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Posts Tagged ‘processing’

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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