A few weeks ago I attended a networking event where the speaker recommended reading The Artist's Way in order to break out of a creative rut. "It's self-helpy," he said, "and it's a little cheesy, but it just might work for you." So I'm trying it out.
He is correct; it is most certainly a self-help book. But I think it just might work, at least for a little bit, to get me in a creative mindset again.
At the beginning of the book, Julia Cameron the two main methods for replenishing th artistic juices are "Morning Pages" and "Artist Dates." I don't know about the Artist Dates yet, since I haven't participated in one, but she describes them as "a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend again all interlopers." I'll try it out this weekend, but I don't know what it will look like.
But I have started the "morning pages," which she describes as "three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." It's been quite a challenge, even for my first week, but I think it's been beneficial. I mean, I'm writing this right now, right? Considering that I barely posted a thing over the summer, it's pretty nice to pump out a notes in the weblog for once. And chances are that my ability to write during the days starts with the fact that I've started each day with writing.
I've had journals before. I have a few unfinished ones strewn about the apartment. Sometimes I find old journals, read them, and shred or burn them. I know some people say that old journals show "how far you've come" or "how much you've grown," but I tend to only feel humilation from them, shame that I was such a fool. Perhaps if I was happy with where I'm at in life, I'd feel less shame. But my main feeling when I read my about old journals is simple: the person who wrote them is a neurotic, lonely fool whose ideas are not worth the page he wrote them on. So I destroy them.
But these are a little different. I'm writing them on looseleaf paper and I'm not trying to "be deep." I'm just trying to strew it out there. I'm not good at the stream-of-consciousness focus of this writing; I always write in full sentences and paragraphs. But these feel different than the average journals that I've destroyed before. Despite the paragraphs and sentences and semicolons, I don't think I'll have to destroy these.
Simultaneously, I've been seeing a counsellor who wanted me to "write down all the bad things you say about yourself and your life, then put them away for the day so you don't have to think about them all the time." But I couldn't seem to do it; it seemed to be kind-of out of my wheelhoue and flighty. A few years ago, a psychologist had once got me to write down all the things I was angry about, and that seemed to work at that time; this time around, however, the prospect was unappealing to me.
But now, with these "artist pages," I'm doing exactly what the counsellor ordered. And that feels good.
I'll post now and then about my progress with these, but so far it seems like this is the best journalling method I've ever used. So here's to hoping I can create some good stuff out of it.
Still a stigma?
I think it might be time to get back on the antidepressants. I've been on them before and I haven't taken any for quite a few years, but I think it's time to get back for a bit.
I've been trying to do the things I've been told to do: I've been physically active, running and hiking; I've been pursuing my interests by playing music, trying to record music & trying to take interesting pictures; I've been visiting friends and family who love me and whom I love in return; I've been trying to get out there in the world and talk with people in public; I've been trying out new activities, like camping and spending time at the gym; I've varied my responsibilities at work, even joining up with the school's Pro-D committee.
However, I'm still having trouble climbing out of this hole. Usually Spring lifts my spirits a bunch, but right now it's just not happening. Despite the list above, I'm also doing a lot of laying around, I'm barely able to focus at work, and I'm not really enjoying anything I've been doing. I haven't been calling people to chat. I think the symptoms point pretty directly to depression.
And, as much as I've tried to deal with it myself, my doctor agrees.
In such progressive circles as my own, it's not supposed to be a stigma to take antidepressants. In fact, people seem to laud those who admit to taking antidepressants. In the popular media, Mental Health Awareness Days are legion and it's supposed to be something we can talk about and articulate. On social media, people vulnerable enough to admit to taking antidepressants seem to be lauded as "brave" in their respective networks.
But the stigma's there in spite of it. I, for example, have been checking job boards while simultaneously thinking about taking antidepressants, fearing that admitting it will reflect poorly on my to prospective employers. It's a little nerve-wracking. Am I brave for taking them, or am I unstable? I can't quite tell.
But I also dislike the idea of taking antidepressants in the first place. Running, doing activities you love, visiting with friends, etc.. it should be enough. But for now it isn't. I can go for a run, but my brain still spins as soon as I stop; I can play guitar, but my sessions get shorter and shorter. My current methods, myriad as they are, haven't been working, no matter what I think. I may not like taking antidepressants, but it's probably in my best interest that I do.
There's one catch here, of course. The dominant feature of my life is my kids, and they live ever so far away right now. We're still sorting that out. And although I might be able to move closer one day, the "limbo" I'm in right now is nothing short of dominant in my mind. This separation/divorce process is exhausting to say the least. No amount of endorphins from a 10km run can distract my brain from trying to compensate for that distance, for this separation.
So perhaps it's time to get a little bit of a pick-me-up from some antidepressants. Perhaps that's a little bit fair.
I think it's safe to say that I'm currently working at about 25%. My brain is having trouble taking in new information. It's like my processor has moved into a sort of survival mode, where I'm doing all the things I'm supposed to do to get through hard times... and nothing more.
I haven't been able to sit and concentrate on a YouTube video or television show for months; I can barely take in a podcast; I have no creative or insightful things to offer to anybody right now.
And I have to admit that my students are not getting the best version of "Mr.. Nordstrom" right now.
It's kind-of embarrassing. Understandable, not humiliating, but embarrassing.
I read an article yesterday that summed it up nicely. I posted a section of it to my Tumblr:
Needless to say, I can't wait to get my brain working right again.
21-Day Gratitude Challenge.
I am grateful for practically everything in my life. However, I don't think I express my gratitude very often. I'm out of practice.
Yesterday, while I was reading the chapter on Emotional Literacy in Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, I came to a renewed appreciation for my generally peaceful, stable childhood. My parents and I certainly have our differences, but I think they appreciate me and I am grateful for their attempts to give their oddball, humanities-ish son a good upbringing. I had freedom to move around and make my own choices, and I did—in my own introverted, awkward way. I'm thankful for their efforts and continued support.
This morning, while making my daughters' lunches, I listened to this video by the more-energetic-than-I-can-handle, proud-of-his-teeth Charisma on Command guy:
His "top of the ladder" is essentially a matter of day-to-day gratefulness, of being thankful for the things you have—without fussing over all the things you don't have.I've heard this sort of idea before, that gratefulness for the everyday is the pinnacle of inner peace, and I like the guy's "Ladder" image, so I went searching for some ways to organize some gratitude.
I quickly discovered The Gratitude Challenge, a 21-Day plan for practising gratitude deliberately and methodically. Although I'm not usually a fan of "challenges" like this, I think this might be a good time to take it on. Why?
Over the last couple months, I haven't written much about music. I haven't had much time to think about music and even the band practices have waned in my busyness and lack of clearheadedness. I am not "thinking music" right now; between work, my schooling, my children, my partner, and various other relationships, I have little to no room to get passionate about music.
But I have written a couple times about my first wading steps into Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. So here are some of the resources I've been using.
I first read about Nonviolent Communication when I first read More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory two summers ago. (Embedded below is the summary of NVC as described by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert).
To be honest, however, I didn't take it to heart two summers ago because I thought I was a good enough communicator. I mean, as a teacher I have to be a good communicator, amiright?
Apparently I'd self-deceived myself, however; when I have three different people in a three-month window send me to the same resource, you think I'd get the hint. So I'm doing my best to take the hint—despite my continuing busyness. And as my fits of anxiety around communicating my needs and desires have grown more frequent and humiliating, I think it worthwhile to do some deliberate self-help.
As I posted last week, about a month ago I started working through the following workshop (below):
I'm now about halfways through this audio course (below), which I listen to on my walks and when I'm alone in the car.
So far, I feel an affinity to the program for a rather English teacherish reason: I appreciate its focus on behaviour and discouragement of lazy "to be" verbs. This might be a step 1.
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