Mayday, Mayday

Five Day Forecast 1991 by Lorna Simpson born 1960
Five Day Forecast by Lorna Simpson. 1991

Despite being a blog focused on psychology, art and mental health, I haven’t been doing much posting recently about psychology, art or mental health. Though this could be attributed to a number of different things, the most notable reason is that I’m currently in an odd place internally. Truthfully, I’m unsure of what’s really going on with me, but my mind feels all over the place. I’m having strange dreams and most mornings I wake up with anxiety I can’t pinpoint the root of. And although I have my days where I feel more capable of things, others leave me feeling totally disconnected and saddened by everything around me – most critically of myself.

Self-loathing is something I’ve struggled with for much of my life, but I feel as though it has reached new levels over the past year. At the moment I’m struggling quite a bit to leave my home, despite encouragement and love from my wonderful friends. But I’m also eating a lot healthier (read: actual fruits and vegetables) so that’s something at least.

Nonetheless, in my absence from actual writing and posting a bunch of songs that make me sad instead, I have made it to quite a few interesting events, exhibitions and workshops. In the coming weeks, I plan to share my thoughts and experience of one of these – an exhibition I attended last year at the Wellcome Collection. So, if you’re in the mood for me rambling about consciousness and disorders of memory, I’ll see you in due time.

Something I have learned with regards to this blog and my ability to share, is that I am unable to promise consistency. But what I can promise are my thoughts and emotions – good, bad and all those in between – as and when I feel able to do so. I’d like to think that can be enough for now.

(PS. I got a distinction in one of the core modules for my course! This is significant because I’ve spent most of the academic year feeling like an imposter at the institution I attend. So how I managed that while still being moderately depressed I don’t think I’ll ever know. But more on that another time.)

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febbraio

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Blind Contour Drawing by Lucas Garcia. 2013

It’s been so long since my last post. There isn’t much reason for this other than to say I’ve been very tired lately; I’ve been tired and my head hurts. An interesting observation of this tiredness however, is in seeing just how much the world continues to turn even when I no longer feel a part of it. Every morning, every evening. Every sleepless night, every weary day – the world outside my window continues to buzz and spin regardless.

I have been trying, or rather failing, to put into words what I believe my current mental state to be. Despite reflecting on the various thoughts and emotions in my mind, nothing seems to sit quite right with me. Initially I couldn’t decide if this was a good or a bad thing. However, my increasingly troubled dreams and unsettled mood suggest to me it’s likely the latter.

That being said, on a more positive note I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach House recently – a band I first discovered, oddly enough, in the changing rooms of a clothing store. I’ve had one of their songs on repeat for the last day or so, although quite a few have already made their way on to my everyday playlist. I feel as though their songs have been getting me through the days this past month, which I’m very thankful for at least.

Anyway – extremely late I know, but happy 2017. Let’s continue to exist.

And when they ask us
Are we happy inside
We’re a rollercoaster
And yeah, we’re a fire in the night

What can you say
All your yeahs
It’s your life
Do you right
Give them love
And give them away

_______________

Winter Is Here

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Cosmic Sandals II by Vesna Kittelson. 2005

Well, hello.

It’s been so long since I’ve written an actual post that it feels almost strange doing so now. This was not for lack of trying of course – I’ve just been on such an emotional rollercoaster recently that it has been hard to catch my feet. So much has happened in such a short amount of time. And although I wouldn’t say I’ve landed just yet, I do feel slightly more balanced.

Unfortunately, my least favourite month is right around the corner and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling anxious. December has always been difficult for me, however it seems to fill me with a particular type of dread this year. That being said, 2016 has been just horrible and terrible and everything in-between. So, perhaps I should think of it more as the year finally coming to an end.

In the mean time, my plan is to update again more regularly. I’m sure I could do with the extra outlet to help me through the final stretch of the year anyway. With that being said – I should be back soon, most likely with a post about an exhibition I saw that I’ve been sitting on for months.

Until then, for anyone reading this: I hope you well. And if not, I hope you will feel well soon.

An Update, Sort Of

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I would like to apologise for the lack of posts as of late. Due to the merry-go-round that is mental health crisis and recovery, I have not been feeling my best this month.

In my attempts to distract myself from, well, myself, I have been continuing with my volunteering and visiting more exhibitions and art collections. Last weekend, I went to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition currently running at the Tate Modern until the 30th October. I also visited the States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness exhibition at The Wellcome Collection some weeks back, which a kind reader thoughtfully reminded me was taking place. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and with regards to the latter I intend to write up about some of the topics covered in more detail. I’m just not sure when I might get around to this just yet – but hopefully soon.

In the meantime, I would like to share some work by a digital artist I came across a few months ago during a women’s only course I attended on surviving abuse. The artist’s name is Frizz Kid – aka Hana Shafi – and I think their work is wonderful. I’m 96% sure my unstable emotions have played a role in how hard some of these hit me, but I just think the messages within them are beautiful and so delicately done. I’ve included some of my favourites below, which I sometimes like to reflect on whenever I’m having a particularly bad day.

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More of their awesome work can be found here. In summary: to anyone who has not been feeling their best lately – I hope this week is better, and take care.

Chapter Ten

Helen Pynor - Untitled (heart lungs)(2007)
Untitled (Heart Lungs) by Helen Pynor. 2007

While walking along a nearby canal about a month ago – something I like to do when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed – I couldn’t help but think to myself: these bad things, this violence – it seems to follow me wherever I go. Year after year I somehow end up in the same cycle.

Maybe I should stop moving.

Ruth’s Disjointed Alphabet Series: U is for University

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‘Blowing Bubbles’ by digital artist Cyril Rolando. 2009

My current mood has shifted in the last few months from overwhelming sadness, to long periods of numbness followed by a sporadic burst of emotion. Initially, I saw this as an improvement – however I quickly realised that this wasn’t the case. You see, feeling overwhelmingly sad is never pleasant. But in most cases it means you lack the energy and desire for other things, whether that’s eating or an activity requiring some level of motivation. Therefore my only possible response is to sleep as much as I can while the days move past me. In my current numbness however, I am by most estimates fairly functional. I’m still depressed and I still struggle with anxiety, but I’m able to move some of my more intrusive thoughts aside and continue with my day which leads me to wonder if I’m really sad at all. The answer of course is yes, you fool, because the numbness only seems to serve as a countdown to an inevitable outburst of distress – in some cases resulting in self-harming behaviour when I can’t cope with the sudden onset. As an example: the other day after another numb period I was out and about, and upon realising I couldn’t find an address I was looking for I immediately broke down in tears in the middle of the road, cursing myself for being such a useless human being.

It is this very same mood I was in many mornings ago during a meeting with one of my support workers. Somewhere amongst the more general questions of how I was feeling, I had an emotional outburst and broke down talking about how I felt like I wasn’t making any progress with my depression (a frequent fear of mine). In this I also revealed how I was not being entirely truthful about my thoughts and behaviours when asked if I had been having suicidal inclinations. The reason for the lies were fairly simple in my mind: I didn’t want to feel like I was failing others by not improving as quickly as I thought I should be, and I was holding on to the fear that they’ll give up on me if I told them the truth. This of course just results in keeping thoughts to yourself that you would probably feel better with sharing instead. But it’s a scary step in itself to recognise that you yourself are disappointed when you wake up every morning, not to mention sharing that thought with someone else. Something I noticed though was that this ‘hiding’ is something I’ve done countless times in the past, and here I was doing it again with my mental health. When you can see that someone cares about your wellbeing, you no longer want to share with them the whole picture of how you view yourself or the trauma you’ve been through, because you don’t want to either a) hurt them, or b) have them become frustrated with you or even put off, which in many cases hurts more. But in admitting all of this out loud I did start to see some of the faulty mechanisms involved that would ultimately prevent me from feeling better.

So instead, we spoke about my real mood and the coping mechanisms I’ve perhaps erroneously developed for myself. And in discussing the things I’d been through both as a child and more recently, as well as the importance of being easy on myself, she mentioned something that stuck out to me – leaving university is both a very big life event and a very big change for many people. This was comforting to hear, as in the months since I’ve graduated from university I’ve been feeling very negative about myself, which has undoubtedly contributed to the state I’m in now. I had finished my second year with a first (the highest possible grade in UK universities) in nearly all of my modules while simultaneously balancing a part-time job and a place on the executive team of a student social enterprise. I even worked full time for the entire duration of the following summer. But for some reason, as soon as my third year began I couldn’t cope any more. Everything was different – I felt different – and I was burned out. I saw this as me just falling back into my depression from previous years, but even when I dropped my other activities and commitments in the hopes it would help me cope better, something in the back of my mind had me on edge. And as I reflect on it more I feel I’m beginning to understand part of what that was – I was anxious about soon was losing part of who I was. For a very long time, I’ve always defined myself as Ruth the Student. Seventeen years of my life have been spent in school or higher education institutions. It was all I knew, it was all I felt good at. Even when I worked during summer holidays or completed internships I always knew that I was a student, and that I would be going back. Additionally although I didn’t realise it at the time, university had become a safe place I could go to when other things around me such as my home life became too chaotic or disorientating. It was a place to run away and feel safe again, and upon graduating and returning to London I realised I no longer had a safe place to go. But still I tried to adjust to my post-university world because I didn’t want everyone to think I had given up, even though I knew mentally I was slowly deteriorating. I sometimes struggle to get my words out, and I definitely didn’t have the words to describe it all as I do now. But I do think I tried my best to explain to others what I thought was happening. Nonetheless, it’s heartbreaking when the people most important to you who you thought loved and cared about you, don’t seem to even want to understand and instead think you’ve just stopped trying for yourself.

Many people find it difficult to cope with university. I’ve met many people, especially more recently, whose attempts at university have driven them to either contemplate or attempt suicide on several occasions. There can be a lot of pressure depending on many things, such as where you attend and the course you study, as well as how much individual pressure you place on yourself. I for one know I certainly came close a few times to not making it to my graduation alive. But I feel that in addition to how stressful university can be, something that people often overlook is how stressful the transition out of that system can be for some people. And it saddens me that if I had just been struggling with the former, some people may have been more understanding. There are, of course, other educational steps a person can take after their initial degree if they choose to do so. But these paths aren’t hard-wired into us from a young age like GCSEs, A-Levels and undergraduate degrees are. Besides that, no one can be a student forever. And even if you’re working towards a Master’s or a PhD, if you are someone who has defined themselves as someone who is good at being a student, sooner or later you’ll have to come to terms with this new world you don’t recognise yourself in any more.

The Dog Was Dead

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Today is a good day because I’ve just picked up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from my local library. Despite only being a few pages in, I already remember why it is my favourite book. For anyone who hasn’t read it, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a great 2003 mystery novel by Mark Haddon. The novel is narrated by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15 year old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”, as he attempts to find out who killed his neighbour’s dog.

The reason I’m so fond of it is because I don’t see it as a book about a person with Aspergers as is commonly suggested, or any other autistic condition for that matter (which it isn’t anyway – the author himself has said so). I like it because it allows me to see the world in a new, more revealing way, which I personally think is better. One of my favourite aspects of the book is the main character’s quirks, likes and dislikes, especially the ones I find myself relating to. As an example, Christopher doesn’t like it when people touch him, which for a very long time was something I struggled with as well. Although I sometimes liked affectionate touching such as hugs, for some reason I really didn’t like it when people’s body parts came in contact with my own. This extended even to situations where I was not purposely being touched, such as someone’s arm touching me on a packed bus. I would have to either move away into my own space, or get off the bus completely. Looking back I’d definitely say this has improved slightly over the years, but I still don’t like it very much.

However, simply knowing that I’m enjoying the book again has been a bit of a relief for me. Although I’m not very open about it (mostly due to feeling embarrassed) I sometimes struggle with reading large chunks of text. I do get through it eventually, but it can often take me a long time. My brain also has an odd tendency to examine words in a way I can only describe as ‘fleshing out’, which I sometimes have to do several times before I can move on. The unfortunate result of all this is I usually avoid reading books now unless it’s necessary, for example if it’s something to do with my studies. What confuses me the most however is that I used to love reading – I would spend hours after school in the library finding new books and curling up in a warm corner to read them until it was closing time. But as I’ve gotten older, reading seemed to become more difficult. Suddenly there were all of these legendary authors, elaborate manifestos and grand novels, and I felt like it was expected of me to read them now I was a ‘grown up’. But for whatever reason, I was either never able to finish them or I would lose interest pretty quickly. The reason I mention all of this, is because I’ve found reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a lot easier, which is comforting. Perhaps then it’s just the novels geared more towards adults that I don’t seem to like.

As I’m typing this all out I’m realising I probably should have mentioned this reading difficulty to a teacher or personal tutor somewhere along the line, but I digress.

In summary: I am reading my favourite book again while also eating mini doughnuts. I am content.

Erfolg

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Beethoven approves of this message. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Everything feels pretty rubbish at the moment. In addition to this particularly bad depressive episode, I’ve been trying to come to terms with a new diagnosis that was thrown at me a few weeks ago (huzzah) as well as my usual dismay, disappointment and sadness at some of the events over the past year. Queue the lack of posts, and the melancholic tone when they do sporadically appear.

That being said, after a productive piano session today I’ve just played Moonlight Sonata all the way through without messing up.

I’m pretty proud of that.

Lessons

 

If there is anything I have learned over recent months
it is that I should always remain in my place.
I should not speak up for myself
for if I do I will get hit,
or blamed,
or both.
I have learned that the bullies still win
and that this remains unchanged from when I was a child.
I have learned not to open up to another,
as soon they will treat me cruelly, and I will not know why.

I have learned I am not loved, and apparently never was.
I have learned to cry silently amongst a room full of people.
I have learned to hide pain and fear with a blade.
I have learned I am easy to forget.
I have learned there is no end.

Art Attack 2.0: Clay Edition

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My first experience of creating objects and figures with my hands was probably when I was much younger, maybe around 10 or so. For whatever reason, I liked to create people and animals out of blu-tack and leave them in public places for people to find. I was always secretly happy when I would return to the libraries, shops and museums to find that they were still intact, which to me suggested that people liked them enough to leave them alone rather than squishing them into oblivion. Clay, however, is something I had never truly played around with as an art medium before. Unfortunately now that I have, I fear I won’t want to use anything else.

As soon as I rolled my sleeves up and held the thick, moist clay in my hands, my brain automatically went to work. Suddenly, as if by magic, all of the negative thoughts or feelings that I’m often burdened with slowly melted away. We felt like a perfect match – I would speak with my fingertips and the clay would mould along with me, as if to respond back with kind concern. The class I attended was also one centred around individuals with mental health struggles, so it was nice to not be so concerned with hiding any scars on my arms for example. Magic notwithstanding, the process was pretty much as basic as you could get. There were no fancy equipment or machines to help me along the way (this was art on a budget, after all). However part of me preferred this, as I think it helped ensure I learned with my hands rather than focusing on secondary materials.

When I first sat down, I thought for a moment and knew that I wanted to try and create an elephant’s head. I’m still not sure where the idea really came from, but I suspect it was a mixture of not wanting to make a pot or plate like everyone else, and being inspired by the grey clay to create a characteristically grey animal. I’m aware that for my first time, I probably should have been less ambitious and opted for something more straight-forward instead. In fact the teacher herself suggested so too, looking over worryingly as I zoned out into my own clay-elephant world. But in typical Ruth fashion, acting much like I did in my art classes during my GCSEs, I had an idea and I wanted to stick to it – regardless of how much more difficult it may be. I have a terrible tendency to compare my work to others, however on this occasion I can say that I’m pretty happy and proud of the result – especially for my first try.

Overall I am really quite, dare I say it, excited about discovering my love for this medium. I still enjoy painting and sketching too, however I sometimes struggle to remain focused which often allows my more negative emotions to creep back in. I’m aware that this doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t experience the same thing when I’m using clay – I’m sure everyone does at some point, regardless of how much they enjoy what they’re doing. But whether it’s the physical aspect of constantly using my hands, or the sense of calm that it brings me, I’m very happy I attended the class. Before I had even finished my elephant piece, I decided my next one will be a lego figure. I can’t imagine many people use clay to create lego characters and blocks, so the fact that this was the first thing to come to mind means either one of two things: 1) I am much too childish to be using this medium of art, or 2) everyone else is boring. I prefer the latter conclusion.