Peace: 8 month update

My word of the year is peace. Although actually it’s developed into more of a nebulous concept over the year.

My pinterest board keeps me aware of it. I also have peac written in magnetic scrabble on my fridge (the second e has disappeared…!).

In terms of progress, things have become a lot more about boundaries, tarot and spirituality of late.

Boundaries

A big part of this is setting boundaries around my flat. My neighbours continue to be awful people who make a lot of noise. I’m talking two barking dogs, vacuuming 21 times in one week, 2/3 of which was between 7.30pm and midnight. This week they’ve started shouting at each other at 5am. 5AM… And I’ve checked out my options and there’s nothing I can do because I strongly believe if they know I’ve complained about them, they’ll get worse and (at least) verbally abuse me. And there’s no way of complaining without them realising I made the complaint…

On top of the general crapness of that, I really struggle with noise. It really affects my stress and anxiety levels. Having the extractor fan on bothers me, let alone anything else…

But I can’t change things with my neighbours so I needed a new approach (although moaning a bit does help, sorry twitter folk). To do this, I walked through my flat mentally setting my boundaries and strongly imagining a buffer between my ceiling and their floorboards.  This, whilst it won’t change the noise, changes my relationship to it. I now feel more in control. When they make noise, I take it as a signal to take a deep breath and strengthen my imaginary boundaries. I know that all sounds very hippy, witchy, woo woo but it’s working for me. It’s about my intention to let the noise go, to let it brush off me and to be more in control of my reaction to it. Alongside this I keep my fingers tightly crossed they might move. And strategically place leaflets from estate agents so they’ll see them…

Boundaries are also about my emotional boundaries. Especially important around some people, including some of my care team. Again, I’m trying visualisation techniques to help with this as well as being conscious of setting boundaries. On occasions where I know my emotional boundaries are likely to receive hits, I’ve also set the intention to maintain my boundaries beforehand and used a crystal to remind me of this and to help ground me. There’s a guided visualisation by Marthe of the Freedom Experiment which I’ve used although there’s hundreds of others all over the internet.

I’ve been thinking about EDS* and boundaries; people with EDS often have poor proprioception** so don’t really know where their physical edges are. A lot of people with EDS also have anxiety and I wonder if there’s a link between proprioception and anxiety. As my anxiety rises, I find it harder to feel where I stop and the world begins. The converse is also true; if my proprioception is bad, my anxiety rises. So one thing I’m trying to do when anxiety hits, is re-find my physical boundaries. I’m very early on in exploring this. So far i have had a carer rub moisturiser into my arms which helps (and probably helps more of you can do it yourself),  covering myself in heavy blankets or my beanbag style heat packs and mindfulness body scans (which didn’t work for me but might for someone else).

*Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

**Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. This ability enables us to know where our limbs are in space without having to look.

Tarot and peace

How does tarot bring me peace? Or more accurately, help me find my peace. Well, it helps me see what I’m feeling, worried about etc. It acts as a mirror, showing me what’s going on in my subconscious. And once I know what I’m feeling, rather than hiding it away in a clenched jaw or general irritableness, then I can try and process it and if needs be do something about it.

wp-1453478856313.jpg

The actual process of getting out my cards, sitting down, shuffling and drawing the cards is also a way of pausing all the daily nitty gritty stuff. I take a deep breath as I’m shuffling and ask for guidance. I know a lot of people have bigger rituals around tarot but small works for me and marks a divide between normal time and tarot time.

Rituals and intentions

Which brings me to rituals.  Rituals are helping me feel more peaceful, they give me anchor points which is important when all your days look the same.

My Friday check ins are a form of ritual. But I’m also starting to follow the seasons, moon cycles etc. This gives me lots of chances to think about what I want to embrace, release, be thankful for etc.

Different points in the moon cycle or year also focus on different things which I may not have considered on my own, for example Lammas at the start of August focuses on harvesting, looking at what you’ve grown and being grateful. I didn’t do much for it, I lit a candle, did a tarot reading and had a think about what I’m “harvesting” (mentally, emotionally, physically eg new friendships, financial ventures, skills you’re learning etc) as well as what hasn’t grown, or is still growing.  Doing this helps me be more aware of where in the year we are, anchoring me to time and tuning me into my SAD tendencies.

Rituals can also be a way to consciously set intentions such as the intention to try and remain grounded in a tough situation, the intention to embrace your personal power etc. Stopping to consciously decide and tell yourself what you want is much more concrete than vaguely thinking something to yourself.

Intention setting may simply involve you saying out loud that you want to pursue career opportunities or it might be more involved and you might include planning as part of your intention setting. However you chose to do it, I find the act of acknowledging to yourself means that your mind is more attuned to relevant things or interprets your world through a lens related to that. Using the career example, once you acknowledge that’s your intention, you are likely to notice job adverts, networking opportunities etc more often.  If you tell other people about your intention they may bring opportunities your way. I guess in a lot of ways intention setting is about consciously focusing on what you want.

This is my little alter type corner. There’s crystals, candles, shells, stones, twigs, fir cones, feathers etc. I love crystals, they’re beautiful objects and the twigs etc are little bits of nature which is especially nice to see when I’m having a bad day and can’t leave the house. Framed above my desk is a feather a friend found and sent me. Next to the large glass bowl there’s a salt lamp, a little shrine type thing to my Granma and a painting I did earlier this year to process and mark my move from working to retirement.

Creating an encouraging environment

My inbox is filled with daily, weekly, monthly reminders about being true to myself, about self care, about finding your way. I don’t read them all but i read a lot more of them than I do emails trying to sell me possessions which promise true happiness… Some of the newsletters or blog post emails which I look forward to receiving are:

I’m sure there are more but these are a selection of emails which make me feel empowered, excited, understood etc.  Some days I am not in the right head space for them but other days they tell me exactly what I need to hear.

My Twitter world is a mix of the above mentioned newsletter senders, cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, people to celebrate with as well as people talking about things which are important to me, and perhaps even more crucial, no people who just focus on stuff which makes me feel bad (gossip magazines, diet companies etc).

And there goes the vacuum upstairs; I’m taking a deep breath, re-visualising my ceiling boundaries and refocusing on what I’m doing.  I’m not zen, I’m not an embodiment of peace, but I’m an awful lot more peaceful than I was at the start of the year.

How are you getting on with any words of the year you set?

do something small and do it most days

When I saw Mind asking “Has crafting boosted your mental health?” on twitter, my reaction was well yes, of course, what a stupid question!  But of course it isn’t a silly question at all.  We live in a society where so many people believe they aren’t creative and because of that would never think to turn towards craft as a hobby or way of coping with life.  As far as I can tell, a huge part of this belief comes from art lessons in school which focus heavily on techniques and reproducing things in life like quality.  For me, this isn’t my version of creativity.  For me, creativity is about expression.

art from the heart
Crafting has been a part of my life for a long time in various different forms.  As a side note, I have a chronic pain condition which is deteriorating and means I am not able to do all of the craft that I used to be able to.

Knitting has provided a therapeutic repetitive task which has helped to calm me and has given me an almost mindfulness experience.  When anxious, it has helped to slow things down for me.  When depressed, it’s helped me feel like I am achieving something – I am doing something useful.

I’ve scrapbooked photos, for example it might be from a trip you’ve taken or of a child growing up.  As well as the distraction and immersion of the activity, it can also help you to recall good memories.

I’ve done card making, candle making, cross stitch, sewing little decorations out of felt, you name it, I’ve probably had a go.  The one thing they all have in common for me is a sense of satisfaction, feeling productive and also acting as a distraction when needed.  All of which is really important for maintaining or boosting my mental health.

At the moment, the big one for me is art journaling.

Art journaling for me has been a huge part of supporting my mental health.  I was standing on a beach a few years ago, feeling the weight of depression grasping at my ankles.  Having been there before I felt desperate not to let it happen again.  It was then that I thought keeping a visual diary or journal might be a way of doing something productive and creative most days but without lots of pressure to complete a huge project.  I got myself an A5 notebook, nothing too big or too pretty, nothing that’d overwhelm me.  Most days I would do something in it, whether it was as basic as sticking in a postcard from somewhere I’d been that day or writing in a quote that I’d come across.  I didn’t want to put pressure on myself – it could be as basic as it wanted, provided I did something on a regular basis.  Soon I’d finished that notebook and I’d realised how important it was to me.

Being able to do one small thing helps me feel like I have achieved something.  And it keeps my creative muscles flexible.  I’ve also found that I go through the day with a deeper attention – part of me is looking for things to include in my journal.

In the last six or seven months, my art journaling has changed in response to my worsening chronic pain and I’m using different techniques and equipment but the essence is the same; do something small and do it most days.

Mind’s tweet was to do with their Christmas Crafternoon:

Crafternoon means getting together with friends, family or colleagues and holding an afternoon of festive crafting to have fun and raise money for Mind.

Make someone’s Christmas and help us make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.

[Edited to add: creating and creativeness have even helped me to open up my own little shop which is currently raising money for a local charity]

“But I’m not creative…”

Firstly, if I can do it, so can you.

Secondly, art journaling is amazing!

image
Look at all those intriguing pages!

Art journaling really helps my mental health but I’ve had to really adapt my art journaling techniques and expectations as my hands are in a lot of pain and i struggle with fine motor skills. It’s been, and continues to be, a journey of trial and error, discovery and adaptations. Because of those limitations, my journaling has become more precious, more thoughtful and a slower process (in a good way). I have ended up adding a lot of depth to my pages because I can only do a little bit of a page at a time and this also provides space for reflection between layers. I definitely feel that some of my better pages have arisen because of my limitations.  In fact my latest journal charts my journey from “argh I can’t hold a pen” to “oh wait, if I do this very slowly, with lots of breaks, using layers and the right techniques I can still do this”. It’s been, and continues to be, a lot of trial and error. What I can do one day is not the same as another day.

image
Pre 2015

I think learning to work with my limitations, not against them, has made art journaling a worthwhile experience for me in itself although it is so much more than that. I do feel if I can do it then so can almost everyone, no excuses!

image
2015

Technique wise, I do a bit of collaging, use photos I’ve taken, splash paint around, use found objects, stencils, inks etc. I can’t hold most pens anymore so words come from print outs, magazines, stickers etc. Again, working within that limitation makes it easier in some ways – having the world as your oyster, or the alphabet as your seahorse (or whatever is appropriate there) can be overwhelming to the point of freezing you. I try to journal something that comes out of the day which means I’m more tuned in to what’s going on round me. For example when I am out I might be looking for found objects such as feathers or if a particular quote resonates, I’ll pay more attention and make a note of it. It’s paying attention in a deeper way – if I wasn’t journaling, I’d miss the feather, I’d hear the quote and think yeah that sounds great but then it’d slip away from me.

What I can do varies from day to day.  Some days I just place cues; feathers, petals, a word ripped of a leaflet. These hold the place for me so i can return at another time when I am able to take the cue and roll with it. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks but those cues fester in the back of my mind until I have time, have spoons or have a feeling about what the first or next step is.  I say feeling, I don’t generally have an image of what I’m wanting, it is much more something I feel my way through. I will look through my stash and see what speaks to me. I will move things around on the page. Or just get stuck in adding colour and seeing what happens.

Tools I have found I can use
  • Ink and ink pads (but not stamps, I can’t seem to use them without lots of pain so I use ink pads with stencils instead)
  • Stencils
  • Acrylics
  • Chalk or soft pastels – these are so gentle and a great way of getting a bit of colour for not much effort
  • Chunky handled brushes
  • Glue tape – I find this easier than a glue stick because it requires less pressure and it sticks much better. I find it better than pva because that involves holding a paint brush.
  • Paper – a variety of colours, craft paper, wall paper, wrapping paper, junk mail, any kind of paper will do! If you like paper, check out flow magazine
  • Photos
  • Other bits and pieces – tiny bits of ribbon, buttons, fabric, words ripped out of things…

Anyway, I’ll stop there because I could talk, or write, for hours about it.  If anyone has any questions or comments, please add them.  I’d love to know what other people are up to, especially other people who have difficulties with their hands as well.

Anxiety

In an attempt to ground myself during a morning of anxiety, I tried to pay attention to how I was feeling, identify each element with the hope that setting it out in writing, would help to lessen the overwhelming emotion.  I’m not sure it really helped but I do now have a poem out of it:

Blood rushes through the body
Filling the heart with blackness
Jaw tightens and
Face contorts
Hands shudder and shake
The mind melts, amorphous,
Skin prickles with cold vulnerability
Trapped, yet yearning to be embraced
Desperate for release, for relief
Fearfilled anticipate surges
Fuelling heels to run, keep running
Running away from the betraying body

This will pass.

This will pass.