Distress

 

bridge wall

I don’t know what to write anymore. Which is a real problem for a writer. It’s why I decided to do a photography project for August.

How do you write when you you don’t feel like you can tell people how you really feel?

Of course, I could write about what I “think.” Maybe write a political opinion piece… No, there’s enough of those out there.

I’ve been kind of off the grid beyond working my job and posting some photos. My main focus, I’m sorry to say, is all about me and how to get “better.”

bridge peeling

I’ve been reading two books lately – both are attempts to understand what the hell is wrong with me. The first book is called “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon. It’s a long book but is teaching me many things about what this pattern of ups and downs is welding into my brain.

It ain’t good, in fact the damage that has been found to occur from repetitive patterns of depression is frightening, which just makes me all the more determined to break out of this. If I wasn’t so afraid of what’s happening to me, I wouldn’t have faced the shame and defeat of going to a doctor and asking for help. I shouldn’t have felt that way about a doctor visit, and yet, so many of us do.

The second book I’m reading is called “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone” by Olivia Laing. Laing writes about loneliness from her own personal experience but takes it deeper by investigating expressions of loneliness in art, writing, and music by well known creatives such as Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper. I haven’t read very far yet but already, I’m struck by common expressions of this thing that I feel:

“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.” ~ Olivia Laing

Because of the book’s subtitle “Adventures in the Art of Being Alone,” I remain hopeful that there will be a message somewhere that tells a person how to be alone without feeling lonely. I’m not talking so much about being physically removed from other people. I’m talking about the loneliness that comes from not being amongst your own kind — isolation in a sea of people kind of stuff.

Distress

I felt better for a while yesterday, after I visited my horse, Luke, and shared a conversation and a few laughs with the woman caring for him.

I’ve been thinking about the stigma and shame around being depressed and lonely. These are defects. Weaknesses. A mind over matter failure.

It’s the American way. Everything is controllable if you are strong enough and confident enough. If you work hard enough.

People believe that depression is “unhappiness.” So do this and do that and you’ll be happy. Or it’s mind over matter. Focus on what is good about your life, instead of what is bad, and you’ll be happy.

Like the song “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” I have to ask, what does happiness have to do with it?

What I feel has nothing to do with happiness or unhappiness.

Anoka Rum River

I love my home and the person and the dogs in it. I know I’m very fortunate. I know there is no good reason for me to be anxious and depressed.

What I feel is not because of what’s out there. It’s a lifetime of what’s inside me.

Who knows. The drug I’ve been prescribed may kick in and things may turn around. I hope so.

In the mean time, I do simple things, like the photo project. I try to go easy on myself and not over schedule or ask too much. I look for ways to connect. Silly ways to tell myself I deserve good things, even if that only means buying fresh roasted coffee beans and taking extra care to brew one damn good cup of coffee.

I am hanging in there. Perhaps that’s why I am studying and photographing hands…

holding hands

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

I took this series of photos, trying to capture just the right water drippage as this cow (or is it a steer?) drank water out of an automatic waterer. I was on a local farm tour so there were other people in my way, a fence limited my angles and how close I could get, the sun was too bright, there was background stuff that I knew would be difficult to cut out, and I was using my camera’s manual mode as the auto-mode was over exposing the shot. Did I mention I’m no expert on the best ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, auto-focus versus continuous-focus combination to use in a given situation?

Highland Cattle FarmTour2016-26-5 FarmTour2016-27-6

I was disappointed with the sharpness and detail when I downloaded the photos onto my computer. As I scrolled through the shots with a critical eye, I forgot about all the things I’d seen that day.

I forgot about the exploration and experimentation I’d done.

Flowers

I forgot the ideas that were prompted as I looked at how other people were housing their chickens and what herbs they were growing.

chickens

I forgot about how I had spent the day trying different camera setting combinations and purposely overexposing or moving the camera to create blur. It’d been a long time since I’d spent so much time playing with my camera.

But I forgot all that.

At the end of the day, what it came down to was the result. Did any of the photos contain what I had tried to capture? Were they different than my usual shots? Were there any photos that I was actually proud of?

Trying to get to “good” (preferably “excellent”) is something I struggle to approach with any form of patience.

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It’s going to bed at night thinking, “yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown, “Rising Strong”

This is one of those statements that I respond to with a resounding “YES!” and yet I continue with the habit of being very hard on myself. I’m even being hard on myself about being hard on myself! Good grief!

I feel like so much of what I write here is about struggling. I’m sure you are tired of it, as am I. But am I alone in this? I doubt it.

It’s hard to believe that the woman writing the above and the woman floating around laughing below are the same person. And yet they are.

selfie

Take note of this contradiction next time you compare yourself to all those confident, happy people on Facebook and Instagram.

We’re all struggling in some way. OK, maybe there is someone out there who isn’t but most of us have “stuff.”

What I’m learning, though, is to be grateful for the moments when I am not performing. The times when I’ve dropped my guard and am not worried about how good of an impression I’m making.

Such moments are not always the happy, laughing kind but they are authentically real and alive.

It’s the mix of the sweet and the salty that creates a beautiful, imperfect life.

floating in pond

swans on Mississippi River

swans on Mississippi River

“It’s the doing of work that makes work easier, the simple doing of work no matter how hard it may feel to begin.” ~ Julia Cameron, “The Sound of Paper”

Of course it’s true, what Cameron wrote. Yet I wish for magic, Kaboom! Kapow! instantaneous results from any effort put forth.

I dream of the day I wake up and words pour freely out of my head, I suddenly grasp depth of field and know how to perfectly operate all the settings on my camera, and I ride my bike effortlessly up a hill of slippery snow and zig zag through trees without holding my breath.

Kings Island and Mississippi River

I look at other people’s work and this seems to be the case for THEM… All those THEMS out there are not working so hard.

Only if you talk to THEM, you discover that they have been working for years, probably their work has been rejected hundreds of times (if it’s the kind of work that relies on an audience) or if it’s a physical challenge, it’s something that took time. Along the way there were setbacks. You could even say that all those THEMS have tasted failure somewhere along the way.

But I believe failure only exists if you let others opinions or the difficulties you encounter discourage you and make you quit.

ducks and crow on Mississippi River

Overnight successes don’t exist. Perhaps there are “quick” successes, but I wonder if quick success is followed by quick obscurity. If you haven’t learned how to weather the storm and persevere, how can you possibly have the stamina required for staying power?

Success itself is a fickle thing. People are always looking for something fresh and new. You can never just sit back on your laurels* (whatever those are).

It’s not easy to resist throwing on the camouflage and hunting for approval and popularity. Today you can put something you created online in an instant and see how many “Likes” “Follows” “Retweets” “Favorites”  and comments you can get. It can be like a drug, and you are the rat pressing the lever over and over.

dog in the woods

I don’t want to be a rat pushing a lever. What I want are:

  • Real connections with people
  • To have my work in some way serve (not sure what that means… something like supporting others, providing helpful information, entertaining, etc.)
  • To improve my writing and photography
  • To enjoy the practice and process of what I’m doing

I listened to a podcast by Gabriela Pereira** called “Get Motivated and Get Writing.” One thing she said that especially stuck with me was a restatement of Isaac Newton’s theory that  “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.”

In other words, it’s easier to finish something you are already working on. And once you start that work, it’s best to keep it going, no matter how small of a thing you do each day.

dog walking in snow

I’ve found this to be true. Even if I only have fifteen minutes to work on my book, I can open the files, maybe reread something I wrote, rearrange a few chapters, and I decide what comes next so I have direction when I return to my work the next day. Leaving the project with an idea of what I’ll work on tomorrow is a good way of letting my subconscious work on it while I’m offline.

It’s not that magic never happens. I sometimes sit down at my computer to find the next chapter is already in my head when I go to write it. But I’d never get to see such magic if I didn’t first show up. If I wasn’t willing to simply do the work.


*Of course I had to look up what laurels are. I thought they were a person’s thighs to tell the truth… They are trees whose leaves were used to make wreaths in ancient Greece, which were a symbol of victory and success.

**I highly recommend Gabriela Pereira’s website and podcasts for writers. Besides a bunch of great information, she also has this cool word prompt tool called Writer Igniter if you are struggling to come up with something to write about or need a good warm up session.

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