MAAM, July 30, 2018: Art as Escapism

I want to go to there…

What is it about art, photography, and to some extent music that makes it so enticing? Why do we like to look at pretty things? Why do we seek it out and pay tons of money for images?

If I was to answer that I would have to say that I am an escapist. The reason I collect and create so many images is that I like to look back at them and put myself in that space and that time.

Images create an imaginary world where I can fill in blanks and put myself there. They can transport me back to a time that my mind can idealize. They can put me in a place where I have never been but want to be.

It isn’t just art, it’s imagery in general. I love historic pictures as well for many of the same reasons. Even other people’s vacation photos aren’t immune to my idealization.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine many if not most people are like me if they examined their reasons for appreciating art.

Is it wrong?

I don’t think so. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with imagining ourselves in other places and times. If it were we should avoid fiction books and movies altogether. We utilize things like art and books and movies to make us happy, teach us life lessons, and to make life that much better.

But can it be wrong?

Yes, if we are consumed by our imagination. If we obsess over images and the worlds they place us in they can become an addiction. Those places will seek to usurp reality and rob us of contentment. They will become idols and push us away from God.

Anything enjoyable can become destructive if overindulged, art included. That is why we must be careful to balance the beauty of fantasy with the often ugly reality.

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Stabbing Anxiety In the Face With a Soldering Iron, Part 1

Panic attacks, overwhelming urges to freak out, dark thoughts, emotional numbness, emotional rage: good times in the life of an anxiety ridden mind.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I have managed to get a hold on my anxiety this year. Sure, it rears its nasty head sometimes (like yesterday and today, ironically), but it’s so much better than it once was.

So how have I managed it?

Anxiety has two different parts to it, at least mine does, one is a physical part, the other is mental.

The physical part frequently manifests itself as a feeling of dread. I get a tightness in my chest, my heart races, every stimulus becomes overwhelming, and I get an urge to move and yell and just generally explode. It can happen any time, but often after a ton of overstimulation or too much caffeine.

The mental is a bit more difficult to describe. Most people use the word “anxiety” to describe worried thoughts. But what I have experienced is a bit more than that. I had utter dread of future events, inability to think positively about anything, always searching for the negative. I create a hundred scenarios in my head and find every single negative possibility, every single thing that can go wrong, and every reason why those things don’t have a solution. My worry goes beyond the simplicity of “what shall I wear?” or “what will I eat?”

The thing is I know all things will turn out. Intuitively I know God cares for me and will provide. I know I am saved by His grace and I will some day be in Heaven with Him. I’m just not a huge fan of the wait.

But as I read in a quote this week if salvation was merely about attaining heaven we’d have a long gap between baptism and our funeral. God has given me the mind that I have and the personality that I have. He knows that my struggles with my mind and personality will drive me to Him. I sin far too much because my mind wanders….

But I digress. This post is not so much about how I don’t trust as much as it is about how I have learned to trust.

Trust takes care of the mental, I’ll get back to that in Part 2. But first let’s tackle the physical.

I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice without talking to your doctor and doing your own research. This is just what has worked for me.

First, herbal supplements. I take a regimine of passion flower, lemon balm, chamomile, vitamin B, and CBD oil. On top of that I take a multivitamin. The dosage varies depending on how I feel, I may increase on particularly stressful days or decrease when I feel better.

They took awhile to start working but when they did it was a complete change. I actually had a ton of difficulty getting used to having feelings again. My anxiety had numbed me to so much when I actually had clarity it was scary to navigate.

Exercise. This is always the standard answer from most people. “Work out and you’ll feel great!” It doesn’t work like that for me, but combined with the above regimine I find it does wonders. When I stop doing the herbal remedies, or I stop working out, I find it much more difficult to get through the hard times. Panic attacks come back, my focus wanders, and I just generally have a bad time.

That would explain this week…

I also drink a little. I know it’s taboo to recommend alcohol as some people can get addicted. But I find one drink of wine or spirits can sometimes settle my mind enough to help me think clearly. If you are the type of person who struggles with addiction, definitely don’t go this route, but if you can control your appetite then moderate consumption may help you.

Diet has also been a great help. I cut back on sugar and processed junk. I reduced my caffeine intake. I started eating more “real” food. It was a night and day difference. I felt less sluggish. When your body feels good, it’s mush easier for your mind to go along with it.

For acute attacks I have found lavender to be particularly helpful. You can drink it as a tea (chamomile too) or diffuse the essential oil in your room. We also have a lavender lotion that is great for rubbing down tense muscles. Another great essential oil is Palo Santo. Diffuse it with lavender and you’re almost guaranteed to fall asleep!

As I said, I am not a doctor, so don’t take this advice as Gospel. I just have found these things to help with my generalized anxiety. If you have more severe anxiety, or depression, or other mental health issues, these may not work for you.

Next time I will discuss what I have done to get the thoughts under control.

Absence and Fondness Of Heart

There is an expression well known to people who go long periods of time without their significant others.

Absense makes the heart grow fonder.

Well, does it? I mean do you really want that other person around more when they are gone? Do you love them more when you are separated?

My marriage has been a test of this theory for some time. I used to go out once or twice a year on two week assignments, then I took a job that had me gone for two weeks at a time several times a summer. Now my wife has that same job and she spends a week or two away at a time. We won’t even mention the long days at her own station which make her home life basically just sleeping, eating a meal or two, and perhaps marital intimacy if the exhaustion isn’t too much.

Do I miss her? You bet. Do I pine about her lack of presence? No. What’s the use? Do I love her more when she’s away? Not really. In fact we have both found that the busier you are in a period of absence, the less likely you are to have strong feelings about the situation.

If anything, absence actually makes presence more difficult. You get used to a routine without that person. You get used to keeping certain emotions bound up. You stop thinking too much about the situation (and the other person) lest it become painful.

Then they come back. Your routine is muddled. You emotions are stirred. Where there would have been pain is now an empty hole into which you shovel your excitement over the reunion. Absence didn’t make the heart fonder. It kinda made it numb.

With the return comes the feels. Strong feels. So you bicker. Bouts of fighting interspersed with intense passionate embrace. All those emotions that you buried with busy-ness now find themselves naked in the laziness that comes in the arms of your lover. Your heart is no longer numb, it wants to explode.

You confuse your excitement with the negative feelings you had in the absence. It feels like panic, so you seek to suppress it. But your heart won’t let you, so you stutter over your thoughts and words and apologize profusely over the smallest of disagreements.

Absence doesn’t create fondness. There isn’t really a fondness growing at all when she is away. Instead, there is a ton of awkwardness rising up and waiting for the return. And oh so much passion.

I don’t want her around more when she is gone. I just want her to stay more when she is here. Honestly, I would rather she never leave. Especially it it’s only to build up some sort of elusive heart fondness.

Because that doesn’t actually happen anyway.

Stop Fearing Your Own Voice

Kids aren’t afraid of their own voice.

I got an email the other day about writing in your own voice. We grow up being told in school how to write, and writing in your own voice is a big no no. You must write through a filter, just like good speakers talk through a filter. I can’t tell you how many “great” speakers truly grate on me with their speech patterns (Hillary Clinton and Obama both have a cadence that runs me up a wall).

It’s much the same with writers, there are some bloggers who I read once and think “never again.” Sometimes it is because they are too long winded. Sometimes it is because they are too stiff and formal, sometimes they are just trying to sound too fluffy for my tastes.

That article really got me thinking though. I filter a lot. (My 12th grade English teacher would kill me for using “a lot.”) I hold back so much out of fear. Mostly fear of the audience and what they might think, but also just fear of really being myself. (And “really”… she really hated that one.)

Whether it is writing or painting or picking a picture to post (don’t get me started on my guitar playing) I hold back. I don’t put my all into anything, I am afraid of it. I am afraid you will see me for what I am. You will see my flaws, my lack of talent, my lack of ability, or my ignorance. I fear that you will chuckle at me or walk away confused by me. I fear you will think I am a fool or a dork or any number of other pejoratives.

Perhaps I am all too aware of my flaws. Knowing them makes it all the more difficult to show my best. I am not the aloof kindergartner who actually believes his recorder playing sounds good (it never sounds good), I am a grown man who knows what he is trying for and exactly how far off the mark he is.

But just because I am not quite on the mark does not mean that I can’t show off my progress. I am getting ever closer to the mark, when I put in the effort. Whether it be in painting, in writing, in taking pictures, in playing music (that one’s in a holding pattern) or any of the dozen or so things I attempt to do in life, I am progressing.

Not sure if better…
Or just a change in style.

I need not fear my own voice or my own hand, for both are bound to improve with exercise.

And neither should you.

Bad Week

So you had a bad week,

What could you do?

Providence isn’t always easy,

What we all go through.

Maybe you were tired,

Maybe you ate too much junk.

Maybe you indulged

In sin or in too much.

Maybe you fed your guilt,

Or stroked your shame.

Maybe you didn’t give your sins to God,

And instead soaked in blame.

So you had a bad week,

Everyone does,

Sometimes.

Will next week be better?

Who’s to say?

Perhaps it will get better,

Maybe it will stay the same.

You can’t always control the circumstances,

Just how you respond.

And I promise you this:

If you respond the same,

The bad will remain.

So change.

Hang-Ups

How do you handle your hang-ups?

Kids and hangups? Ha!

What is your biggest hang-up?

For some it’s their body, for others it’s social interaction. Maybe you have bedroom hang-ups, or food hang-ups. I’m sure we are all aware of something that we just can’t quite get over.

But what about unconscious ones?

What hang-ups are lurking in your sub-conscious mind?

I took medications for years for a painful back. Very rarely did they help, and they came with the unpleasant need for blood work every six months or so just to make sure my liver was handling the stress. These days it’s difficult to take even herbal remedies (which I have found to actually work) because somewhere in my mind I am expecting nothing.

Like many people, marriage led to weight gain. I gained over 35 lbs after tying the knot. Diet, lack of exercise, stress, parenthood, there were so many factors it was hard to fix them all. It wasn’t until I switched careers to one that made me work out that I began to see a downward movement in my weight. Even then it took a drastic change in diet to get back to what I was on our wedding day.

Well, guess what my new hang-up became?

Carbs.

I got so good at counting them that I became almost phobic. And when you cut back on carbs you start eating less in general. Which leads to losing more weight than you really wanted to. In the month I have been on this mountain I have lost ten lbs. I am way more active than I am at home and I am sitting at 9,000 ft. My basal metabolism is higher, my activity level is higher, but my calorie intake is lower. I have gone too far.

It is really hard to tell yourself “eat more” when you remember what that extra 35 lbs felt like.

Hang-ups are trained into us. For years my wife suffered debilitating depression, and I adapted my behaviors around hers. I changed my personality, my habits, and my speech. My thought patterns were molded by how I expected her to respond. My very being was changed.

College psychology class was full of boring lectures and seemingly crack-pot ideas about how humans behave. But from what I have observed, people really do react and adapt to stimuli in sometimes bizarre ways.

Now that she is not depressed my brain is having a fit retraining itself to respond properly to her new and different stimuli. I expect her to be one way and act accordingly, but she is so different now my predictions hardly land correct.

There is so much I avoid doing or saying around her, all because of the training my brain endured for eight years. These hang-ups are hardly ever conscious. Like Pavlov’s famous puppies my body and behaviors have simply learned to respond according to what my mind expects.

What do I do with these hang-ups?

Well, the first step is realizing that I have them. As so many of them are subconscious it usually takes a secondary factor (like ten lbs of weight loss) to realize they are there.

Then it takes discipline and concious effort to change the behavior that results from the hang-up. Eat more, eat carbs, eat when you aren’t hungry but know you should. Talk to your wife, tell her what you like about her, pinch her butt, kiss her in public because you want to, ask her to do things you need. Take your medicine, even if you aren’t sure it will work, don’t stop taking it when you discover it does actually work (this will make it stop working, dummy).

You won’t necessarily be able to get rid of the hang-up. It may still lurk somewhere back there, whispering lies, trying to keep you locked up in it. But by changing your behavior, conciously and consistently, you will break it of its power.

How do you handle your hang-ups?

Epiphany

Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you feel? Like you just have a blockage somewhere and you wish something could come along and clear out the pipes of your soul?

I don’t know if I have ever used the term “emotional constipation” on this site, but it is a phrase which occasionally pops into my brain. This constipation frequently occurs when I have nothing to worry about.

Anxiety is like fiber in that it really pushes all that emotional crap out into the world. It’s an extroverted emotion that wants to display itself and be the center of attention.

Peace on the other hand… Peace just likes to be. When I am at peace I tend to hole up and be insulated. I need no one to share with, no one to dump on. When life is stress free, nothing moves.

Stillness can be great, don’t get me wrong. But my natural inclinations are towards worry, so when nothing is moving I feel like a marble on a tabletop. I just roll wherever I am tilted.

This leads to conflict, I don’t know what I am feeling. Am I at peace? Am I secretly anxious? What should I be? Then I get meta-feelings about my feelings. Or non-feelings. Whichever happen to be occurring at the moment. Then I get all clogged up, not knowing which way to go.

How do I solve this blockage? Simple: stress. Writing, reading, sex, painting, singing, praying, a walk, running, weight lifting, forcing myself to do something intense, anything which puts a load on my body or my mind to the point where it just can’t hold anymore.

Some people need peace and quiet. I need a challenge.