Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I Draw Dragons

This week a friend said to me: "I've been enjoying your blog and I like your drawings, but why the

It occurred to me that it must seem strange for me to be using this imaginary creature as a metaphor for disease since it is usually associated with fairy tales and legends of knights and royalty.

The bottom line to my story about this is that just as dragons are made up creatures, so are the labels we apply to the psychological and physical conditions.

Allow me to explain further.

Ever since I attended college for social work, I became increasingly aware of the power that labels have on us.  For example, Jane (a made-up person) is a painter, a lover of zombies, a coding genius, an advocate, a shoe collector, a chain-smoker, etc. Jane gathers these labels from all sources, including herself. These labels form her identity and influence how she views her own abilities and limitations.

Every time there is a diagnosis from a professional, we add to the list of labels we identify ourselves by.  Our egos like to take on those labels and make them a part of our self-identity. (Add "diabetic" to Jane's list.)

On one hand, it is a relief to have a diagnosis to understand that you’re not alone in your symptoms; and on the other, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy which can not only trap a person into the reality of their condition, but drive them ever deeper into their illness and its disabling effects!

If there is ever going to be a way to either to completely escape (if that’s possible) or to create a more positive life experience though self-awareness and self-love while living with that condition, it absolutely does not serve us to closely identify with that label.

For a long time, I identified with being gluten sensitive.  My life absolutely revolved around being gluten sensitive because at that time I needed to protect myself from the devastating effects of accidental ingestion.  Just one crumb of bread would put me into bed for an entire week.  The first two days consisted of excruciating pain (imagine what glass shards would feel like travelling through your intestines), living part-time in the bathroom, and not being able to remember the beginnings of my sentences well enough to actually have a conversation.  On top of this, my emotional state would absolutely plummet. Eventually, the fear of exposure seemed to completely take over my life and along with other stressful factors in my life, so began a struggle with depression. 

At one point I realized that at the times when I saw myself as a depressed person, it really seemed to get the better of me.  Identifying with my depression jacked up my tendency to ruminate, and I began to see how my mental pattern of identifying with it had the potential to take me down a very dark and lonely path. 

In my desperate state, I went with an idea I had in a moment of intuitive clarity.  In my mind, I began to envision the depression as a dark cloud that would visit me at times.  This "dark cloud" was an entity very separate from me, and sometimes it would just visit me for a while.  With this perspective, the mental space it offered allowed me to see the potential in myself to heal.  This was because I could see that my concept of me was very separate from my experience. The result was (for the first time in several years) I began to have some control over these shadowy visits!

With practice and experimentation, I was able to keep the dark cloud away for greater, and greater amounts of time, and I learned to be proactive when I got the slightest inkling that the dark cloud might return.

Because it worked so well for my experience of depression, I thought: what if I apply this to the gluten sensitivity?  The thought of living with the condition for the rest of my life terrified me!  What if I imagined the gluten sensitivity as a personification – like a dragon?!

And so, in my own mind, I became a knight.

Like any knight, I acquired my arsenal: a newly adopted daily homemade kefir ritual, and a whole lot of courage. The goal I envisioned was being able to eat a normal meal at a normal restaurant without fear. (Because gourmet food is a wonderful human experience which I would like to enjoy again while I am still alive!)

In the beginning, there were scary moments. When I started I wasn’t able to digest dairy, so I started with tiny amounts of kefir and endured the reactions.  (Insert fire-breathing dragon metaphor here!) Nevertheless, I lovingly and faithfully prepared my homemade kefir daily. Eventually, the reactions became less, and I increased the daily kefir dosage.  Over the course of a year and a half I gradually healed myself.  All the while, imagined that dragon choking on every sip of kefir, and shrinking just a bit more every day!

Being able to finally have power over my dragon and let go of that fear marked a huge shift in my life experience! Today with the help of a small dose of targeted digestive enzymes, I can eat anything I want, and it is such amazing freedom to live without fear!

And so I thought: what if others made it a practice to personify the conditions they live with? Would it help people to better understand the power they have over their experience by looking at their conditions more objectively?

Humans throughout history have had a need to personify things which seem greater than ourselves.  Think: “Mother Earth, and Father Sky,” and so on.  It helps us to understand abstract things in a way that is friendly and familiar to our human perspective.

When we visualize our conditions as dragons, separate from ourselves, it creates the mental space necessary for us to begin to focus on our true selves. When we take the condition away from our self-identity, we are reminded of our true power to create change in our lives.  We then have the space to rekindle self-love and self-acceptance, knowing that our true selves are far removed from our dragons.  


Have you ever tried visualizing your condition as something separate from you? If you have, I'd love to hear how that went!  Please leave your questions and comments in the area below!

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  1. I like your thought about separating ourselves from our condition. It's important to me and to a lot of people to not be a victim. I think a victim mentality can be more debilitating than the actual condition at times! Great work!