I'm actually avoiding currently. Avoiding getting back to a project that I am determined to complete in 2023 (my second memoir, Bipolar Courage).
I don't want to harp on much about my diagnoses on this blog. I will mention in this post that I am diagnosed with the avoidance and shutdown presentation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am into my 5th year of treatment and my psychologist has applied to extend therapy to the end of this year.
I have improved a lot, yet I still struggle and I didn't really want to continue with detailing how in my old blog and vlog on bipolarcourage.com. Part of me feels like I could just delete it all but then I put goodness knows how many hours of effort into it. It takes courage to be vulnerable and show the raw stuff.
Recently I have been transitioning away from advocacy stuff (a 15-year journey in all) and I've been hyperfocussed on setting up this website (using self-taught skills). In this blog post, I want to try say how avoidance can actually result in getting stuff done.
Why I avoid
I avoid with both PTSD and anxiety. I go off on tangents with a creative mind exaggerated by a mood disorder called bipolar disorder. I can hyperfocus for hours on something, yet not be able to focus on everyday stuff (throw some autism spectrum features in there too).
Anyway, I am an extreme avoider. One of the things I avoid is intense emotion and trauma triggers. Hence I can be shutdown to various degrees (just emotionally and partially cognitively) to fully shutdown when I am unresponsive - can't move, think, hear, see etc.
One of the ways I avoid trauma triggers is to keep my mind as busy as possible, so I don't have a chance to thing about triggers. Yes, it's exhausting but in a long-winded way, that's how I've achieved things. By going off on tangents to avoid the bigger goals I want to do, yet avoid as they are triggering.
What I am currently avoiding
I'll give you some examples. It's hard to organise things in my head, so lets go backwards.
Today, while avoiding working on my manuscript for my book, I built a page for this website called 'exhibitions' (thought of the idea when out for a walk, to avoid going to work). Then I didn't get to work at all, as I go into a hyperfocus. (Only reason I manage to have a job at all is my work is part-time flexible). So I got a page made up - achieved something while avoiding something else.
Recently, still avoiding my manuscript, I wrote a few blog posts about my needing to get back to the manuscript (I have LOT of work to do on it). So I achieved a few blog post while avoiding something else.
Recently, while still avoiding the manuscript that I also am determined to complete this year, I decided I was going to discard some digital files, specifically, the cyberbullying event a few years ago. Going through my digital files and discarding what I no longer need is like decluttering my brain. I still have loads to sort but I tossed out nearly 4,000 files. Deleted permanently.
So I achieved something while avoiding my manuscript, which is mainly about 'Maxwell'. Whom, I had an intense connection, then avoided. (He's a superduper avoider too, by the way, so we were quite the pair).
I want to work on the manuscript with fresh eyes, so tossing out the toxic stuff is needed. I don't want my unconventional love story to be contaminated with all that crap.
I'll have to check my journal notes, as I can't really remember what else I have done to avoid. One moment please.
Okay, so I went for a few walks, while avoiding. But then that's a good thing, as it's self-care for my mental and physical health. Of course, my brain was busy thinking and processing. Music helps reduce feelings of anxiety which crop up when I've been hyperfocusing for too long. I've been hyperfocusing a lot lately, avoiding some big anniversay triggers. My psychologist is aware I've been under a lot of extra stress, hence requested more funded therapy sessions.
I don't write full sentences in my journal, just a few notes to trigger my memory. I'm glancing at it now, looking backwards to see what else I have acheived while avoiding. So I wrote in my journal a list of triggers and events to do with the months March to May. I was intending to somehow put them into this blog post but I might start another. Anyway, I was organising in my head the triggers, which is all part of the processing I have done for years. Along the way, that's how my artworks and stories have been created.
For me, processing involved partially avoiding, as if I am too direct with the triggers, I can have an extreme reaction, such as a shutdown, so can't process anything. So avoiding the triggers, yet processing them indirectly (music and colour and as though it's someone else usually as a buffer), that's how I managed to make enough art for two solo exhibitions plus self-publish two books, with more on the way.
Okay, flicking back through my journal (I forget what I've written and typed), which is why writing books is such an incredibly challenging task - I wrote a list of things to avoid. Which is rather ironic. It was like a list of resolutions (even though I am not the type to make resolutions). 'Don't mention (certain names ever again)', 'Don't rehash past shit', 'Don't dwell on the trauma stuff', 'Look at the funny side', 'Keep politics out of my book.' By the way, my psychologist was thrilled I was moving onto new things.
So skipping back through my journal. I avoided my walks for a few days (the weather was too miserable). But, while avoiding going for a walk in terrible weather, I wrote a blog post and redid the home page which had been collecting dust for a long time.
So skipping back some more, I'd written some goals:
1. work on memoir
2. build website
3. sort digital files
So then, been avoiding working on number 1, did quite a bit of number 2, did a little of number 3. Of course, avoiding the number one goal on my list.
So then, before that, I did a painting, Supersonic, to avoid some triggers, which I have still managed to avoid stating in this blog post. I'm sort of wondering if I should, as I want to be more vague about some things, going forward. So anyway, while avoiding triggers, I completed a painting. When I painted without music, I felt anxious and irritable. Music on again, I completely transformed the painting into something fun.
The painting originally started out as a bumble bee on a flower, to attempt to paint the cover of my memoir. I didn't really like it until I changed it. But then, when avoiding it for a few days, I had the idea of using a collage of cut up art relevant to the memoir as the book cover. To get back to that later. So anyway, avoiding led to going off on a tangent of a new idea, which I will use. So then, I went off on more tangents updating the banners and profile pics of my old social media etc.
How am I feeling right now? Anxious. My brain has been working too hard for too long and I'm actually typing stream-of-consciousness style. I've had loads of therapy, so I know what the correct terms from a clinical perpsective are to describe my experiences (which of course, I also describe from my perspective).
So avoiding advocacy going forward is a good thing for me, as this means hopefully avoiding the toxicity that goes with it. Leg jiggling now. Do that when anxious. Flicked past some triggers. I write in my journal stuff that I feel is too private to share. That I can flick through much later, if I want to figure out any themes or check something related to my visual diary etc.
Let's go back further
My brain does not work in sequential order but let's have a go at what I achieved while avoiding something else, from the top of my head (without double-checking my records for accuracy).
This blog post was written in a single session of hyperfocus, with minimal editing - some parts added here and there. Now my brain will be too fatigued to do much else for a while. Although, I will likely wear my brain out, until I fall asleep. I really should wash some rocks ready to paint, as that's a nice mediative activity. Writing can be too overstimulating at times.
Anyone who says that hyperfocus is a 10 minute session has no idea what they are talking about.
I thought of the painting, 'Focus' of a tui that I did a few years a back. So have added it as the artwork. That artwork was to help remind me to more or less stick to a theme. When writing, this is important, otherwise, it's an editing nightmare later.
Immediately after writing this blog post, I had a snack and then did some calming activities to take me out of my head and into my body.
Rolled around on my swiss ball and used my massage tools. Mainly letting the tension sink into my foam roller tool.
Feel a significant reduction in anxiety. Anyway, will try avoid screens for the rest of the evening (too much screen stimulation increases anxiety).
Disclaimer: the author of this blog is not an expert by profession and her opinions should not be taken as expert advice.