Mindful Doodling

I feel like a kid showing mom her artwork. Nope, a 50-odd year-old woman showing her mindful doodling! Here is the thing. Sometimes, when I am triggered, overwhelmed or have cognitive fog, I have a hard time with words. It is super hard to write let alone communicate. Like many, I get irritated when I cannot communicate. The act of writing when I am like this is brutal and I learned one-month into my daily journaling activity that having a creative thing to do meant that I kept up with the “daily” part of the bargain if I could not communicate with words.

As I said before, my daughter and I used to try to do these 30-day challenges together. One of us would usually stop and then both of us would. While learning how to try to help with my cognitive functioning issues and to help find ways to manage my cPTSD, I stumbled upon journalling and sketchbook/creative activities/doodling as a super helpful tool. Ok. What is mindful doodling?

A daily sketchbook is just like keeping a daily journal. It is for you, it is about exploring whatever comes to mind, it is not intended to be perfect, and it is not necessarily intended to show anyone. Some people create for 20-30 minutes and then write for 20-30 minutes. Some just draw. It is super unique to you and how you want to express yourself.

A few things seem to be pretty consistent.

  • Use whatever materials that you have to start. You don’t have to go out and buy anything fancy.
  • Ink is a great way to start. I started to include watercolour later, but coloured pencil, charcoal, pencils, etc are fine too. With ink, it allows you to keep going and not put a lot of thought into erasing or fixing what you did. Fixing isn’t the point, doing is.
  • When I did not know what to do, I would make shapes (boxes or circles above) and start with lines. For variation, use different directions or spacing. You can also look at Pinterest or search “sketch patterns” and you can always print a couple samples for inspiration.
  • I put a timer on for 20-minutes. This allows me to focus on what I am doing and not the time.
  • It can be brutal to keep up with the “daily” part of this in the beginning. Be forgiving. It takes me about 6-8 days to fall into the routine and start to be ok with making “mistakes” and just going for it. Also be forgiving about not doing it for a day. Just start it again the next day.
  • If you have not been doing art for a long time, this doodling brings you back to the fundamentals you did in middle school art and you will appreciate those lessons. With time, you will get more pen control, remember how to use supplies and media again and will improve with time. There are also loads of social media accounts devoted to showing you how to do things. Sometimes watching them is relaxing. Ha!
  • I find that I am more likely to do this daily if I do it first thing in the morning with my first cup of tea. Later in the day, you may have plans, be tired, distracted, or just have this task weighing on your mind and it no-longer seems fun. I would half-ass it and then be annoyed with what I did or be super disappointed with myself when I didn’t do it. Doing it first thing makes it fun.
  • Writing is optional. I prefer to keep that in another journal. Most of that is about my health journey, but you can do this however you want.
  • Keep it loose. Loose watercolour, abstract designs and shapes, ink drawing of something in front of you, a cartoon that talks about what is frustrating, ink drawings of all of the zoonosis that can kill or maim humans… whatever, but do NOT fret about details or being perfect. It may inspire a piece of art later, but this is about exploring whatever is in your mind at the moment.

I hope this helps someone. Honestly, those straight lines were a mad challenge in the beginning of this journey. I would literally have a headache, blurred vision or get nauseous. As I reached new benchmarks in my healing, I found that it was easier, and I also have better pen control. Be careful with yourself, go slow, and breathe while you do this!

Long Term Antibiotics

fermented foods
Stock Photo of Fermented Foods

Thanks to chronic Q-Fever, I have to take Doxycycline for 2+ years. Also, Hydrochloroquine. Fun. I have alarms I set to let me know not to have dairy within 2-hours of taking these meds because absorption of doxycycline in the stomach and small intestine is reduced significantly if you do. Sweet. Cheese and cultured dairy products are primary food groups for me, but I have been trying to respect this.

Since I have been on these pills and not farming, I have lost muscle mass and have also gained a lot of I don’t know what this is. Water weight? I am also getting headaches again and just in general, I feel off. I am trying to do my PT daily and walking longer and more consistently, but it is not the same as hauling 5-gal pails of water, moving miles of temporary fence or bales of hay.

Infectious disease Dr. reminded me that many over the counter probiotics have dairy in them. I knew that. I reassured her I was familiar with fermented foods and what is and is not effective in pill form. I started out being rather good about my kvass, kombucha and kefir intake and I admit, my digestion was better. Something changed and I slowly stopped or was erratic.

Narrator voice: Don’t stop silly.

I have been pretty dysregulated mentally this week for various reasons and while trying to find something for a colleague of mine, I stumbled across my Sandor Katz bible on fermented foods. A healthy digestive system is like having healthy soil. You can’t expect to grow yourself if you aren’t eating well or right. I knew that when she first gave me those meds. I need to take care of my microbiome or I am not going to heal.

I went back into my store of neglected fermented foods and took an inventory of what I have, tossed out ones that started talking to me or looked like psychotrophs were a potential issue. I then noted the growing season and what we have for local veg so I can make some natural pickles and krauts. I texted a couple people for a kombucha scoby and kefir grains (sorry kefir that spoke of their displeasure that I neglected them).

To add to this blog, I will add a fermented foods category so that you can also explore what we have available locally or how to make them yourself. Microbiome stuff is actually rather interesting and may also be helpful and I can try to explain some of this. Cheesemaking was a very mindful activity and probably saved my life during a toxic marriage. Making fermented foods may help someone else on their journey, so I am glad to share my knowledge.

How the Fuck do You Meditate?

No, seriously. Help me out here.

tray of fruits and coffee near powered on laptop on brown table
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Today was a hard therapy session. My mind was deeply in that blank space where I have no thoughts, feelings, and I cannot concentrate on any one thing. Listening was hard. I was there, sweating from the heat and humidity in my chair because it was rude to cancel and wallow in my disappointment that I avoided yet another human interaction because I did not know how to human. Not then.

He was kind and present. I pay him for that, but it was done with kindness. He was trying. It was a shift from previous sessions where I took notes on the week before and tried to tackle feelings, stumbling blocks, add to my toolbox of adaptive techniques, and share books or other things to help me understand.

I struggled to find a new book to listen to this week and am disappointed by my choice. I started to do creative activities again, mainly to work on concentration and to find a way to disassociate in a beautiful way. Straight lines are brutal when you have issues with your brain, but I worked through it. I keep repeating “art grows brain cells” to myself as I complete another section.

Today, he started with a meditation to help me ground myself. I go back to my session with “Luna” a previous therapist who also tried to help me learn how to meditate. Her office was in the basement of a church that was turned into community space and offices. Her soothing behind the tofu curtain voice tried to get me to feel my feet (in shoes), up my legs, thighs, breathing, gentle feel of breath out of my nose onto my moist upper lip… as she is talking, I think of soothing things I heard before. She told me to think about something in the past. She meant “happy” or “nice” I think, but I ignored that.

A “long time ago *he*” used gentle tones while my hands are tied back and I had given up fighting. I thought about the light pink paint from the tip of the paint roller that someone missed on the white ceiling rather than my body. I heard his voice reassuring me that I would enjoy this as a kind of background while I focused on levitating that pink paint smudge with my eyes.

Today, I can think about my feet for a moment and then my mind wanders. If I am moving, it is the new feeling every time I step that I can focus on. I also count my steps.  I am moving away, and I feel it. If I stay still and think about my feet, inner thighs, put my hand on my chest,… I lose that touch. When Luna was trying to sort out my thoughts and trying to reassure me that she was present and it was normal not to talk about things, I looked up and said, “no, let’s talk about it.” I proceeded to tell someone for the first time in a long time about that in one shot. Our session was up, I paid and left.

I realized that even though Luna was a therapist, she was human. What happened to me in that one memory was trauma and it is now a part of who I am. To retell that so directly and literally was also trauma, for both of us. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Isn’t that why they call it ‘talk therapy?’ It is not that I didn’t think about her when I spoke. I took her literally and translated that to her being open to listen to that.

Today, do I talk about how I keep trying to meditate and cannot? Do I share this? Can I without an hour, a day, a week to process what happened in our conversation? I cannot hurt another person because of my empire of shit. I think about that paint smudge on the ceiling and her email telling me how it shook her, not his kind redirections. I keep silent.

After today’s session, I went back to thinking about what is soothing, gentle, kind, or safe about my body. What do I feel? The only touch I can think of that was deeply soothing was being held while I was falling asleep. The warmth on the back of my thighs and soft breath on the back of my neck. Being held is like an electric shock of warmth. If I wake up, all I had to do was feel that again and then move back to touch again and reassured, fall asleep. The power of that was almost addictive. I slept. I felt safe. That too was a false safe.

The only other warm safe feeling was hand milking goats or having a gentle conversation with one or a full body scritch for one of the young heifers or calves. Momma, Oona and Patience would also approach for this connection, and it was always when we both needed it. They reach in for touch as well and while I rest my head into their side, I hear their heartbeat and feel their breathing. I seem to pattern mine on them and there is reassurance in this warmth and touch. I lost that as well.

My dreams lately are them being upset because they are not with their companions. Goats have lifelong attachments to others, like humans do and they lied when they said I could see them again and tell them about the animals and their names, fears, treatments, and quirks.

I think it is hard to understand how animals can be a part of you. This connection is like an internal vibration. When it is missing in human connections, the loss of this connection is far more. It is so hard to articulate in any understandable language. They were a part of my physical vibration of life. A tangible intangible connection.  

The repeated shocks for the last 30+ years, have been gut wrenching. The knowledge that a simple touch that we all crave is beyond our control and often taken away so brutally. I sit with that a lot. I clearly have this strong will to live, but it is the isolating of me from those things that have always given me comfort was the ultimate plan.

Today, I asked for more answers and more tools. How do I fight back? I never knew how and keeping silent or avoiding the attacks only made everyone stronger as I was slowly dying. “I am here for you.” “I am present.” Am I supposed to hand you the sword? I thought I was supposed to learn to stand on my own. Ok. Figure this out myself. Thank you though, I apologize if I was dismissive. I just…

 I turned on some soft jazz with rain on this café jazz youtube channel. My daughter and I liked to work from coffee shops and jazz and a cloudy rainy day suited my foggy mind. I miss her an awful lot. I looked at some abstract art online. I searched for that feeling that you cannot talk about using words. Art is always a way for me to find that feeling I cannot write about. Music too, but art more.

I wrote down on a piece of paper “Fucking figure out how to meditate.” How the hell does someone meditate when that flips me into disassociation or a growing anxiety because I cannot feel or concentrate now? I think about that memory of causing trauma just by telling my story and how someone reacted to my experience.

I think a lot about how I just jumped into things and figured it out. The more complicated the more likely I would jump right in. I think about how I freeze when a simple task is challenging. I don’t warp into systems thinking anymore. Literally, that door is locked now. It was my superpower. I am terrified of not being able to figure things out. I am terrified of this brain fog and lack of concentration or ability to think. I cannot rattle off pedigrees and transfers of ownership, progeny, and coefficients of relationship like I used to. I just know the blue milk crate and the black USB labeled Kerry is my Kerry archive.

I finished a cup of coffee. I wrote this. I will take a hot and then a cold shower and get back to mundane work involving files and spreadsheets. Just keep trying? I would love ideas because aside from walking, doing routine livestock chores or driving, I don’t know how to replicate this in a sedentary way. I know it will not get any of my superpowers back, but everyone keeps telling me it is a tool that I can add to the toolkit to help my body and mind heal. I just do not know how to do it.

Take Your Shoes Off

person wearing blue denim jeans standing on green grass
Photo by Anna Guerrero on Pexels.com

As children, the instant they told us school was over for the summer, the shoes came off. If we had to go to church or to one of those places that say “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” we wore sandles. Rarely did socks and sneakers or those fancy church shoes with those horrid tights come on. They felt so tight and confining.

In the beginning of the summer, I remember learning how to walk on the pavement or across tough ground for the first time every year. The sharp feel of every stone or imperfection or prickly vegetation would eventually be dulled as my soles toughened. The blackened soles of my feet and no tan lines from straps of my sandles were a badge that I was of the pack of feral kids in our neighborhood. I was proud of that.

My favorite feeling was soft blue grass before it grew crispy with the heat. I loved the mud seeping through the toes as we explored ponds, streams and puddles. Walking on the hot pavement was a test of how tough your feet are, but sometimes we needed sandles to get to our friend’s house.

As I grew older, I would go barefoot in the fields picking sweetcorn, pumpkins, beans, tossing hay or whatever the farmers needed us to do. The cool feeling of the earth first thing in the morning was so different from the hot dry soil when we would finish for the day. The cement was cool in the packing sheds while we packed sweetcorn into cabbage crates “60-ears to the crate, can’t you count?”.

I came back to the place I grew up to give my daughter a safe landing while her father and I went through the divorce process. I knew the schools were better and I could get some help from my mom and my daughter’s [paternal] grandfather. My daughter never liked anything on her feet, even in the coldest depths of winter. She would kick clogs on and off without socks or wear flipflops, but she did not share the same feral summers we did with a ton of barefoot kids exploring the neighborhood.

I forgot about the thought of going barefoot or the feeling of the ground as I walked until this spring. I was talking about my anxiety with a colleague of mine and how hard it was to count or try the breathing exercises my therapist suggested with this cognitive stuff. As we compared notes on my chronic Q-fever and her long-term battle with Lyme. She said, “Take your shoes off. Feel the dirt. Walk in the grass. It really helped me.” The simplicity of that statement stopped me.

I had all of those childhood memories flood me as I drove home. Of course, this could work. It was one of my most enjoyable early memories of my body and it is the one thing nobody hurt. Besides, I have all of these fun soaps and salts my daughter and I collected. I can use them to pamper myself. Isn’t that the self-care thing the books and memes keep telling me I should do?

When I got home, I took my shoes off. I am not anywhere near as hardy as I was as a child. I focus on the wood floors, the ceramic floors, the cement on the porch, the crispy bluegrass, the cooler and softer crabgrass, the asphalt (in the shade) along the walkway. I am mindful of ticks now. We didn’t have to bother with them as kids. There are things to do for them though.

As I go along on a hike, I am slowly starting to remember the feeling of walking on paths and old logging roads barefoot. I am proud of my dirty ankles and toes once again. I enjoy the cool shapes of the rocks and the sharp edges of the stones on the beach. It is grounding and when I am most overwhelmed, I try to use this as a moment to remember what it felt like to be safe and ok.

Take your shoes off. You will be glad you did.

Finding My Voice (about fucking time)

View of Pioneer Valley from Summit House looking north.

I find myself starting and deleting a lot of these posts. It is hardest to write when I have this cognitive blur. I am not always sure what started it and am tracking a lot of my physical and mental changes to see if I can find patterns to any of this. I do notice that sometimes when I am like this, I can change to doing something creative rather than use words. Other times, I get more and more irritated, and it amplifies other symptoms.

I caught myself going back through posts again. I was looking for mistakes. That promise [to me] to let it go and build on those mistakes is hardest. Once upon a time there were consequences for mistakes or behaviors that others saw as wrong. I have this ingrained need to please, so this would devastate me far more to be called out for it than the actual mistake warranted.

Someone I confided in remembered that and also my deep need to do the right thing. I have always been naive about humans and have a hard time noticing ill intent. I am not stupid; how do I open myself to people who are masters of manipulation? Why is my default to enter into relationships that are purely transactional, or they are flat out narcissists?

More than 10-years of coordinated bullying by this one woman and her flying monkeys (the lead of which is rather loud and persistent) have done their work. It is so deeply ingrained in me that eventually I stopped doing things because I was afraid to move forward. I was criticized there too. Criticism then turned into slander and a coordinated attempt to discredit everything I did. I tried to walk away from everything a number of times, but I was never allowed to. It eventually became a sick game of theirs.

In thinking this week about what my source of cognitive blur and anxiety could be and this immovable block to write, create, read, explore or do, I realized there were four underlying layers of thought that I was trying to process.

  • Closing up my daughter’s room because it has been a year and we need to use it as a guest room at the request of other members of the family.
  • Being encouraged to write, create and share. This in part means standing up to people. I never do. I honestly do not know how.
  • Needing to meet financial obligations to people who invested in me and believed in me. The idea of letting anyone down is deeply painful and I am working on actively sorting this out and communicating better. This also means holding people on the other end accountable. That has been my biggest challenge, standing up to people on my behalf. I can do for projects and other people really really well. It is for me or for something I deeply care about that I have this challenge.
  • I am going through an immense amount of paperwork, photos, things and the memories are flooding me with an intensity that I have not had before. I was told that some of this is grief. I am honestly feeling things, sometimes for the first time and the good with the bad makes this confusing because if they were good memories, is this grief? Of course, it is, but it is confusing to sort out what I am feeling physically and how to categorize them sometimes. It is hard to tell people who don’t go through trauma what that feels like.

I am finally starting to organize a plan of action so to speak. Grad school was supposed to be a period of reflection (that was a bull shit bait and switch btw). I have a lot of resources that people can use. I will make some of them available for free. Some will be for sale. I will also come up with a coffee hour a couple of times a week for people who need help with projects. It will not be for people who want to talk about personal things I write about. Not now.

I feel like this post is becoming declarative like my work plans (a fancy word for to-do lists). Basically, I see how this is going to take shape and I feel more at ease saying it here. My anxiety is there, but in therapy this week, your man came up with this idea of scheduling an appointment for these moments to process things. It is an interesting way to manage my “Overwhelm.”

My mom said that to get through raising the four of us alone, her divorce and working more than full time, she “compartmentalized” things. She visualized putting things in a box and onto a shelf and reminding herself that she cannot focus on those things on the shelf now, something else needs attention. For someone who is probably neurodiverse, this is a profound idea but worth trying to adapt to my brain somehow.

Fair enough.

Elizabeth Ferriera mentioned good and bad disassociation in the Becoming Well podcast about cPTSD as a helpful tool. I mean, it is a coping mechanism to help trauma folks survive. I get it, I do it. The idea of taking ownership of it for good speaks to me. It is like when I was a kid before the trauma and learned to stop my nightmares and change how the narrative played out. I remember also playing good memories or thoughts over and over again, like listening to a favorite song to short clip on repeat.

I guess this is what grounding is and boy did that take me years to finally realize it. I just want to get to the point where I can do that again. It took me a week this time to finally muddle out what I am feeling, process actionable items to sort my shit and really start to do it.