Two Steps Back to Take One Step Forward

foot prints in gray sand

I had a difficult August. I think in my mind, I thought that once I started to take the meds for Q-fever that things were going to keep getting better. When I had setbacks (July 4th and then during that super-hot spell last month), my infectious disease Dr and I thought it was more of a reaction to heat. When it happened again during moderate weather and for longer, anxiety took over.

It is hard when you have medical issues not to be negative. I wrote, deleted and wrote, posted and deleted a few posts here because I was all over emotionally, mostly in a negative spiral because there were no patterns, it was out of my control, and I did not have hope that this was getting better. We all go there. It doesn’t help anything. How did I get out?

I could not write [well]. I isolated myself again. Therapy was not super helpful because I went back to this winter where my brain was in overwhelm and I quite literally could not think. Every task took a long time to do. I had to write a lot of notes. I forgot to return calls or texts again.

I was also super aware of the thin line between a trauma dump and sharing my healing journey. The point of this blog was to share, help someone with ideas or to find a common journey, have that space to share my life’s work. I needed time to find tools to help me navigate the physical and mental set back. I needed time to organize how to share everything in a way that is helpful for me and for anyone that stumbles onto this blog.

Here are a few of things I learned:

  • Setbacks happen and it *is* out of your control.
  • Note in a daily journal the who, what, where, when, and if you know why of this set-back. Detail the physical reactions first. Then the “inside voice” narratives that you are telling yourself.
  • I have this “Daily Reminders” list of things I can do to help when I am in certain brain spaces (Overthink–> Write, Confused/Anxious–> Walk, etc). The thing is that when I am in this fatigue state, those activities are not available to me. I am trying other things as a plan B.
  • You may have daily “self-care” routines that every app and Dr variety recommends you do, but when you are in an Overwhelm brainspace, self-care or anything fluffy or extra-work regarding your “self” is not going to happen. Have a AM and a PM To-Do list of the bare minimum daily needs that have to happen. Things like “brush teeth, brush hair, change underwear, drink glass of water, eat something resembling food…” Be realistic about it.
  • Have a “I am feeling a little better but am not quite there” daily list of things to do. Make it so you have to cross it off, not write it in. Be ok when it is not 100% of the list, just try to add one more thing a day.
  • If you push being ok too soon, it will either take longer to be ok again or you will go back to square one. You don’t want that any more than you want to be in this state of fatigue.

I am by nature someone who wants to keep bulling ahead. I am not sure if that is why I made it as long as I did in as much pain as I was in or as much overwhelm as I was in, but it almost killed me physically and mentally so don’t do that. You also need to work with health care varieties in this journey.

I would love to hear how people manage their physical and mental setbacks.

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!

Writing and Creative Prompts

For a very long time, I had a kind of writer’s block. I could write technical things like grants, business plans, strategic plans and the like – for clients or friends. The physical act of doing this for me and my business was stupid painful. I did it, but with my concussion/Q-fever, I wrote a grant last fall and completely forgot that I did it. Some of this knowledge about food systems is so ingrained in me. It really is part of my muscle memory. 

Creative writing was gone to me. Journal writing, a previous safe way to process things, was also gone. I would stare at the screen or blank page and freeze. I may write a few pages and give up a day or two later because my grammar was off or it was not well written.

I looked at creative prompts. My daughter and I would try these and one of us would quit them. We never finished them. I wondered what it was about the prompts that made us stop. I started to explore them on Instagram and Pinterest to see if there was an easy way to explain why we never finished them. There was always a prompt or two that would stump me. I am sure it did for my daughter too. Is that why we stopped? 

I found one. A 30-Day Mental Health Challenge that had simple activities that I could do. I found three I could not do, but get this… I crossed them out at the beginning (since it isn’t cheating if you do it in the beginning) and started there. I was supposed to fill 3-pages in a daily journal or write for 20′ whichever was longest. Ok. It could help with the therapy I was working on and yah, let’s do this!

The first month had 31-days. I did not add another day of challenges. I figured I needed a day to reflect, to consider another challenge, to maybe just not do it. In the end I did all but two of them. I was not there in my brain space. Did I panic and stop? No. I talked about why I just couldn’t in the journal. It became easier to write about things that were happening outside of the prompt.

The next month was going to be a declutter the mind and space challenge. The first day, organize computer files. Guess what? It stopped me from doing this challenge. For some it may have been a simple task, but for me that was a multi-day project. I never finished that challenge. The rest of the daily prompts were fine and the previous month, I could substitute a prompt if I didn’t think it fit… why not this? I knew it was a lot and I could have changed it.

What saved this daily creative activity? A co-Art challenge I was doing with my mom. A daily sketchbook thing. I used to draw ALL OF THE TIME. Why did I stop? Adulting? I was looking for things that could help my cognitive issues. I will talk about that experience later. One you-tube guy said that daily sketching and creating is a great way to grow brain cells. I wanted my brain back. It did not involve me doing or consuming woowoo stuff, so draw anything with a pen it is…

That month, I bounced back and forth and was a little more of a hot mess, but I did get back into a daily creativity thing. I just wrote in the journal and have not gone back to daily challenges. Writing was getting easier and if I didn’t have words, I did art. Get this…. I allowed myself to make a mistake and it was humbling at first, but ok. I reminded myself it did not have to be perfect, and it was not going to be displayed. Stop expecting perfect.

I cannot say I was gentle to myself or that I did not have anxiety over a daily commitment, I did. I do. My world was shaken up and I was trying to find a way to ground myself and find a new daily rhythm. What starts out as a halting uncomfortable brain fart became a very me brain fart and I was feeling silly, but ok with it. It didn’t have to be perfect. I also realized I was SO out of practice with my art and I really should not expect great things right away.

Yah, grammar and coloquial Shannonisms were there in my writing and Ahhh that is why we did those fundamentals for an entire quarter in Jr High art class. I was so out of practice and had to remind myself that if I looked at a little kid’s first drawings and essays, they are not brilliant either. Just do it.

 Is drawing or writing perfect for everyone? No. A friend does colouring books. I know a lot of people who quilt, scrap book, bullet journal, make amazing art with Procreate… I stumbled upon patterns and mandala drawing folks on Instagram and Pinterest (a great way to wind down before bed is watching them and watercolour artists online…). I downloaded some of them for inspiration if I was stuck. If I could not draw or was short of time, make a pattern. I will share some of that later too.

I found I was anxious when I started daily pattern drawing, but by about day 6-8, I found it was more relaxing. I was also more confident about handling a pen and was proud when I could make straight lines free-style again. I am working my way up to loose floral watercolours.

One of the creativity prompts (from Superbetter) was to write a letter to something I am grateful. This built on the prompt the day before that was trying to get you into a routine of trying to think about things you are grateful for. I wrote a letter to a hot cup of tea. It may sound silly, but I admit I was surprised what came out. It isn’t quite Robbie Burns Ode to Whisky, but it is mine. It clearly was something I *was* grateful for.

I will be honest; I did not keep that first month’s journal. I was afraid of revisiting it because I was basically in shock about a lot of things. I don’t plan to be Ainis Nin, but for this blog, I will share a lot about how I got to this point, what is helping or not helping me and then the journey. I also plan to include creative writing or art that I have done and there will be a tag or category that says “creative” at the beginning of this. 

I am still working out how I am going to do this blog (I will keep repeating this until I know what I am doing), I am going to be ok that it is not perfect and just roll with it. That is a current personal objective and is super hard for me. So yah, this is also a daily creative project that will evolve with time. I hope to explore a few things. I may settle into something specific. I may just doodle about or share a photo. I may edit and re-publish it again later. We will see how it goes!