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Archive for the ‘pain management’ Category

Tangle Patterns #1

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how helpful it can be do doodle when I’m not feeling well.  One of the activities that I’ve been working on was putting my doodle patterns into a notebook for me to flip through when I am thinking about doing fills in drawings and looking for ideas about patterns that I might want to use, and so I’ve been working on these zentangle pattern sheets with my own pattern designs.   The pattern template itself, is a 12-block blank grid that Milliande put together. 

 

Think of these as doodle patterns that I might use to incorporate into images.  The sheets that I drew them on are standard 8.5” x 11” paper, done in black pen and shaded with graphite pencils, all on the same sheet of paper that you see here.  This is just standard photocopy paper, so it was not doing to take a lot of wear and tear, but now I will transfer the completed pattern sheets to some sturdier stock, and hold onto the originals.  Each pattern was drawn for the first time on this sheet, and was completely unplanned—a bit terrifying, since I was doing them in pen, I tried not to think about what would happen if one of them didn’t work, since I had no “do-overs”!  Think of these as design idea sheets for me to reference, of patterns that I developed before, to give me some ideas for new drawings that I might want to do.  Some of these designs have pet names.  I might update this blog later with the pattern names. 

 

tangle patterns #2 dearley

Much of the detail lines are done with a Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner, which is the finest pen size that I’ve been able to find.  I had to do these drawings using both my reading glasses and my large magnifying task light, and my eyes are still killing me!  Ugh! 

 

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IMG000069

Doctor’s appt today to circle back on how I’m doing.  I’m both looking forward to this and dreading it, all at the same time.  So much to review about options.  If they ask me what’s my number, I must NOT blow up at them!  Argh….pet peeve when you have a chronic illness!  Okay, find my quiet place…calm…..waited so long since the last review.  I was so patient,especially for me!  I’ve come a long way; I can do this! My other doc appts went well, and hopefully I can get this guy on board with making sense of how to better manage all these comorbid conditions and not fry my brain in the process!  He listened to me last time and earned my respect; I need to trust that it will be easier for him this time with more information.  I’m bringing comparison images for him, in case he’s forgotten how I looked last time.  But I’ve lost so much weight since then, and so much muscle!  <sigh>  I can tell that the steroids are starting to lose their effectiveness, though symptoms are still not as bad as without them, assuming I don’t use any of my joints.  How much longer till I can get this in remission?  Hope springs eternal (stubbornly so with me, thank goodness!)

BE BRAVE!!  YOU ARE BRAVE!!  IT WILL BE OK!! 

Sheesh, my heart is racing!  Why do I get so anxious about these meetings?????  Nothing else has triggered anxiety for me in quite a while, now I’m having this completely unhelpful reaction.  Gotta jet, and take a little calming time before my appt. 

Well, I’m bringing some doodling with me, and that always helps.  Working up some new pattern sheets for some of my abstract zen kinda stuff that I use for pain management and stress reduction.  Will post them as I finish them.  There are 12 pattern squares to a page, and developing new designs takes a little longer than putting down patterns that I’ve already worked with.  Still, it’s very calming and opens up flow.

 

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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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focus on pain doesn't help 102509

This is me, in pain, yesterday, in fact, and when I’m in pain, this is where I have to start to manage it, and this is what I can take, literally and figuratively.  Can’t take pills for pain, so I have 3 things at my disposal:  my two hands (to the extent that they are working that day) and my brain to manage pain and plug into a creative flow that can help me to not focus on the pain.  I post what I draw to manage pain, but thought it was important to also document where I have to come from to use art in pain management, and this is an actual portrait of me in the throes of a nasty flair.  I think the face tells the whole story.  I sketched this from photos that I took yesterday with my webcam during a bad pain episode, just before I started drawing.  My husband says this is excruciatingly accurate; it certainly *feels* right.

 

 

 

Pain Isn't Pretty I can sometimes draw some cool things at these times, but no, pain is NOT pretty, and it doesn’t feel pretty—AT ALL. I’m just grateful to be able to do something to get through it.  It was disturbing to even draw this, because I don’t like to focus on the downside.  I don’t want to do this very often, but it’s important to me to document the painful reality that is my starting point.  I think it’s clear that I was not in a good place, and not letting pain beat me is essential.  If I can start from right here and DO something to get through this, I can “take” anything, even if I can’t TAKE anything for the pain, and I can get through it.  Keeping my pencil sharp for what comes next….

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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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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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