ARTICLES:

Art is the Scenic Route

Life As I Know It Now

My Non-Linear Experiences in 2009

How I formed a Support Group

Book Review:
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

The Creation of Community for My Stability

 

 

ARTWORK:

Self Portrait 2017

Art is the Scenic Route
By Agent K.
[major depression, bipolar, schizo-affective]

During this journey called Life, I have found that Art is my best therapy tool.

No matter what kind of mood I am in from good to sad to almost manic, Art is there with no judgments on me. It is for me, a release. Thus I have filled journals with my creative flow.

Being a self-taught artist, I am always trying out new techniques that I hear about or just imagine in my own head. This is immensely satisfying because it is something I can create in my world that takes on a life of its own. And if I can reproduce it, it is something I can share with other Artists. Alas, much of my work is a one-time experiment of techniques and ideas.

I can work out issues in Art like no other way of expression. Art doesn't argue with me. It does let me know when something isn't going as planned, but often, those times are the best because there is no filter on me or the subject at hand, which in the end, results in a piece of work that is an expression of my inner self. Art is therapeutic because it often allows me to access that still, small voice that says that everything is really alright. In my experience, Art is a way to put into the world all or at least part of what is going on inside my head, thus allowing me to be free of it for a little while. And also, when I release the Art into the world it allows me to see my issues in a new light; which may allow me to let go of them a little more, if not completely.

Art to me is about seeing things differently. I often see things that others miss. I see the mother and child playing in the whiskery lines of an abstract painting. I see the connection between a dress which has cats in tea-cups on it with Umbridge from Harry Potter. I see the train tracks that form a ladder. Seeing things different from the expected is often helpful when dealing with my diagnosis of schizo-affective. I have worked on allowing things to look however they will to me. I have used self-talk to re-frame those things I see which in the past would have caused high anxiety. I can now talk myself through episodes which in the recent past would have debilitated me.

Currently, one of the creative outlets I employ is making greeting cards. Not just for birthdays or thank-yous. I make seasonal cards once every three months. There are about 30 cards that I send out during Spring, Summer and Autumn. And about 70 cards for the Winter season. Therefore, I am working on the cards for 2.5 months. But the planning part takes up to a year in advance to get a good design going and all of the materials sourced. These cards are for friends and family. I have not invested in making cards to sell. A main reason that I have not made cards to sell, is that I like to do very limited batches and one-of-a-kind cards. It also is a part of me that I have not learned to share in a for-profit way. I have not yet learned to detach from my artwork enough to allow others to claim it for their own.

Art as therapy is the scenic route for me. As I continue along this pathway I am glad to have had this chance to share with you something that you too can do. Find your creative outlet and take the scenic route to recovery.

 

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Life As I Know It Now
By Agent K.
[major depression, bipolar, schizo-affective]

I have been living with my diagnoses for all of my life. However, it is just since 2009 that I have known what they are called and what they mean for me in my life.

Having major depression, to me, is like living with the constant urge to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep for days and days. Sometimes that urge wins, and I do stay in bed for a day. Sometimes, I even cry because it is so difficult to imagine that I can get out of bed and do something productive, even if it is feeding myself, or heaven-help-me, take a shower. Other times I am content to just lie in bed and read an entire book in one day, not paying any attention to time flying by. Most of the time I battle that urge to go back to bed and am able to maintain a modicum of living peacefully, fed and showered and awake.

Bipolar means that I am on an emotional roller-coaster. With that roller-coaster sometimes going up and down as fast as every few minutes and other times going up for three or four days and then down for the next week. And yes, it is true, often when I am up, I go on spending sprees. Then getting down because of all the money I spent when I was up. But it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes I am up and only pay my bills and sometimes I am down and only worried whether my cat has been fed that day.

Living with schizo-affective means that I see and hear things that others do not and that it affects my emotions usually in an anxiety producing manner. Anxiety, pacing, and not sitting in office chairs while waiting for my Doctor's visit are common occurrences. Also, seeing cars from 1965 and feeling that I may be time traveling. Or hearing people talking in slang from 1973 and feeling like I could be anywhen. These occurrences often produce emotions so intense that it is hard to sit still, or breathe, or live. But I do. I talk myself through it. Little by little, I calm down, stop seeing those things as triggers, and I sit still, I breathe and I live.

All of these symptoms affect my life as I know it now. A life which I live one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time.

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My Non-Linear Experiences in 2009
by Agent K.
[major depression, bipolar, schizo-affective]

The excruciating mind-pain that happens when I step on a manhole cover wreaks havoc with my emotions as I wait, intensely listening and watching for the time-shift. I have been time travelling since 2009. Less so these past four years, but it still happens occasionally.

In the summer of 2009 while I was homeless, I jarringly discovered that I was having a non-linear journey. My perceptions of time were greatly altered. Not only would time speed up extraordinarily or slow down significantly within hours of each other, but I experienced decades' differences. These experiences happened soon after I had stepped upon a manhole cover.

During that summer I was often taken to ER by the ambulance. Many 'Good Samaritans' were calling 911 on my behalf, believing they were helping me. One of those ambulance trips was in 1978. The black male nurse had spectacles that were a square shape and the thickness of glass cola-bottoms. In the ambulance I saw a small computer monitor screen in the black and green of the 1978-era Apple II. This ambulance took me to a hospital whose doctors treated me as if it was 1950, citing that I was suffering from 'hysteria'. They let me go even though my husband did not arrive to pick me up. (This, I believe, is one reason I was taken to the hospital in the first place, they could not reach my husband via phone).

On another occasion that summer (not long after trodding on a manhole cover), I was in downtown Seattle at a pay-telephone (a rarity in 2009) trying to dial my sister using a pre-paid phone card she had sent to me. The automated message asked me how many 'units' I was going to use. I knew this was an odd question, but I responded in the dollar amount listed on the card. The phone was eventually connected to my sister who lives in another state. As I was talking to my sister, I realized that she had said the exact same words in the exact same order to me the previous time I had talked with her. We were disconnected due to insufficient 'units'. When I turned around and looked at all three lanes full of cars pouring down the street toward me, I realized that they were very shiny and extraordinarily different looking than any car I had seen to date. Thus, combining the odd pay-phone automated voice asking me how many 'units' I wanted to use and these new cars, I concluded that I was in the future, maybe not far into the future, but definitely not 2009.

I soon met a person on the street that called themselves John Third-Eye. They asked me a question to which I responded “How do I...” As I was searching to find the words to finish the question they replied “...stop time-traveling?” I said “Yes!” They told me to just observe the scenery and enjoy each moment. Ever since that directive, my extraordinary non-linear experiences have slowly dissipated.

I still avoid manhole covers if at all possible, but when not possible, I wait, intensely listening and watching for the time-shift.

 

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How I Formed a Support Group
by Agent K.
[major depression, bipolar, schizo-affective]

In the fall of 2012 some friends and I had gathered for a Halloween Party. At that party was a person whom I knew, but not that well. We got to discussing our mental health care at the same facility from where we knew each other. As we talked, we found out that we both could benefit from some type of further support.

I was so revved up and excited by this conversation that night at home, I could not sleep because I was thinking about it so much. I got out of bed and wrote up six mission statement sentences or guidelines for a group that we could form. The next day, I mailed a copy of these six mission statements to the person I had talked to at the Halloween party.

I was so enthused, and they needed more support so greatly that we decided to meet to come up with ideas about how we wanted our group to look and work. We met every Saturday for two months writing notes, discussing strategies, and I even did research on branding and names for the group.

At the beginning of 2013, we began our group meetings adventure. We had secured a place to meet and had a little idea of structure. The two of us read the six mission statement sentences then talked about our week. Following that, we picked a topic from a topics box that we had prepared during our brainstorming times. The hour we had set aside for our group meeting seemed to fly by.

We didn't have a real clear way of gaining new members, but we knew we wanted them to “fit” with us. We asked potential members why they wanted to be involved in a group not affiliated with an agency. They mostly replied that either their needs were not being met at their current situation or that they needed to find a new way of doing things because the current way was not working. (They were relapsing or just not getting tasks done.)

That's when we developed an individual check-in sheet where people could write down things like: how their week went, what they expected to do in the next week, how their emotions were that week, any problems that came up that week and one solution to the problem. We verbally celebrated all the small accomplishments such as: “I took three showers this week vs. two last week.” or “I ate one good meal per day this week.” These check-in sheets were kept by the group member.

Celebrating the small stuff helped us to be able to do more in a week's time. Soon, we established a Quarterly Celebration Meeting where we would each create a collage around a topic of wellness. After creating the collage, we invited members to share what the collage meant to us. We treated this meeting as a party with treats to eat and lots of fun.

Our group never got beyond five members at any one meeting time. We kept it small and were unsure of how to attract people of the mind-set that wanted more support than conventional therapies could provide and people who wanted to work on themselves, with support of persons who had some of the same difficulties as they had of making life work for them even through their mental health issues.

We would meet for one hour every week on the same day at the same time and same place. Even if members did not attend every week, the space was open and provided for them. The routine was that we would each share our check-in page if we felt comfortable sharing and then ask for feedback if warranted. This check-in page was developed by us over the course of almost a year as we experimented with different tracking sheets that were met with varying degrees of success/interest. We changed the check-in page in 2014 to include One Happy Thing we did that week. Something that was just for ourselves, just to make us happy.

We would encourage each other frequently by referring to any or all of the six mission statement sentences (which we would also read aloud at the beginning of every meeting). Often, we found ourselves bringing up one or another of the sentences during group to illustrate how/what we were doing differently in our lives.

In 2016, we closed the group to include only the 4 people who came on the most consistent basis. We decided that trying to add people to our group wasn't benefiting them or us. Our meetings are small, but consistent, and we seem to still be doing more than we even expected to in the beginning.

I benefited from being in this group and being a co-founder of this group so much that I decided to learn to facilitate groups in other venues as well. I also look forward to creating different groups based on this experience. I like having a bit of structure to a group and to be able to refer to guidelines both as positive change catalysts as well as “what not to dos”.

In my opinion, if the two of us could create such a safe, consistent, and stable group, you can, too. It does take a little start-up work and definitely some devotion of time, but to have that kind of support for wellness, it is worth it.

 

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
A BOOK REVIEW By Agent K.
[major depression, bipolar, schizo-affective]

I read this book twice in a week! The language that the author uses is authentic and in the first person. Mark uses anecdotes from his own life as well as stories of “famous” people in history. He does all this to explain why we all should choose wisely what to actually give a fuck about.

The author says the following about us: We all get dealt cards. Some of us get better cards than others. And while it's easy to get hung up on our cards, and feel we got screwed over, the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decide to take, and the consequences we choose to live with. You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else. It really is that simple. It's just not easy.

The book is also a good read as a humorous look at our lives and how we make choices and how we can change what we choose to think of ourselves and our lives. For example, there's the man who believes that women just aren't capable of loving a short man. And therefore he 'proves' it by finding some clue that they don't like him in some unconscious action of theirs. He actually makes them not like him by picking them apart for those unconscious actions and accusing them of not liking him because of these 'clues'. He will never find a woman who likes him until he lets go of his belief that women aren't capable of loving a short man, because he is fulfilling his own prophecy.

This book spoke to me in every chapter, but something that resonated particularly was Chapter Seven: Failure is the Way Forward. Mark says in this chapter the following points: 1) Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you've failed at something. 2) At some point, most of us reach a place where we're afraid to fail, where we instinctively avoid failure and stick to what is placed in front of us, or only what we're good at. This confines us and stifles us. We can be truly successful ONLY at something we're willing to fail at. If we're unwilling to fail, then we're unwilling to succeed. 3) Learn to sustain the pain you've chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then ACT DESPITE it. Don't just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow.

To me, this means that I am free to work on my creative projects no matter what the outcome. Because I choose to DO and not become attached to the results. I also can work on my creative projects and not judge them according to how I believe someone else will react to them. In addition, I believe that this is how I was able to create the Bob Ross style paintings that I have done. I wasn't attached to any outcome nor was I concerned about what anyone else thought of them.

And to DO SOMETHING means ANYTHING that is blocking my current path, my current choices. I started doing something by working on clearing out my closet of unnecessary clothing. I also chose to clear my actual path to my closet. It was getting hard for me to get to my clothes to choose what to wear. It was also getting hard in my life to speak up for myself and say what I felt right then, in the moment. I have been choosing to say what I am really feeling and saying it right away in my friendships. Just like I feel that it is easier to access my clothes to make the choices of what to wear,

I am also freed up to speak my mind and I feel lighter inside.

I encourage you to take a peek at your values and how you measure yourself. See if you are truly giving a fuck about something important, or just living a mediocre life giving way too many fucks about way too many things. You never know what you'll find out about yourself and your strengths, unless you take a look. Wake up and DO something today!

 

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The Creation of Community for My Stability
by Agent K.
[major depression, bipolar, schizo-affective]

One thing that has helped me in my recovery path is creating a community for myself. There is a pattern or at least a routine that I follow most days. I found that I frequently go to the same places every day or every few days. I tried going to these places at approximately the same time each day. And I challenged myself to learn the name of one person that I interacted with at each place of business that I went to. I don't have this challenge for myself at absolutely every business I go to, just the ones I go to the most often. Having the name of at least one person at each place means I can make a human connection to that business. Making a human connection often means a higher level of customer service. This happens because I have taken the time to at least learn their name, and spend a couple minutes discussing the weather or some current relevant topic like the football score, the upcoming holiday, etc.

Why does this help my mental health stability? One reason I believe that this helps my stability is that it is a bit of predictability in my unpredictable head-space life. If I know that Susan is going to be there to greet me at Starbucks on Tuesday mornings, I feel comfort in that pattern. Secondly, it gives me a reason to go to Starbucks on Tuesday mornings - to get me out of the house and out of my current head-space. An additional reason may be, for me, that it is a bit of normal reality. By that, I mean it is an action that is experienced by many people who are not experiencing my particular mental health challenges.

I encourage you to create a community for yourself. Give yourself a reason to get out of the house and out of your current head-space for a minute or two. Make a human connection at a place of business that you frequent. It may be the beginning of a whole new you. And a stabilizing agent in an otherwise chaotic life.

 

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