Tag: healing

on happiness…

angelkissesWhen i was very young, struggling with depression beyond my youthful comprehension, i can remember my mother fussing at me.  “You were such a happy baby!  So joyous! You could be fed last and still be happy as a clam.  You were always smiling!  What did you do to yourself?”

At the time, those were hard words to hear, they made me see my sorrow as a character flaw, but during the past few weeks, i have been remembering her admonition and wondering about it.

i have a job.  Soon, it will even start paying me. To sweeten the deal, i get to work with amazing, hilarious, brilliant people. Even though the financial hole i am in is deep and steep-sided, i can start bailing myself out by the middle of July.  Most important of all, i am feeling better. My endurance is better, my body feels stronger, this endless stream of work – which has become something of an unwitting summer ritual for me –  has not yet worn me down.  Most of all, i am being careful to treat myself with kindness and care – if i come home from work exhausted, everything but rest falls away.  i am transitioning from an intense night owl to waking up when i used to go to sleep, and that requires some soft adjustments.  However, there are glorious benefits.  i get to see the sun!  When i wake up without the crushing pain that had dogged me for so many years, i find myself in tears of gratitude.

Miraculously, with my burdens eased, i find myself content.  Peacefully happy.  Granted, there are moments when i panic; anxiety can still make me her plaything. Despair – particularly after reading the news or working on my bills – can attack me and pin me down.  However, i rediscover joy so much faster.  Deep within, this feels like i am returning to exactly that state my mother used to describe – the one who was smiling, entertaining herself, ebullient without reason.  My loud, rowdy laugh bursts out even more frequently than it did before.  And my art, when i can make it, makes that grin even broader.

All i can do is be thankful, and keep treating myself as i would my beloved: with kindness, forgiveness, understanding and gentleness.  My reward for such compassion, it appears, is a return to joy.

 

–written 26 June 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

Delinquency

i am now eighteen days past surgery and i cannot stop sleeping.  Well, i can, for very short spurts, long enough to take the dog out for a walk or to feed myself, but otherwise, i am back in bed with speed.

Thankfully, i have been writing, but there will be some substantial editing to do when i type these words in, once i have all my faculties going.  Right now, i find that the things that work best come in to me: reading, watching documentaries, listening to people.  Going out – writing, art, (God help me) work for clients – those are all taking inordinate amounts of time and energy.  If they can happen at all.  Yesterday i tried, i chained myself to the laptop and got halfway through one project, but then could do no more.  i was making foolish mistakes because my body was crying for rest.

If i am not careful, i will start chastising myself for this – thinking that this idleness is delinquency rather than recuperation. Half of the battle right now is to refrain from being mean to myself for what i perceive are shortfalls and weakness.

My doctor, last Friday, reminded me that i was still in recovery from the surgery.  She asked me to be kind to myself, to take it easy: no heavy lifting, no bending way down, rest as i need it. And i am doing exactly that, even if the frustration of it brings me to tears.

This means i am behind deadline, that the sink is piled with dirty dishes (again), that my heart aches because of all the things i want to do. Even when i am unable, my mind continues to create story and play with painting. Still, every other time i’ve had a major illness or injury, i ran back into the embrace of work, desperate for money but also desperate for the fulfillment and distraction that it brought.  This time, either at the worst or the best time for it, i am actually going to take care of myself.  Today, i will finish that project, and another, but it will be while swaddled in warmth and possibly interspersed with a nap or two…

beautiful, joyous women

imageFor the first time in quite awhile, i was able to sit down and draw. As i wrote in my last post, i have been having a hard time working up enough focus or heart to make any kind of visual art.  Only a handful of pen and inks and two half finished paintings had come, along with a very small amount of pottery.

imageSo, tonight, after the errands were done and the snow started to fall, i let myself be romanced by the beautiful incorrupt smoothness of good drawing paper.  Once more, as it has so many times the past eighteen months, i was struck by how much joy the fluid ink manifested, particularly given the aching pain still echoing in my emptiness.  Yesterday and today, i have felt a bit like i am coming back to myself, but the process is strange and surreal. Half the time, i feel like i am still completely lost.  The other half, i feel like a mason, laying brick after brick, rebuilding.  “The reconstruction goes slowly, ma’am, but the foundation will be more stable in the end.”

imageAt any rate, as i drew, my spirit lifted.  i realized that there is something for which i need to be more thankful: the gift of joy.  Even when traveling through perilous darkness, i have been able to steal moments of joy, beauty, fleeting seconds of grace. i have held them all in my hands, glowing shards of memory, to light my way in dark places.  Tonight, i got a chance to let my fingertips be a conduit for love and happiness i did not see within my heart at the time.  If such a blessing doesn’t remove the darkness, it will at least warm me through this frozen night.

 

false starts

Over the past month, i wrote at least six blogs, then deleted them or never published them. Dozens of poems hemorrhaged out of me.  With each new one i thought, ‘This will be something i can share with the world,’ only to type it in and be paralyzed by trepidation. As i have moved through these days, i kept wondering about the kind of writing and art i want to share with the world.  Creating beauty can be a raison d’être on its own, but what about the art of change and chaos and loneliness and pain?

theoceanNothing i’m going through right now feels pretty.  Exhaustion and pain have worn me down more than they have in years.  Whatever equilibrium i enjoyed before has been destroyed. 

Unstable, i have been unable to find a new balance.  The most terrifying depression i have experienced in years gripped me to the point of death two weeks ago, and even now, i am having a hard time shaking off its shackles. Except for poetry, art just stopped cold in its tracks.

Unfortunately, i have had spells where i was not making good art for a long stretch, because of mood or physical issues, but to get so low that the desire to make anything at all just tapered off into weariness, that terrified me.  It robbed me of my will to live, because without this engine inside me, creating even when i am asleep, constantly driving me forward, i am absolutely lost.  i searched for my desire like the suffocating for air, but for days that seemed to stretch on forever, i could not bring myself to work. Staring at the half finished painting brought on nothing more than increased sadness and impotence.  i lacked both the strength and focus to bring even the simplest of stories or forms into being.  Sitting at the wheel stained my face with tears more than it did my hands with mud.  Eventually, my imagination grew so disheartened that even inspiration silenced itself.

If you had asked me before this crisis how much of my self-esteem is wound around the art that i make, i would have unwittingly lied. Until this experience, i did not truly know. Even as i turned like a wheel, head and then feet, falling into the pit, i could blame other things for my descent: the realization that my physical pain won’t get better without medical intervention; the epiphany that many things (particularly anxiety and depression) are not actually a matter of my being weak or undisciplined but are caused by my brain’s chemistry and thus also require medical intervention; the understanding that the longer i am paralyzed by these things, the more unlikely it is i will preserve the freedom to keep making art; and the sharp certainty that i will need help from those that love me, whether i want to ask for it or not. 

Maybe those would have been enough to cause the crisis, but what surprised me was that none of these truly depressing facts compromised me half as much as being so broken that i could not do more, or imagine doing more, than scribbling down maudlin poems.

i should not disrespect verse. Without that outlet, i would have been in even worse shape. Certainly, one of my previous depressions would have ended me.  For decades, i have given poetry credit as the saving grace in my life, a true blessing, a refuge into which i can tuck myself until the suffering abates.  This episode of despair, however, taught me that my fundamental needs have grown. i have rooted myself deeply into visual art, into storytelling, into clay. The thought of losing those made my existence completely worthless. Honoring the love and friendship i have been given felt impossible, when all i could see was how much my suffering effects them.   Even the poetry i was writing seemed likely to spread despair like a contagion.

i crashed on the rocks, but didn’t realize i had hit bottom until the next morning. Sunrise surprised me.  i shook with weakness and fear from where i had been.  Climbing out of that hole has taken many days, and i fear i am not finished. My footing keeps giving way, and i fall back into the mire, flopping like a fish trapped on land. Even as i start to make art again, pen and inks, a tiny sculpture, i continue to shake with the nakedness of vulnerability.

Now that i am aware of this newly exposed nerve – and still have all the other problems standing on my neck, trying to force me back down into the muck – i have to find a way to mitigate them. i must discern how to save my life.

But, i get ahead of myself.  i keep fearing for the future when the present is shouting at me.

In this moment, i am still trembling and weak from this spell of sorrow.  Sunlight makes me blink as though i have been blind. The warmth and darkness found under covers or curled up in the couch’s deep corners still feel so much safer, like a shell under which i can hide. When i do move, it is with the uncoordinated awkwardness of a fawn trying out its first steps.

If i manage to think clearly, in those moments of blessed clarity when depression forgets to crush me with is suffocating weight, i feel like even this crisis has changed my relationship with the world.  Only, i have no clue what will manifest from this.  Newness remains formless.  i can sense many of my give-a-damns have irrevocably broken, but lack the internal clarity to see which. My mood remains too fragile to aimlessly poke around the shadowed corners of my psyche; i am afraid what stresses and sorrows might come flying out and completely undo me. 

Nevertheless, without my seeking it out, one possible benefit from this crisis has been laid bare:

i have lost my will and desire to continue this dance of self-hatred.

i am simply too exhausted and my spirit’s too raw to listen to that music any longer.

For years, i have felt i had to be someone that i am not.  i have absorbed so much advice, heard so many suggestions as to how i could be better, and i have believed them. Indeed, i had a long list of my flaws and limitations that i was determined to transcend. i tormented myself trying to become someone who has skills and gifts radically different than the ones with which i was naturally blessed.   i learned bookkeeping, for heaven’s sake!

i am so weary of trying to remake myself; i long to find some way to exist, to thrive, with the talents and flaws that already reside within this skin.  i want to stop pruning myself in a fruitless mission to conform to a shape unnatural to me; instead, i would be wild, find out what can be done with nothing more than sunlight, wind, rain, the seeds already planted in my soul, and the love to let them grow. i want to strengthen my roots as i reach for the sky.

fallingintotheoceanWhen i fight hard enough to think about things clearly, i only see two primary needs in the short term, both of which will help end self-hatred’s waltz: to be kind to myself, kinder than i have been before and more forgiving, and to follow my still, quiet voice. 

Kindness and listening. 

Kindness and internal awareness. 

Kindness shoving a gag in judgment’s screaming maw. 

Earlier, i heard the whisper within, telling me to rest, to write, and here i am.  Perhaps i will even publish this blog.  With such a little spark of progress, hope raises its head out of the mud and takes a deep breath. 

If i give myself the gifts of kindness and deep listening, things might keep getting better. 

Maybe, soon, i will have gained enough strength to rise and start burning with word or image again.

7 february 2016

poem: i would dance

Oh, i would dance
in the bright sunshine.

Let the cold breeze
lead me
in a scandalous waltz.

i would throw myself
into labors like Hercules,
moving mountains,
transforming the world.

Often,
the hardest thing
is to be quiet,
still,
to let the body
that craves action
and touch
to lie fallow
and heal.

My mind can race
the stars,
but today
these aching muscles
have nowhere
they have to go.

17 november 2015

a cat and a dog sleeping in each other's arms

poem: my skin craves

My skin craves
warm sunshine
while the rest of me submits
to the quiet,
insistent needs
of healing.

The world has contracted
to lovely soft rest,
filled with cuddling animals
and sensuous silence.

In this moment,
i need this womb.

It is a cocoon
in which i mend
and transform.

In an hour
the story may shift
to include
intense movement
and striving.

Only, right now,
body, mind and heart
dissolve
into words
and warmth.

31 october 2015

doing too much, doing too little

In retrospect, i entered this whole “getting surgery on my shoulder” with a lot of hubris. Most of it was fueled by desperation, my arm was in so much pain it had been rendered useless. A few days before the actual event i had written in my journal that without doubt i would be back to work within a weeks – at the very least writing and drawing and getting my online store up to date. i would be back quickly because of how deeply i grieved over the time lost to the injury over the summer.  i needed to redeem my life, prove myself useful. “Yeah,” i wrote, “No doubt. i will be back before a month is out.”

Predictably, i was thwarted – or rather, i proved to be insane in my expectations.  What i wound up doing, by in large, was crawling into a hole and waiting for friends to gently toss provisions down at me. In-between injuries and spells of terrible health, i forget: pain keeps the brain from working well, healing takes energy that would normally go toward other things.  Fighting the need to rest brings on even greater despair than the pain already stokes.  Sometimes a hole is exactly where one needs to be, to have quiet and stillness and time to sleep and get better.

It has been six weeks since surgery. Because i am wildly motivated to have two working hands, i already have nearly full range of motion in my arm, but i am terribly weak.  The muscles have no endurance.  An hour in the studio yesterday and another today has left my arm sore and completely exhausted. Inside the joint there is a deep, empty ache and the muscles all grumble angrily. Add to that another round of bronchitis-like symptoms that began a week ago, eerily similar to the affliction that leveled me this time last year (those same friends were begging me for a trip to the hospital during their visits this weekend), and i have had even more days added to this long pause when living feels like it is on hiatus.

i recognize that right now i am a fragile flower. Anything unexpected or extreme will make me wilt and lose my petals. i can do some work – clients’ projects slowly come back up to date, i wrote about a dozen poems today, i am rebuilding the world of my novel in my mind – but physical activity remains limited.  Each time i do a little too much, i fall back down on my generous behind.  i am seeking balance in a body whose needs are shifting wildly from second to second. This can be a dance, trying to maximize what i do and not destroy myself in the process.  i cannot claim success, but i am truly understanding how much of my self esteem still hinges on my ability to make art. Down to my soul, i have learned that the reflexive hatred i feel for myself when i am unable to work is not just useless, but corrosive. This is the habit i cannot let take hold.

For now, i have to be aware of where i am inside myself.  i have to be kind and gentle, dismantling the nagging demand that i justify my existence through ceaseless motion and effort. That way, i can treasure the things i manage to get done – like verse, and drawing, and just making it through another day.

seventy-five pounds

IMG_1582On the 23rd of May, i hurt my left shoulder for the second time this year – an incident that left me screaming and clutching my arm to my chest.  For days, normal activity was severely compromised and making pottery out of the question.  Pain made me mostly useless.

Today, three weeks later, i threw seventy-five pounds of clay and transformed it into IMG_1579 eighteen lovely bowls.  For the first time in months, no piece failed; even as i got tired and sore, my coordination didn’t suffer.

i found myself singing with joy.  i kept murmuring thanksgivings.

This kind of blessing during a time of struggle gives the heart hope.  If i can throw seventy-five pounds of clay, i kept marveling as i finished the last, largest bowl, then maybe everything else is possible.  What a joyous notion!

Let’s see what i can get done tomorrow, and what art will come to me while i am at Artspace Gallery in Rockland on Monday.

giving myself some rights

Early this week, i was introduced to the idea that small business owners have rights – even in a highly customer-centered field like art.

As soon as that lesson penetrated the outer layers of my skull, particularly the idea that i have the right to say no to jobs or appointments or obligations – or at the very least, no not now, without any firm justification other than i felt the profound need to form the letters “n” and “o” in sequence – the course of the next few days shifted miraculously.

i am still breathing so much better than i thought i could be, unafraid to use my asthma medications since i can finally get refills.  This has lead to my enjoying better stamina than i have in years, which has lead to more physical activity and more joyful, aching soreness.  However, while breathing is a blessing beyond measure, i can testify that this is not a panacea to all problems.  i continue to have issues with coordination and confusion, i am exhausted from healing and overwhelmed with stress, duty and responsibility.  After embracing the idea that i could say no, though, i realized the world will not fall apart if i took a couple of days to be kind and gentle to myself. Indeed, given how profoundly i feel at risk of dissolution, i have a duty to myself (and my customers! and those with whom i work at cooperatives!) not to let myself fall apart.

TIMG_0286he only way to keep that from happening is kindness.

So, i gave myself some gifts and worked through the guilt surrounding my magnanimity.  For two days, in between errands and appointments, worked on art (poetry, sculpting and pen and inks.)  The busier i get, the more i have to keep in mind: art comes from a place of stillness for me.  If i do not have a certain amount of quiet solitude, i will not be as effective as an artist, much less as a human being.

i kept my involvement with email and social media to the barest of bare minimums.  While i did spend an inordinate amount of time compiling to-dos for every client and project, while nestled in warm blankets, i also was merciless about their priorities.  What had to be done at this exact moment?  What could be done by Monday?  What could be done by next Friday?

Once those choices were made, i let myself have some time to watch a couple of movies, to cuddle with the animals, to read a book, to simply sit in silence until the screaming of anxiety was not so loud.  Then the art and word began to flow.  Probably, there are people who will feel terribly let down by this blog – and maybe i shouldn’t have written out that i actually took some time to make art and rest – but, this was a huge realization for me.  Usually, i have to be in physical crisis to really take downtime.  Indeed, the drive to make art is fairly merciless, pushing me forward despite myself.  But, this morning, i feel so much calmer and more capable – and that wouldn’t have happened if i didn’t act on having the right to say no.