2015AP Week 4 – Meditation

I get frustrated when I hear the word “meditation”. Usually I hear it when I am being given advice that I don’t want. I have depression. It seems to be the atypical, doesn’t-really-respond-to-medication-and-lasts-forever-kind. I am constantly told that I should meditate. It will relieve stress and negative thoughts and I’ll feel so much better. I appreciate that people are only trying to be helpful when they say this, but they always make it sound like such a simple solution. As if I hadn’t thought of this before or depression is that easy to cure. No doubt, meditation works for a lot of people. It wouldn’t be so popular if it weren’t the case. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t worked for me. It’s not for lack of trying either. I’ve tried various forms of meditation to no avail. I usually end up upset with myself because I can’t do it properly. The closest I have come to succeeding is in karate. The style I did incorporated several sort of moving meditations called katas. They were a series of punches, kicks and blocks that were preformed in succession. It cleared my head because there was no time to think. You had to move so quickly and accurately with strength behind each move. You focused on your muscles and movements, not your thoughts. That cleared my head. It wasn’t exactly relaxing though. It really got my heart pumping.

The week 4 exercise in the 2015 Art Project was a meditation which I wasn’t overly thrilled about. I’m not anti-meditation and it was only 8 minutes, so I thought I’d give it a try. To my surprise, I actually did enjoy it. Instead of providing an art journal prompt for this week, Victoria suggested we do an interpretation from the meditation. I think that’s why I enjoyed it more than I usually do. Instead of going into the meditation with the goal of clearing my mind and relaxing (which is near impossible for me), I went in with the goal of coming up with an art journal idea. That small shift in focus allowed me to focus on what was being said and the imagery to go with it. In doing that, I forgot everything else in my brain and I actually did relax. Maybe I have meditation performance anxiety, haha.

Part of the meditation was to picture an animal by a waterfall in a forest. That’s the part I decided to do as a journal page. The animal I saw was a unicorn. I’ve been on a bit of a unicorn kick lately, so that is probably why. I used “burlap” Distress Ink in the background and gesso’d over the areas for the unicorn and waterfall. The tree branches were created with a stencil using “burlap” and “tea dye” Distress Inks. The land, waterfall and rainbow were coloured with watercolour pencil crayons and activated with water. The mist at the bottom of the waterfall has some neocolor II crayon in it. The unicorn is mostly just white gesso. I outlined her with silver Sharpie paint pen and did her mane and tail with pink Sharpie paint pen. The shadows on her body are grey crayon. I outlined the unicorn in white neocolor to give the impression she was glowing.

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Another part of the meditation was to lie in the water and let our worries wash away. I decided to scrawl all my current worries into the waterfall with gel pens to make the water look like it was moving. It didn’t really work, but I tried at least. The spread still feels a little unfinished, but I am out of ideas for the moment. I feel like the upper right area could use something…a quote maybe? I’ll add to it later if I come up with anything.

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M is for The Monster in my Head

Monster in your head

Contrary to popular belief, depression doesn’t need a trigger. I had a perfectly normal, storybook childhood. I have had your basic chick-flick type relationships. I’ve never really been through a traumatic experience. Yes, I have experienced loss, but that is a necessary part of life. This is the most frustrating part, there is no logical explanation for my depression. In my case it’s just there.monster shadow

I think of it as a monster living inside my head. Sometimes it’s asleep, but it’s always there. The worst part is, it’s self-sufficient.  It feeds itself with negative thoughts which causes me to doubt myself and my abilities. That feeds the monster even more and it just cycles like that, getting bigger and bigger and more out of control. This makes me want to hide from the world. Stick my head under the covers and hope that I disappear. This only makes the monster even stronger. How am I supposed to fight back?

I have to get out of my head. I have to change gears. I usually don’t have the motivation or energy, but I know it’s the only way to shut the monster up. I’ve learned that it is important to acknowledge how you feel and not avoid it or repress it. It is easier to use maladaptive strategies like sleep, drugs, alcohol or self-harm. These strategies relieve or distract you from your pain quickly, so they are often favourable, but they just end up causing more problems in the end.

What are some healthy strategies to deal with the monster in your head?

Exercise. It’s true. The hardest part is getting yourself to do it. Once you’ve gotten in to it for 5-10 minutes, the endorphins in your body take over. Cardio is usually the best form of exercise for depression because it gets the feel-good chemicals flowing the most quickly. If you don’t have enough energy for serious cardio, take a walk. You’ll get fresh air, new scenery, and it still raises your heart rate a bit. A healthy dose of vitamin D never hurt depression either.

Talk. I’m not very good at this one, but some people are. Talk to some you trust, who wont judge you. If you are alone, you can write your feelings down, or use social media to vent. I know some people get upset when people post negativity on blogs, facebook or twitter, but if that’s how you need to express yourself, so be it. I’d rather have your negative comments pop up in my twitter feed than have you harm yourself.

Meditate. It’s great if you are able to do it. If not, there are forms of moving meditation like juggling and martial arts. If you are religious, there’s prayer. Deep breathing and visualizing a calm place can work too. Focusing on rhythmic breathing or repetitive movement requires a great deal of attention, enough to move your brain away from the negative thoughts.

Engage. Be around people. Conversation and activity with other people can prevent you from over-thinking. You are also less likely to use one of the maladaptive strategies I mentioned earlier when you are around people.

Watch a movie or read a book. Focusing on the story line can often turn your thoughts. Reading involves scanning eye movements. Research has shown that these movements have a calming effect on the brain and reduce the effects of negative thoughts. Didn’t know that did you? It’s a new type of psychotherapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Originally it was used to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome, but it’s now being adapted for depression.

K is for Kata

I don’t have much talent when it comes to athletics. I never tried out for team sports. I avoided teams for fear of letting my teammates down. I wasn’t good enough anyway. Besides, I preferred individual sports like skiing, swimming and running. When I was diagnosed with depression, I was told to do yoga. The exercise and the meditation would be good for me. I gave it an honest try, but yoga was too slow for me. It left me alone in my head for too long. Never a good idea.

I had given up on the exercise and meditation for help with my depression until I discovered karate. It was perfect for me. Karate has lots of bonuses for the average person. It’s a good workout, you learn self-defense and discipline and it improves mental outlook. There are added bonuses for people with depression. On a bad day, you need something to engage you. Karate can do that, it gives you reasonable goals that you can advance toward and achieve. This, in turn, improves your confidence.

I got all of these benefits from practicing karate. I also learned to do something I was never able to do before….meditation. Not the kind of meditation you are thinking of though. It’s kind of a moving meditation. Kyokushinkaikan was the style of karate I did. This style incorporates kata. Kata are detailed choreographed patterns of movement, kind of like a dance, but the moves are blocks, punches and kicks. These kata required dynamic movement, speed and strength. Once you learned them it was like a form of meditation. My body memorized the movements and I was moving too quickly to think about anything else. Finally, I found a way to turn my brain off and truly relax. It was wonderful. I was kicking some depression ass!

Have you noticed? I’m saying was. I got up to the level of brown belt in Kyokushinkaikan before I had to stop. I started graduate school and it kind of sucked up all my time and money. I’m slowly forgetting the moves, but I still run through the kata as best I can when I need to clear my head. It still works. 🙂

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