The Beautiful Writers Workshop #9: Mental Floss

My daughter and I recently had an interesting discussion due to a class assignment on mental health concerning OCD, depression, and various other mental challenges. Trying to explain some of the behaviors and levels of severity made me think about my own quirks and habits that can be both positive and bordering on detrimental.

 

Creativity comes with certain mental “flourishes” that often translate into some pretty tortured souls out there, creating brilliant works of art, whether it be through paint, words, sculpture or music. In fact, I think society tends to think one almost must be tortured in some way to create.

I was listening to an interesting podcast with Florence, from Florence and The Machine, and along with her brilliant Scottish accent I was captivated by her story of alcoholism and how she used to think she had to drink to be creative. That she had to suffer, and to be spiraling down to really get to the good stuff of the soul and write music that mattered.

But then she sobered up and realized that it actually got easier to write without the heavy chained idea that suffering is the only way to make meaningful art.

It got me to thinking about how we can turn the chaos inside, into something beautiful by not fearing it. By not suppressing it or numbing it. By accepting the quirk that is you.

It’s like the person with OCD who uses their energies to post-it the hell out of an outline instead of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” five-hundred times.

It’s all about how we use our quirks.

This week’s workshop is about finding your quirk. I don’t just want the strange dance you do when you walk through a spiderweb kind of quirk. I want the chronic kind. The one that makes you desperate for a piece of wood to knock on when the slightest terrifying thought crosses your mind. Or that makes you have to park in the same spot at the grocery store, every time.

Write a bit about your quirk, then go a level deeper and see what comes up. Why do you think you do it? Do you remember when it started? What fear drives it? What desire does it fulfill or captivate inside of you?

How can you shift it to work towards your advantage in your life and in your writing?

If you can’t think of anything, can you use your quirk IN writing as a character trait and follow how it changes your character’s life, behavior, and relationships. Write a poem about it and get past the grizzle and into the bone, or find the ridiculous humor of it to laugh at.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy and we often discover things we didn’t know were hiding in there. You aren’t required to share, but allow yourself to hurdle over the fear and discomfort to know thyself a bit better. Turn your downward spirals into whirlwind of thought and brilliance. See you next week.

The Beauty of Quiet

You can feel it, like a vibrating pulse, constantly surrounding us. It’s in the buzz of the lights, the ringing of phones, the blip of messenger, the ping of news alerts. It’s the hum of electrical devices and the glow of screens. It’s a blanket of noise and light, sound and motion. It’s the modern, ‘marvelous’ world we live in.

And it’s killing us.

Our brains are beautiful machines, designed to process incoming information from our senses and filtered through our own experiences and knowledge until they are the equivalent of a constantly running mainframe that makes millions of decisions a day, from a billion different choices and scenarios. And we live in a world where the information is at hand in any moment we desire, from thousands of different outlets and devices, constantly spewing out anything you’d like to know and most things you wish you didn’t.

And yet our brain no longer knows itself.

With a constant barrage of noise and information from outside along with the endless distractions permanently affixed into the palm of our hands, we have lost our ability to know who we really are and what is really important to us.

After all, without quiet alone time, our thoughts and therefore our minds become products of all that we take in. Without solitude for true self-reflect, unplugging, and just being in our own heads, we become part of the noise, this capitalist driven machine that has stopped questioning what it really means to be happy. Implanting ideas of material wealth and social forum acceptance as the cure all to the emptiness we feel.

We are too busy, we are too distracted, we are devoid of personal and private time. Our lives have become fishbowls; both open for inspection from anyone paying attention and also offering 360-degree views of everyone else’s business.

When was the last time you took 15 minutes of complete silence, without any external distraction?

Don’t have the time? It’s equivalent to about two Facebook checks, three cute cat videos, or two over-polarized news articles.

Don’t think silence makes a difference?

In a study published by Psychology Today, quiet contemplation was proven to dramatically improve our brain’s ability to sleep more soundly, stave off depression and anxiety, improve cognitive and behavioral function and even help fight chronic pain.

(Ahmad, S. (2019, July 17). Meditation and Mental Health. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health)

We all know what happens when a computer overheats. Shit starts to go wrong.

Very wrong.

Depression and anxiety have never been at higher levels. Everyone on this planet is walking around with their nose stuck to screens waiting for the world to tell us what to value, what to be, what to feel…Waiting to tell us that we’re good enough. When the only person we should be seeking these answers from is ourselves.

I know it’s a little ironic to be preaching a sermon on getting off your tech from the pulpit of a blog. It doesn’t escape me that I’m keeping you here for some of those minutes we waste. But I’m doing it as a public service.

Get off your screen, take a break from the games, and social media, and frenzy of sound and light.

Because while the outside world is distracting you with all of its splendor, you’re missing the really beautiful stuff, the REAL stuff, that resides right in your own head. Go have a thought. All on your own. Follow it around for a bit without Google force-feeding you the answers.

Please. For your health, for the health of this planet and all human beings, do this thing.

Living beautifully means living. Not just watching fabricated life from the strangest social experiment ever concocted, but really spending time with yourself, with face to face conversations, with the space to breathe and let go of all that nonessential bullshit and make peace in the quiet.

Soul Nap

Hello after a much needed hiatus, I hope that the last few weeks have been grand for you all. I was on a little vacation and decided to allow my normal schedule to soften a bit in all aspects of my life. Writing fell by the wayside, I slept in and skipped out on the morning miles. I just let myself be.

Those are the times that do us strangely good. Now, granted, you can’t stay in that kind of state if you hope to advance your work in progress or be prepared for that fastly-approaching relay race (yikes, maybe I should have ran a little more…) But the respite is an important part of any successful endeavor. I don’t actually know if that’s scientifically proven, but I do know about burnout and I know the only way to avoid it is to rest once in a while.

Plus, life is short…we should pause to enjoy it occasionally instead of hurrying ourselves into the grave.

One of the best things resting can do, is reorient yourself to the quietness inside. When the demands of the world are so loud and the shoulds, and have-tos, and oughts are always at the forefront we often forget what it is we really want. We forget to check in and see if what we’re doing is really what we need to be doing. What we want to be doing. Does it serve our happiness? Or someone else’s?

I’m not sure if it’s viable for you, but I encourage you as a writer, a parent, an athlete, or whatever label you’ve had slapped on your ass, to step back once in a while. Even if it’s just taking a ‘mental health’ day from work to change up your routine. Purposefully don’t do what you always do. Refuse. Resist. Sit quietly with the only person that’s really in control of your situation (no not the toddler, I know it feels that way, but…)

Reacquaint yourself with you.

It can be kind of harrowing. The quiet removal of all you ‘live for’ in a day has the effect of taking a car seat out of the back of your car after a year. You might see a lot of trash and rotting debris beneath all that was so ‘necessary’ (quotes are for effect of the comparison…car seats are TOTALLY NECESSARY). The clear space of you that’s been neglected for a long time. Sometimes that space has been neglected for so long that it, itself, has become rotted and unstable. And with that can come the clarity of why everything that rests on it, all the things you do in a day, feel like they’ll topple over at any second.

A neglected core is unstable ground for building a life.

It can be scary to find that what you once clung to so fiercely is not really what you want deep down. You can’t heal that wound until you clean it all out, study it, and treat it. Life leaves us scars in this way. Places we’ve been, people we’ve loved, that no longer make sense to the path that’s at the true core of our center. They may even throw our center completely off for other areas of our lives. So cull the herd. Start from the bottom and build new dreams, new goals, that fulfill what you need today, not five-ten-twenty years ago.

Don’t forget human, you’re meant to change over the years.

Get deep. Get dark. Get to know yourself again, then work your way up.

How Dark; How Frightening

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” 
― Elie Wiesel

 

 

I’m back after a short hiatus.

I could bore you all day with the details of how much mucous I’ve been producing, and how little sleep this incessant cough has left me. The sinus pain, like a vice grip against my cheeks and teeth. How little the pills, and vapors, and natural cures have cured.

But there’s something darker that reared its head last week as result of this bug.

I’ve suffered a lot of mental hiccups. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and all the twisted coping mechanisms that come with them, have been the monsters in my closet for a while now. But something else slunk out, ironically, in the midst of my attempts to get well.

Apathy.

I’m not talking about your general and passing lack of fucks to give.

I can’t explain to you how frightening it was to feel nothing. To have no care. Ordinarily, this might be a good thing for me, a way to let go, if you will, of the petulant details and relax for once. But this kind of apathy left me in a strange state. I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t eat. I stopped caring that I wasn’t sleeping. I fell into a lull wherein the idea of quitting my job, retreating from friends and relationships, and even throwing myself in front of a truck didn’t seem like such a big deal.

I just didn’t care. I felt so utterly numb that I didn’t recognize being in my own body or  the life that surrounded.

And it scared the shit out of my rational self, who sat locked in a store room in the back of my brain during this apathy’s hostile takeover.

It was like having my mind overtaken by The Nothing. You remember, don’t you? The Nothing?The Nothing2

Maybe, if you’re into more modern day SCIFI/FANTASY you could say it was like the Alliance Conspiracy on the planet Miranda. Nothingness. A utter and complete lack of care.

Miranda

 

What made this feeling worse than other things I’ve felt, was its lack of any dramatic or shocking arrival. It was only a calm letting go of everything–so easily laid over me that it seemed nothing ever really mattered to begin with.

Worse than black. All was gray.

Then I stopped taking the little clear pill that was supposed to suppress my cough. And the gray receded, like a wave pulling back from the shore. Just enough, that I remembered to take out the trash. That I felt hungry enough to eat something. That I cared enough to engage in my children’s lives again, and get the mail.

It took me a while to understand what had happened. That a combination of lack of sleep and fighting a virus, and the pressures of life, my hairbreadth distance from depression, and that little suppressive pill were like a team of anti-heros that kidnapped me for a few days.

I started to wonder if maybe the things that drive us to fight so hard (or even cough), even when its a stupid and pointless battle (and sometimes pops your hernia out or makes you pee yourself), shouldn’t be suppressed.

Because maybe the instinct that makes us react to even small things is a switch that could turn off our fight for and against the big things.

I don’t know where you are in your life, in your creative process, in your flu season. But I wanted to offer you a few key things I learned in hopes they can help you fight off any oncoming Nothingness in your own world.

1.) Stay grounded. With something, anything, that is important and true in your life. Maybe your family, or your job, or your art. Maybe it’s something as simple as your breath. Just keep yourself tethered to that one true thing. So you don’t lose sight of all true things.

2.) Know your body. I get a little head heavy on this blog, and that’s ok, but remember that our brains are organs too and when the body is out of balance and we’re throwing weights on either side of the scale, willy-nilly, things can get out of whack really fast. Listen to your body. It’s okay to be tired, its okay to rest. But it’s not okay to be consciously asleep with indifference.

3.) If you suffer from a mental illness, you should probably make sure your doctor knows before they prescribe you anything, even a simple expectorant. I’m not sure if my reaction was common, or just a fluke, but I’d hate to think what could have happened in a more severe scenario.

4.) Be better than me. When you feel this, if you feel this…please reach out to someone, hug on your babies, go to coffee with that friend, reconnect even when you don’t see the point. That little rational slice of brain locked in the cleaning closet will recognize it, cling to it, and hopefully use it to pick the lock.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Heavy stuff. Leave your comments, questions, experiences below. I look forward to talking to you again…soon. And I mean that.