Practicing Mindfulness: Drawing a Double-Edge Sword Against Mental Illness

Practicing mindfulness is supposed to be one of the best positive coping skills for both a person with Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Stands to reason, mindfulness would be a double-whammy good practice for me, then.

Unfortunately, I'm bad at sitting still. One of two things happens when I try a traditional meditation technique; I either fall asleep or I freak out. My head just can't sit in silence an do nothing. If I'm tired or on the depressed side of my pendulum, it is going to shut down and take a nap. If I'm all hopped up--either on caffeine or the naturally produced twitchy chemicals in my brain--it will take stillness as a chance to revisit the bad decisions of my life and tell me how I really screwed up that conversation at the Taco Bell in 1999.

Fortunately for me, there are other ways to meditate. Tranquility can come from focus and focus can come from creation. Drawing is my mediation and is the key to taming the tempests in my mind.

How Art Became My Meditation

When I was in elementary school, I began a life-long doodling habit. The earliest doodles I remember were elaborate death mazes designed to leave stick figures suffering on spikes or eaten by sharks as they tried to make it past my maniacal obstacles.

In hindsight, it makes sense I had to see the school shrink in fifth grade.

I may have abandoned a potential career in video game level design, but I never stopped doodling. Throughout school and my office career, my notes were covered in faces, monsters, robots, and...

Weird hats. Seriously, looking at my 2022 work bullet journal, it's a parade of people in bizarre headgear.

I even doodled when writing long-hand, to the point where these drawings invaded my personal blog posts. Somehow, these sketches resonated with my readers, and they became integral to how I process and share the noise in my head.

Art is Meditation

There are a whole slew of reasons art is good for my mental health, but the biggest benefit comes from how it lets me calm the constant waves of negativity swarming through my head. It shuts down the noise and gives me what I need to concentrate.

This focus comes in two forms, the Big Focus and the Little Focus.

The Little Focus - A Bite-sized Distraction for my Brain

The Little Focus is that same doodling practice all grown up. It is a useful tool that takes a bit of the edge off the surging in my brain. Like a mental irrigation system, it doesn't stop the data stream from flowing, but it does does organize all of that information into little channels that create the fertile soil of productivity.

The Big Focus - Deep Immersion

The Big Focus builds a wall behind a dam inside a force field wrapped with a soft blanket and a comfy pillow.

No matter what is going on in my head, if I can stop and dedicate time to creating art, I will be able to pull out of it. When I focus in on drawing, everything else fades away. I am completely absorbed into the line-work and the colors. My mind stops. The intrusive thoughts and over-reactive emotions get burned away as I put pen to paper--or, more accurately, stylus to screen.

That's where I was last week. All those images I shared were created to help me shut down a wave of frustration and rumination that threatened to sweep me away entirely. I spent several hours in that void, scribbling out images while my subconscious spent time finding solutions to the problems my brain was convinced couldn't be solved.

Even if it didn't end my time in the dark bog side of this emotional pendulum, it made my stay there a little lighter and let me keep doing what I needed to do when all my brain wanted to do was give up on everything.

Balance - As All Things Should Be

It isn't just about escaping depression. Bipolar Disorder has two extremes. I spend as much time in a hypomanic tizzy as I do in a depressed funk.

The mindfulness mediation of drawing helps with both.

Art in the Dark

I've already shown one way art helps stave off the anxiety and depression. It separates me from my dark thoughts and rumination, providing a path to clarity. It channels the inner turmoil into something tangible and understandable. It creates a distraction while letting me explain what is happening, even if I am just explaining it to myself.

Conducting Chaos

During a hypomanic state, my brain is a storm. There is a whirlwind of thoughts, ideas, and energies with little order or structure. In the moments, my brain craves stimulus and without it, my thoughts get scattered on the psychic wind.

Unlike other activities that only engage parts of my mind, art pulls me in fully. It conducts the frenetic energy into creative output. When I draw, I don't need to use an external distraction like audobooks or videos to keep a little piece of my mind preoccupied. The act of creating just pulls all of the disarray into alignment.

Those storms lesson into gentle rains and instead of blowing all of the creative crops right out of the ground and drowning them in torrential floods, it waters the fields and grows some really cool--in my opinion--stuff.

It Keeps Me Going

Art, for me, is not just a form of expression; it's mental health management. Whether it is calming the storm of anxiety and channeling the endless electric chaos, it gives me balance, focus, and peace. I don't know where I would be without it.

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