The ways art can help

Kandinsky heard brassy trumpet tones when he painted the color yellow. He theorized that by mixing colors you can produce vibrational frequencies like the chords on a piano. That was his motivation when he painted a series of ten Compositions, each of which supposedly could evoke a spiritual resonance with the viewer. In other words each of these paintings can make us feel like we are listening to musical piece. I knew none of this when I first saw the following painting.

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Composition vii (1913): Wassily Kandinsky

This painting was on the walls of the clinic corridor the first time I was here. Kandinsky’s name sounded vaguely familiar. Back then modern art made me feel really insecure.Every modern abstract art piece made me feel two things, the first thought is kind of universal, 1. My cat can do this and then 2.I don’t understand this but I am going to pretend like I do because everyone else thinks this is cool. My feelings for composition vii were no different at first. But every time I walked past it I was stopping for a couple of seconds to catch a glimpse. Then one day one of the night nurses had to bring me a chair because I was apparently standing and staring at this painting for according to her Eine ewigkeit. Also, it would be nice to point out that it was a time when I had given up on getting better. So why was I looking at this my-cat-can-do painting at 3 am in the morning? The simplest answer would be that it made me feel something. And that something came after several long days of nothingness. And that meant a whole lot.

That was two years ago, over this time I have learned that Kandinsky had lived, learned and painted in Munich. Now I hold a yearly pass to the Lenbachhaus which holds many of his works. One of the interesting things I saw there is the preparatory works  Kandinsky made for this particular Composition, Composition vii. More than 30 paintings in watercolors and oil precede the final piece. So every brush stroke, every color in this painting is deliberately planned. Okay, my cat won’t be able to do that.

The good thing about an inpatient psychiatric clinic (a good one) is that it introduces you to a lot of things, medication, mindfulness, sports, arts, psychotherapy, cooking, gardening and the list goes on. This is saying something very important about mental health care in general. There is no one-cure-for-all when it comes to mental health. It might one of these things that helps you or it might be all of these things. For me it apparently is art.

I have come a long long way since the night I felt an emotional resonance with a painting that was made 104 years before I was born.

Now when I think back to that day I think I realize why it was so powerful. Back then people were telling me about how if I took up jogging or meditation or prayer, things might get better, but that painting showed me a glimpse of that ‘better’.

I cannot possibly end this without telling you about my favorite painting.

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Nighthawks (1942) : Edward Hopper

 

I have written here before about how I want to build a used bookstore+art salon that is open at 3am. This painting for me captures a lot of intangible complexities of that time. More on that later.

Thanks for all the emails and messages after reading my last post. It really meant a lot <3.

Love

Jo

40 feel good activities for when you are broke

Walking barefoot in the sand.

Painting with your hands.

Writing a postcard to your favorite author/singer/actor.

Sending that postcard.

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Handwritten letters.

Learning the lyrics to your favorite song.

Singing along to your favorite song.

Singing along to your favorite song in the shower.

Long showers.

Putting up fairy lights in your room.

Making a collage of all your favorite photos.

Going to the explore page of Instagram.

 

Memorizing your favorite poem.

Going to the sneak previews.

Volunteering at a film festival.

Burning an incense.

Burning candles.

Thrift store shopping.

Picnic in the park by yourself.

Picnic in the park with your buddies.

Writing a letter to your crush that you would never dare send.

Find out if there is a Museum day in your city and going art watching.

Inviting a friend over for a movie night.

Trying a new hairstyle from a YouTube tutorial.

Free hugs.

Going crazy at an All-you-can-eat-buffet.

Putting on your favorite dress and watching Netflix.

Find out a part of your city you haven’t seen and be a tourist for a day.

Go on free walking tours.

Sky gazing.

Learning to identify one constellation other than the The big Dipper or Cassiopeia.

Watching the sunrise.

Watching the sunset.

Rereading your favorite book (hint:The harry potter series).

Photoshop yourself to a picture of a place that you really want to visit.

Reorganize your room.

Draw on your walls.

Drawing stars on your ceiling.

Building a water bottle rocket.

Starting a Youtube channel/ WordPress blog/ Instagram page for that skill you have been hiding all along.

 

 

 

 

Working with BPD and AVPD (Tips)

Here are some of the things that have helped me at work

  • Have a routine- try to start and finish at the same time every day. If the mood swings are very frequent this would bring a semblance of normalcy to your days.
  • Talk to your boss- It has helped me greatly that my boss knows about my BPD. It does not mean he will tolerate if I slack off at work but, he has been asking questions to understand my triggers and symptoms and has generally tried to make the office environment more inclusive. Share only if you are comfortable
  • eg: If you are uncomfortable bringing out your ideas in a group discussion format try to think of an alternative that would work for you and tell your boss about it, chances are, you are not the only person with that problem.
  • Take each day as it comes- let us face some days are going to be shitty, it is okay. Let it be
  • Make a safe space- If you have an office room, try to put up some pictures on the wall or spruce it up with some DIY decor that appeals to you, if your work space is a desk maybe you can keep some framed pictures of your loved ones.
  • Leave some distress tolerance tools- Keep some things around that could help you in overwhelming situations. I keep an ice pack in the office refrigerator, a small vial of lavender oil (the strong smell gives me a distraction), a red marker and white paper because, see picture below.
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Suggestions: Stress relief balls, rubberbands

  • Taking walks- If you think it is inappropriate to go outside, just a 5-minute stroll in the corridor?
  • Take time to have a proper lunch- It is better not to eat at your work table. If going with colleagues for lunch is too overwhelming, try looking for a place where you can relax and eat in peace
  • Find what works for you- Concentration is hard to come by sometimes. So I try to  break down working hours into small chunks of 1.5 hours. After every 1.5 hours, I read a WordPress post or read few pages of a book or journal a bit or just get up and stretch.
  • It takes an average person about 23 minutes to focus again once distracted, so try to leave your phone away and all the mail notifications off while working. They will only make work more difficult
  • Tackling the open office- I honestly hope you don’t have to work in one but if you are then it is essential to have a space (worst case scenario, bathroom?) where you can sit and unwind.
  • Don’t be intimidated by others work routine. They don’t know your struggle and you don’t know theirs (most probably).
  • Keep a journal, track your distraction triggers.

 

What are the things that help you at work?

–Jo

What is your support system?

I have a new therapist, Dorothee. With the help of German- English translators we have managed to work together just fine so far. Last week she asked me to tell her what my support systems are, it surprised me that it took a full ten minutes to describe all my support systems. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones to have so many people and things to count on if things were to go south again. Even with all of this, in an episode of depression, I feel utterly and hopelessly alone. I almost never reach out to someone on a bad day, partly because I am ashamed to ask for help, also because I don’t think a person can walk into the room and take away my depression.

As it is evident both these thoughts are not really logical. First, There is no shame in asking for help, period. I preach that very often but fails miserably when it comes to putting it into practice. In the case of physical ailments, no matter how big or small they are, it is relatively easy for me to reach out for help. ‘I have a headache, can I leave early today?’, or ‘Can we meet on a later day because I have the flu?’ or ‘There is a tumor in my breast, I need to have a surgery immediately’ . But when it comes to problems of mind I hide in a cocoon, The thought that constantly nags me is, ‘What would they think about me?’, so I try desperately to pretend to be that person who has their shit together. After a lot of thought I have narrowed down two arguments that could ease up the reaching out process, 1) people don’t think about us nearly as much as we imagine 2) People appreciate it if you ask for help, it makes them feel important and better about themselves and believe it or not there is a lot of kindness left in this world, empathy hasn’t left the planet yet.

As for the second thought, that nobody can walk into the room and take away the depression, it is true to a certain extent. You and only you know the extent of your depression and hence there is a limit to which even a qualified professional can help you. But, having an understanding person at the receiving end of your loud thoughts can make you at least momentarily better. And, recovery is a lot of these small moments added together.

Well, the whole talk with Dorothee also made me think about people who cannot boast of having such a strong support system or any at all for that matter. No matter what I was doing this thought bothered me like an itchy cut. I had the privilege of having a closely knit circle of friends in this foreign land, who I chose not to ask help from but what if you don’t have anyone to reach out? What if you don’t have an insurance that will pay your hospital bills? What if you don’t speak the local language?

I lived in a shelter for ‘women in distress’ after my stint at the rehab and there I met a girl. She was a refugee from Tanzania, with long curly hair and colorful clothes. In a sea of visibly distressed people, she was the only one who smiled at me. We used to make small talk during the five minutes it took us to heat up the flavorless soup they gave us. The day I was moving out, I went to her room to say goodbye but she wasn’t there. The social worker gave me her telephone number and I send her a goodbye text. Two months went by and there was no reply from her. Then, last Thursday evening she replied, we chatted for a little bit but something seemed off. I took it as her disinterest in talking to me, so to wrap up the conversation I send this message ‘Nice talking to you again and if you need any help you can ask me anytime’. After ten minutes she asked me if I could buy a sim card and take it to  her room if it wasn’t too much trouble. It wasn’t any trouble so I went to the address she gave me.

Instead of an apartment, another closed psychiatric ward welcomed me. She had tried to kill herself and failed. She broke down when she saw me. We sat in silence for a long time. Then she started telling me her story, of losing her parents at an early age, a kind neighbor taking her in as part of his family, his passing away last year, her move to another continent as a refugee, a life in complete isolation, a meagre support money that got delayed in the strings of bureaucracy, a govt who wants to take her refugee status away, depression, rehab…….’ You are my only friend here she said’. Me, who hadn’t made a real conversation with her until then was her ONLY friend in this foreign land. I didn’t know what to say to her. ‘You can count on me, reach out whenever you feel low’ I managed to say after what seemed like an eternity.

Sometimes support is just being there.

I couldn’t sleep for two days after. On the third day, I created a local chapter for a mental health NGO (No stigmas) on a social media website , I asked them to fill up ‘your expectations from this group column to sign up’, overnight 18 people joined, all of them hope to have a support system. We are meeting each other for a coffee on Wednesday.

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I am too much of a mess to support anyone but Sometimes support is just being there. 

Tell me what are your support systems?

Love

-Jo


I will post a list of things I told Dorothee in a few hours.