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

A letter from the rehab

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I ended up at the rehab again. This is the third time in the past three years. Things have gotten a lot better during this time. My doctor told to think of this as a pause and not a step back. So that is what I am doing.

I wanted writing to be my thing. The thing that would help me through the blues but apparently it isn’t. Finishing that short paragraph took a lot of mental gymnastics.

There is a lady here who is perpetually talking, she just told me to ‘fuck off’ in German. It’s nothing personal, she says that to everyone.

I have been taking six showers a day because it helps, I know it is bad for the environment but I am not eating meat for now, so hope that evens it out?

We wake up at 6.45 everyday.

Someone plays the piano everyday.

There is a new print of the Nighthawks on the wall, it wasn’t here last year. I can look at all day.

I take therapy in German which is also different from the last two times.

They still call me by my last name which I hate.

Why do hospital food always suck?

We eat breakfast in silence, we talk a lot during lunch and eat dinner again in silence. I wonder why that is.

Sometimes we play board games.

My roommate has to pack her entire suitcase every time she leaves the room. She is scared I am going to steal her things. But she is nice to me otherwise.

She snores but I don’t mind.

It has been raining a lot.

I am rereading the harry potter series.

Is it different to be depressed when you have money? Yes, it is a lot better when you can buy books and art supplies (also, when you are not worried about how to make rent) So now I buy my share of happiness with money. That helps.

I don’t know what to tell my friends, they think I am on holidays.

My boss knows, he said to take my time. How do I always end up with kind people?

It would have been nice to have someone to hug.

I have been painting a lot, sometimes that is all I do. Is any of you on Instagram? you can find me as @galaxiesinamasonjar. I pretend to be funny there, that helps too

Love,

Jo

 

Maybe it is okay not to be grateful all the time.

It could be worse.

There are people who go to bed hungry every night.

You are lucky, look at all the things you have.

All of the above statements are so very true. Almost all the problems pale in comparison to someone having to live day-in-day-out in hunger. Perhaps, if we were to make a priority list of all the problems humanity has to solve, eradicating hunger should be on the top of the list. Let us say we manage to provide a person living in perpetual hunger with a life where they will never have to be poor or hungry again, would gratefulness be the only thing they then feel their whole life?  Would they be able to get through all the heartbreaking instances of life with that one thought of at least I am not poor anymore? I am grateful that I never had to experience poverty, more grateful than I could ever express through writing. But am I then allowed to be discontented about certain other things?  Racism? Homophobia? Rampant mental health stigma? Sexism?

For me, when I am one hundred percent grateful about something it’s because I like the way the thing or situation is, in other words, I would not want it to change. But there are many things about me that I would like to change and it usually makes me very guilty that I am not always grateful about life.

I got an opportunity to live and study abroad about four years ago, all of my friends and family were very happy for me. A lot of people sent me messages saying they were proud of my achievements. After I finished the master’s program I was offered a PhD position in a national space agency, but then nobody was happy nor proud of me. Because I was 27 years old and marriage should have been the next logical step in my life. The messages I received told me something along the lines of, think of all the girls who did not get an opportunity to go to school at all, here you got the opportunity to study in a foreign country, now that is enough, get married. Yes, I was thankful to have had an amazing opportunity to study at one of the world’s best engineering institutions but was I then wrong to have been discontented about being forced to make a decision I did not want to?

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Found here

You know what, I was not.

This argument of always be grateful is usually made in mental health related discussions quite a lot, wherein depression is said as a lack of gratitude. Most of the times it comes from a well-meaning place. The intention might be to make someone aware that everything isn’t as bad as they think it is and there is still hope. But that one phrase dismisses a person’s right to feel bad, and nobody should have to earn their right to feel bad. Now I know how privileged I was to have had an insurance that paid my stay at a psychiatric ward and to have a group of friends who took care of me like family in a foreign country- my mental health is stable enough to appreciate those facts now but it didn’t help to hear it back then.

When someone is going through pain might not be the best time to remind them to be grateful. There is a time to do it when they are better able to appreciate the whole picture, when they have gotten some space from their pain, when they are able to be rational and logical about it, when they can grab a yellow legal pad and make a pro and con list.

Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand. We can be thankful about something and discontented about something else. Maybe the magic is finding that balance and it is something we can learn and practice. It always helps to appreciate the big picture and sometimes even to write down all the things that are good in our lives so that we don’t forget them but it is okay not to be like that all the time. Last time I checked we haven’t yet turned to robots, and as long as we have a beating heart we are going to be not grateful from time to time and that is OKAY!

I will leave you with a quote that I absolutely love

gaiman-discontent

Hugs

Jo

Footnote: Madelyn left a comment and I thought it is important to share it here.

YES! “Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand.” Important point and great post.

Those “positivity purveyors” have missed the point of gratitude entirely, IMHO. It’s not designed to be denial’s handmaiden. It’s a technique for helping us weather our storms by encouraging us to focus on what we *can* be grateful for – *after* we’ve acknowledged the fact that sometimes things just suck (without measuring it by degrees in comparison to anyone else challenges and sorrows).

AND, it is not kind in the slightest to attempt to drag somebody over the positivity line when what s/he needs is a loving ear to listen while she pours her heart out. It’s not THEIR job to remind you to be grateful – you’ll get to that all by yourself when the time is right – if they’d only commiserate or be silent.

Would they overstep a mother’s grief after the death of a child, encouraging her to be grateful for the ones she has left because some people aren’t even able to conceive? SAME THING.
xx,
mgh
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
– ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
“It takes a village to educate a world!”

A sketch of my favorite bookshop

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I have mentioned this bookstore and its co-owner L in many  of my previous posts. She is publishing her first book in December and to celebrate that fact I did a sketch. It was just supposed to be the store, but as overcomplicating things have become sort of second nature to me, it ended up looking like that!!

Tell me what you think?

Have a good Thursday y’all

Love

Jo

How can I help someone who is going through depression?

Stop saying bullshit! That was the title of this article when I first tried writing it a few months ago. I am glad I did not write it, it would have been a very bad one. Supporting someone through depression is not an easy task.

  • Depression is an umbrella term that we use in today’s vocabulary, it can mean that we just had a bad day or something more complex and not summarizable in one sentence. So without knowing what exactly the person is going through, it is very easy to give them the wrong advice
  • People going through depression can be very irritable and can be difficult to approach.
  • There can be a tendency to be reclusive and cut down contacts when you are trying to help.
  • It can be so hard to realize a loved one is going through depression because people can go out of their way to show that they are doing okay.

I have always wondered why people were telling me the wrong things and used to strongly believe that if I ever had to support someone through it I would do a very good job of it. But now that the tables have turned, I realize how challenging a task that is! I have found myself saying unhelpful things and trying to problem solve when all they might be looking for is a person listening to them without judgment. A few months ago I started a local depression support group, it was an impulsive decision, which in general is the story of my life. Maybe some of you remember, since I wrote about it back then, you can read it here.

Luckily now I have two co-organizers and we try our best to fight our impulse to overwhelm people with suggestions and advice and we encourage each other to pause and think about how the things we say can have an effect on the person. Supporting is not a substitute for therapy or medication but it can do wonders in the recovery journey of a person. We have been discussing things that have helped all of us in our recovery journey and the following things come up very often.

 

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Not always obvious you know

 

 

Ways to help

  • It is not about us, it is not that WE should help them, it is that they should get help in any possible way. So if our role involves guiding them to someone else, please do not hesitate. This involves recommending them to consult a therapist or reaching for emergency services if the situation demands it. Their health is the priority here. Period.
  • Sometimes help is letting them vent.
  • Hugs- This is not universal. Not everyone wants to be touched. So talk to them and see if they would like that. I for one would have really liked to be hugged a lot more.
  • Try to be kinder than you have to be- Because a person might seem completely fine on the outside but we can never know what is going on inside them if they don’t want us to know.
  • Try not to assume that you know what they are feeling- Every person is different and there might be a lot of reasons contributing to the depression that they are experiencing, so phrases like ‘I know exactly how you are feeling’ might not be of help
  • Ask them questions- This is very helpful. We all have that instinct to problem solve and a depressed person get offered a lot of suggestions on a daily basis which might not be always helpful. Asking questions show that you care and you are taking the time to know what they are going through. But, it doesn’t mean to overwhelm them with harmful ‘Why are depressed?’ sort of questions but questions like How are you today? Have you been sleeping well? Have you been eating well etc
  • Ask them ” How can I help? ” “Would it help if we did XYZ?”
  • Even the smallest of tasks can be overwhelming to a person going through depression, this is an area where we can help a lot. It may be trying to help find a therapist, helping them shop for groceries or cleaning up their apartment.
  • Cooking a healthy meal for them- Chances are the person is skipping meals or eating unhealthy food so it might make them feel good to have a wholesome meal once in a while.
  • Helping them sort out their finances- This is another tricky area. Depression can mess up one’s finances big time. It might be an are where you could help a lot as well. This does not mean to give them money but if the person is not in a position to work and is in a financially difficult situation you can try to find help from local mental health charities.
  • Give them time- Recovery looks different for different people. One of the worst feelings I had in my recovery was to see the supporters losing faith and growing impatient.
  • Please refrain from telling them to ” jog or meditate and then you will be fine- Physical activities like jogging or swimming can, without doubt, help a person stay mentally healthy but let them take it at their own pace, you can start by encouraging short outdoor walks or activities that do not require so much energy and help them stick with it.
  • Different things work for different people- propose things taking this into account, I am an introverted person so the cheering up plans most of my friends used to suggest, like going out to parties was not very helpful.
  • Make sure they are going to the therapy appointments and taking medication if they have to, maybe offer to accompany them if they find it helpful
  • Don’t be hard on yourself- Your health is also important and we can all make mistakes, there are no quick fixes or magical words that can cure depression in one day, so when you don’t exactly know what to say, don’t panic. We have all been there. Please don’t stop helping someone because you once said a wrong thing.
  • It is not the time to preach the need for gratitude or for tough love. In detail here
  • Take good care of yourself- It is difficult to see your loved one in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it, it isn’t your fault.

What are some of the things that have helped you?

Jo

The art of finishing a story (Part 2 )

This is the second post in the series of tips on facing the blank page posts. Most of the tricks here are useful only for people like me who struggle with extreme perfectionism and a very loud inner critic (virtual hugs to my fellow AVPD buddies). In the first post, we discussed some tips that can help start writing, which you can read here. Today, we will discuss some tricks that can help you keep the momentum going and to finish things.

 

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Credits: Will Wheaton

 

Start with what you know: Now that you have decided on a starting point we can start doing the actual writing. It might help to trust your first instinct. You know how a smell can invoke dormant memories from years gone by in a flip second? Writing prompts can have the same effect, so if for example the word ‘disagreements’ quickly reminds you of a disagreement that happened with someone you love, start writing about that no matter how trivial it might appear to you.

Practice free fall writing: After starting to write, the next challenge is to keep the momentum going. There is a very high chance that we abandon the writing at this stage. The two main hurdles that I have come across are : First, waiting for that ‘perfect word’ or ‘perfect sentence’ to appear and when I fail to reproduce how beautiful it appeared in my imagination to words I  freeze and stop- the workaround that has helped in this case is to practice free-fall writing, just keep getting things down as they come. Treat the first draft as the rehearsal that nobody is invited to, so mistakes and goofs are allowed and encouraged even. Second , getting lost in different plot building possibilities, it is like arriving at a junction and not being sure  which path will efficiently lead you to where you want to reach. Here it might help to just give one of the options a try and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work we can always come back and take another route.

Try making things up: This might seem counterintuitive to the first suggestion. But once you manage to get the flow going it might be good to take some liberty with the plot. One of my favourite authors Elif Shafak has said, ” that it might not be always good to stick to the write-what-you-know policy”. As long as we are not writing a factual document a writer has the freedom to let the writing stroll freely in the meadows of imagination. If the real event that inspired you to start writing seems dull after a certain point, then just pepper it with interesting tidbits or humour. There is no limit here

Try from a different perspective: This is one advice that has helped a beginner like me a lot. Once, I wanted to write a story where an old lady finds a frog and thinks it is her dead husband reincarnated. But I was getting stuck and the prose ended up being very dull, so my friend L asked me, “Why don’t you try writing it from the perspective of the frog?”It seemed like a ludicrous idea. Until then I had only written in my first person perspective, so this helped me get out that routine and try something new. I ended up writing a children’s story of a talking frog.

Try a different genre: This is an extension of the previous suggestion. Sometimes we put limits to our writing with labels like poets, memoir writers etc. While it is totally okay being a genre writer it also good to remember that a  poet can also write killer short stories. Challenge yourself to write in a different genre. Even if you end up settling back to the genre of your comfort, the sojourns to other fields might help stretch the limits we set to our imagination.

See it through: It is a great practice to always try to finish the pieces you start. This was and still is the hardest struggle I face. Usually, midway through writing, I have this epiphany that what I am writing is horse poop and then I rip the paper apart and stuck it down the trash shoot (or click the delete button violently). It is easier to finish a 100-word story than a novel, so it might be helpful to start writing shorter pieces and then working the way up. Finishing things can do great wonders to our confidence as a writer.

What are some things that have helped you in keeping the writing momentum going?

Next post will be the last one in the series where we will discuss some general practices that can help improve our writing.

Happy writing

-Jo

 

Facing the blank page (tips): part 1

I really know what it is like to ‘want to be a writer’ but not being able to write anything at all. I have always wanted to write but had very skewed ideas about the process. For one, I believed strongly that writers were either born with the ‘gift’ or weren’t.  Also, I imagined the writing process to be smooth and uninterrupted. As some of you know, I was given the diagnosis of AVPD two years ago which is a case of extreme social phobia, so my snarky inner critic is a bit louder than some of you out there. Over the past two years, I have found some tricks that help tone down the inner critic and to actually get the writing done, hope it will help at least a couple of you. This article will be in three parts and today’s tips are to get yourself to start writing.

So part one is for people who suffer from extreme writer’s block and perfectionism like me ie when you cannot even get yourself to start writing. If you are already a writer who writes then it might not help you much.

  1. Give yourself small goals\ aim to be a writer, not a good or bad one: At this point, you are trying to get something on the paper. We will set plenty of time to judge and rip apart our own writing in the later stages, so now you are just writing. Period. It might be easier to start aiming to write something short and simple, like a flash fiction piece or a four-line poem. If the first ever time you sit down in front of that imaginary typewriter is to write a novel, it might overwhelm the already hesitant writer in you and kill the story even before it even takes shape.
  2. Use writing prompts: A prompt gives a starting point, it is that first step in beating a blank page. This helps to narrow down the thousand possible stories that we would want to write to something solid and specific. My friend L at her bookstore hosts open reading nights and gives out one word prompts like ‘disagreements’, ‘gift’, ‘boundaries’ etc as prompts . Prompts can help invoke memories or give a nudge to our dormant imagination to get to work. You can also take up sentences like “It seemed like a gift at that point..” and start to build something around it. Of course, this does not apply when you already have a specific idea in mind.  eg: Friday fictioneers use photo prompts
  3.  Listening with attention/ Talking out loud: This is a technique I learned in a writing workshop. The theme of the workshop was at home on planet earth and we were split into groups of two and were told to ask each other questions  like, ‘what was your first memory of being with nature?’ or ‘What changes would you like to see happening in this world’ then we were given uninterrupted ten minutes to answer that question and later write down what we talked. It made the ideas appear more tangible and also helped trick the brain and distract the inner critic by making a story up by telling it out loud before writing. If you cannot find anyone to do this exercise with talk to yourself (Please don’t tell me I am the only one who does that!)
  4. Sketching or something like that: If both the ideas above don’t work, you can try sketching. Here also nobody else has to see it. So use stick diagrams or flow charts to get a basic idea of what you want to write. Even if nothing productive comes out of it, it will be a good creative stimulation for your brain. Sketching is one of the many possible creative distractions you can try, I mentioned it because it might be easily accessible to a lot of you.
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  5. Give yourself a deadline or sign up for a writing challenge: Like the wise Calvin says believe in the power of ‘last minute panic’. A looming deadline can help us focus on getting things done than making it perfect. Finished is always better than perfect.

 

[Originality is overrated, so when your inner critic at this point tells you, what you are about to write has been written before and in a much better way than you will ever be able to do, tell the voice to take the advice and shove it.]

In the next part we will discuss some ways to prevent ‘killing the work midway’ and to keep the momentum going

Happy writing folks,

Jo