This post is not a travelogue. But it is about a journey–a very personal one.
For the past twenty-five years or so, I have been struggling with depression. Many of us know that environment can elate or depress. Sometimes it’s the physical environment, sometimes it’s a social environment. Other times it is the environment we create in our heads. Often, two or more combine to make our journey through life far from ideal.
When depression hits, it often takes a while to recognize it for what it is. As a person who analyzes–and often over-analyzes–what is going on around me, I sometimes underestimate how deeply I can sink. That’s what happened this time, I believe.
Four years ago, I left Los Angeles (which I really loved!) for a beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean where I now live. Shortly before leaving, my doctor and I thought it might be a good time to try life without antidepressants. So he weaned me off and cautioned me to get back on if I felt I needed them again. After twenty or so years of chemical help to get me through the day, it felt kind of good to experience life without the shroud of medication. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, although it took four years to recognize the symptoms. I found that, despite a move to Paradise, what didn’t change was the family unit. At my age and with my lack of financial support caused by the move, I had nowhere to go. I needed–and continue to need–an escape from the psychological bashing which I know is unintentional, mostly because my partner in life is so incredibly clueless. He is basically a good man, but lives in a tiny vacuum world where he defines everything based on how he wants his world to be, not as the world truly is. Because he cannot separate himself from his job, and because his limited observation skills take in only the job, he functions differently than most people do. That’s something I can deal with when I have some chemical support to help me separate myself from his unintentionally cruel remarks. But on my own, I sink slowly into dark depths of criticism for not being a scientist.
About three weeks before Seminar, I was in my doctor’s office begging for help. A few days earlier, I recognized that I was nearing the bottom of an abyss, and I was hoping to make it to Seminar in better spirits. I had been so excited about going, but found myself growing apathetic. Tangling daily helped to stave off the gloom; tangling also helped me realize how deeply I had become entrenched in the mire. Tangling and the incredible Mosaic community’s support and encouragement of my work helped immeasurably–but it wasn’t enough to keep me from sinking. The sinking was slower, but I finally recognized that it was preventing me only from crashing soon and crashing hard. I could see and feel the downward pull in the tiles I was producing, no matter how hard I tried to draw happy and less rigid tangles.
Normally, it takes about two to two-and-a-half weeks for me to experience results from antidepressants. I may have been far deeper than I recognized because I felt no change when I arrived in Providence two days before Seminar began. I slept for the better portion of those two days. The chilly air and rain upon my arrival probably added to the fatigue. Or perhaps it was the sleep deprivation of my insomnia that finally caught up with me. The point is that I made up a bit of sleep loss. But when I went through my suitcase, I realized what a hurried and poor job of packing I had done, not to mention that I had meant to bring a larger suitcase. So off to the mall I trotted to replace the cane I forgot at home and to purchase clothes more appropriate to New England spring weather. Shopping should make me feel better, right? No such luck. I ended up buying dark gray and black. Talk about color matching mind…
On Sunday, the first day of CZT27, I was changing rooms to share one with another attendee. Even through the excitement of finding out my roommate was the incomparable Frannie Lip (Mosaic name @fplshCZT ), I could feel the depression like a cold wet blanket smothering me. It was awful. I still hadn’t shaken the gloom, and I became really worried that I would never shake it–at least, not in time to enjoy the Seminar. I had been taking my Pristiq® for 22 days by the first day, and it just wasn’t working. To say that I despaired would be an understatement. And still my tangles were too tight and depressing.
Thankfully, the electric atmosphere of the classroom full of enthusiastic and happy participants managed to drill through a small portion of the gloom. I was able to experience some of the energy and love of the room. I have no doubt that the positive energy kicked the Pristiq in the butt and jump-started my slow climb to the surface. Soon, I felt less despair and more of the excitement. That energy kept growing, loosened up my tangling, making me care less about those “nonexistent” mistakes (always remediable), and allowed me to enjoy the people and experience–maybe not as fully as I would have liked, but we all have to start somewhere!
My trip home was a nightmare. At least, most travelers would have regarded it as one. For me, the growing peace and the memories of the event helped me keep the travel problems in perspective. I tangled in the Logan Airport hotel, in the hotel I hadn’t anticipated visiting in Charlotte NC; I tangled through four hours of a more direct next-day flight home, I tangled while waiting for my luggage–containing most of my tangling supplies for future classes as well as my precious Zentangle journal–decided my suitcase wanted to spend one more day with Frannie’s luggage. And I noted the improvement in my work. I don’t believe the meds alone would have helped. I don’t know if tangling alone would have helped, even though it kept me from falling apart sooner and sinking deeper. I am convinced that the combination of meds and Seminar pulled me out of the abyss faster than I could have hoped. I am even more convinced that tangling was the stronger influence.
For those of you who have noted a big improvement in my tangling over the past week or so, now you know why. It wasn’t just the Seminar with its incredible people and experiences; it wasn’t just the pharmaceutical. Mostly it was the tangling and Seminar, but I am grateful that I caught my depression before it became so much worse that I would have missed my flight to Providence with the stimulating, energizing, calming, comforting atmosphere in CZT27 Seminar.
My previous post about the wonders of Seminar was not embellished. Rather, with Seminar kick-starting the meds into action, I was able to tear away the obfuscating veil while writing and express the excitement that I couldn’t express during Seminar itself. My art mproved as the fog drifted away slowly as we moved from session to session. This improvement was my first indication that something was changing for the better. I began gaining confidence and reassessing whether a tile I hadn’t quite finished during a session was complete enough as it was. I noticed my lines flowed better, and that I had stopped caring so much about wobbly pens. I began enjoying the tangling process so much more–I thought earlier that I was enjoying the Zentangle Method; now I knew that I hadn’t even begun to experience the joy and sense of accomplishment.
Thank you to all I met at Seminar for the first time, to all whose faces and personalities I can now add to the qualities of friendship that began on Mosaic, to the founders Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts and their advice and exuberance, to Molly Hollibaugh and Martha Huggins for their wonderful guidance sessions, to Julie (whose last name continues to escape me) for answering my Mosaic questions, to the rest of Maria’s family and the founders’ friend’s who made the event so successful, and to all participants whose work I admired but whose acquaintance I didn’t make. Each of you with your unique contributions to Seminar helped me rise from the darkness. Words cannot express my gratitude. Bless you all!
With an overflowing heart,
Ellie ( DrEllieCZT )
7 thoughts on “My Journey to CZT27 and Back”
Hello there Ellie,
Just caught up with your posts….sounds to me like the seminar came along just when you needed it (even though it may not have felt like it at the time). I thank the Gods of Prozac daily for helping me stay me 😄. My adventures with depression include periods of bone crushing anxiety. I’m starting to think that my particular demon is seasonal as I’m presently on the up. ( so don’t be too surprised if you find me on your doorstep around January/February time…. 😮😄). I have to add that the menopause has now joined the party so I just blame everything on that now, makes it a lot easier😄.
Keep on tangling girl 👍
It’s menopause. Keep the faith! And my door s always open. January/February is a great time here–sun is gently warming instead of brutally scorching as in summer.
Thank you for sharing your story. Tangling is what kept me from the rock bottom before Pristiq. I know it helped speed the process once the pharmaceutical kicked in! My anxiety got so bad I didn’t pack for Seminar until the last possible moment, thereby packing badly. A year ago, I barely left home. Gearing up for physical therapy took hours! Took months of work to get comfortable with that weekly trip, and I am certain the early attempts at tangling helped a lot.
We all have our stories, many far worse than our own. I heard many at Seminar. Thank the Founders for Zentangle!
Tangle on, my friend!
You know, the negative onus placed on anti depressants is an awful thing. I had to understand that my body had a chemical imbalance and needed them to function properly. I accept that. Depression is an insidious illness that I fight everyday. I’m glad it didn’t completely ruin your trip! I too, have felt the benefit of this compassionate community! I’m so blessed to have found friends like you. The best part is most of that community have similar experiences with health and well being. It’s not hard to find someone who understands completely whatever your dealing with. Thanks for sharing this. You never know who you might encourage!
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Thank you so much for your beautiful comment, Cyndee! I don’t understand why “depression” is such an ugly word to so many people. It is a fact of life, as evidenced by the enormous number of TV and magazine commercials devoted to various brands. The medical and scientific communities are stymied by the large proportion of the population that suffers from depression and the fact that different individuals react differently to one brand over another, and why so many need to change brands or composition after a few years. The point is that depression is as common as diabetes–maybe more so–but no one would ever “fault” a diabetic for the illness. As you mentioned, depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. That scientists and doctors are clueless about causes makes it no less a very real and legitimate medical condition. I hope you are right that I may help someone with this post. I am not ashamed of my condition, and am immensely grateful that a little pill can help me live a happier life.
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Thank you for sharing … the hard part is saying it out loud. After my stroke, I suffered terrible depression. This was way before Zentangle… I was on antidepressants for 20 years. Sometimes pharmaceuticals are the only way to go. Luckily you have Zentangle to reinforce the effects. I am so happy you are feeling good and able to deal with your situation better. Ellie, you are loved and appreciated by many💞
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Robin, you are so sweet to comment and share your own story. I am incredibly lucky to have found Zentangle, Mosaic, and wonderful friends like you through this shared art form. Thank you for being my friend.
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