Imperfection is fascinating. It is how we notice difference. It is what the mind picks up on. Our minds find imperfection interesting.
Everything is in flux. Our worlds change and decay. We cannot stop this and we cannot hide from it. We cannot be perfect. We can be present for it. This is the only refuge. Perfection can not be attained and it won’t bring calm to our agitated minds. We can only move with the changing reality.
This piece was inspired by Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
We can try to find shelter in our own inner shadow. Sometimes this is comforting for a short while, although it can keep us from facing the brightness outside our own illusions. We can’t keep the light out.
Observation is inherently existential. It is communication about our experience of our existence. I find it impossible to separate the two no matter how mundane an object I choose to paint. The human form is not mundane – especially not to humans- yet it is ordinary. It is something we all possess. And everything about this fact is interesting. This is existing and this is experiencing.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe
Anxiety is a topic that I struggle to talk about. But I do believe it is an important one because so many people in our society suffer from anxiety disorders. It is estimated that 18% of the US adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can be so destructive and disruptive. They can completely paralyse a person. I struggle to talk about it or face it because I feel like I would be stigmatized or shunned. It makes me feel weak and pathetic. Yet, I would never think somebody else was weak or pathetic if they were to talk to me about their mental illness. So I decided I would write a post about my experience with anxiety just to put it out there.
I have been suffering from a bout of Anxiety – or an Anxiety Attack- for the past two weeks. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which means that I am constantly anxious but it varies in severity and the past two weeks have been horrible. It has been so difficult to keep my routine and even more difficult to stick to things outside of it. And every time I have not been able to live up to my inevitable expectations of how things will go or how they should be or how I should just be able to deal with it, I have felt like a failure. This perfectionism was driving the anxiety even more. I was struggling to be mindful of what was happening and I just wanted to escape it all. So I have been struggling to work. My house has become a disaster zone. Some mornings I couldn’t even get dressed and driving anywhere became almost imposable. Yet I had to do it. This is a very frightening and debilitating feeling.
You can easily end up comparing yourself to all the other people who don’t find it difficult to do these things. I have been sitting in my studio but nothing would happen. Nothing would come. And if I did work I would just immediately destroy it. I couldn’t even look at it. I have written many blog post attempts in this past week and then deleted those. I tried to write about other topics. Topics that weren’t Anxiety related but this was impossible.
How Anxiety feels:
It started with an ominous feeling. Something in the atmosphere seems to vibrate at a high frequency, never ceasing. This annoying buzz that seemed to be outside of me was interfering with my mind. My stomach started to churn and then it was as though my mind started to search for the reason for this feeling. My body seemed to start the fight, flight or freeze response before I had consciously recognized that I had something to worry about. I can’t place the trigger and then I start searching my mind for it: for some rationalization for this feeling of impending doom.
This means that I often end up making up reasons for this feeling. Or I can’t place it and so I end up feeling very paranoid about every little thing. Every response from other people is weighed. Can they be trusted?
I was so frustrated because I was exercising and meditating and even taking my medication. I was doing everything ‘right’ but this state wouldn’t go away and I started to feel as though I might slip deeper and deeper.
Six things I have learnt to be true about Anxiety:
After so many years of dealing with this I have realized that I always make the same mistakes and then it spirals out of control. So I decided to focus on the things I know:
1. I am being irrational. The fact that I feel incompetent and mistrustful is just a symptom of the anxiety. It does not mean that it is true.
2. This feeling will subside. It will inevitably feel better after time and being a perfectionist and getting depressed about it will only aggravate it.
3. I must keep my routine. Even if I get nothing done it helps to just sit in my space and just be. I need to keep the structure otherwise things spiral into a feeling of instability. But it is ok if nothing actually is done during this routine. I just need to show up. This is incredibly difficult and that is ok.
4. I must not isolate myself. I tend to become a hermit when I feel like I am a huge burden to other people. But this can easily become a situation where I become so lonely and focussed on ruminating that it leads to a deepening of the Anxiety and even switches into Depression.
5. Anxiety will always be there. It is not something you can fight or suppress. Sometimes it will bubble up stronger and sometimes it will be somewhere under the surface. But will show up and it will always be there.
6.Mindfulness is not a cure. Meditation, Mindfulness as well as exercise, medication and other stress relieving ’tools’ are there to help manage the Anxiety. They help a lot but Anxiety will still show up every now and again. In my experience these attacks are less frequent and less severe and I have a different view of it because of the lifestyle changes I have made.
I focussed on these and just tried – sometimes successfully and sometimes not – to keep my routine. And it calmed down. I always feel somewhat anxious but right now it is manageable.
If you have somebody in your life who suffers from an Anxiety Disorder remember that they are aware that it is irrational. They are aware of how they come across.
The best thing to do is just to be understanding because then you become a safe space. This does not mean enabling or indulging avoident behavior. It just means that this person will be able to relax a little bit and break the cycle a little. Don’t shun their experience. They know how it sounds.
Do you or someone in your life have an Anxiety Disorder? How do you deal with it? I would love to hear about it.
Some new works are appearing as I keep working. I made one commitment: keep working.
The idea is to get up every day, start again and just keep going – whether inspiration strikes or not.
For a very long time I avoided having anything to do with the topic of Creativity or even Art. This seems strange as I am an artist and have been doing art for so long. The reason – I suspect- may be because I was rebelling a little. After having Art and Creativity as the focus in my life since the age of two (when I started my formal art education) and then going on to studying it for 4 years at University: twenty years had added up and I think I was tired of the subject. And I felt somewhat disillusioned. I felt like I hadn’t gained what I expected to gain from all the academics. I was lost. How do I carry on on my own?
What I hadn’t really ever been taught was the practice itself. The ‘how to’ of being an artist.I found a roundabout way back to my practice. By reading books on Mindfulness, mindset, Minimalism and a myriad of other – seemingly unrelated – topics like Physics, Evolution and parenting. Yet all of this information and self help seems to show a pattern – at least to my pattern seeking mind- everything in incremental. We need to keep building one brick at a time and eventually we have our dwelling. So obvious. But it has taken me a decade since studying to understand this.
Last year I read the bookDaily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. This was the first time, since studying, that I had read a book about Art. I think what attracted me was that it is not theoretical or philosophical. It is just describing the rituals and routines of some of the most creative people in history. It is not telling me why or who I should be but showing me how others do it.
This book had an amazing impact. These people had such ordinary, sometimes simple and even, from the outside, boring lives of repetition.
I realized that my need for routine was actually the right route to take. I seemed to have been sold the idea that my life needed to be filled with all these other whimsical things to make it exciting to bring out my creativity. Yet all I wanted to do was sit and work and drink tea. I wanted a boring routine with space and quiet and time.
This book showed me that this instinct I had was not just some silly desire but that it was and is absolutely essential for a creative life. Just as it is for my four year old – some wisdom from the parenting books! I had to develop a routine. This is the basis for creating and sustaining this reality I longed to pursue.
I now view my art as a practice. It is something I do regardless of whether I feel like it or not, regardless of the perceived success or failure I am experiencing and regardless of the amount of inspiration I feel.
Now I am also adding my blog to my routine. (I have changed it a little – you may have noticed!). After quite a long silence, I feel the need to share some of my thoughts and processes. I hope that they might be of some relevance to you. Either way: you are welcome on this journey.
I have been very productive lately. This also means that I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t been doing much besides painting.
Productivity has always been quite a challenge for me. It has taken many years to figure out all the barriers. First I needed to understand what was holding me back from doing the one thing I have always felt was my calling. Why couldn’t I paint when that was all I was thinking about?
I seem to have come across 3 key productivity boosters for myself and hopefully some other people.
1. Be your own best boss.
This may seem obvious but it took me a really long time to understand that when you are self-employed you are your own boss. You are not bossless. What helped me was understanding what kind of boss I would like to work for. I read an article on how to manage my personality type at work. At first I thought: “so glad I am not a manager or an employee! Whew!” Suddenly it all made sense. I was a manager and an employee. And I was being the worst boss possible to and for my personality type (INFP). I was critically breaking down every single thought or attempt I made to create. This was a bad boss – especially for someone like me! This obviously creates a spiral where I would become a worse employee and in turn be a meaner boss. If I had to be anybody else’s boss I would never dream of treating them this way- it is quite unnatural for me to be mean. So I changed my style of managing myself. And voila! I have become a really good employee. I would really recommend finding out how your personality type might influence how you would be best managed.
2. Block off work time without interruptions.
I have managed to put aside a few hours every day where I can work without being interrupted. I need to be completely isolated to be affective.
Even if I feel uninspired I will, at least, sit in my studio. Just being there often gets me working.
3. Have other people handle the the things that you are not good at.
I realised a while back that one of the biggest stumble points for me was trying to do all the different tasks of running my own business. All I really want to do is create things. All the other aspects like selling art, marketing, admin and dealing with people were strangling me so much that I couldn’t make art. They were big stressors that left me paralysed. And then I joined a gallery – Which in itself was a challenge for me – and it changed everything. Now, except for the occasional commission, I only make art.