Tag Archives: depression

Making Mandalas for Healing

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a healing mandala.After the election, stunned friends flew to their therapists. The TV flashed scenes of protests across the country. People all over the world were in various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was numb, my mind too scattered with other problems: pipes leaked under my driveway, contaminating the water system. The well pump was close to burnout. My mother’s dieffenbachia plant was in trauma. And my closet shelf, once securely screwed to the wall, had torn away and collapsed under the weight of my belongings. It felt like everything was falling apart or failing. So when a friend phoned inviting me to walk in the woods, I said, “Yes, let’s go right now.”

“It’s gonna be slow,” my friend warned. “I want to gather some things along the way to make a mandala.” She mentioned something about needing to “right the world.” Maybe she said “for healing” and “to calm spirits.” It didn’t matter what she said. It resonated. And I was desperate to escape.

In the woods, on the way to locating the creek that would be blessed with our “round symbol representing the universe in a search for completeness and self-unity,” my friend and I collected leaves, ferns, twigs, small patches of moss, and a single red berry.
“We need seeds for the mandala,” she said, something about “planting change and growth.” My previous mandala-making was mostly out of the peas and potatoes on my dinner-plate. So I kept quiet and my friend showed me how to string red and yellow leaves together, threading their stems through their papery skins. She arranged the elements while I photographed leaf veins that resembled tiny trees. She planted a feather in the middle of the masterpiece when it became apparent that I’d stepped on the berry.

Finally my friend was satisfied. She’d done her part to foster peace in the world. So we left the woods and went to my house where she screwed the shelf back into the wall and rescued the dieffenbachia plant. Maybe she said a prayer over the driveway’s leaky pipes and contaminated water too. I don’t know. But things felt a bit lighter, restored to order.Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, Photoshops a friend making a mandala for healing and peace after the election.

The next day it rained. The wind was blowing the trees bare. Unsettled as the weather, I hovered over the computer with the TV on for company. And, thinking of seeds and leaves with tiny trees reaching out to the world, I photo-shopped a mandala of my own. For “self-unity.”

 

Do you have any rituals or remedies for coping with things falling apart and failing? For things changing?

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A Black Hole

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops the eye of a flower to represent the black hole that happens when a loved one dies, that happens when a writer falls into creative block.A black hole can happen when a star dies. It can happen when someone you love dies. And when artists or writers run out of inspiration, losing the ability to create new work, they may wail, “I’m lost in a black hole.”

In a black hole, the pull of gravity is so strong that nothing can escape it, not even light. Powerful tidal forces exert pressure that compresses matter, making it plunge at the speed of light, stretching it out lengthwise and squashing it sideways, tearing it to pieces, smashing, disintegrating, instantly incinerating and obliterating it to ashes.

I remember the early days after I lost my daughter. I remember the crushing feeling, the slow leaking of my energy, gravity ripping me apart. The hopelessness. My insides were imploding. I was alone. Aching. Trapped. Lost in a deep, dark, endless emptiness.

Black holes come in different sizes, from micro to supermassive, from death and grieving to creative block.

“If you feel you are trapped in a black hole, don’t give up. There is a way out,” says world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who has spent a lifetime studying black holes. But even he questions what kind of shape you, or any matter that gets sucked into a black hole, might be in upon escaping. Hawking says whatever gets freed from the hole is “for all practical purposes … useless.” Still, somehow, my hope survived my black hole. A battered ounce of hope is enough to fuel one forward.

Last week I started off my “new season” of photographic images. Taking cautious baby steps, keeping it simple, I photographed all sorts of orifices with my newly repaired, cleaned camera. Openings in foliage, depressions in trees, eyes of fall flowers… I made a circle. A square. And the beginnings of a plan to bring joy and color back into my life:

Start with a black hole. Put it in a box, to contain the chaos that might grow from it. Hug the negative space around it. Skirt the edges of its perimeter, aware it could suck in and swallow whatever approaches its point of no return. Surround it. Expand it. Drag it around and poke at it. Keep peeking into it to look for light. Learn to love the black hole that periodically pulls. And find new ways to fill it.

 

What can you do with a black hole? How can you fill it? Should black holes just be avoided?

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Turn it Around

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, uses painting tools in Adobe Photoshop to draw a broken clock with glitches.Glitch
by Marika Warden

I sit before a clock of time.
It ticks and tocks and stops.
It’s broken and I can’t rewind
My life stands on its edge.
A record skips when there’s a glitch
But such a glitch I cannot find.

My daughter’s poem floated in my head. All week. It was a week of glitches. Setbacks. Malfunctions. Breakdowns. My camera was being repaired so I couldn’t take photographs. My favorite bakery, where my work was to be exhibited, announced it was “closing for good,” so there would be no exhibit and no more scrumptious Sixth Avenue cakes. My father’s old watch, with its new battery, stopped working. Summer ended. I was left with an unidentifiable longing, an ache like erosion.

I’m trying to dig deep to find what is really at the bottom of this dark pit of depression. Am I missing my camera? My daughter? My father? The summer that was over before projects begun could be wrapped up? The lost opportunity to show my work in a place I loved? What’s really bothering me? Because I need to turn it around. Insignificant glitch or gargantuan loss, I have to find and fix this daunting thing.

“When one door closes, another opens,” a friend tells me. And I’m thinking I don’t need to hear this for the billionth time. But I do. We all do. Because sometimes we have to remember to look for those doors. We have to recognize what is really closing as well as what may be opening. Door by door. They don’t open automatically. There’s usually work involved. And if we can’t find the door we may need to climb through a window, perhaps a barely-recognizable window of opportunity, instead. Or we may need to get help.

We can’t always find and fix everything.

No camera. No new photos. I opened the Photoshop program, with its seventy tools inviting infinite possibilities for control and change, and drew a blank white canvas. I checked my email, ate cake, raked pondweed, and brushed the dog. Finally I sat down, took a deep breath, and tried out some of the painting and drawing tools I’d previously ignored. Having no camera was one glitch I could scratch off the list.

 

How do you get to the bottom of what’s bothering you? What are ways to keep going when you feel crushed by setbacks and loss?

 

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Moon Watching

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a full moon with flowers to celebrate the Full Flower Moon and Mother's Moon and Mars at opposition.

Bright light poured into the bedroom when I awoke in my mother’s house in the middle of the night. Street-lamps. Their white radiance puddled on car tops and on the newly paved street. I tiptoed from window to window, peeking beyond the glowing. The sky was a thick mass of clouds, as it had been most of the day.

“I wish we could see the moon, we’re missing the moon,” I’d announced before bedtime.

“May’s Full Moon was called the Full Flower Moon as well as Mother’s Moon,” according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. They’d promised a Full Flower Moon for Saturday night. A Mother’s Moon. How perfect that I was visiting my mother. Waiting for weeks in anticipation, I’d known it wouldn’t look any different from other moons. Farmer’s Almanac uses colorful Colonial and Native American names to track the moons in changing seasons. May marks a time of warming, blooming, increasing fertility. Bare trees were finally budding. Wild violets and fresh white trilliums dotted the slopes off woodland trails. The gray winter was really over.

For me, any light in May, even a street-lamp, is something to celebrate.

A Flower Moon. It was also a Blue Moon, the third full moon in a season of four full moons. And Mars was at its brightest and closest point to Earth in more than a decade. But Saturday night there was not even a hint of Mars, or the moon, in that dark sky.

Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to have faith that there will be light, that summer will come again, that there will ever be another beautiful bright time. But then, there are things that leave no doubts in my mind: I can’t always see the moon, but it is out there, somewhere. I can’t see my daughter who died, but I believe she is out there. Somewhere. Watching the moon. Watching me.

And somehow, through long winters and many moonless nights, a small light inside me stays aglow with hope.

 

What does a full moon mean to you?

 

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Afraid to be too Happy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, poses with her photoshopped pictures from her new book.Holding a huge photograph with both hands raised high, I wove my way through the photography lab around students, worktables and computer stations, with my eyes transfixed on the image before my face, like I was waltzing with a tall lover. Fourteen times I lifted a new larger-than-life-sized photo from the printer, and danced across the crowded room, admiring my work as I carried each piece to the wall, to be hung.
“Behind you,” I chirped, passing my classmates. “Ooooops, excuse me,” I cheeped. “It’s so amazing to see these enlarged,” I crowed to students I’d never met who, attracted by the display, stopped to congratulate me. “Harry, can you take a picture of me and my photos?” I asked my photography instructor. Hiding my glasses behind my back, I smiled at the camera thinking, this is too much fun. This is scary.

At the end of class I bundled my fourteen huge prints into a humongous folder, and drove home singing. And the next two nights, I was hunched over my computer doing more work, staying up past midnight both nights. I would allow myself only small doses of happiness. I couldn’t stop working; I needed to keep striving.

What is joy anyway, this thing I’m supposedly always on the lookout for? I keep advocating for living joyfully, but I’m always worried something bad will follow, that my happiness might be taken away. Maybe I’m afraid I’m not worthy of happiness. Or maybe joy seems too frivolous for a mother whose daughter died.

Depression, you’re saying. But, am I not entitled to a little depression after that?

A little sticky-note on my computer’s keyboard says, “I deserve joy.” It sits below the fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie that, between two tiny smiley faces, reads “All your hard work will soon be paid off.”

With all our wishing and wanting, you’d think we would learn to grab every opportunity for joy with two hands raised high and hanging on. You’d think we’d be waltzing with whatever joy comes our way for all the crazy, blessed, depressed or high-flying time we have left.

 

 

What gives you joy? How do you hang on to it? And how would you help someone who’s afraid of being too happy?

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Looking for Joy

Looking for Joy In Ithaca, New York, Robin Botie photoshops Vicky, a friend's fat cat with dancing whiskers.“You’ve been sounding depressed the last few weeks,” a friend told me.
“I’m trying to fix that,” I said. “These days it’s a real stretch to find joy. Like when the temperature’s stuck in the single digits for days on end. Like when weather.com is promising more snow and the snowplow has already buried the house in the process of clearing the driveway. And then I finally get to Wegmans for storm food and the store is having a power failure.”

Actually, shopping in the dark at Wegmans was a high point of the week. Picking out produce in dim light by the squeeze-and-smell method was so novel it immediately distracted me from my funk. There was something magical about reaching under the sheets of plastic that draped the refrigerated shelves to grab cool moist packages.
“Would you like anything else?” the guy in the deli kept asking cheerily after slicing tiny batches of cheese and three different kinds of ham.
“Could I have another slice of prosciutto, please?” I could have gone on all day.

Passing by, shoppers smiled at each other as they wheeled their carts in the dark depths of the aisles. They did not appear to be inconvenienced or cranky.
“Good luck in the World Cup,” a guy with a kid in his cart greeted me after I swerved to avoid colliding with them. When the lights came back on, people cheered. I paid, walked out into blinding sunshine, and brought my purchases to friends who were waiting to make lunch.

And maybe the most joyful part of the whole week was my friends’ fat cat. She rolled on the kitchen floor with the dogs and then leaped onto the counter as I unloaded the bag of groceries. Her whiskers almost danced off her face when she saw the ham.

Where did you find your joy this week?

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