You Don’t Always Get What You Want But Perhaps What You Need

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“Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you to reevaluate things, opening new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked” (58) is a quote from the book I mentioned reading in an earlier blog post titled “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. This quote really got me thinking about my life and how it took a complete detour from my original route.

As mentioned before I was a star student at a prominent University and felt I had nowhere but up to go (“up” being an eventual Undergraduate degree, Masters, and then PhD).  I was defiant in my belief I was born to become a University Professor, specifically in the field of Art History, when all my ideas of who I was and who I was becoming came to a grinding holt with my first manic psychosis and diagnosis of Bipolar Type One. I had studied bipolar in brief as part of  my psychology minor (an element of my undergraduate degree) and as part of a neuroscience course – which I aced, despite the professor continuously warning us that this course was no “cake walk.” The point is I had a foundation of understanding when it came time to being diagnosed with this lifelong affliction but had no clue the ramifications it would have on my life journey and the deep feeling of loss I would feel as I mourned my pre-diagnosis self.

It’s one thing to study bipolar but it is an entirely other thing to live it. Prior to my mental break and diagnosis, I had completed three years of my Undergraduate as a double major in English and Art History with a minor in Psychology. People often joked how did I stay sane with a course load that thick and now having lost my mind. I find this question ironic. I remember reading about cycles of mania and depression in those with Bipolar Type 1 in my neuroscience textbook and thought how eerily familiar that concept seemed and wondered nervously whether I could possibly have it. I would ultimately push this idea to the back of my mind.

The summer upon entering my fourth and final year of University, I had a psychotic break with reality in late August. I experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, as well as paranoia. I would be treated quickly and relatively effectively within a week to two weeks with anti psychotics and the mood stabilizer Lithium. I requested I be released in time for the first day of school and the hospital happily obliged with the promise I would return for a follow-up. The problem was when I left I was still struggling with some residual paranoia and found my brain couldn’t keep up at the pace it was at before while on Lithium. The best way I can describe it is my brain felt like it had melted. I understand they were slowing me down but they may have dosed me too high and I swung into slug brain mode. Also hindsight being 20-20, I now know years later I do not respond well to Lithium in general.

It was disheartening to find I could not remember facts or hold on to them in my brain for very long – being a history major who excelled at this normally I felt devastated. I was also entering the hardest year of my Undergraduate and worried I would not be able to maintain the grades needed to enter a Masters program of my choice at the rate my brain was working. My brain was regressing at a time when it needed to be at its peak. I panicked and ultimately decided to leave school in hopes of returning some day when I was ready. The problem with this decision which led to my deepest depression ever was that I highly identified with being not only a student but a successful, overachieving one.

I had to let that go. It took my years of being at my lowest and reading a lot of self-help books and quotes about failure to eventually do this – truly and utterly let go. As the quote in the beginning of this blog post suggests I was put into a position to reevaluate my life and my choices. A door firmly closed on my face but it opened another one – a deeper and better understanding of me as I am as a person. I was so busy with school and getting the best grades, and having the best leadership roles on my resume, that I never stopped to consider WHO I was becoming. And quite frankly I was becoming arrogant, selfish, naive, and closed off to the world around me. I lived in the universe of Academia but anything outside it I deemed as unimportant or irrelevant. I was working towards real and ambitious goals but I wasn’t doing the work on myself. For example, I lost many romantic relationships because I refused to make more time for the other person if it conflicted with my study schedule and p.s. my study schedule was overkill but hey it got me on the honor roll!

I was introduced to and became addicted to drugs as a way to escape the fact I never ever truly loved myself while at University. It is through recovery from psychosis that I am now sober and am attuned with myself. I may be more depressed than when I was in University, but I still love myself ten times more because I’ve had the time through recovering (which I still am and might always be) to reflect on my choices and how to make newer better ones but also to let go and stop holding on to the not so great ones I made in the past. The past is the past folks! Let it lie there, turn your back and don’t look back. Forwards is the only direction you need to be going. I also have grown to accept myself for the positive aspects and the negative ones. I take each day as a challenge to grow and  for self-discovery. I used to shy away from trying to get to know myself better now I buy and fill out workbooks dedicated to doing just that!

I may not have gotten what I wanted, a fancy degree and career I could be proud of, but I got so much more from my psychotic detour – I found myself. I realized I am an insightful person with an opinion that matters. I now give love when I get it. If you are one of my friends I don’t judge you regardless of your journey and choices. I stand by people when they are at their lowest and try to lift them up. I found out I am the LEAST judgmental person after having experienced several psychotic breaks and struggles with my mental health. I understand each person’s struggle is unique and though I may not understand it, I can relate. I value writing and sharing stories – stories of hardship are my favourite for we’ve all been there. I also am aware that I am less motivated on medication, less prone to “put myself out there” and that on my worse days I forget all my good traits and decide I’m not even worth getting out of bed for. But the most important thing I’ve learned is I have a voice and that voice will be heard. I have experiences now, with bipolar, that are worth talking about so others can feel less alone.

Though I may not have gotten that degree, I got something I needed – something to write about and since a child I have been looking for content that inspired me to write something worthwhile, something that meant something to me. I now have the confidence and self-esteem to say my story is worth telling and it’s worth telling because it might just mean something to someone else too.

Fantastic Mistakes

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In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Why does this matter to you or me? Well maybe it matters less to you and more to me because I found a hard copy of this speech also referred to as “The Make Good Art Speech” at the local library and it has inspired me to finally take on what I think I was meant to do in this world – write a book about my experiences with manic depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.

The picture that I have included in the beginning of this blog post is a snapshot of a page out of the text as envisioned by Graphic designer Chip Kidd. It is a snapshot of the words that have sent me on this new quest and with a new vision for my life. They are as follows: “If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.” I have had a strong sense that I was blessed with the skill of writing and bipolar disorder so I may write about it and make people struggling with their mental health feel less alone. Since I was a child, I always envisioned writing a book and becoming a novelist so much so I wrote a letter of my intent to my favourite author at the time and she wrote back! encouraging me. Ideas for my novel have come and gone and have evolved into entirely different ideas over the years. However, ever since my psychosis I have held onto the idea of writing about my experiences with it. This is the one idea that has stayed in my mind the longest and is still prevalent.

Seeing these words, “then just go and do that.” It never occurred to me to just start writing and see where I and my idea end up. I feel as though it was by divine intervention that I came across this speech just as I have been faltering and procrastinating my idea. I struggle with the questions of how to write this book and in which way it will be organized but I believe these answers will come when the time is right and for now I just need to start working on content, no matter how disorganized it may come out. I have always wanted to help somebody with my writing and I do believe I was put on this earth with some intent. My life has some kind of bigger meaning than I think I realize and this may be it…not to get too carried away or spiritual here. But I do believe everyone has a purpose and I think it’s due time I began creating mine.

In the beginning of his speech writer Neil Gaiman says “I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along…” Even just reading those words at the very entry point to his speech, something dawned on me. I have been avoiding writing my story because I am afraid I will write it poorly or that it will be poorly received. However, I am missing the point of writing and its very nature which is that the only way to become a better writer is to write, write and then write some more. Nobody ever just wrote one draft of something and was content. You have to edit, edit, then edit some more. Revise, revise, revise. I need to simply put pen to paper and begin somewhere and stop dwelling on what it will end up being. The process is just as important as the end product. I just had to remind myself or rather be reminded by Gaiman that writing is my passion and that I DO enjoy the process, hell, I even enjoy revising.

As for what it will become? Nobody not even me can be sure. Maybe someone will publish it or maybe they won’t. Maybe I’ll self-publish or release it in a series of blog posts. Again, time will tell and I do not have to have all the answers right at this moment. But I do owe it to myself to try for fear of failure cannot have the last word…not anymore.

Gaiman also mentions in his speech that he tried never to do anything purely for the money but because he wanted to create something into existence and to be proud of his work and time spent: “The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality, have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.” The reality is I love writing and I love writing what I know and I definitely know my intimate experience and struggle with bipolar disorder. I think I am scared to start writing my memoirs because I am afraid nothing will come of it but after reading these words I realized the experience of writing in itself is worth it to me. So as of today I will be setting some time apart to write about my life and more specifically my cycles of bipolar – from mania, to depression, to psychosis, to mania, and back again because I know deep down that I am worth it. And I owe it to myself to try.

Stay Tuned for more posts and updates from BiPolarMania.

Overcoming My Anxiety – An Artist’s Struggle (Part 2)

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My Painting I will be entering in the Rose Festival Art Exhibition.

This is my follow up blog about my endeavors to paint a piece of art for the Rose Festival Art Exhibition. I mentioned before that I was facing a lot of anxiety towards painting and finishing this piece. I decided to overcome my anxiety by facing it head on and forcing myself to sit at different intervals of time and work on painting it, sort of like exposure therapy.

I decided to start with painting the water below and was surprised to find I rather liked the end result. I started with quick sketches of lines that imitate the movement of water then decided to wing it so to speak and paint as I imagined it in my mind’s  eye. With each brushstroke, I became less concerned with my anxiety and instead began to enjoy the process of painting something new. I entered a trance like state for about an hour in which I finished painting the bottom half of my painting.

I am happy that I exposed myself to my anxiety in that by facing the painting and working on it, I actually became less anxious because things were starting to get done. I mentioned in my previous blog post that the deadline for registration was coming soon for the exhibition and I had yet to enter. Forcing myself to face my anxiety of never finishing the piece in time and actually getting down to doing it led me to believe I can finish this work in time! I am officially registered now and have roughly ten days left to submit the work. The image above is my painting so far and I have eliminated my anxiety towards not finishing because I believe what is left to do (fill in the bridge) can be reasonably finished within ten days.

The anxiety and fear I felt towards not finishing this piece in time and questioning whether I would be able to register at all at the rate I was going, has subsided. It has only subsided because I faced that fear and anxiety head on and decided to simply DO IT! My advice if you’re feeling anxious or insecure about doing something try throwing yourself into the situation and doing it anyways! It’s much better to face your anxiety than wonder what could have been.

I will admit I have become anxious about the overall quality of my painting now that I have finished the sky portion because quite simply I do not really like how it turned out. I have repainted the sky since doing it, however, and it is looking much better. I have decided to accept whatever the end result of my painting may be. I  want to focus more on the process and the fact it’s finished than the actual end product.

I feel better about myself having registered for this art exhibition and for signing up to volunteer at it as well. I set a goal at the beginning of the month, when I bought all the painting supplies and canvas to paint on, to finish a piece for the art exhibition. I am proud to say I will  accomplish my goal. My depression seemed to recede while I was working towards this goal. Every time I sat down to paint or even draw my work, I felt like I was accomplishing something – working towards my goal of a finished piece. I would argue that painting is good for esteem. You feel good through the process of painting itself and the feeling of getting something done. But more than anything you feel a sense of accomplishment when the work comes together and is finished because then you will have created something out of nothing.

Stay Tuned for the final part of this blog series and the final art piece that will be submitted into the Rose Festival Art Exhibition.

The Anxiety Is Real…An Artist’s Struggle

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A photograph of my preliminary drawing for my painting for the local art competition in town.

I have found myself facing a new challenge thanks to a well meaning friend who told me about the local art competition going on in my town. The problem is the due date is a month within me getting supplies for the piece and it is going to be a larger piece than I am used to painting. The other challenge is my mental health which I have been struggling with as of late. I can’t seem to shake a phase of hypersomnia I am experiencing. I will sleep all evening and night then the following morning until afternoon. The majority of my time is spent sleeping which gives me anxiety about entering this art competition at such short notice. I want to participate in it but have yet to pay the entry fee and register due to a crippling fear that I cannot bang this painting out in time.

When I am actually awake which seems rarer and rarer, the procrastination also inevitably sets in. I think I am avoiding painting because I am scared of it. I know, I just said I was scared of an inanimate object – my painting.  It’s because of the anxiety attached to it – whether or not it will measure up to my expectations? I think the more I paint it, the more I’ll fall out of love with it. I am clearly insecure about my ability to create something that will stand out in this competition. I realize for a city art competition I have chosen the most obvious subject matter – the Welland Canal Bridge. A major center point for our city and a structure that identifies Welland. It could be seen as overdone or as very representative of the city.

I know I need to force myself to sit down and work on it at several intervals of time in the next two weeks – cause that’s approximately how long I have until the competition. But that’s a lot easier said than done. I have too much anxiety to paint it at a reasonable pace since I am afraid I am ruining it with each brushstroke that I take. And I have mad anxiety when I am not painting it thinking “I’ll never get this done in time for the due date.” I need to overcome my unrealistic expectations and just paint – just fucking create something and see what happens. It could very well be shit but who knows it could also very well be my next masterpiece.

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A Photograph of my painting as it stands so far for the art competition in town.

Art Oracles – An Art Historian’s Wet Dream

If you know anything about me you’ll know that I spend several hours a week perusing the well-being section at local bookstores. I do not know if it was by divine intervention that yesterday I happened to find one of the coolest things I have ever come across before. I am not even sure it was meant to be in the well-being section but I happened across it there regardless and proceeded to jump up in glee when I realized what it was.

The object I am referring to is a box full of 50 cards with illustrations of artists on them providing advice on life, work and inspiration drawn from the individual artist’s life and work. They look like new age art history tarot cards. A booklet comes with the box to consult when looking for more information about the particular artist found on a card. It is not only a tool for inspiration for each card will offer some form of advice or sentiment about life, but also a great teaching tool for educating on the great canon of art history. I am a Art History major at Carleton University and I can tell you that these artsy tarot cards literally turned me on.

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The Art Oracle cards are simple to use in that you just choose one and read it, whether you shuffle the deck and pick a card at random or go through all the cards and stumble upon one that catches your eye. The point is to consult a card and draw what inspiration you can from it or if you’re a nerd like me see this card as a jumping off point for further research on the artist. I have decided to do a “reading” and consult the Art Oracles once a week and write a blog post on the inspiration I drew from this card and provide a short summary about the artist who provided the inspiration.

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Today, I drew the “Yayoi Kusama” artist card which is very fitting if you’ve been keeping up with my blog at all. Kusama has struggled with her mental health since a child when she first had hallucinations imagining a pumpkin was speaking to her. She dealt with her hallucinations by drawing repetitive patterns to “obliterate” the thoughts in her head.  Art became a form of therapy, what she would later call ­“art-medicine.” She voluntarily lives in a mental institution in Japan where she draws on her visions and hallucinations for inspiration.

Polka-dots are a reoccurring element in Kusama’s work which she describes as the shape that makes us humans (composed of particles), and unites us with the Earth and Sun. Kusama, however, is most recognized for her Infinity Rooms which are mirrored artistic chambers that multiply bodies and alter perceptions. Kusama’s kaleidoscopic environments offers the chance to step into an illusion of infinite space. The rooms also provide an opportunity to examine the artist’s central themes, such as the celebration of life and its aftermath.

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Installation view of Infinity Mirrored Room — Love Forever (1966/1994) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017.

Yayoi Kusama is one of the artists represented in the Art Oracles. The image of her in a polka-dot dress against a similar polka-dot background is indicative of her art which heavily features this shape. The card offers three pieces of advice drawn from three key elements of the artist’s life. The advice is the following: 1. Your soul is composed of the same dots as the universe, 2. Distinguish yourself from your mirror image, and 3. Show them your hallucinations. I have provided an image of the specific artist card below:

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I found it interesting that the first card I drew from the pile of 50 artist cards was this one. The fact that the advice offered was to “Show them your hallucinations” blew my mind. I have been considering writing a chapter on my visual and auditory hallucinations for my autobiography. This card has inspired me to definitely write and include a chapter on my hallucinations. But what were the odds of me drawing first a card on an artist who struggles with mental health like I do!? I know what you’re thinking, 1 in 50, but I mean isn’t this a sign? I am not overly spiritual but I do believe we are meant to encounter certain people and things in our lives at just the moment we need them most. I think I needed to find the Art Oracles to remind me of the joy I experience when studying Art History and also to give me a little push to start writing that chapter on hallucinations sooner than later.

The Art Oracles are great if you want a bite-size Art History lesson and great for drawing inspiration if you are artistically blocked or need a push in the right direction. The cards themselves are also very beautiful pieces of art in themselves, illustrated by Mikkel Sommer. Sommer did an amazing job providing illustrations that really embody the life and work of the specific artist illustrated. If you have an infinity for art or for simply really cool things, I highly recommend purchasing the Art Oracles at your local bookstore.