.”

My father’s childhood was the opposite.  Life was uncomplicated and practical, and the rules that he learned served him well when he only had to serve his own needs.  Life was very much A + B + C = D, and when something or people came into his life that didn’t fit that in a way that interfered with his ability to enjoy living in his A + B + C = D rulebook, he would remove them and replace with what did fit.   As a child, he was not prepared to understand and cope with complications outside of that, and the choices that he has made have been to eliminate them by removing them from his path, and continuing on his journey.  Revisiting those choices is not something that he has ever been willing to do, I think because it has never been necessary in order for him to survive and prosper.

Had I been more like my father, I could have sidestepped some of the complications (and complicating people) that came along, but not most of them.  Some I simply could not have avoided, like being molested by my grandfather, being battered by my father, the accident at 5 and the long history of illnesses, my parents’ marriage breaking apart and being abandoned physically by the age of 12, emotionally and physically neglected long before that, were all things that I could not adapt to on my own during that time.  I could not protect myself then, though I made immature attempts to find creative solutions on my own at the time.  It’s been helpful for me to reflect on the various ways that my siblings and I have developed our own perspectives, and how we apply them to our present-day realities.  Each has developed strengths around resilience, adaptability and creativity in general, though each of us, including myself, continue to struggle with significantly low self esteem, and varying degrees of emotional dysfunction that pop up at various times, most notably during periods of high stress and stressful familial interaction of some kind (death in the family, family conflict, celebratory family gatherings, etc.).  And how we cope with instability varies, as well.

Present Situation

My dilemma is that I have discovered that I have relied, to my detriment, on the expert advise and treatment by a whole series of doctors over many years, who repeatedly and egregiously got it very badly wrong, and I will suffer the consequences the rest of my life.  The little girl/inner child in me is screaming at me that it is my fault because no one can really be trusted, and while that perspective may be valid for a child living in an environment where those that are entrusted with their protection are the ones that she needed protection from, it is not useful for this adult, and doesn’t improve my chances for survival, much less prosperity.  I have to have a basis for establishing trust and reliance upon others, because there will be times when I will need it.  In discussing this problem recently, I was advised that even if a doctor in the future might be wrong, that I should trust that they were doing the best that they could do, and that should help me to feel better/safe/etc.  That should be my rule.  My reply was, that this rule would not work for me, though I needed time to sort out the problem with the rule.  I only knew that it wouldn’t work for me, because it wouldn’t enable me to feel safe.  It may work for others in typical life situations, but my life is anything but typical. 

I may have developed some insight into how to formulate a better rule.  While what they got wrong can now be recognized as objective facts, in order to get to these objective facts (i.e., what was the wrong answer and what was the right answer), a specialized set of capabilities were necessary, along with a willingness by the person possessing them to utilize them in a particular way in order to arrive at the answer.  The capabilities require significant left-brain/right-brain integration in problem-solving abilities, along with a strong ability to assess when and how to apply them.  The professionals that I have maintained trust with, were those who had these capabilities and willingness and desire to apply them in their work with me.  Unfortunately, the majority of health care and related providers tend to be more heavily on the left-brain end of the spectrum, and atypical, unpredictable, unusual explanations for problems are not likely to be recognized or understood by them.  Most are less intuitive, less creative, and not likely to perceive or intuit things that are rare and occasionally unique.  They may not be stimulated by things that are unpredictable and, like my father, may be conditioned to sidestep complications by abdicating care-giving responsibility if they cannot explain the situation with logical, known scenarios that they were trained to treat in a measurable, predictable manner. 

Without exception, this accounts for every single professional that I can recall ever working with about my health problems, who both got it wrong AND lost my trust.  What I recognize sets apart those that I do trust, even if they haven’t always gotten it right, were that they are both professionals who recognize that whatever list of explanations about a situation they have been trained to understand and help to develop solutions for, there are always other possible explanations and solutions, that they just don’t know yet, and they don’t put their egos in between what they have previously understood as the realm of possibility and likelihood, and what might actually be the truth of the matter.  They both demonstrate strong L-/R-brain integration, a perpetual “on-the-job training” mentality, keep their egos in an appropriate place, and respect that my information and interpretation of the facts that I suggest may be relevant should be approached with a view that any or all of them may in fact be relevant, and should be integrated with their accumulated scientific knowledge and expertise to collectively arrive at the truth as it unfolds, allow those aha! moments to happen, not take it personally, and develop a plan that addresses the reality, however novel it might be to them. 

In order for me to have confidence and trust in that professional, I must know that they are able and willing to listen to me and recognize when they need to shift from left-brain predictable approaches to incorporate right-brain creativity to the problem-solving process.  This is when I need them to stop behaving like a “deaf man” by filtering what I tell them through what are predictable explanations and dismissing or ignoring what doesn’t fit (declaring that it’s all in my head and I need psychiatric treatment because I’m deranged).  They should not act like one of the “blind men and the elephant” but should rather open their eyes and try their best to see the whole picture.  The professional who is willing and able to do this on the intake end, and capable of integrating this information with the scientific knowledge and skills that they have acquired and does this, is someone who, if that person does their best, then that is good enough, even if they get it wrong, because they took everything that could be known by them and did their best with the capabilities that they had, and then I will accept what they provide, even when they were wrong.

And frankly, this is the kind of people that I expect to be survive along with the rest of those who will be perpetuated down the evolutionary timeline.  That, at least, is something that I can predict with a high degree of certitude, and, in my opinion, as it should be.  Adapt or die, or if you won’t/can’t adapt and don’t die, expect to be really miserable if you ever encounter something new that you can’t just sidestep.  For me, I will hang onto my growing set of survival skills; they seem to continue to serve me often and well.

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Ok, the “art and technique” of it all first.  This was done on 9” x 12” 120 lb cold-pressed watercolor paper in mixed media, with altered image transfer (only the hookah-smoking caterpillar) which I redrew and painted, so little of the original image was left intact, and the rest is entirely my original work.  The tree was sketched and painted on a page of sheet music printed in reverse (intentionally part of the theme), which was collaged on, then further refined with the rest of the composition.  This is the first time I have actually used this textured paper, mainly because I liked working on smooth paper with my other journal pages, but this paper was thicker and I needed something that could hold up to the heavy layers of media that I seem to apply, which had posed some difficulty with my previous pages, trying to put them on sheets of sketch paper (they buckled easily). 

I could stretch them on a frame or paint them on a stretched canvas to stabilize them, but I like to be able to have the pieces be more portable and the framing is too bulky for that.  I like to scan and print them at various stages of progress, too, as viewing the changes is also instructive about changes in my perspective and mental state, and anything much thicker than the painted page gets logistically difficult to manage with scanners & copiers & whatnot.  Media:  acrylic & watercolor paints, graphite, charcoal, soft pastel & colored pencils, lettering & outline in black micron pigma, gel pens in detailing & sig, finished with two coats of Golden Heavy Gloss Gel.  I have a bad habit of painting right up to the edges of the pages (I know, bad idea), and I’m working on that….sort of.  At least I keep promising myself to mask off the edges and stay inside those boundaries, but I’ve never been good at sticking to painting inside the lines, even though I now have to figure out how to put these oversized sheets into a bound journal.  I bought some 12” x 12” cardstock, to which I will mount these pages, then I can make  12” x 12” ring binder to serve for my growing collection of 9” x 12” originals.  Or maybe I’ll just get a scrapbooking journal with drop-in pages to hold them when they are not being displayed for some reason.  Ok, here’s the my art journal page:

Go Ask Alice 8.5 x 11

This is the story of my life , pretty much since I “got pushed through the looking glass” somewhere around 5 years of age (when I fell off a gymnasium head first onto solid concrete and cracked my head), up to, and including the present day.  I’ve been taken down more rabbit holes than I thought could happen in ten people’s lifetimes, and have been led down them by people who were entrusted with my care in one way or another–family, authority figures and, most of all, doctors and related professionals.  The latest and longest one (medical), I discovered on my own, due to a misdiagnosis by a negligent doctor almost 20 years ago, which has caused irreparable damage to my body, personal and professional reputation, and self-esteem.  What he prescribed, based on his misdiagnosis and what was accepted without question by every subsequent doctor, were his original diagnosis (which I have still not gotten hospital to remove from my record as inaccurate), and a long series of MANY drugs that I not only did not need, but I was allergic to each and every one of them.  I shudder to think how many times I probably came close to my own death without knowing it, when I was not doing better, so they just kept INCREASING the dosage, without ever using their professional expertise to actually try to understand if someone along the way might have actually gotten it wrong.  Yes, it is something that could actually have killed me.

While I am damned lucky that it didn’t, I’m struggling with moving past how that has impacted me, now that I know the truth, and what consequences are still ahead of me, not to mention the deep sense of betrayal with the majority of the medical profession.  I have lost count of the litany of surgeries that I have had to endure and the complications and permanent damage from those surgeries, all because someone screwed up a diagnosis, and scores of doctors to follow blindly followed that lead and made tons of wrong assumptions about what it meant.  I am actually the one who figured out what was actually wrong with me, and took action on my own (I stopped taking any of these kinds of medications completely) and declared that such drugs were off-limits for me ever again and that problem is now corrected in terms of taking those drugs.  The rest of it simply can’t be undone, and this journal is me processing those feelings.

The words on the page are a rewrite of the Jefferson Starship song, “White Rabbit,” and someone who knows me really well will understand my reference to the recurring theme in my own life of dealing with “the blind men and the elephant,” and the “deaf man” telling me to take another drug for my head.  Pretty much tells the whole story, and yes, “Alice” is a self-portrait.

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Family Bliss Journal 08.2009 4084x3272.2009 4084x3272

Some treasured memories from my childhood, and fodder for future art journals, since there are no pictures of most of these things, I will have to create them myself!  I was 12 years old in this pic and had just left home.  When my grandmother looked at me with the look she has in this picture, I knew that I was good enough in her eyes.  She was so peaceful!  I miss her!

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