Oh Anxiety

Tomorrow is RUOK Day here in Australia. Today’s post wasn’t going to touch on mental illness but i feel like I’m surrounded by it at the moment so it feels like I should write something about it.

Someone close to me experienced anxiety for the first time in their life recently & I felt it was an eye opening experience for the both of us. Person X (an easy way to reference this person without giving them away) had up until recently gone through life without experiencing a mental illness. Sometimes I would think how lucky X was, to not have first hand experience of being mentally unwell. I would occasionally feel a little jealous of X, because of my familiarity with mental illness. I’ve had diagnosed depression three seperate times & am sure I had it in my late teens although it went undiagnosed. This coming November will see the third anniversary of my diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

So when X was given an anxiety diagnosis I knew I’d be able to offer support. I watched the mind of X (yes, writing that makes me think of an old school spy movie, but I’m committed to using it now so I’ll chuckle to myself & keep writing) loop over & over in the anxious way I know intimately. A thought would occur & despite reassurances from me or others it would loop over & over on a constant thread of what if.

“But what if this happens? Or what about that scenario. Won’t this other thing then take place?” Over & over & over the same things were repeated, making me wonder sometimes if I was being heard at all.

It felt a little like I was having an out of body experience. I watched X run through their anxiety & think to myself ‘this is what I do.’ My mind will latch onto a thought, an often ridiculous, impossible or sometimes catastrophic scenario & loop it over & over in my mind, seemingly unable to stop. I would sometimes feel tired from repeating my words to X & knew in those moments X had felt the same tiredness from conversations with me.

Or I’d be reassuring X to try to stop the anxiety & knew that X had been in this exact same position, offering reassurance & support to me while feeling the fruitlessness of their words washing over me & having little effect. This must be why X has expressed the desire to flick a switch & turn anxiety off.

****

There have been people other than X talk over their anxiety with me this year & other years & I’ve done my best to offer support, letting them know I’m here for them when they want to talk. Or sit with them when they need to get angry or just to offer a shoulder to cry on. If I can offer them just a tiny bit of support, to let them know that they are loved, then I hope that it helps them in some way.

****

So what is the point of this blog post? I’ve touched on living with anxiety in previous blog posts & I will again in the future. It’s a constant on my life & touches everything thing I do. Increasingly it’s impact is smaller on my life, due in large part to my daily anxiety medication & frequent GP & psychologist visits. I’m learning to use my experience with anxiety for good; the above photo forms part of my small but growing body of work trying to photograph the world as seen by me through the lens of an anxiety attack.

If you’re one of the lucky ones to have not had a mental illness you can still be supportive to those who have. You don’t have to have experienced something to be empathetic. But if you feel you would like to learn more, there are countless places online to learn. Beyond Blue is a great place to start, Sane Australia is another. Spend a few minutes getting to know the signs of someone who might be experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. Learn how to ask someone if they need help. Or to tell them that you’d be happy to sit with them so they can talk to you. Learning these things will benefit you & possibly allow you to see signs of someone’s undiagnosed mental illness. Do it with compassion & love. You’ll be a better person for it.

Dogs In The Street Is A Genre For Me

I was lucky enough to meet with a good friend in Melbourne last Thursday. We’d decided earlier on this year that we needed a break from our lives & flying to Melbourne for a few days away seemed like a good idea. It gave us a concrete point in the future that we could work towards, coming in handy when we were wondering if we could get through what life was throwing at us at various times this year.

As I am wont to do I packed my camera into my handbag, expecting there would be opportunities to take photos of something, somewhere. Thankfully, Melbourne delivered. The weather was beautiful & the vibe in the CBD seemed to echo the weather. I had Friday to myself whilst my friend attended a conference, so I spent the the day walking with my camera.

I thought taking my time to wander the city slowly, sitting down whenever I felt like it & paying attention to the light & people within it would hopefully provide me with some opportunities to take photos that I could be happy with. As I moved through the day I found myself yet again being drawn to people with their dogs. Many were walking together, some people were carrying their dogs in their arms & others were sitting with their dog by their side.

I find dogs more interesting than their owners, although I pay attention to the owners in case it is worth focussing on the them in lieu of their dog. I want to know what the dogs are thinking & feeling & try to capture that. I like to think this guy in the photo above was watching me, making sure that I wasn’t going to be a threat to his owner & then wondering what on earth I was doing. To him I probably looked weird standing nearby, relaxed but holding a strange thing in front of my face. He relaxed once he knew I wasn’t going to be a threat & moved his attention elsewhere.

Reflecting on this moment & looking at other opportunities I’ve had trying my hand at street photography I’ve realised that the genre of street photography of dogs appeals to me. It ties together two things that I love – taking photos & dogs. It seems like a natural fit so I’ve decided to improve my skillset within the streets of where I live. It’s not enough for me to wait until I’m in Melbourne or another city. I want to take these types of photos more often so the sensible thing to do is to do it locally. If I have any luck with this project I’ll post images here.

Backyard Sunsets & Zines

Sometime after my husband & I purchased a one acre block of land to build our new home on, I realised that the location affords beautiful views of the setting sun. These unexpected views have provided a source of photographic inspiration for me, especially on days when I have little time for anything other than taking a quick photo with my iPhone.

I thought I’d like to take advantage of these sunsets & set about working out how to predict when one would be particularly captivating. I found an iPhone app called GoldenHour & used it to forward plan sunset opportunities. I noted that if the cloud cover was not too heavy it would add an extra dimension, providing another place in the sky for colour to be reflected. If an evening storm was forecast the preceding clouds did something incredible to the sky, like in the above photo.

Slowly I learnt when to expect a sunset that required my attention & I began to group the photos into an album on my iPhone, allowing quick comparison of them but also allowing me to easily enjoy their beauty again. Flicking through this album I realised that I want to share these photos with others. I just wasn’t sure how to best share them.

After considering this for a while I decided that making a zine would be a great way to showcase these sunsets & share them with others. Each photo would be accompanied by the date it was taken & nothing more allowing the photos to convey their beauty.

I have never made a zine before. I’ve done some research, going down an infinite rabbit hole of possibilities only to stop myself mid way realising that this zine can be whatever I want it to be. I’m going to work on it during the coming weeks & will share my progress here, as well as the completed zine.

On the subject of zine’s I was excited to discover that a tea story I wrote was recently published in a new zine by Naomi Bulger on her website Naomi Loves

In the name of full disclosure I engaged Naomi as my mentor earlier this year. I feel it’s important that you know that although I doubt that is why my story was published. Perhaps talking about mentorship is something I should write about in another post.

It feels special to see my words printed in her zine & I wanted to share it with you. Without Naomi I wouldn’t be here blogging every week & updating this website. I hope you enjoy her Tea Stories zine. And make sure you check out the rest of her work. You’re bound to love it as much as I do.

Unexpected Friendships

When I took my first pole fitness class a little over two years ago I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hoping the class would be fun & might provide a way to get fit without feeling like a lot of effort was involved. By the end of that first class I knew I’d found a new habit. Unused muscles had begun to ache, invigorating me to the possibilities of what it could do if I used it in an unaccustomed manner. More importantly though I’d had fun. Attempting pole moves that were foreign to me felt weird at first but I laughed at the feeling of awkwardness & tried the moves anyway.

I knew I would never look as graceful or beautiful on the pole as the instructor but I was ok with that. I just wanted to keep going, to learn more moves & more importantly to me, test my body’s capabilities. So I returned the following week & pretty soon found myself a regular at the pole studio. I kept returning because I was enjoying myself & because I wanted to continue to see what my body could do. That remains a driving force today, challenging my body by constantly placing it into weird & wonderful positions.

I’ve never liked being photographed but now I have hundreds of photos of me on my phone, in probably as many positions, that serve as a reminder of how to do it again, but also as proof of my achievements.

Reflecting on these past two years attending the pole fitness studio, it’s obvious that my hopes to get fit & have fun came true. However the unexpected element from these two years are the friendships that I’ve formed.

I’ve always found it difficult to make friends. I’ve never liked putting myself out there, especially around people that I don’t know very well or do not know at all. Despite these anxieties I now call some of the women I’ve met at pole my friends. We’ve shared laughter & tears, secrets & triumphs, coffee, alcohol & food. We champion each other as we try out something new, applauding & shouting with glee at the successes. And encourage each other when it doesn’t quite work out.

I cherish these friendships & hope they prevail for many years to come.

Through The Eyes Of A Traveller

The photos shown is of gardens located in Suzhou China

As I write this I find it difficult to believe that 12 months ago I was China for the first time, alone, exhausted, ill-prepared for the oppressive humidity at Shanghai Airport, trying to make my way through customs with no knowledge of Chinese & no clear idea of where I needed to be going. I was attending a conference for work & due things going on in my life I wasn’t able to bring my husband along with me to enjoy the experience of a visiting a country I’d not been to before, nor was I able to extend my stay beyond the five days of the conference.

On the second last day of my stay I had a few hours of free time so I joined a couple of people I met at the conference on a walk to try to make our way to a pagoda located on the top of a mountain, that could be seen from our hotel. We weren’t able to get to it so instead walked the gardens located at the base of the mountain enjoying their tranquility & beauty.

I was amazed to see the air full of dragonflies. They flitted around, paying no attention to me standing there, gobsmacked to see so many of them at once. I guess the combination of the humidity & the abundance of water provides a perfect home for them. They can be just seen in the photo above as mere specks in the sky; I didn’t have a lens suitable to capture them close enough but I didn’t want to edit them out of the photo either.

***

Travelling somewhere new is an experience like no other. The excitement of new surrounds & the possibilities of what photographic opportunities might arise cannot be matched. Unfortunately I don’t get the opportunity to travel to new places often. I do visit Melbourne a few times throughout any given year so I’ve been trying to focus my attention on capturing the things about the city that to me make Melbourne feel like Melbourne. That allow me to look at them when I’m home & think yes that photos speaks of Melbourne, at least to me anyway.

I wonder if I can create photos like this of my local area? Can I look at the places I’ve traversed so often & find something of interest in them? I think I’ll give it a try. It cannot hurt & it might just help me improve my photographic skills. Regardless of the outcome of this challenge I’ll write about it here. Hopefully I’ll have a photo or two I’ll be happy to share sometime in the near future.

I’m Actually Using My Sketchbooks!

Further to last weeks post, where I mused on my breakfast art habit it occurred to me that I am also completing sketchbooks. As in using every single page to create something on. I cannot remember the last time this happened. It may be entirely possible that this has never happened. Yep, in 42 years it’s quite possible that sketchbooks have entered my life only to find themselves languishing in a cupboard or worse, thrown away in a mad moment of getting rid of things if I haven’t used them. So far I’ve completed two sketchbooks, both of which are in the photo below & am half way through finishing the larger one at the back.

I use a Midori Travellers Notebook as my daily diary/to-do list/reminder of things. The inserts in these get used, every single page filled with writing, notes, drawings & art. However when it comes to sketchbooks, well they are an entirely different beast. I have always thought deep down in the back of my psyche somewhere that because I am not an ‘artist’ I don’t really deserve the lovely new sketchbook I bought myself. Or even the lesser quality but still acceptable sketchbook that I’ve owned for years.

Only ‘artists’ should be using those. Lately l have come to realise that this is utter bullshit. Sure I am not an artist in the traditional sense of a person standing in front of a canvas, painting someones portrait in oils, but I still like to make art. I may be the only one who likes my art, but that’s totally ok with me. I’m not making it for anyone but myself. If I hang some of it on my walls and you don’t like it, you’re welcome to tell me. I will respect you more for your honesty. But you don’t have to like it. I’m making it to have fun. To express myself through pens & inks & markers & paint. That’s all.

Although as often seems to be the case in life, that isn’t quite all. Because I’ve realised that the fun I’m having making these small pieces of art is carrying itself over into my photography & to a lesser extent my writing. I am doing both of these things more often & each time I’m trying to get better at them. But I’m caring less & less about if they will be ‘liked’. Thats not to say I don’t want people to like my photos. Thats not to say that I don’t dream of seeing my writing published. But I finally recognise that what I write & what I take photos of does not suit everyone. And thats ok. Hopefully it will resonate with someone. Maybe I will publish my children’s stories (which is a big dream I have), but I also know that my life won’t end if I don’t. I’ll keep doing these things & be happy. I’ll be happier if in some one my work resonates with someone or reaches are larger audience than simply myself. But I’ll still be happy regardless of the reach of my work.

Next time you hear me complain that what I make is terrible & liked by no one, please point me in the direction of this post. I suspect future me might from time to time forget these words & will need a gentle reminder 😉

Accepting Imperfection

When I first began making what I refer to as my Japanese inspired wave art I was cautious, worried about making mistakes. The first three or four I made began with me drawing the design first using a lead pencil. Once completed I then went over it with a black brush pen. Aside from being a time consuming way to make them, I also wasn’t happy because if I wasn’t careful when erasing the pencil marks I would erase some of the pen marks. So it was out of necessity that I began making them using the brush pen only.

At first this was terrifying. What if I made a mistake? What if I destroyed the beauty I was trying to make? I painstakingly created the marks, looking at the reference images copiously, slowly getting something down that I thought looked ok. What I realised however was it doesn’t matter how careful I was being, I was not going to be able to make my art look like the reference images. They were made by Japanese master craftsman who had probably spent their entire lives practising this art. I on the other hand only began making them & I have no intention of devoting my entire life to this one practice only. So I had to accept that my interpretation was never going to be perfect. Surprisingly for me I found this realisation freeing. I immediately accepted the facts and moved on to creating art for arts sake.

I wish I could let go of perfection in other areas of my life as easily as I have with the wave art. I am so incredibly hard on myself, particularly when I am doing something that is important to me. I have an unhealthy ability to loop over & over in my mind a barrage of words that sum up how useless I am if I am struggling to do something. It’s taken me years to recognise this. I used to have the thoughts & not really be aware of them. Now I hear them & actively try to stop them. My success rate is probably about 50%, but hey at least I can stop them sometimes. Some improvement is better than no improvement, right?

If you’re at all interested, the background of this art is made using fountain pen ink. Why? Because I love the serendipity of the outcome. And the range of colours are vast. And it’s a great excuse to buy my ink for my fountain pens! The first one shown is made with Monteverde California Teal ink, the second uses Nick Stewart Ink in Randall Blue Black. The gold waves are created using a Uni Paint Marker inExtra Fine. Lighter background colours look better with black aves, for that I use a Uni Posca Marker PC.1M. The reference images I use are from three PDF books that I downloaded from the Open Culture website.

Sharing Writing

I have been tentatively stepping back into the world of writing. I remain a little wary, the old noises in my head questioning who do I think I am by writing? More & more however when I hear that noise my response is ‘who I am to not write?’ I’ve always loved to write. I remember writing a convoluted murder mystery as a young child, across a variety of scrap pieces of paper. I’m sure it was terrible but the excitement I felt as I wrote is still vivid.

Like photography I fell away from writing, letting my anxieties around my ability take hold & stop me from producing anything. But now I’ve decided no more. I’m sure I’ll always feel a sense of unease at the quality of what I make but my desire to write & take photos is stronger than that unease. So here’s a little sample of writing. I’m not exactly sure what to classify it as, but I think that’s ok too. It’s better to be writing something whose category I cannot quantify than to not be writing at all.

********

Constant weariness makes the day difficult. The desire to stop overwhelming. On & on we push. We cannot stop. Or rest. Not until it is complete.

I wonder why did we begin? Why were we sure this was a good idea?

The costs physical & mental. We will never be who we were. We are shells of our former selves. Do will like our new selves? Does it matter?

Each day hour minute we move closer. It’s now tangible. It can be seen. Smelt. Touched. No longer imagination. Not yet reality. So we edge closer. Hopeful. Wanting. The end.

Exploring Double Exposures

I have been enjoying exploring the possibilities that double exposure photography can bring. Initially I experimented with my iPhone to see what I could create. Happily making double exposures with my X-Pro1 is as easy an experience as it is with my iPhone. I like the otherworldliness the images create, the not quite rightness.

I entered the world of double exposures because I was looking for a way to express my world through the lens of living with anxiety. However as I have moved through this world learning about how to create the images I have come to realise that I simply enjoy making them. They will not be the only images I make, rather they will be another tool to express myself, to show the multifaceted elements of my life, with or without anxiety.