Fish, Fingernails & Clouds ~ A ZenDoodle ~ Oh, and Jenny Lawson…

I am back. It was a hard night and a tentative morning, but one of the days when I was able to pull myself together enough to do things that would keep me moving forward. I got the pugs out and fed them, I made coffee, and then I sat with my coffee here at my work table and answered all of you who had commented on last night’s blog post and there were so many of you and I was so deeply moved. It just goes to show that if you try your best, with an open heart, and offer whatever it is that you have to give with love, no matter how small the offering, you will reach and touch others, and when people comment back to me it is like being showered with blessings. Thank you so much to all of you who are taking time to comment after these posts. It means more than you will ever know. And so now it is the 4th day of  the September Blogging Challenge With Effy  and I am returning again this evening to tell you about my day and also about someone’s work that I have fallen in love with.

After I finished answering people here, and going through the e-mail, and answering people on Facebook I started to sink. There was a brief time of flailing about a little afraid. I have to be vigilant and constantly reign myself in so I don’t go off the rails. I returned to my art therapy course. I picked up my notebook and black pen and drew a square, and as we are taught when learning how to do zentangles you draw a line, like laying down a piece of string, all squiggly and with abandon inside the square. With zentangles they use white squares called “tiles” to do this. I just use my Tombow black brush pen that has a brush tip on one end and a fine point on the other. I used the brush tip to draw the square and then the fine tip to draw the squiggly line. That’s where my connection with zentangles stops, because with zentangles you are supposed to fill in the space around the squiggly line with abstract things, or lines, dashes, or other embellishments that are not recognizable figures. The trouble with me is that once I have all those open spaces my bipolar brain takes over and flips into doodling. Wheeeee! Suddenly there is a stripey fish, a lady in the clouds, a funky little hand with painted nails, spirals, circles, lines, and lots of color. It is both freeing and relaxing, I just sit quietly and without thinking I just do. I doodly doo whatever comes up and then I get out my big bag of colored markers and start to color.

There’s a reason coloring books are all the rage, why people of all ages love to color, and why coloring is especially good if you are struggling with mental illness. My mind wants to gallop away into terrifying places and it can make me too afraid to even move. When I am doodling and coloring in I am peaceful. My body is relaxed, my breathing is even, it is restful. But still, for me, who has never been able to successfully keep up with meditating no matter how many different classes I took or books I read or videos I watched, I cannot expect my bipolar brain to be still and keep focused. So I did what I knew would help, I put on a youtube video and watched a succession of them, and not just any youtube videos, they were the videos of Jenny Lawson.

Jenny Lawson’s books recently came into my life when I had been going through weeks and weeks of what had become debilitating depression. I hadn’t been able to smile but Jenny’s books were so funny they made me laugh until I cried — a happy kind of crying — and I absolutely inhaled these books. They came along and saved me. She writes about mental illness  with a kind of humor it’s hard to believe you are reading based on the subject matter! If you are easily shocked she will shock you. If you are bothered by “language” you better not read these books. But if you are mentally ill and have felt alone and afraid and misunderstood, or have people near you that you love who suffer with mental illness and you want to understand them better, or you just really need to laugh, read Jenny Lawson.

I have read them out of order, starting with her second book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, followed by her third book, You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds, and am now finishing up her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. I’d suggest you read them in order though this worked fine for me. I loaned You Are Here to my therapist and she loved it so much she is ordering a copy for herself and one for her office waiting room as well as Jenny’s other books. The thing about You Are Here is that it is very different than the first two and I have kind of carried it around and clung to it like Linus clings to his blanket. It is, well, not a workbook, but full of wonderful art by Jenny to color in, a spacious book with lots of breathing room, sometimes just one meaningful phrase on a page like “You will get through this.” (I put that on a post-it note and stuck it to my computer.) The pages are even perforated in case you want to tear them out. I couldn’t bear to tear out pages but putting things on post-it notes works great!

So, having fallen in love with Jenny Lawson, and having watched some of her youtube videos wherein she does readings and Q&A and book signings to standing room only, I knew that I wanted to have Jenny for company today. I knew she would make me smile, make me laugh, and help me relax enough to do my zendoodling, and she did, and I drew and colored and laughed with Jenny and made it through another day. In an hour or so I will be snuggling up with my three pugs and reading Jenny’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I will be reading and laughing long after the pugs are asleep.

So I have made it through another day, and this evening is easier than last night when I wrote near despair. This is living with mental illness, it is continuous ups and downs and you never know what’s coming next. But I’ll tell you, as long as I keep drawing, and keep Jenny Lawson nearby, I believe I will make it.

If you enjoy this blog a donation would be deeply appreciated to help me continue to bring “Maitri’s Heart” to you. Thank you, and many deep blessings to one and all…


  1. This is everything. I have a different illness than you, but the moment by moment attention to self-mood-energy and tending to that is both beautiful and tedius (to me). Thank you, again.

  2. Oh Maitri, how I love to color, too, when my brain wants to behave like a monkey & chatter away on fears that are unfounded, but no less anxiety-inducing! For me, it sometimes works even better than my crocheting.
    I’m so glad you’re doing this September challenge as it’s a way for you to, each day, take small steps forward. I’m always so happy to see your email pop up into my inbox, as I then know that my friend had stepped forward, even if in small steps!

    • Oh thank you so much honey, your kind words mean so much and I’m so glad you color too. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m just off to bed now with the puggeries but I will definitely be drawing and coloring again tomorrow. It’s a saving grace! Bless you honey… <3

  3. How Fun! I loved this post. I am going to check out her first book and see if I like it. I’ve found that the older I get sometimes I can obsess with worry over things. It usually happens at night when the house is quiet and alone. I guess it’s a symptom of anxiety. And it comes and goes in cycles, usually triggered by something. Coloring is great! I have been doing it a lot since being sick. I would love to do more doodles. I just love yours!! They inspire me.

    • Thank you so much darling Bekah, it is fun doing this doodling and coloring in, I think it helps my anxiety though I really have to focus hard to do it and not trail off and stop which is why I had the Jenny Lawson videos going on in front of me that I kind of listened to while I was coloring in. One half of my bipolar brain can still be spinning out even when I’m doing something I like like coloring hence keeping that part of the brain busy with videos or a podcast say. I hope you feel completely well soon honey… <3

      • Yes, I understand as even though I’m not bipolar, anxiety brain does the same thing. I can be both joyful, doing something I enjoy and even humming along, yet worrying and having obsessive scary thoughts at the same time. It’s an odd thing.

        • The brain is a mysterious creature for sure and anxiety can take you to all kinds of scary places. I hope you are doing well today honey…

  4. Claudine Denert says:

    Hi Maitri, colouring and zen doodling is so much fun to do. It takes your mind to peaceful places. And that’s a good thing. Jenny Lawsons books are here on my table, I just couldn’t decide which one to read first. I did not know she had YouTube videos as well. I will check it out. I enjoy reading your blogs, I feel less alone then. You reach out and you connect.
    Thank you Maitri, for being your authentic self…

    • Thank you so much Claudine honey, yes, it really does help to doodle and color in. But there is that part of my bipolar brain that just keeps spinning even when I’m coloring hence the videos or a podcast would be great too. And I would read the books in order if I were you (I listed them in order above.) I read the 3rd book 2nd but it’s so different from the first two that it’s easier to understand and use the 3rd book if you’ve read the first two first. In any case I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! Love you honey, thanks for writing! <3

  5. Hey Maitri. I just wanted you to know that I’m following and reading along. At the moment that is all I can do. My body is exhausted to the point of having panic attacks at any time. Thank you for making these posts!
    Thank you for stepping up and showing the world how it feels to deal with mental illness.
    Big hug!

    • Thank you so much Mieke for following my posts, that really means a lot to me. And if I am able to express something in my writing that helps others I will feel deeply blessed. I’m so so sorry to read that you are having such a hard time. I know those times so well and they are excruciating. I will hold you close in my heart and prayers, I hope this hard time passes soon and you have hours of ease and peace to help get you through. Blessings and a hug to you honey…

  6. It’s strange but I have never found either zentangling or colouring as relaxing and mindful as some people seem to. I reckon that’s my perfectionism kicking in, I want it to be RIGHT and I focus too much rather than just letting it happen.

    • Zoe, I do understand, it’s why I don’t try to do a real zentangle but let myself go and doodle and have fun with it because that’s where my brain seems to want to go. But yes perfectionism can be your own worst enemy when trying to do this sort of thing. I hope you find some way, something that you can do to find peace and ease. I wish you well honey. Take care…

  7. We *will* make it through. <3

    • Thank you so much Effy honey, we will, we will, we will. Sending you a big warm hug. Have a wonderful time with your son… <3

  8. your painting, above, makes me smile. how talented you are, maitri. you make magic with your brush. trust in this. before long, you will have a whole book of these creative imaginings. you have created wonderful magazines (the contemplative way: slowing down in the modern world) remember that? your 100 ladies project — your many blogs, your i forget the name, that you put out several issues of, full of wit and peace and reminders to live and love and find peace… you are always in tune whether you know it on a conscious level or not. creativity is salvation, and you share it with us. yay, maitri! xo ka

    • Thank you so much darling Ka, I appreciate your love and support so much, and the reminders that Yes! I HAVE done many things in my life that were creative works I was proud of. I CAN do it again. I have to believe that. But the struggle with mental illness is real, and the meds I have to take to try to help get me through the days effect my ability to do my creative work so I struggle everyday to try to keep on going. It’s sweet notes like yours, and your texts and emails that help so much to help me keep going. Thank you so much honey, I love you dearly…

  9. Such a wonderful post! I can completely relate to the needing to check on my own thoughts moment to moment. I am going to have to look up Jenny Lawson’s books. They sound wonderful. Thank you for the recommendation. I love your version of zen tangle.

    • Thank you so much Abby on all counts and yes Jenny Lawson’s books are fabulous, I have enjoyed them so much, I hope you do too! 🙂

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