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Posts Tagged ‘pain management’

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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