Category: depression

overwhelm


Apparently, this is the third time that i have written a blog that is entitled overwhelm.
i am not in the least bit shocked, as the problem recurs with some frequency.  Lately, it is made worse because of a necessary change of focus.

After nearly twenty years working as an artist and writer (although for many of them i did not have to be obsessed with making my own living) and eight working myself down to a nub running my own business, i have been holding down a regular job since last June.

That sentence still sounds surreal.  Art, i used to say, is all i am good for.  Well, it is certainly my passion and vocation, but i have discovered that i can develop other skills and learn huge amounts of information in a short period of time.  i feel an odd pride in being resilient enough to make such a fundamental change to how my life is structured.  However, a tension has developed by these two opposing forces – creativity and the need to survive – and this has lead to a new kind of overwhelm.

The longer i work at this job, and the more i enjoy it, the worse the struggle between the artistic and practical sides of my psyche grows. i work eight or ten hours to come home too exhausted to write or paint or sculpt or throw.  Indeed, my health has not been terribly good, so i have to proceed with caution. All the sick time has been used up.  This constant fatigue and struggle makes me feel like less of an artist – even though, by any reasonable standard, i am still producing a decent amount of art and verse.  Logic be damned, though, my confidence is deeply compromised.  i have become excruciatingly vulnerable to criticisms.

Suggest that i am not the artist i thought i was, and i will hang my head in shame.  Maybe i am not.  After all, i have found some unexpected delights in this job. Would a real artist have been utterly inconsolable?  Unable to find joy in other accomplishments?

she has no message, because i could not go

When my writing is dismissed as irrelevant or harmful because it deals with heavy issues and are not always sparkling with wit, i hang my head and agree.  This is not work about trivisl things.  Very few poems involve wine or puppies or butterflies.  My overriding fascination as an artist – both in visual and written mediums – is the inner workings of the soul.  What happens beneath the skin, in this soup of perception, knowledge, bias, inspiration, reaction and emotion, has been the platform from which my creativity launched.

There was a time i could swim in an ocean of story without being worried about the anything else.  i can barely remember it. Given the insanity that this country (and world) is facing right now, i feel particularly hoxed.  Not only has the wild river of art that flooded from me slowed to a tiny, warbling brook, other tasks of major importance have to be put off.  i have had to learn to say no, especially to my own desires. Last weekend, kept drawing protesters, mostly because i was too exhausted and sick to go protesting myself.

Curled up under covers, i remembered fondly attending George Mason University in the late 80s, early 90s, and going to many protests in DC.  Getting involved stokes potent hope.

Yet, i have to protect this body (as well as my mental health) first and foremost, because when i am unable both the job and the calling screech to a halt.

Too often, i find myself lamenting the art-obsessed life i used to have like one would a lover.  Oh, i remember being in the arms of flow, being ready to pick up a pen at any moment. At the same time, i am proud that no matter what has been going on with anxiety, or my health, or my bills, or that nagging cloud of despair i haven’t been able to shake since i was a child, i am surviving, working the full day, and letting poetry and sketches leak out.  Some weekends, in a burst of joy, i throw myself into larger works.

i am still an artist.  My sanity continues to be maintained by the written word and the thin ribbons of ink that pour from my pen.

But, this overwhelm brought me low and made me hide.  Forgive me for my absence.  Pardon me for the awkwardness of this writing.  i am still a bit wobbly in my feet.  Ignore the loud laughter and thanksgivings, because i am just so ridiculously grateful i made it this far.

 

 

too long

It has been too long since i have written here, although i have been writing like a fiend in other areas of my life. Four poetry collections are compiled and in the process of being edited and transformed into works that flow with some level of grace.  A short story and a novel keep plodding forward, although progress has been slow.  Most days, i fall into bed utterly exhausted and without a dent made in my to-do list.

My art has falls into stolen moments.  i have a thousand things i ought to be doing on any given day – from the regular job to housekeeping to managing the mental breakdown that seems to be stalking me to digging myself out of this financial hole.  However, no matter how busy or frenzied i get, i have to be creating, or i will truly lose my sanity. Huge amounts of micropoems and small drawings flood out of me when i have more than five minutes of idle time.  Most of them are being collected on another blog – handprints on the wall – to separate them from the work that requires more focus and editing.

Once these tiny poems are written, by in large, i don’t worry about them anymore.  When the drawings are scanned and cleaned up, they no longer rent space in my awareness.  Yet they are left, like the cave paintings in ancient times, scattered about my rooms.  They move effortlessly into the hands of others.

Hopefully, i will be back to writing here more regularly now that summer has passed and the demands on my time have begun diminishing.  Otherwise, i will be writing – just moving forward a bit more slowly.

a day off

roxiannoyedA few days ago, i called a friend and begged her to help me out today. i should have been in a gallery in Southwest Harbor, but knew if i didn’t have a day off to heal, decompress and rest, i would be creating a world of pain for myself.

She agreed, bless her heart, and here i am on the couch with the computer on my lap, heating pad (another gift from a friend) behind my back, my softest work dress on and very little work – other than writing and some gentle computerized toil for clients – getting done. Laundry chugs in the washer, but that is about as ambitious as i feel right at this moment. Having the whole day to myself feels luxurious. i don’t want to make too many impositions.

As a result, mostly, i am breathing slowly and with intent. Last night, i had a vivid dream about starting a meditation group at my new 9-5 employment which reminded me, i have been too exhausted to do my normal centering, healing meditation. So, as soon as i crawled out of bed, i mediated for the first half hour of wakefulness. Then, after a few poems and a small nap, i went back to it. i curled up here, on the couch, took that first deep breath, and was immediately beset upon by cats.

For weeks my female cat, Roxanne, has been angry with me. After Darwin died, she fell into deep grief. She stopped sleeping on the bed. Her pugilistic attitude toward her younger cat brother has not improved – if anything it has escalated. The only time where this lifted was when her favorite human in the world visited, but when he left again, she fell right back into her grumpy melancholy. Most of all, she still seems to be grieving Darwin – just as i am.

However, as soon as i sat down for tonglen this morning, she wrapped herself around my thigh. Her soft fur rubbed over my leg while she purred with ecstasy. Perhaps, she is not just grieving our beloved dog, but the changes that have come upon our life – transformations over which she had no control. If she could mandate the intricacies universe, she would have her bipedal slave around a lot more often. And have a minimum of 8 cans of wet food a day that she could stare at, eat two nibbles of, and then abandon. Failing that, she suffers.

As i pet her side, vibrating with purrs of sweet comfort, i am a bit surprised at how easy it was to give her joy.

Indeed, the same is true for me. Little things have been filling me with happiness. i have been surprising myself. In some ways, i am coping with this transition much better than expected.

However, there are a few fascinating little developments. After all these years working as an artist, letting my entire life revolve around the creation of novel, poem, painting and pottery, i had forgotten how strangely out of step i can be with other people. This is different than the loneliness over which i have written thousands of pages – this is being the one person drumming out a syncopated rhythm while the rest of the band is playing a march.

i am remembering all the years of my schooling, the years in the traditional work force during my youth. i always felt on the outside, but the past few years had driven the memory from my mind. Frankly, those i was normally around wanted to buy art or made it themselves. As an artist, i was focused and professional, but typically alone and self-driven. All education, training and help i received had to be sought out on some level. Being in a structured, large business environment – one to which i have adapted with some facility – drives home that my heart beats for different things than a lot of people, my thoughts come in at a different angle, and that the speed and grace of my gait as i walk through this world are not typicalIMG_0213

Also, i am being reminded that this body needs gentle, loving care. Working at home, i could vary my tasks frequently, nap if necessary, basically live as though i were a cat. When my health crashed over the past two years, i became more and more overwhelmed because it all landed on my shoulders, but i never quite surrendered – or at least not for more than a day or two at a time. Mountains were created and then studiously moved teaspoon by teaspoon. While i enjoyed this workflow, but that is not possible at this new job. i have to be able to sit still, focus and learn at high speed. My compassion will be tested, for myself if not others. i can see the pain of back and limb as a failure, as a judgment. But, these limitations are not condemnations of me – they are realities i have to face and to which i must adapt.

Part of that was asking – begging – for help today. i could sense i had reached a limit, and i needed to be gentle with myself. It is also governing my behavior today. Oh, there is so much art i want to make, so many chores that need to get done. For weeks, i have been treating myself with kid gloves when i come home from work – resting, trying to ease my pain, letting myself sleep when i need to regardless of how badly my to-do list stomps around. (It can act like Godzilla, thrashing around, tearing down my plans.) For the first time in my life, i have been fully accepting the messages my body sends me and obeying.

i would love to tell you that the dishes and all the laundry will be done, put a way and the floors swept and scrubbed today, while i still managed to get all the clients’ jobs done and finished the three paintings that i started last week all while airing out the studio and getting it ready to reopen. Oh, how i would adore it if i could confidently say that today will become the pivot upon which my life will turn and everything will be magically stable and glorious. But, if all i can do is sleep, or write, or rest here on the couch like a large drooling lump, curled up with a smaller purring, drooling lump, then that is alright. This is about what my body and spirit need more than my ambitions and dreams.

There are many people that i fail – like my poor realtor who has never had a pristine house to show because i still live here alone, and have to work around both my health and being perpetually exhausted – but today, i am deliberately putting that guilt and shame aside. It flows out of me on my breath.

This is the day for me to be kind to myself.

If i can manage that, then i believe, the rest of those who depend on me will get better results in the end.

And for now, there is really nothing more healing than this moment of contented cuddling.

poem: enough

enough

ENOUGH
with the words of brokenness!

I AM DISSOLVED.

The last lingering strands
of coherency and continuity
tore.

All that was me
floats freely.

The bridge between
what was
and what will be
snapped
like a wishbone,
leaving this wandering mess
of sensation,
dream,
reaction
and memory,
adrift and rudderless.

All ambition withered,
trapped as it was
in the walled, parched garden,
abandoned by Spirit,
starved alongisde
worry and reputation.

Only the language lingered.

The habits of existence
left marks like chains.

The scripts stayed
easy,
cozy,
hard to surrender.

Like ancient blankets
made soft from use,
though threadbare
to the point of translucence –
and completely useless –
familiarity demanded
they not be tossed aside.

Until now –
the need to be free
triumphs
over comfort and safety.

Enough of the language
of judgment and hatred.

On to discover
new vocabularies
of love.

7 may 2016

poem: Love left me

Love left me
undone.

Everything deconstructed,
all the was left
were random patterns
of cells
and electricity.

But, then,
Love returned
in an entirely new guise,
flying
on brilliant wings.

Kindly,
Love
helped me
rebuild,
using whatever we found,
all we had at hand.
Like magpies,
we incorporated
the impractical and shiny,
along with the clay,
wood
and steel.

Still, something broke
that could not be fixed,
a matter of perspective,
an understanding
of irrelevance.
Every illusion
of control
shattered
beyond repair.

This hodgepodge
of being
Love and i created
laughs
and weeps,
following the tides
of time
and sensation.

Unmoored, bobbing about
without a rudder,
yet this movement
does not seem aimless,
or perhaps
these perceived patterns
of incremental progress
are the final fiction.

7 may 2016

poem: for Darwin the dog.

Darling,
it started to pour
an hour
after you died.

i could not shake
the feeling
that the Divine
had finally lost
her composure.
My tears were joined
by an ocean
of saltwater rain.

This world is poorer
without your presence.

i can already feel
my will and heart
unraveling
in the face
of this tsunami
of grief.

You will be
what i search for
in my dreams.

No doubt,
you will wind up
tucked inside
stories and poems
until i surrender
my pen
into death’s hands.

Still, i think of you
as though you remain
tethered to my soul –
i beg for forgiveness,
i give you all my love
and, sweet boy,
know that underneath
this mask of calm
and the unmistakable acceptance,
i ache with loss
and shine with gratitude.

2 may 2016

poem: sunlight warms me

Sunlight warms me
until my resistance
melts away.

i am enough
in this moment.

After years of resistance
all struggle dissolves.

My spirit has found
some lovely courage,
tucked inside a box,
hidden in the quiet corners
within my skin.

It tastes sweet;
it fills me
with hope.

For days,
a broken heart
kept me
from putting
pen to page –
but grief and brokenness
have had their time.

i am smiling,
ready to shine,
filled with the promise
of better days.

10 april 2016

a month

13411862_10208363446235263_2117676587360267764_oIt has been a just over four weeks since everything changed.

Honestly the transformation started nearly eighteen months ago, sped up considerably this time last year, but the past four weeks have accelerated the process to the speed of light.

As i write, i have a job, one that requires 40 hours a week and will pay me regularly, and for that i am on my knees with gratitude. The stress of trying to make it solely through art, alone, with my health suffering for so long, was intolerable. i was breaking down.  It made my art – especially my writing – suffer.

For most of this job search, i was afraid on so many different levels.  i am an artist, an acquired taste, a round ball of strange.  To find a place that can tolerate all that – and the terrible staggering awkwardness that my body often adopts instead of graceful movement – is fantastic.

But this is a blog about the business of art.  And, thankfully, that business continues.  In one month, i have written (and typed in) a notebook full of poetry, done more drawings that i can remember, finished writing a novel, and begun working on a short story that amuses me more than i can express.  i have never written from the POV of a planet before.

Today, as i gallery sit in Southwest Harbor, i feel more centered in my calling than i have since Darwin the dog died.  Going into my studio has been hard, and something for which i have had very little time.  13483087_10208363947087784_3077929633202552197_oAs soon as i could throw again after surgery, my kiln died, so the pottery side of everything has been stalled rather horribly.  i await a paycheck or art sales to get new elements and relays, and then, i will be back up and running after this year and a half long stream of catastrophe.

i imagine i will release a deep sigh as that first kiln begins to click and heat up.  This will be the physical proof of my breaking out of this confining suffering and into a new, (glorious!) stage of life.

Indeed, it gets even better: sometime in early August, i will be teaming up with another artist and potter. He is phenomenally gifted and i am truly honored he wants to work with me. This is an endless source of personal delight, but will alter the flow of my life (and creativity) again.  This change could not be more welcome; it will be wonderful to have the studio being used more frequently. i cannot wait to see what art pours out of its doors.

Honestly, i have begun to realize that this recent journey through the darkness has given me wonderful gifts.  Somewhere underneath all the poetry and daydreams, there lies a core of tempered steel.  It can flex and move without breaking. As long as i remember that this resilience resides inside my core, especially during moments of overwhelm and despair, i think i will be able to survive.13490800_10208368963573193_3510292570587586590_o

Also, i needed to prove to myself, and maybe to the source from which my art flows, that i can actually do the hard work of life.  i have been scared and anxious for so long – to have fate force me up into a standing position, to demand such sacrifice from me, was deeply uncomfortable. Yet, i am standing.  i am slowly, haltingly, moving forward as an artist and as a woman.

Running this business for so long, alone, had left my confidence gutted.  i did not have all the skills that i needed to be successful.  This is not a whine, this is simple truth. i have grown too tired of self-recrimination to give myself a hard time over this anymore.  We all have our abilities, our talents, and i cannot keep hating the fact that there are aspects to running a business – especially finances and marketing – to which i am not equal.

Also, perhaps, i have grown a bit wiser – not many people can survive flawlessly alone.  Why would i think that i am any different?  The condition of lonely solitude had gone on for so long, i forgot that i could reach out and ask for help.  Now, i know i can.  There will be hands to catch me.

So, today, i am simply grateful. i had a wonderful dog, i have had all these years where i was married to making art.  My body is tired but functioning; my mind, likewise.  And here i am, once more, handing poetry and art to you in my open hands.

 

 

poem: dancing joy

Joy
ran off
like an unfaithful wife.

She giggled
and in her swirling skirts
started dancing
with others.

i couldn’t even be jealous.

It is how she is.

Better to have
a sliver of her kindness
than none at all.

Before,
eventually,
i won her back,
but this time
none
of my awkward swaying
has seduced her.

She refuses to move
into my arms.

So i wait.

i sing songs
while she twirls
with indescribable
beauty and grace
around others,
and i remember
the glorious miracle
of her fingertips
and her laugh.

14 may 2016

poem: how many times

How many times
have i prayed,
a monster of need,
tiny hands grasping,
flabby arms flapping,
begging,
disconsolate,
stewing in hopelessness.

Such desperation
is exhausting,
and it did me no good.

My worst nightmares
have begun to come true
and i cannot rise
to the occasion
higher
than i already stand.

The worst
has begun
coming to pass,
but such losses
dance
with contentment.

The dog’s last breaths
taught me
about gratitude,
about finding
loving kindness
even in agony.

With a teacher like that,
what could i do?

Suddenly,
all my praying stopped.

For if i can find
peace,
calm,
stillness
and joy
coexisting
with this pain,
grief
and failure,
then who am i
to pretend
i know
what i need?

7 may 2016