Saleem: Hey y’all this is More Than A Feeling. I’m Saleem Reshamwala. And welcome to day two of The Dread Project Challenge.
Where we’re bringing listeners together to talk about a feeling we usually just keep to ourselves. All this week, we’re asking you to tell us about how you experience dread.
Ben: Hi, I’m Ben, from Brooklyn.
Eli: I’m Eli from New York City.
Rachael: I’m Rachael.
Ben: Dread - it's like being trapped in a pinball machine and with a pinball rolling behind you, that, you know, will never stop chasing you.
Eli: Dread is like I'm in that moment and I'm just sunk in my chair or my bed, and it sort of just feels unescapable.
Rachael: And it’s just really confusing a lot of times. Do I go on doing the thing that is giving me dread? Or do I just stay? Stay, put and safe?
Ben: And it's that feeling of it's going to happen, but not yet, stretching out for eternity.
[end music; start theme music]
Saleem: This is our week-long podcast challenge…where we investigate ways we might feel better…even when we’re anticipating the worst.
Kedar: My name is Kedar Young.
Uma: My name is Uma.
Kedar: I don't really react to it in the most healthy of ways.
Uma: I wanna push it off. And as far away from me as possible…
Kedar: I usually try to suppress it
Uma: And then it still comes anyways.
Kedar: I'm trying to do better with that.
Uma: Choosing to face it kind of gives you more power over the situation rather than waiting for it to hit you.
Kedar: It’s a process.
Saleem: We’re dropping mini episodes into your feed all five days this week that tackle dread in different ways. We look at the big existential stuff, the everyday stuff, and all the stuff in between. And we’re giving you one easy, fun exercise each day to help you apply these ideas in your life.
[theme music swells]
Saleem: Yesterday you tried journaling to challenge the stories and personas that are tied to your feelings of dread. It can feel so overwhelming, so exhausting. Maybe even terrifying. And even if we feel like we should work through the dark layers of some of those feelings, sometimes that's the last place we want to go. So today we're gonna try to get out of our heads and explore the sensations of dread, how it feels. And we’re gonna look at some ways to express dread without words. We're gonna make some art in the process y'all. It's gonna be fun.
[fade out mux]
Saleem: You might remember that the start of the whole Dread Project was an email from More Than A Feeling listener Razz Terizzi, who you met in The Dread Project’s kickoff episode. They describe dread as feeling like…
Razz: “...feeling like you’ve fallen into the endless space between stars.”
Saleem: The space between stars. There's just something so poetic and visual about that. And it really got me thinking - what does the feeling of dread look like for people? And so we asked you…
Rachael: My dread would be a very sad decrepit, Zoloft ball.
Helen: My name is Helen. I think I'd almost imagine it like a petulant child.
Zoe: My name is Zoe Moran. It would be something ever changing.
Uma: A little monster underneath my bed.
Naomi: I imagine it being kind of like fuzzy or amorphous.
Saleem: That last voice is Naomi Cohen-Thompson.
Naomi: So you can't exactly recognize it all the time. You know, it's a feeling, so it's like a heavy object. Maybe it's a character that's like a fuzzy rock.
Saleem: She’s a licensed clinical art therapist.
Naomi: I do visual arts therapy. So it allows whoever I'm working with, to express a feeling or a thought or an idea, or a question. Really it allows people to use something other than words to explore where they are.
Saleem: We were excited to talk to her because we've been getting such interesting and almost playful responses from people when we ask them to imagine what their dread looks like.
[music with a quick beat]
Zoe: Something, inhuman.
Rachael: Covered in spikes and debris
Helen: That's like throwing a tantrum sometimes
Uma: It's always like, “Hey, what are you thinking about before you go to bed tonight?”
Saleem: As you can hear, people really get into it once they start describing their dread. We wanted to get a sense of whether Naomi sees these types of responses in her practice. [end music]
Naomi: It's helpful to have an opportunity to even just fantasize or visualize, is that it pulls us away from our typical way of thinking through things. The majority of people say, even at the very least, “Well, it just felt good to just kind of check out and draw.” Or, you know, “Oh my gosh, I haven't done that in years.” And there's people who do it and it feels like their whole life is changing in front of them. Like, “I didn't even know I was feeling that. I didn't even know I thought that. I would never have seen that before.”
Saleem: Along with gaining a new perspective, Naomi sees her clients benefit in other ways too. Working with those art materials, whether it's pen and ink or paint or whatever, can often create some space and maybe even provide a healthy distraction when facing a feeling like dread. [end music]
Saleem: One of the things that's so hard with things we're dreading is that in the downtime, you're just waiting.
Naomi: It's the waiting. [laughs] It’s the waiting every time!
Naomi: It's not always about rushing through and towards and getting it over with. It's like, how do we sit in it a little? How do we connect with the feeling as opposed to being fearful of the feeling itself? You know, you don't have to constantly engage with the kind of intellectual thinking through of a feeling. I think that's exhausting. I think an overthinking can shift and change how it feels and it can make you more scared and, more, um, overwhelmed. So if you use something like drawing or painting or whatever it is, it allows you to kind of have that time to decompress a bit.
Saleem: It's really interesting to think of it as both something that can distract you…
Saleem: And help you dive deeper into the feeling at the same time.
Naomi: I know, simultaneously.
Saleem: It's almost like you. Yeah. It's almost like you side run around and kind of trick your brain into going someplace it wouldn't normally go.
Naomi: Yeah. I mean, I'm by no means a neuroscientist, but I will say that you know, when our nervous systems are able to shift in the direction of a more relaxed space, our brains are allowed to function more effectively. We can put one foot in front of the other. But if we're constantly moving and trying to get through through, through, and like run through the anxiety or run through to the thing, or away from it, we never get ourselves to a place where we can kind of relax into the feeling. So giving yourself a bit of a break is something that I truly believe that something like drawing or making can support.
Saleem: And is there an aspect of reframing, of thinking about what you're feeling in a different way?
Naomi: I would say reframing is often really helpful for people. When you're allowed to kind of like almost take all of these different parts of how you're feeling and thinking about something, it allows us, I think, to root ourselves in what is being felt just in a new way. Just in its newness I think that it just shifts the way that someone is able to think through the same idea.
Saleem: And I wasn't gonna be on a Zoom call with an art therapist and not draw a little…
Saleem: Can we jump right into the mix and just spend two minutes drawing dread?
Naomi: Yeah. You wanna see what I've drawn so far?
Saleem: Oh my gosh. You've been drawing during this conversation?
Naomi: I, I can't help it. I'm sorry.
Saleem: I love it. No, that's great.
Saleem: She already had her supplies. I grabbed just a normal pen and paper and we spent two minutes drawing our dread.
Saleem: Let's do it.
Naomi: Okay. Let's go.
[end music; drawing & timer sound run a few seconds, then DING sound]
Saleem: And then we talked about what we'd drawn.
Saleem: So I see some green. I see blotches of maybe darkness in there. It's kind of a five pointed, murky shape. Talk to me about it.
Naomi: I was thinking about like how it feels physically, like there's like this point in the middle that feels really like, “Ooh.” And then the green is kind of like, I think I was thinking about like somatically, like it makes you feel a little sick, like a little uneasy.
Saleem: I love that. I drew a very specific scene. There's a lot of stick figures involved. Dread is these little beasts underground, uh, lurking beneath the sometimes happy things we're doing.
Naomi: The idea that all of this exists, like kind of underneath. And nobody can see it. So this idea that we like hide away so much of the things that we're really feeling and leading up to things, or even while they're happening. Like, I have a feeling that a lot of people manage to like make it work and muscle through and smile, and nobody ever knows that they're actually feeling a fair amount of fear.
Saleem: On that note of acknowledging that fear, we reached out to one more person who had another technique for us.
Saleem: How would you, if you had to describe dread visually or as a character, how might you describe it?
Jeff: Actually the first thing that comes up is this comic book character, when I was young, Judge Dredd.
Saleem: This is Jeff Warren. He's a longtime meditation teacher, writer, and founder of the Consciousness Explorers Club.
Jeff: And he had this very stern face and this like skullcap helmet and he's kind of my personification of dread.
Saleem: Jeff often talks about welcoming all the emotions in - even difficult ones - almost as if they're real people at a party. He literally says that. “Welcome to the party.” And the idea is that perhaps we could try turning these difficult emotions, like dread, into characters, and that could make it a little easier to let 'em in.
Jeff: This idea of welcoming everything in your experience as a guest, it makes it kind of fun, you know? It's gonna be a party in there. You know, sometimes some parties are fun, some parties are going off the rails. Sometimes you really don't feel like you have the energy for another party season, but guess what you don't always get to choose.
So it's like [exhale sound] just taking that out breath and reaching down and like finding that inner resource that's gonna allow you to open, you know, genuinely let all the characters be there. Uh, even if some of them are raiding your fridge and falling asleep on the couch and making a mess in the bathroom or whatever party guests do.
Saleem: So of course I had to see what Jeff's character of dread would look like.
Jeff: Okay. Did not expect to be drawing The Judge today, but that's what's happening.
Saleem: So I drew a little stick man of myself surrounded by all these little beasts, kind of descending from the sky. That's what my dread of little, tiny, upcoming things felt like. And Jeff drew…Judge Dredd.
Saleem: I'm curious how it felt to draw all that. And if you could reflect for a moment on it.
Jeff: Oh, it felt good. You know, this is part of catharsis too, you know, I think it's like you're giving it permission to come into the world. And, so it feels literally cathartic. It feels like, uh, like something's clearing or something's moving. And it was fun, you know? Cuz then now it's just this little cute character, even if it does look scary.
Saleem: Yeah, these are particularly terrifying. Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah, he's a scary fellow man, but he's welcome. I guess, to the uh, party, along with everybody else, he just hangs out and, and like guards, the beer at the fridge.
Saleem: If Jeff can lighten his load by envisioning this beer guarding judge and I can get some distance from my upcoming challenges with these beasties falling from the sky, I'm curious to see what y'all come up with…
[end music; start theme music]
Saleem: So, what does your dread look like? Whether it’s big or small, from that deep existential stuff to Sunday Scaries? Spend a minute or two just drawing that dread. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want. Pen, pencil, sharpie, crayon, magic marker, notebook paper - all that’s fine. A napkin will work. Stick figures are very welcome. That's it. We know art can feel a little intimidating, but like we said at the beginning, let's get out of our heads for a bit. There's no judgment at all. It's just about the process.
You can find today’s challenge, along with photos of some dread drawings from Naomi, me, and the More Than A Feeling team, at The Dread Project website which is dreadproject.com. The website also makes it easy for you to send us a voice memo telling us how this challenge went for you. Tell us what you were dreading, what happened when you drew your dread, and how you felt afterwards. You can go to dreadproject.com to find simple instructions for how to record using whatever you have, and how to send that recording to us.
And if drawing and digging into dread has unearthed some difficult or intense emotions for you, check out the show notes or The Dread Project website for some additional resources that could help. That website, one more time, is dreadproject.com.
Thank you for tackling dread with us. Check the feed tomorrow for our next challenge, where we look our most existential dread dead on.
Rachel: I can have those thoughts about death. I can accept that they're there. But I can also focus on what's in my control here. That seems to be the most effective way to overcome death. Uh, death anxiety, not death itself. Um, that would be…
Saleem: When you get that information, definitely call me.
Rachel: Yeah, that's right.
Saleem: This is More Than A Feeling. See y’all then.