Friday, January 31, 2014

A Little Bit About that Zentangle Thing

I will post a health update soon.


A little while ago I posted some pictures and introduced a new word to many of you -- Zentangle (which is a registered trademark and is supposed to have that little R in a circle thing, but I don't know how to do that on here so let's pretend this is a really long version of that).

A few of you have said you looked into it a bit or thought about trying it but haven't really found your way.  So I thought it might help if I shared my Zentangle (still trademarked and you'll have to assume that from now on) journey with you.

I first saw the Zentangle art form over a year ago on my cyber-friend's blog (Sherri -- not to be confused with a cyberman, for all you Whovians).  She fights MS and talked about how tangling helped her.  Even though I don't have MS, a lot of the symptoms I have are similar to things she struggles with.  I was intrigued but didn't think I could do it.  I doodled in junior high and high school and used to copy the illustrations in my Peanuts book and took a basic art class in seventh grade.  That was about the extent of my drawing experience.  I just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind as an if-I-ever-feel-well-again-I-will-try-this thing.

I don't know why I suddenly decided the time was right a week before Thanksgiving this last year, but I did.  I thought about it for a day or two.  Looked it up a bit.  And then went out and bought what I thought were the absolute basics I'd need.  A sketchbook and pens.  A six dollar sketchbook from Walmart and a fine and medium Sharpie (also from Walmart).  Within a few days I'd added a pencil (just a regular one from the drawer) and some Q-tips to my supplies.  A few days later I bought a gum eraser and a paper stump (for blending, which is what I'd been using the Q-tips for).
These are the basics.  That's what the Sharpie packaging looks like in case you want to buy some.
This is my sketchbook, which has my name on the cover because two of my daughters have the same kind.

For the first little while I just drew in my sketchbook.  I searched out some of the basic patterns and copied them in my book, for practice and reference.  I drew some simple tangles.  I was really enjoying it, even though it caused me to fight my perfectionist tendencies. 

Then, as he was looking at my latest tangle, my husband said he wanted to color it.  Which, of course, I wouldn't let him because it was my art.  Hello?  But it inspired an idea.  I decided to make a coloring book for him for Christmas (which I did and made several for my kids and a few friends, too; I have these in a pdf file and you are welcome to it if you want it, just shoot me your email address).  That's when I bought some linen paper (because I love the texture of it) and got out the clipboard and started drawing on 8 1/2 x 11 paper.

I don't think this is the traditional journey to Zentangle, but who knows.  Zentangle is an art form that started around 2005ish when a former Buddhist monk was watching his artist wife add detailing to a piece she was working on.  She described what she felt as she did it and he told her it was just like meditation.  They worked together to create a simple system so others could enjoy a similar experience.  Their tag line is, "Anything is possible one stroke at a time."  They also say there are no mistakes, just opportunities to discover new patterns and go in unexpected directions.

They teach their method to others who then become Certified Zentangle Teachers (CZTs).  There are CZTs all over the world, although there isn't one close by me.

Zentangle is done in black and white, with shading (although there are variations on this and lots of people add color).  It is done with pigment pens (so many to choose from, but the Sharpies worked just fine for me for a long time and were the least expensive option).  It is taught on tiles (3.5 inch squares of paper sold by the company).  The tiles now come in white, black, and Renaissance (which are tan).  They also have black and white circles.  These are all about the size of a drink coaster.  They also have black and white ATC-sized cards.

Anyone who has done paper crafts knows you can buy all the stuff from the main company and get great stuff but pay a lot or buy similar stuff at your local craft store and pay a lot less.  It's fun to have some genuine Zentangle supplies, but not necessary.

(Yes, I know my "little bit" about Zentangle is turning into a "lotta bit."  But I want to keep it in one post.  Deal with it.)

You start with a string, which is basically just a line of any shape.  Then you use the Zentangle patterns to fill in the spaces this line created.  The line is your skeleton.  The patterns are the muscles and skin.  The shading is the beautiful clothing.  Or something like that.

Most of the patterns have step-outs available.  This is a step by step illustration of how to do what they did.  There are so many patterns that look complex but are so simple (like Paradox).  The best resource for tangle patterns is  I have spent a lot of time there doing things like this:
A page of patterns from my sketchbook.  Make sure you include the name of the pattern in case you need to look it up again.  Also, if I figure anything out as I draw it, I make note of it next to the pattern.  Because I am old and won't remember.
But sometimes I do this:
This has some tangle patterns I saw and wanted to try, one I tried to draw but it sucked so I gave up and crossed it out, and those dark swirl things.  That's a loose recreation of the pattern on the carpet outside of my therapist's office.  Cool patterns are everywhere!
There are also a lot of YouTube videos that teach Zentangle.  One of my favorite YouTube teachers is Ellen Wolters.

I'm still finding my way, deciding what works for me and what doesn't.  I think my art will continue to expand.  It's been very enjoyable for me.

And before you tell me you can't do it, let me tell you this.  My husband has started tangling.  My can't-draw-a-straight-line-or-a-circle-either-for-that-matter husband.  And he loves it.  His tangles turn out very different from mine, but they are still cool and it's very satisfying and soothing for him.  And he doesn't have the same perfectionist issues I do, so he tends to experiment more.  His are very creative.

If you think you'd like to try but want someone next to you to walk you through it (and are in my general area), let me know and we'll find some time to get together so I can show you the basics that I've learned.  I am absolutely NOT a CZT.  I am just a self-taught novice who is willing to share what she's learned.


I have added a tab, Tangled Art, under my blog header.  For now, this is where I will put pictures of the pieces I create.  Hopefully, I will find a better option for this eventually.


I am participating this week in two Zentangle based challenges.

First, the I Am the Diva Weekly Challenge #152 -- Aquafleur:
This is the first time I've drawn a tangle in anything other than black.  It was fun.  Plus, I love Widgets and wanted to try making a Widget the center of a tangle.

I know Aquafleur is all about the look of a water flower, but to me it always looks like a ribbon around something.  I wanted to try something other than a flower.

And second, Adele Bruno's "It's a String Thing" #25 - using Fassett:
I started building this from the center out.  Soon it was this fun twisty pillar shape.  And whenever I see Fassett done randomly, I see these star shaped flowers.  I wanted to bring a few out with color.

I thought about trying Fassett in the grid style.  But as I looked at the given string, I decided it didn't really lend itself easily to a grid pattern.  Then I wondered what kind of shapes I'd get if I overlaid a grid on top of the string.  This is what I got.  I love the pinwheel shape that emerged.  I kept everything minimal (just a few sections with Fassett and a bit of shading and embellishment) because I liked the blend of the string and grid so much and wanted that to show.
If I didn't know these last two tiles shared the same string, I don't know if I'd have guessed it.

These two challenges were the first time I've worked on the 3.5" squares.  It was fun.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Silent Storm

A continuation from my last post, What a Bad Mental Illness Day is Like.


For the most part, when I am struggling, I am not obvious about it.  I get very quiet and avoid people and activities when I can.  Because I have to for self-preservation.

Do I hide it on purpose?  Sometimes.  When I cry and cry all day long at every little thing, I fight those tears around my kids.  And around most other people.  I don't want my kids to worry.  I don't want to have to explain myself to others.  And seeing the pain in others' eyes because I am hurting is hard.

But sometimes I have to explain.  And then I cry and pace and shake my arms to try to make the feelings go away.  It's so exhausting and it hurts!  After an hour of trying to explain and process, I feel like I've done the hardest workout of my life.  I have to change my clothes because I sweat so much.

This last week I had to do this twice.

First with my bishop (pastor).  I snapped at him at church.  Later I apologized and told him I was not in a good place.  He asked if I needed to talk.  I try to keep my life off his plate because I know his plate is full.  But this time I absolutely needed him.  I needed a priesthood blessing.  And he needed to understand how bad it was.

We visited for an hour.  He listened well and asked good questions, but not too many.  And he gave me a blessing.

But I scared him.  Enough that he asked about hospitalization.  It's not the worst I've ever been, but it's the worst he's seen me.

He asked me to promise to communicate with him more often when I'm struggling and let him worry about how much is on his plate.  I promised to try.  It's very difficult.  I also promised to talk to my therapist about hospitalization and medication.  That was Sunday.

Yesterday, I met with my therapist and had to do the whole thing again.  So exhausting.

We did an EMDR scan to see if this was connected to some trauma we haven't worked on yet.  Nothing came up.  We did a couple of EMDR tracers to see if it was connected to either of the two traumas we've recently worked on.  Again, nothing.  My symptoms have been a lot like PTSD, but it doesn't seem like that's what this is.

When my PTSD gets triggered, I usually have at least an inkling of what it's connected to, even if I don't want to talk about it.  This time there is nothing.  I have no idea where any of this is coming from.  I don't know what's causing it.

My therapist said we treat it like an anomaly and treat the symptoms the best we can until it passes (unless it doesn't).  He suggested it might be SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  He offered to put my name on the list for the DBT group (dialectical behavior therapy -- mood regulation training).  We established a medication plan.  He gave me permission to isolate myself therapeutically (you wouldn't think that permission matters, but it does).

He asked what one symptom was the worst.  I thought for a minute and answered, "The way the emotions of others overwhelm me."

You see, right now I feel everything those around me feel.  It's like I am permeable and can't keep their emotions out.  They saturate me and drown me.  It feels like everything is a crisis.  When my daughter complains about someone she works with it feels the same as someone talking to me about the death of their child.  Everything is a ten on the pain scale and it all comes through into me.  Like they are drowning and clinging to me to save them, drowning me in the process.  It hurts.  The emotional pain is so intense that it becomes physical.

So I have to protect myself from it.  I have friends who have been going through a tough time and I haven't been able to reach out to them because it's too much for me.

Even when I'm not with people I hurt.  I feel like all my nerves are on fire.  It's like I'm wearing a coat lined with little needles and they are all pressing into my skin.  And it feels like if anyone bumps me they will press those needles deeper.  Plus, people give off their own electrical field.  When anyone is closer to me than about three feet, it feels like their electrical field is being conducted through those little needles into my body.  Having people near me hurts.  It just hurts so bad.

I cry a lot, over anything.  My heart races.  I feel like I am shaking (although I am only occasionally actually physically shaking).  And I am so sensitive to everything.  Today, even the shower hurt.

But this doesn't show.  There's no visible sign that I'm not okay.  Except for my red eyes when I'm crying.  Or when I cringe away from people when they get too close (which so often hurts their feelings).

I still can't connect to myself.  I've tried.  And I can't connect to God.  I keep trying.  I don't think he's pulled away, but I just can't seem to connect.  It's incredibly painful to not be able to connect to myself and to God.  I feel so lost.

I've had similar symptoms in the past, but I've always been able to figure out why.  I can't this time.  And it's usually been of short duration, but this time it's been a month with almost no break.  I know my behavior doesn't make sense.  I know my reactions are completely out of proportion.  I know I am angry way more than I should be, but I can't stop it.

So if you see me, please be kind.  I may look okay, but inside there is a storm raging that threatens to submerge me.

What a Bad Mental Illness Day is Like

It's so difficult to explain how it feels when you struggle with mental health issues.  How do you explain emotional pain in a way that others can understand?  How do you say how hard everything has become, things that shouldn't be hard at all?  Especially to people who don't struggle.

I've been on the other side.  I've been the one whose life was turned upside down on a regular basis because I lived with someone with mental illness.  I've been the one who got angry because my life couldn't be what I wanted it to be.  I've been the one who resented the person struggling.  I've been the one who thought they were making up excuses for things they didn't want that I did.  I've been the one who felt like I was being manipulated.  And I've been the one who felt guilty because I couldn't find empathy in my heart for them because I was too close to the situation.

But this time it's me.  This time I'm the one whose mental illness is affecting the lives of those around me.  I'm the one who's messing up the plans.  I'm the one who's dropping the ball.  And I feel guilty about it and try to hide it and try not to let it affect those around me.  But it does.

When you have a physical illness, it's not tough to explain why you can't follow through on a commitment or why you don't want to go out with friends.  "I think I'm getting the flu."  "I did too much last night and am just too worn out."  People might not be happy about it, but they get it. 

It doesn't work that way when it's mental illness.  "I'm having an emotional breakdown."  "Leaving my house is impossible."  "I can't be around people."  People don't get that.  And if it happens over and over, they think they are excuses and you don't really want to be with them at all and they just leave you.

Or they want to fix it.  They ask so many questions (which are exhausting for me when I'm struggling).  Then they tell you what to do to fix it so you can be with them again.  Like somehow they know what you need.  Let me just tell you right now, I've been under the care of lots of doctors and therapists over my lifetime and even they don't know what will make it better.  Luckily, they all knew enough to say so.  "Try this or that," but not "This is the answer for sure."  Because mental illness doesn't work that way.  (Heck, physical illness doesn't even work that way.)

I've been in a very bad place for about a month now.  Really dark days and just cloudy days but no bright days.  And I am trying.  I have done all the things every doctor and therapist and spiritual leader has suggested and I'm still there.  In the darkness.

Usually, I can't write when it's a really bad day.  But a couple of weeks ago I was able to.  I share it with you now knowing it might make me look more crazy than anyone thought.  I share it knowing there will be some who still think I'm making excuses.  But I share it because I am able.  Mental illness is difficult to communicate.  So difficult.  But I am a communicator, so I share this for all those who can't put it into words.


January 13, 2014

I've been hurting a lot the last week or so.  Headache that just won't break.  I have a few hours that aren't so bad, but then it overwhelms me again.  Nothing I've taken will take it away.

But that's not the bad part.  The anxiety is the bad part.  For a couple of weeks now.  Moments of okay and then hours of worry and fear.

And I worry that whatever I've taken for my head is making the anxiety worse.  But if I don't take anything, the pain and anxiety stop me cold.

Still, neither of those is why I'm writing.

Today I feel like I'm slipping away.  Like my mind is going.  I have visions of myself in the psychiatric ward, no longer myself.  No longer able to care for my family or even for myself.

This thought was followed by the thought I often have that I need to get my life in order.  I need to get things running smoothly enough and processes in place so my family can run things without me.

For the longest time I've thought this was because I will continue to deteriorate physically.  To the point that I can't get out of bed and do things.

But today I found myself thinking, feeling, it might be something else.

What if I'm not just going to deteriorate?  What if I'm going to be gone?  What if I need to get things in order because I am going to die young?

It feels like a very real possibility in my heart.  I feel like I need to get my life in order so my family can get on without me.

And today, I just feel like I am slipping away.  Like there's less and less me inside this shell of my body.

And I thought I should write these feelings down while I can.  Before I'm too far gone.

It scares me and I don't know what to do.


I took a shower and brushed my teeth in case I need to go to the hospital.

Writing calmed me some.  But the feeling isn't gone.  It's like I've resigned myself to the situation.

It's like reality is just a step away from me.  I could reach out and grab it, but I don't.  I don't want to.  I'm not sure why.

My body is present; I am just slightly out of phase with my body.  Just connected enough to go through the motions.  I can put on a show.  Make people think I'm here.

They see my body so they think I'm here.  But I'm not.  I just left a tiny piece of myself in my body like a tether.  I am still connected to my body but not present with it.

I wonder if I will come back.  I wonder how long I'll be gone.  I wonder why I left and why I don't want to go back.


I interact with my family.  They can't tell anything is wrong.  I'm just more quiet than usual, until someone stresses me out with questions.  Then I snap and yell and leave.

But mostly I'm just quiet.  On the outside.  Inside there is a storm raging.  I want to peel my skin off.  Inside I feel like I am banging around on the walls.  Pounding.  Trying to get out.  Like I am trapped in an asylum.  Inside I am pounding and screaming.  But on the outside I'm just quiet.  And trying so hard not to be touched.


I need to say more, but this is already too long.  For the rest of the story, see The Silent Storm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coloring is Hard for Me

Quick side note:  The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for me mental health-wise.  I'll write about it soon.  For now, I welcome any good thoughts or prayers offered in my behalf.


Coloring is easy, right?  Coloring book, crayons, relaxation.  That's how it's supposed to be, right?  And sometimes it is for me, too.  But other times it just really isn't.  Especially when I'm working on a project I'm going to give to someone.

There may be all kinds of reasons it's tough for me, but the primary reason is because I'm color blind.  Yup.  I'm one of the very rare women who have that luxury.  It's estimated that close to 10% of men are color blind but only 0.5% of women.  That's half of one percent.  Lucky me.

So all my life, color has been tricky for me.  I learned all the rules about color.  I know which ones work together and which ones don't.  I know about complementary colors and triadic color schemes.  But I still often have to ask my daughters what color something is (my son is color blind, too) and whether or not I can use this color with that one.  And since I am color blind, I really have to follow the rules of color or things get nasty.  Some people can break them with beautiful results, but not me.

So I was kind of thrilled to find out that true Zentangle is done in black and white -- not color!  Many people add color, but my tangling efforts could be complete and acceptable if I never colored anything.

Then I made a piece for a friend and he asked me to color it.  Ugh!

I was sure I would ruin it.  I had no idea how to do it.  And my coloring supplies were minimal.

So I stressed out about it.  A lot.  So much for the "zen" in Zentangle.

I thought I'd try watercolor.  I bought a nice set and watched several YouTube videos.  I knew I could do it.  Except it wasn't the same when I did it as when they did it on the videos.

So here are the steps to my first colored piece:

my practice page
I had done the piece on watercolor paper.  I had planned to color it until I got it done.  Then I liked it a lot in black and white (check out my last post to see the black and white version) and didn't want to mess it up.  Until my friend requested color.

Watercolor paper has a lot of texture.  It's also very heavy.  I liked the weight and texture of the paper but wasn't sure how it would affect the coloring.  I drew a few simple shapes with a touch of tangling on a separate piece of watercolor paper.  I also drew two smaller versions of the original piece (without the skull because that took forever) to test out color combinations and do a couple of trial runs.

I did some watercoloring on my practice page and decided I was ready to give it a try.  This is how my first test run on my mini-version tuned out:
mini-version, watercolor, first trial run

You may notice the page curled a bit.  That didn't bother me.  I was sure I could fix that if I needed to.  But I wasn't happy with the result.  Not even happy enough to finish it with some shading (I might still go back and add that later).

Then I gave up for about a week.  I didn't know what I was doing.  I was super stressed (that bad mental health struggle I mentioned).  I needed to step back for a bit and leave it alone.

Yesterday, I decided to attack it again.  Not having it finished was causing me extra stress.  I needed to finish it so I could get that monkey off my back.  I decided to use colored pencils.

I bought a set of watercolor pencils a few days before, thinking maybe I would still watercolor but in a different way (I never did end up adding water).  And I had a large collection of Crayola colored pencils from years of art projects with my kids.  I tested them out a bit on my practice page and decided just to go for it on my second mini-version (after watching a three part tutorial on YouTube about using colored pencils).

This is how the second trial run went:
mini-version, colored pencils, second trial run
There were things I liked about it and things I didn't.  But frankly, I was so tired of this hanging over my head, I kind of said "screw it" and dove into the real project.

I used mostly the Crayola pencils, but I did use one or two watercolor pencils.  I did some smudging here and there.  A bit of shading. 

And this is how it turned out:
almost there
It was acceptable.  I wasn't thrilled with it, but it was done and I was so ready to be through with it that I just didn't care that it wasn't perfect.  For a few hours.  Then it started to bug me again and I knew it needed a little bit more.

So I colored in the Widgets (the things that look like little alien robots) with some strong bright colors and darkened the red and blue on either side of the skull.  I also colored a few of the yellow dots orange.

No more tweaking.  I promise.  This is the final product:
the final product
Do I love it?  Not really.  Although it has grown on me.  When I put it away for a few hours and then come back to it, I like it more.  But I am calling it done!

A few tidbits.  You may have noticed that in each piece, the peace symbol is green.  That's not because I really loved the way it looked.  It's more because it's my own little joke that brings me a weird joy -- GreenPeace (tee hee).  Also, I did the space to the right of the skull red and to the left blue because that's the way they are colored on the Grateful Dead album art.  And since it's very much a hippie-inspired piece, I wanted to incorporate some tie dye if I could.  Hence, the rainbow border.

I'm trying to get over the fact that it didn't turn out the way I imagined it in my head and just try to love it for what it is.

I won't give up on coloring.  I want to get some different supplies to try, primarily some Tombow brush markers like I had years ago when I was a demonstrator for a stamp/scrapbook company.

But whether I love it or not, I am proud of myself for tackling something that's hard for me and not giving up.  Yay, me!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beginning to CREATE

This is the year.  2014 is the year I begin to create the world I need.  The world of peace for my heart and mind.  This is the year I figure out what I want and how to make it happen.  With my heart and mind and body, it will. -- These are the words that create the border of my vision canvas. 

My word for 2014 is CREATE (explained here). 

My year got off to kind of a rough start.  Horrendous headache that won't break for a couple of weeks.  Nasty anxiety.  And the ever present struggle to figure out when to medicate and when to wait it out.  Knowing there will be drawbacks in either case.

So I had all these glorious ideas and then watched day after day go by without being able to fulfill them. But not entirely.

I've been able to tangle some.  Finish a couple of projects.  One of which is my vision canvas (like a vision board, but tweaked for my purposes).  Just pigment pen with pencil shading on a 9"x12" watercolor paper.

So, even though I never use photos on my blog, today I will.  And probably more in the future.  At a minimum I plan to create a sketchbook tab for my tangles.

Here's the first one I'm sharing.  My vision canvas:

It started with the word CREATE, because that's what it's all about.  Then I drew a string with some loops (in pencil, later erased).  I used this to add more words.  Not necessarily all things I will accomplish this year.  More like shades of words to color the idea.  There are more defining words in the ribbon.  In case you can't read them all they are as follows:  peace, stability, strength, refuge, dragonflies, healing, haven, space, calm, wellness, sanctuary, satisfaction, fortitude, oasis, happiness, gargoyles, garden, structure, dragons, wholeness, atonement, shelter, freedom, health, joy, self, focus, safety, divinity, dreams, escape, order.  Then I tangled in the various spaces and shaded with pencil.

I'm very new to this art form, Zentangle.  I started about a week before Thanksgiving.  So far, I am loving it.  And I love that I am learning something new.  Learning is always energizing for me emotionally.

In addition to tangling, I have found other ways to incorporate CREATE into my days, even when I'm down.  I have tweeted a quotation about creating every day.  And I have questioned myself more.  Because figuring out what I want is an elemental part of creating.

When I woke up last Sunday and began hoping for a good day at church I stopped myself.  I spent a few moments asking myself what I wanted my experience at church to be.  I focused my thoughts and heart that direction.  I prayed for assistance.  It changed my day.

I've done this a few times since.  For different events.  For me, I haven't been able to define my whole day with one choice yet.  But I can define different experiences and activities, or moments, throughout the day.  I think part of this is because I haven't been well.  I think it's also because I'm learning to use new mental muscles.  Anytime I learn something new, it takes time to become skilled at it.

Onward and upward.  More creating to do.  I'm finally starting to feel a bit better.  Ready to tackle my little corner of the world.

I leave you with my favorite tangled work so far.  It's a piece I created for a friend.  The only guideline he gave me was free flowing, kind of like The Grateful Dead.  He wants it colored, so I will be water coloring it.  For now, this is it (9"x9" on watercolor paper):

I hope you're all finding wonderful ways to experience 2014.


Since I'm new to photos on my blog, please let me know if there are display problems for you and what platform you're using to view my blog.