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!

“But you Look Fine”

"But you look Fine" meme

Boy does this meme relate to a lot of people. I am sharing it because it relates to me too. For a long-time I thought I was presenting a normal human and going through all of my texts, emails and loads of papers over the last 3-4 years I see the progressively declining health, both mental and physical. It is a lot to process.

I have become more of an introvert and have been ghosting people who mean a lot to me because I am not always sure how I will be and for how long. I will admit I am struggling and after seeing how bad it has been I am trying to not only process all of that, I am also trying to work on my physical and mental health. When I make a mistake and am an emotional hot mess, I see this now and am deeply embarrassed. I cannot bear to hurt people and it reinforces my desire to be alone.

It took about 6-weeks of doxycycline and hydroxychloroquine to see the first lifting of symptoms. When you improve, you have hope and being bullheaded, I try harder and more. The problem is that it makes me worse. There is no pattern and for someone obsessed with pattern and pushing myself mentally and physically this has been absolutely brutal. Add trauma responses to what Q-fever did with the added bonus of the fall in October I am surprised I am functional at all).

While I can be articulate, back of the house I have to reread what I wrote and take notes on verbal communications. To use a food safety saying, “If it isn’t written down, it did not happen.” I can go for a 2-3km hike and comment on plants and wildlife, but I take a lot of photos to remember what we saw and sometimes it takes 1-2 hours for me to have blurred vision, cannot stand when my eyes are closed, tinnitus, and overwhelming fatigue for a 20-minutes to 2-days. This varies and I can be fine or there is another mix of symptoms. I cannot predict anything.

I have had improvements monthly. Physical therapist called them benchmarks. I can turn the light off in my bedroom at night and not immediately lose my ability to stand. I can do my vestibular exercises and when I close my eyes, not fall over. I may just have blurred vision, but I am not a shaking mess when I leave.

The things that have helped are the medicines I am on and walking on hiking trails and logging roads alone doing my exercises. It is quiet, kind of dark because tree canopy, I can focus on bird sounds when my mind races and it calms me. The sound of the water (especially when rocky shore or a steam/brook going over stones) helps me focus on something other than my body or the racing thoughts.

I am starting to reach out to people. I am not doing it well, but I am learning and trying to be better about communicating where I am. I am also triggered a lot because I am physically overreacting to things – comments, a photo I just saw, making a mistake because of a physical or brain misfunction, an intense conversation, someone asking me to hold their emotions during a hard thing like I used to gladly, a demand for something out of my control, or grief.

One step at a time. I will get there.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD)

The first time I learned that I may have PTSD was while waiting to take an organic chemistry exam. A few of us were in the hallway and I recognized a girl from my Animal Welfare class. We are talking about why we are in this hallway waiting to get into this particular room. It was for an untimed test. Hers was because of a learning difficulty. She took longer to read. I described how I would have a strange panic when hear someone writing on their paper with pencil three rows back or want to physically stop someone riffling through their backpack or cracking their knuckles. I would not be able to focus and went blank. Often, I would read questions over and over and would not even remember what the questions were asking.

The previous exam takers were leaving and people from our exam were starting to file into the exam room. One of the last people left, a guy, hung back and said, “look, I don’t know what your story is, but I have PTSD too.” He wanted me to understand that he knew what I was saying. He was a veteran and we didn’t get to talk about this any more than that one brief encounter. I was dumbfounded but very grateful that he shared that. I thought PTSD was something warriors got. My dad had nightmares and drank too much to forget things from his time in Vietnam. I was not a veteran.

What is PTSD? Let us start with that the letters mean. They stand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 1980’s, people started to notice a cluster of symptoms that were similar for veterans that were returning from Vietnam. Most people are familiar with symptoms associated with PTSD such as flashbacks, unstable moods, avoiding a person, place or thing, arousal symptoms, survivor remorse and insomnia (not a complete list). People who have a traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster or assault can also have PTSD.

What is cPTSD? Good question. I had to learn that one as well. The “c” stands for “complex.” Ok, I can relate to that. My dad was pretty complex too and he went through Vietnam (4-tours). How is this different? “Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over the course of months or more often years. For many it starts in childhood, but that is not always the case. Trauma can include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuses, domestic violence, living in a war zone, being held captive, human trafficking, and more.” Another difference that resonated with me when I did some research was the idea that this comes from being in a situation where complete control is in the hands of another person or persons, and you do not see an end in sight. Symptoms are often more severe than with (basic or normal) PTSD. Basically, it breaks down your sense of self and messes you up on a deeper level.

Ok, now what do I do with this information? How can I fix this? What is the plan?

I will not say my therapy journey has been brilliant. I am sure that I was not an easy patient as we worked through some of my traumas. I am still working on it in therapy and on my own. I did learn three key things: Not all therapists are trauma informed; Not all therapies are helpful and, in some ways, can make things worse; To be able to work on the mental health bits, you need to also understand how to work on the physical bits.

I will slowly share some of my journey with time. Please be patient with me as I share what I am ok with at the moment. If you happened upon my blog while doing some research, here are three resources that are a helpful start while you start your journey.