Category Archives: art therapy

Afraid to do Things

When I was a little girl, my parents took me to a nearby art gallery, www.albrightknox.org, for a tour.  I remember coming home and NEEDING to make a painting.

My father gave me a piece of wood from his workshop and some house paint and a brush to use for my masterpiece.  And I still remember thinking that even just a plain, two-color abstract painting was really hard to do!!  At the gallery I had seen paintings that looked like nothing!  Just squares of one or two colors!  But I guess there was more to it than I thought.

I have been wanting to visit the gallery again for quite some time.  All that wonderful art less than an hour away from my house.  But something always comes up and I still haven’t gone.

Then a few days ago, when I was feeling restless for the millionth time, a thought came to me.

I could just go to the gallery by myself.  Technically, I have a lot of freedom since I don’t work.  I don’t have to go with somebody.  It would be during the day.  It would be safe.  I could go at my own pace, lingering if I want or racing through the place if I want.  I could eat in the gallery cafe and have museum-y food to choose from instead of Wendy’s or Burger King.  It’s easy to get directions ahead of time.  I have money for parking and admission.  Nothing is really stopping me.

Except that I get scared now when I think of doing things.  Before I could just force myself to do things even if it made me anxious.  Now, not so much.

Someone I grew up with in the old neighborhood flies to San Francisco every year all by herself and she thinks of it as her time to heal, re-charge, and be 100% herself.  And I envy her those trips.  I want that for myself.

I’m not used to thinking of doing something and then just doing it without first considering the millions of possibilities and needs of the whole rest of the world.  Without “awfulizing” the whole endeavor first.  Without remembering past failures.  Without remembering past triumphs and thinking, those days are long gone.  And while this sounds like a ponderous process, it actually is so natural and automatic for me that I can do it without even realizing what is happening.

Ah, sweet Clinical Depression and Chronic Anxiety, you are terrible companions and it is high time I break up with you.

The gallery is closed on Mondays so tomorrow is my first opportunity to take what I hope is the first of many such field trips.

I hope that it feels good to do this and to be there.

I really hope this idea means I am turning the next corner.

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Getting Overwhelmed

I woke up “early” today, at 9:39 am to be precise, and I am, in this moment, trying to transition from the anxiety of nighttime to the, hopefully, calm state of daytime.

Sometimes it feels like my brain is my own worst enemy.  For example…

Yesterday turned out pretty cool. A friend and I drove to Rochester to pick up our t-shirts that we will wear when we belly dance on Saturday in a Shimmy Mob for the first and last time. But oh, the stresses attached to this endeavor.

My friend found this program last year when it was too late to sign-up, so we vowed to sign-up this year. In the meantime, we split from our troupe and had to deal with that issue all year.

Naturally, when the time came to sign up for Shimmy Mob, our old troupe suddenly decided to participate here in our little town while we decided to join the team in Rochester. Awkward!

Then the choreography turned out to be a bear to learn, meaning that we had to put our own personal dancing on hold for the past two months. We had questions for our out-of-town team that were hard to get answers for. Well, we could have just stayed with our old troupe for that!

It was looking like everything would be last possible minute and that was quite stressful.

Then yesterday we got word that we could pick up our t-shirts early. Yippee! We would know early if they fit and could actually do something about it if they didn’t. We’d know what color so we could plan accessories accordingly. We could talk to a team member instead of meeting them all for the first time on Saturday. And as a bonus, she lived in a part of the city I have been to frequently, so our trip was uneventful in a good way and I could have that added feeling of accomplishment yesterday.

Every day I wonder if normal people just take things like this in stride and waste not a moment of thought or worry on tasks such as yesterday’s undertaking: The Great T-shirt Unveiling!

Years ago I was one of those people who could just drive to “the city”, meet a new person, get a t-shirt, drive home, and let the experience melt into the past without dwelling on it. How I miss those days and that self.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere in there. Maybe that is a definition of wellness: Doing things with some kind of presence of mind and without getting stuck in the fear and worry.

Saturday will come and go as does every other day of my life. Shimmy Mob will be memorable for what happens and for what I learned. It will turn out to be not as bad as it felt at times while we struggled with someone else’s choreography. And I will have no desire to try it again. Not because it was hard but because my time will be better spent on my own creativity which I tend to put on a back burner far too often in this life.

Then again, nobody knows what next year will be like and maybe it will be something else altogether.

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Progress? Who knows….

Tonight I learned how to make Christmas cards with two friends of mine and about ten other women at our local library.

While checking out one of the card-making stations set up by the instructor, I recognized a woman carrying a cane who came in along with two other younger women.  She was the mother of one of the girls who, in junior high school, made my life a living hell for several months.

At the end of eighth grade and beginning of ninth grade, I was the main character in one of those two-against-one-best-friends-betray-a-weaker-friend-mean-girls-scenarios that you see portrayed in so many movies, TV shows, commercials and… cold-blooded crime shows.

Of course, since it is my story, there is so much more to it than that.  But for now I’d rather just write about tonight.

When I saw the mother walk in, I quickly assessed if her daughter was with her and I didn’t see her at first.  So I thought, good.

It turned out, however, that I was wrong.  As everyone seated themselves for the class and got comfortable, it turned out that indeed, the “evil one” was going to make Christmas cards, too.

It did not occur to me to leave, so we’ll call that progress.  And I did not have an anxiety attack, also progress.  I did decide to avoid being near her, which meant a certain amount of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not too sure how to grade that one.  Maybe it was just some good, old-fashioned self-care.

If I had never met this person before, and knew nothing about her, I’d be under the impression that she was a nice woman who was close to her mother and enjoyed some of the same things I do.  All that might even be true to a certain extent.  I mean, we were actually friends for a time way back when, so there must be something in common.

At any rate, I do know about her.  I know what she is capable of.  I know what I carry around with me to this day because of her and the other girl involved.

People like her are the reason that people like me leave their hometown and never come back.  I did leave for ten years but circumstances brought me back here and now it looks as if I am here to stay.

I actually had her as a customer once at the Terrible Job.  At the time I had no way to avoid waiting on her.  She seemed nervous and hyper and like she was trying to please me.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “Ha!  Your son is in prison.  You raised a violent criminal!  Why am I not surprised?  Your violence led to a second generation of violence.  Ha!”

I expected to see some sign of this tragedy in her face, but there was nothing there for me to see.  I also wanted to see some sign of sorrow or shame for what she did to me way back when.  But again, there was nothing to see.

No, people like her do not carry their own shame.  They carry no sense of responsibility for the effects of their actions on others.  Instead, they give their shame over to their victims.

Over forty years later and I’m still having to deal with such things.

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Ancient Ruins

My choreography friend and I decided to make ourselves official.  We invited two other friends to belly dance with us and we are called the Ancient Ruins.

Of course, with my hearing slowly deteriorating, I thought she wanted to call us the Ancient Runes.  I thought, what a cool name!  We could get T-shirts with our names converted to runic symbols!  A couple weeks previous I’d had a dream that had some letters on a boulder that looked like runes.  I’d been wondering what the dream meant.  It meant I have ESP!

Oh well.  Back to muddling through life without the advantages of fortune telling.

It felt weird at first to go ahead and do this.  It felt disloyal, even though we were among the marginalized dancers.

We did not keep it a secret.  Our long-time teacher knows and she is actually jealous.  Eh, if she wanted a different kind of troupe than what she’s got now, she should have kept a better handle on things.  I’m always so impressed by people who wreck things, or are otherwise uncooperative, then get jealous when the marginalized ones cope by doing their own thing.

People be so messed up!

We are teaching our friends the new dance we choreographed and they are enjoying it.  Because it was designed at a duet, we need to change parts of it to accommodate two more dancers.  All of us are making the changes as equals.  We can spend as much time on it as we want without anyone whining that they are bored.

We also have a new dance in the works already.  One of our new troupe mates had a favorite song that she thought sounded danceable.  She shared it with me and I fell in love with it instantly.  It will be perfect for the kind of choreography we want to do–“Heathens” by Twenty-One Pilots.  I suspect we will start working on it in earnest after the holidays.

In the old troupe, nobody would have given her idea the time of day.  And nobody wanted to learn the dances my friend and I choreographed.

I wonder if all groups kind of fall apart when you go past a certain number of participants.  Four seems to be just right for now.  I can think of two more compatible people we could invite, but then we would outgrow my spare room.

We still have to navigate what we will do with our new troupe.  There will be the possibility of performing at some point.  But I think that is the main thing that changed the other troupe into something I don’t recognize anymore.  It brought out the divas and control freaks and some passive-aggressiveness on top of it all.  Nobody wants that for the Ancient Ruins.

I just want a healthy and nurturing outlet for some creativity and self-expression.  We couldn’t have that anymore with the old troupe.  I plan to participate in their Christmas Hafla in a month.  There will be Mexican food for dinner afterwards.  Then I suspect I’m completely done with it.  My first graceful exit.

 

 

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Graceful Exit

I have belly dance tonight and I don’t want to go.  It has not been fun for me in quite some time.

As usually happens in my life, either I have outgrown them or they have outgrown me.  Usually when that happens, there is a sudden break.  Something ugly happens or I have to just quit and people end up being shocked and hurt.  Bridges get burned.

The graceful exit is something I have had to teach myself.  It’s hard being a bridge burner in a small town!!!  But I didn’t really think I would have to do it with the belly dancing.  Belly dancing,  and this troupe, has meant a lot to me and I just didn’t foresee things evolving the way they have.

There are factions now.  Roughly split between younger and older.  One group wants big venues and recognition.  One group likes the learning and fellowship and exercise.  One group seems able to successfully do both with little stress.  Our teacher wants to be the good guy and try to please all and offend none.  But she really, really is drawn to the big venue and recognition group.  And everybody brings to it personal issues that are as individual as can be.

Then there is me.  I really thought that if I explained myself (and what I need because of my anxiety and what I will try to do to support the group) that it would work.  I imagined that they in turn would help me find my way.

That did not happen.

I am disappointed.  While I am certainly not quitting, I am now on something of a break while I wait for the opportunity that will welcome me within my limitations and help me to thrive in some way.

Tonight I’m going to rehearsal as moral support for my friend who has been left in charge while the teacher is overseas.  Also, I have a finished sewing project to bring in for another dancer.  So, there is that.

One big reason that I have declined to participate in an upcoming big performance, in a very large venue, is that I remembered the incredible stress from last year when much of the troupe made little effort to come to rehearsals, etc.  I vividly remember having to perform a dance that was not polished and it actually flopped.  It was a pretty big venue where we wanted to do really well.  We older ones had begged and begged ahead of time, and warned and warned, but nobody listened.  Everybody acted like it was no big deal, like we were being unreasonable.

When we started up again in the fall, I made several suggestions to fix a couple of the big problems and got dismissed each time.  I shut-up about it.

So, imagine my surprise this year when someone else made the same suggestions and they were embraced!   Of course, now there is much less time to work with.  Those very same dancers are now soooo nervous and verrrry eager to have extra rehearsals.

Oh, at first they said the same old things–it’ll be fine, it’ll all come together, it always does…. Then suddenly they got high standards.  There’s only a few weeks until the gig!!!  And they are starting to be critical of the weaker dancers to the point they don’t want to include them.  Hmmm.  We have always been inclusive before and supportive.  But now that they are calling all the shots, things have changed.

It’s insulting and disappointing.  But I am taking it as a valuable learning experience.  I don’t think I have burned any bridges, though I feel certain that I am being misunderstood.

The graceful exit is not the simple solution I thought it would be.  There is still a lot on my mind and a lot of work to do to salvage something out of this.  I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

 

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Loose Ends

One of the sources of my anxiety is the lack of completion in my life.  Everything is half-started or half-finished or however you want to look at it.  The yard, the house, my hobbies, obligations, wishes, desires.  It’s everywhere I look and everywhere I go.

It’s overwhelming.

I made a decision that I would start finishing things.  It didn’t matter what it was or how small a project.  The idea was that finishing things would be satisfying.  Satisfaction would ease my anxiety.  And so I began my quest.

There was a bag of baby yarn that had been bothering me for a couple years.  There was a couple of untouched skeins in there and many scraps and partial skeins wound into balls.  Uneven amounts of each colors.  Some with sparkle and some were plain.  But I looked in the bag and determined there was enough yarn to make one baby blanket.  If I made the blanket now, then when someone has a baby, I already have a gift.  If no baby is born in my circle for a couple of decades, then I have a gift for my first great-grandchild.  I finished the blanket a couple weeks ago and it did feel so very satisfying.

Next project was going to be a cross stitch throw.  I pulled out the bag it was in expecting to organize myself for a few minutes and begin.  Ha!  Inside that project were six more tucked away.  Damn!  For some reason, I put away the throw and selected a bell pull instead.  It was farther along, so perhaps that is why I picked it for completion.

That project is fairly aggravating but I’m working on it every day anyway and interspersing it with tinier projects so I don’t lose hope.

One of those tinier projects is a pillow I set aside about twenty years ago.  Yep, it has been sitting in a drawer for twenty years.  I pulled it out with fresh eyes and thought to myself, are you kidding???  It was almost finished!  Why in the world did you put it away???  It took me all of 15 minutes to sew the edges, stuff it, and close up the opening.  Yes, this is what I’m dealing with.

It turns out I was right about this being a way to heal my anxiety.  I feel satisfied and accomplished.  I feel encouraged and motivated.  My mind is feeling a bit like its old self.  There are times during each day that I actually look forward to some aspect of my life.

If I weren’t as healed as I am, this would probably not be possible yet, this tying-up of loose ends.  Basic self-care is crucial when it comes to mental illness.  A certain amount of healing is necessary to be able to move forward even a little bit.  Permitting myself to live this way is an important component.  Not judging myself is very important as well.

So there was ground-work that had to be laid in order for me to take this next step.  And this step, this finishing of things, is also part of the healing package.  It brings me back to myself, who I used to be and what I used to do.

I lost myself over the years.  I became completely externally focused.  I didn’t know how to do my life any other way and I did that until I had nothing left to give.

How glad I am that I am no longer living like that.  I will never again live my life that way.  Before, disappointing others was the worst thing I could do.  Now, disappointing myself would be the worst thing I could do.

Today’s project to finish was a very tiny one indeed.  We have a cupboard with a very stiff door on it.  The knob was hard to grip so opening the door was a pain all these years we have lived in this house.  I went to the hardware store, bought a new ceramic knob with a good edge on it, came home, and installed it in one minute.  Voila!  The cupboard door is no longer hard to open.  Since it’s where I keep some of my half-finished projects, I can be proud of myself and satisfied every time I open that door from now on.

I think I came up with a good plan for myself.

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Enough Time Goes By

Last night my belly dance troupe held its annual Christmas Hafla (belly dance gathering).  We’ve had about five of them.  This year was our third one held a local bar that one of our dancers works at.

I was so keyed-up beforehand that I felt nauseous.  As many times as I have performed in public, that sickish feeling seems to be necessary on some level.  Maybe it is a gathering of all my energies.  It passes once the food is set up and the pool table moved out of the way and the music starts and we are dancing.

There was something different about how I felt, though, compared to previous years.  I felt more centered in my body.  There was less of a “people pleasing” element to me just being there.  More of a detachment.

I think it was a healthy detachment.  More of a “this is where I leave off and that is where you begin” kind of detachment.

Usually I do a lot of nervous laughing in between songs and sometimes even during a dance.  That didn’t happen last night.  Yet, I can say I did have fun.  Less laughing and more being actually present in the moment.

My choreography partner and I performed the dance we choreographed ourselves this year and we received a lot of positive feedback.  I felt really strong while dancing it.

We finished our second choreography this week.  It goes with a Christmas song and we had hoped to have it ready for the Hafla.  But there just wasn’t enough time.  We will polish it to perfection and unveil it next Christmas.  No pressure!!!

So anyway, this is one more example of the kind of progress I have made this year in comparison to where I was last Christmas season.  It is reassuring to have something to measure in a journey that is all about going with the flow.  These things take a lot of time and I am fortunate to be able to spend my time in this way.

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