When the Shadow of Me Returns

Last night my Other Me reappeared, the one of shadows. For, truly, that is where she always stands, lurking: the shadows of thoughts, the shadows of feelings, the shadows of anything I see or do.

It is she who colors a happy idea with doubt.

She deepens the uncertain edges of a frown in every smile.

The fear of possible failure to proposed activities? Also her.

I hadn’t seen her in a while; thought her to be gone. How little I knew. How I forgot. She does not ever go away, especially when I choose to ignore her instead of keep working to repel her. Especially, when I want her.

Last night I felt her; nearer and nearer. And, like a fool, I let her come. I asked her to grow, expand, envelop, then smother. Anything, I thought, is better than what I feel.

Because the Shadow of Me does not feel.

As I settled beneath the apathy and self-pity that I invited in, I twitched a bit in discomfort. Some part of me recognized the old, unhealthy patterns. Something deep within, in a timid voice, whispered, “I don’t think we want this.”

“Do we?”

Yet, not until this morning did I notice the source of the rain. Standing –no- languishing morosely in depthless puddles I blamed anyone but her; anyone but me for bringing her. Like a fool; I cursed the weatherman, the water, the sky, the mud. I failed to name the shadowed storm. It is Depression. And it is not what I needed.

Because, as familiar as Depression is, it is not a good solution.

As easy a solution as Depression appears, its fallout is more difficult to clean up than actual resolution.

But who wants to stand and face her troubles when Depression promises otherwise? I can tell you: not me. No, I chose fear. I chose to see My Shadow’s effects: small rocks on the trail ahead made to look like looming boulders; a few grumpy observations from my companion augmented to devastating predictions against success.

So I turned back.

Rappelled to our base camp of years ago.

And sat outside the tent, in the rain.

I’m still there, you see, but have shifted a bit. My seat felt somewhat wet so I moved to a less-muddy patch. Still depressed. It’s a new day, though; I can see the pervasive grayness is a lighter shade.

And, no, I’m not ready to climb again. ‘Tis a daunting thought.

I think I’ll start with an umbrella. From there, I just might gain the perspective I need to change into dry clothes and eat some rations. We’ll see.

Artist’s Statement ….Part Two

Most people write or draw or craft a billion things. Some of those glitter a bit. Some of them are promising enough to catch attention; make a little money or popularity.

And some of what we do is downright amazing enough that it explodes.

Such was my reaction to this work by The Pale Rook, one that I credit with planting the first seeds of confidence I needed to start showing the world my creativity as well.

Enjoy.

The Pale Rook

The Pale Rook

So remember that thing I applied for?

My application was successful.  I was selected to take part in a project at Scotland’s Craft Town,  the wonderful West Kilbride.   I’ve been a massive fan of the Craft Town since I first found out about it a few years ago, so I’m massively chuffed to be a part of it.  The project I’m involved in takes selected craft makers based in Scotland, at various stages of their careers and gives them specialist business mentoring and studio space for six months.   For the first time in over a decade I am being mentored rather than mentoring others, which has been quite a shock to the system.

The first meeting of the participants, organisers and business mentors involved an exercise where we had to think of things that limited our business or things that we were worried about and then we had to…

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The Cure for Depression: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It’s that time again: time to cure our depression. Way back in January, I proposed that curing isn’t exactly possible -BUT I listed 14 ideas that will help. We’ve talked about 8 or 9 others; like connecting with people, eating right, talking to a doctor or therapist, medicating, and doing happy things.

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Today, I’d like to get into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At least, I thought to get into it. I opened my hand-me-down laptop, typed that big, impressive-sounding word into a search, and then thought, Holy flipping crap! (Yep, I don’t swear often.)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is LEGIT. It has its own, lengthy Wikipedia page.

Aaaaand I’ve just barely heard about it.

Hopefully, that means that all of YOU readers are nearly as clueless as I was, and will be impressed and amazed at the paltry light I’ll be shedding on this topic.

So, first: What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often abbreviated to CBT. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (hereafter referred to as “CBT,” for the laziness of the writer) is simply a bunch of exercises to teach our brains better habits.

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Second: Why do we need it?

Let’s say that you’re a little kid playing with a hose out in the mud. You, sweet little unsupervised thing, have full command of an entire patch of mud and have decided to make trails and paths and mountains and mudpies. It’s a glorious, messy afternoon!

Using only the best sticks you find laying around, you begin digging waterways. The hose water follows. You’re a kid, so are not quite the best at design and such. Some of your water pools at places, overruns its banks at others, and ultimately empties right into the neighbor’s back fence and washes away their freshly-planted flowers.

Oops.

An adult comes over to help. He says he’s Dr. Civil Engineer and is also licensed in psychology. “Let’s turn off the water first,” he says. “Now, my good friend and trusted colleague, CBT, is going to gently help you with mud-forming.”

You aren’t exactly sure what a colleague is, or CBT. You just want to play in the mud, and get the neighbor to stop yelling at you about flowers. Don’t flowers need water? You shrug, and watch what CBT starts doing with your mud. CBT builds up a turn, repairs an overflow area, and (most frequently) digs new paths into less destructive directions.

What’s more, CBT tells you what it is doing and how you can do it, too.

Third: We need this. Professionals say so.

My paid friend keeps telling me that my brain has learned behaviors (almost all negative) and I need to stop and complete them with the more-positive truth when negative thoughts come up. Psychologists refer to these learned behaviors as cognitive distortions. Like the mud and water analogy, our mind forms automatic reactions to situations or thoughts or feelings in order to handle them next time; and, like our first, unguided attempts, they’re not always the best.

These automatic reactions are like cringing when hit in sensitive areas, crying when our nose gets hurt, or kicking our leg when the tendon below our patella is hit.

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CBT is training to get over knee-jerk reactions. It’s still having the jerking, but toward somewhere that doesn’t actually kick someone and, especially, with the result of leaving us feeling happy that we kicked our leg instead of then kicking ourselves for reacting.

Fourth: How does one CBT?

Doesn’t CBT sound fantastic? I think it sounds a bit difficult, myself. How do we get started? Can we actually change how we think? I am not very successful at self-run things, and (yep) I tell myself that I’m not very successful.

I highly recommend getting someone professional to run this for you. CBT is the most common therapy of its kind. However, like many major startups, it has spawned subgroups of more specific subjects, die-hard zealots of original teachings, and side-therapies of similar names run by leaders who couldn’t get credit for starting the first one. Some professional navigation of those twisty roads will help you.

If you’re poor, shy, or just starting out, there are self-help options. A blog I somehow found recently lists online worksheets. Other sites exist, as well as books you can purchase.

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Fifth: No, really: does it actually help?

CBT really does help. My counselor is of the camp that minor mental issues are wholly the result of years of negative thought processes and reactions. Psychiatrists advocate for mostly medical measures, no matter how minor. I think the farmer and the cowman can be friends and meet us halfway.

Most health professionals agree that medicine and therapy, together, are the winning combination for fighting mental health issues.

Our bodies become resistant to medications and substances. Our hormones and brain chemistry change with time and stressful situations. Our motivation becomes dependent on that boost we get from outside stimuli, like prescriptions, drug overuse, and stimulants.

CBT is very nearly the silver bullet of therapies. It empowers YOU. It teaches you how to better handle your own brain -which is great because that’s what you’re stuck with all the time! Even doctors, as empathetic or sympathetic or knowledgeable as they are, cannot EVER understand exactly what you feel and experience. They have their own brains, not yours.

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Sixth: How about a run-through?

I’m getting a bit long here, even with shortening Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to CBT so many times, but can’t leave without some practical advice for all y’all. Here’s one type of CBT method you can run through, from wikihow:

  1. Notice when you’re negative.
    My therapist had me make a list what I know about me. It was about 80% self-critical and even the positive items were less-complimentary.
    Or, meditation is an option. Take at least ten minutes without distraction and pay attention to where your thoughts and feelings go.
    Think about a situation in the past that was negative.
  2. Recognize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.
    Obviously, if you were dropped from a speeding airplane by members of the mafia into a boiling volcano, you had little control over feeling dead afterwards.
    But most situations, even sucky ones, do not cause our bad feelings at the end. WE cause them. YOU cause them. Your natural, poorly-designed mud paths caused the overflow of emotion.
    See the connection, and tell yourself that you felt bad because you had bad thoughts.
  3. Notice automatic thoughts
    All during the day, stuff happens. Automatically, we have some sort of reaction to the stuff.
    Let’s say I went to the store and realized I forgot my credit card. It’s back home in the freezer or whatever. An automatic negative thought from my brain would be, You’re always forgetting things. Further, I would think, Now you have to put all the groceries back. You should never come back to this store again.
    ALL THOSE are not good.
    I need to stop, drop and roll -er, *ahem* I need to stop that thought, way back when it started. Then, I tell myself it’s negative. Finally, I decide to tell myself something more like, Oops! I’ll look for some cash. I’l ask the cashier to hold these for me while I look, or drive home. Heck, I’m not the first person to forget payment; they’ll work with me.
  4. and 5. Talk about core beliefs. Specifically, about tying the automatic cognitive distortions to faulty internal beliefs.
    I’m not in favor of this step, because it’s self-analyzing. Getting into my terrible self-esteem and my potentially-damaging childhood without assistance sounds like a worse idea than the ones my mind comes up with.

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  1. Identify cognitive distortions. This may help with stopping the negative thoughts. Like, you can tell yourself, “I’m not a terrible person! I’m just overgeneralizing. It’s a typical misconception.” Common distortions listed on wikihow are:
    -Catastrophizing by predicting only negative outcomes in the future
    -Having all-or-nothing thinking
    -Discounting the positive
    -Labeling something or someone without knowing more about it or them
    -Rationalizing based on emotions rather than facts
    -Minimizing or magnifying the situation
    -Having “tunnel vision” by seeing only the negatives
    -Mind reading in which you believe you know what someone is thinking
    -Overgeneralizing by making an overall negative conclusion beyond the current situation
    -Personalizing the situation as something specifically wrong with you

Hopefully, this first method of 6(ish) steps works as a starting place for you. The wikihow article lists two other methods as well.

Seventh: A different initial approach is also helpful.

Besides these suggested steps, I’m a big proponent of creating an initial positive environment. I feel like I’m constantly in a negative haze, self-protected and negatively-pressured to the point of not sticking a toe out into the world.

A suggestion from my counselor was to think back on a time when I felt happy or good. Then, I was to keep asking myself, “Why?” until I traced it to a core emotion. For example: I said I’d felt happy driving to the appointment. Why? It was sunny and warm outside and I was alone. Why did that make you happy? I like feeling warm and comfortable. -Holy crap! I like being comfortable. Comfort was my core emotion.

One may also repeat a mantra each morning and evening. Something like, “I am of worth. I love myself;” or reciting an uplifting poem.

Morning meditation is good as well, or prayer.

Whatever activity you do, the goal is to create a positive atmosphere. We want to start our thoughts in a better direction and keep them going that way. Over time, your brain will form better neural pathways. You won’t flood anyone’s flower beds. You’ll have the practice and skills to handle past habits and fight new triggers.

And don’t get discouraged. You’ve had your entire life to build these habits; you can’t change overnight but you can change.

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Photo Credits:
Artem Bali
Pixabay
Pixabay
Sharon McCutcheon
Pixabay
Wikimedia Commons
Tyler Nix

 

*Chelsea Owens is not a licensed anything, except a Class D driver in her home state, and shares all information and advice from personal experience and research.

Flat-Footed

Black and white

“Ee-ew! What’s wrong with your toes?” The sneery-faced girl scrunched up her nose into, well, into a sneer. Her voice was just the right timbre to draw the envy of large, braying barn animals -had there been any around.

Instead, she and I were part of a different sort of farm, one at which children gathered for instruction in reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The sunny rays of late spring shone between us; upon her freckling nose and unkempt hair, and likewise upon my sandal-shod feet with their exposed toes.

I wiggled my posterior phalanges innocently. The movement drew an encore exclamation from my tormentor. “Ew! They’re so weird! Stop it!” Feigning repulsion, she ran away.

I considered following. Had I been of a different personality, the thought of continually chasing her might have occurred to me. Being myself, instead, I looked down at my flat, splayed toes in shame. I tried placing one foot over the other, but could see how that would hamper movement.

The toes returned my scrutiny innocently; though, to my new perspective, they had somehow morphed to resemble dead slugs or ugly bits of log. I had always known my toes were a little different, of course. They didn’t look precisely like my mother’s, or my father’s; though they did resemble my sister’s and brother’s somewhat.

Given that small scientific sampling, I’d concluded that everyone must have some toe issues. Mine weren’t all that odd.

The bell rang, signifying the end of recreational outside time for schoolchildren. I returned inside, a small germ of doubt forming inside my innocent mind. Little was I to know how important my foot fringes would prove later in life; how much of that life they would come to affect.

Of course, they had a few problems in childhood beyond immature condemnation. Those poor, flat slugs jostled against each other too freely inside my shoes. The second and third toe’s unusual length, coupled with the movement, caused them many an ingrown nail pain.

My grandfather, from whom I inherited the flatness, was a podiatrist. He’d look over my feet with the air of a great scientist. Invariably, he’d comment, “Should’ve taken out that first knuckle when you were a baby.”

In response, I’d study my elongated digits. Were they so out of place? Were they so wrong, that they needed tampering with? Editing? Removal?

It wasn’t until my teenage years that my feet became more obvious, and brought again to vocal scrutiny. Most of that was due to an unreasonable social silence I received from peers for most of my childhood. It was like they could sense my feet were different. Perhaps I kicked a soccer ball differently at recess. Maybe the pigeon-toedness of my walk was more pronounced than I’d imagined.

That was when I would recall another way the affronting basal extremities had interfered in younger years. Fearing the extreme way I thrashed my legs inwardly at some moments, my parents had agreed to purchase and shoe me with special footwear. My toes were hidden beneath covered fronts, fronts so obscuring that one could not easily tell the right from the left. Thus split and kept from each other, my gait was altered to tilt more outward, more normal.

As I was saying, however, I could not hide the abnormalities from fellow teenagers. They walked brashly round the high school campus; showing me that, yes, my anatomy was not like most other’s. Most female feet were attractive and small; with cute, curling toes of descending length.

Again, I viewed my primate-like offerings. “Love yourself,” my mother admonished. But, what was to love about my obviously abnormal feet?

Feet like mine

I tried. “I can write with my feet,” I told some friends. I even practiced. The parlor trick was somewhat amusing, but ultimately served to repulse most listeners. No one wants to hear about feet touching pencils and paper, if one wants to hear about feet at all.

I began hiding my shoe size, disguising my walk, and curling my toes when viewable. I pretended to be like those with smiling, happy leg-ends. I mimicked the way they moved. Hopefully, my defects would somehow conform and truly be like everyone else one day.

Eventually I got married, to a man with smaller feet. “They’re so fuzzy,” I commented.

“All men have hairy feet,” he responded. He was normal.

I knew all women did not have my anatomy. Silence was golden. Though I’m sure he could see the size; odd, webbed second and third toes; and bath mat-like nature of mine, he never admitted repulsion. He never admitted love, of course; no closet foot fetishes. Instead, I felt he ignored their presence and focused on what had a better appearance.

Perhaps he, too, hoped they would simply change to different parts if avoided.

Maybe because of their insistence on extending farther than they naturally ought to, this was a defect that could not be overlooked. It was one that began to affect my life, including our married life.

“So you feel your feet are causing problems?” Our counselor queried, concerned. “Do you find yourself picking objects from the floor with your simian second-toe spacing? Are your children trodding on them; not giving you the space you need? Have you ever felt like harming your toes?”

I remembered my grandfather’s wishes to shorten the offending toes. I had to admit, “Yes.”

The good news is that I was referred to a hormonal replacement podiatrist. It’s ongoing news, really, since I’ve come to realize I will always have different feet than more foot-functional humans. But, the initial treatments have helped.

“Oh, I just love your nails, Heidi,” a woman comments to another. We’re at an ongoing outdoor recreational time; a social gathering of neighborhood women. The person she is complimenting happily displays the toenails that drew attention. They sit in even rectangles atop curling, descending toes at the ends of perfect, petite feet controlled by slim, even-stepping legs.

perfect feet

I glance at mine. My toenails still retain most of the strengthening polish I have to douse them with, else they break and peel. They grace my flat, elongated, obscurely-shaped foot profile. The feet are large for a woman, and point inwards the way my knees do.

I shrug.

I can’t fight genetics blessing me with thin nails. I’d rather have oddly-long toes than agree to surgically alter them. Perhaps my shoe size helps my balance -especially when I forget to focus and trip over my pigeon-toed gait.

And, should the world ever be captured by alien invasion and our arms pinioned uselessly to our sides, my apelike toes will come in handy for untying the bonds of my fellow prisoners.

If nothing else, they’ll be able to write a plea for help.

“The first four months of writing the book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite. My other image is pushing a train up the mountain, and it’s icy, and I’m in bare feet.”

-Mary Higgins Clark