Graphic Design: My Hidden Talent and Passion

My illustration created in Adobe illustrator I call “Trendy Girl with Headphones.”

After my first manic psychosis, I was left dejected and heartbroken. I had worked towards an undergraduate degree at Carleton University, double majoring in Art History and English with a minor in Psychology, for three years and mentally shit the bed so to speak as I was about to finish my fourth and final year. I put all, literally all my effort into accomplishing this goal my entire life (I wish I was exaggerating for it’d be less embarrassing and shameful) – the goal of earning a University degree. Every action, every thought I took especially while at Carleton was premeditated to lead to accomplishing this goal and to set up the course for a subsequent masters and ph.d. Academia has always been something I excelled at and where I felt the most comfortable. I never once questioned my ability to succeed in that environment until I was in the wake of my first very serious break with reality.

As the antipsychotics and mood stabilizers coursed through my system as I came down from the scariest experience in my life – a manic induced psychosis, during which I experienced grandiose delusions and visual, as well as auditory hallucinations – my mind progressively slowed to the point I thought it was stalling out. Memorizing facts and making meaningful connections between various academic content was suddenly unfathomable. The thing I excelled at my whole life was threatened as what I can only compare it to with the neurotransmitters in my brain struggling to connect and seemingly degenerating. I stared at my books trying to study and could not even process a sentence on the page as it distorted into fragments and mocked me. I was genuinely terrified and decided to return back home with the thought that if I couldn’t finish my fourth year strong and at the top of my class like usual, fuck it, I wasn’t going to finish at all. I felt brain dead and any form of concentration became a foreign concept. I believed and convinced myself for years after, my psychosis had caused brain damage and I could no longer in fact “learn.”

I slipped into a depressive coma for years where I accepted this as the new norm, that my brain was damaged and it would never function as highly as it did prior to my manic psychosis. I was also during this time abusing drugs which fed the depression even more. I became stuck on these thought loops, “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You invested all your life into something just to fall short at the very end,” “You have no potential or follow through,” “You’re worthless.” These thoughts were like the news cycle, pervading my brain on a twenty-four hour cycle. Eventually I had had enough. I decided to experiment with sobriety as a way to increase my mood thinking this would be the first step to changing my life around. And I had never been more right in my entire life for addictions counselling led to me not only quitting drugs but changing my life around to the point I’m making a comeback (still in the process but it’s been initiated).

I explained to my counsellor a very real goal of mine was to attempt school again but this time instead of University, I wanted to give college a shot more specifically the graphic design program at Niagara College. She asked what was stopping me and I explained how my brain seemed to unravel after my first manic psychosis. I went on to recall my issues with memory and concentration at the time and how my failed attempt at finishing my degree led me to believe I can no longer learn or grasp new ideas. I genuinely believed I was brain damaged. She was the first person to equate my psychosis to a trauma and explained how memory in the brain is affected by trauma. She assured me I had the potential to learn and when I was trying to finish my studies originally and failed it was a unique situation since my brain had just endured massive stress. She explained and it was quite comforting, “Your brain just needed time to heal. Your brain needed time to recover.”

And recover, is what I slowly began to do. I started to prove to myself I was capable of learning again. I had to trick myself into believing it once again and I respond the most to empirical evidence so I enrolled in two graphic design courses at the college part time to test the waters so to speak. I told myself If I managed to simply pass these courses I would consider re-evaluating all the negative views bombarding my brain, false beliefs about my potential or rather lack thereof to learn. I proved myself wrong in the best possible way. I did not merely pass but aced those courses and showed an affinity and skill for something I had never considered before – the field of graphic design. A flashback of a conversation with my high school guidance counsellor came to resonate. She shuffled her papers and looked at my applications for University and looked at me genuinely confused. “You’ve applied to three of the more difficult Journalism programs. I understand you are an excellent writer but based off your art I’ve seen, I just assumed you’d pursue that?” I replied, “I love art but you can’t make a career out of it,” shrugging her off and letting go of a conversation that in hindsight should have sunk in further.

The two courses I took were more hands on and I began to think “sure, I can handle this but when it comes time to design digitally I’ll be royally fucked and then this delusion of turning to graphic design as an alternate route for my life will officially blow up.” I had a deep anxiety when it came to pursuing graphic design because of the digital aspect of it. I have very limited experience with computers and zero experience using software designers use like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and INDesign. I decided it was now or never to learn these skills or fail at them and bail out of the program before I got too far ahead of myself. I enrolled in one of the harder graphic design courses, following my success with the two courses before, called digital art in which students are exposed to the three main Adobe programs I mention above for the first time (however, most students already come into the program with experience in this software). I was extremely nervous because I felt like this was the ultimate test whether I was meant to pursue this diploma seriously or not. I realize now that was a lot of pressure to put on a course, however, I am delighted to say (spoiler alert) I ended up acing this course too, even more so than the initial ones I took.

Taking Digital Art, or rather “Digital Technology,” opened my eyes to the possibilities of not only the strong likelihood of pursuing this field as a career but also opened my mind. It proved to me I could not only learn new skills, but challenging technical ones to boot, I never dreamed I could. I owe my newfound passion of graphic design to my digital technology teacher who taught in a very straightforward and accessible manner. He was always on standby for any questions (whether they seemed insignificant or silly) and encouraged discovery in the design process but more importantly the discovery of self. He was kind enough to take the time to do some one-on-one video conferences with me (as I’m pursuing this diploma online currently due to covid restrictions) and stressed to me, “put yourself into your work. Show who you are through your designs and the more you include of yourself the better, that will give you an edge. That will make you stand apart from other designers.” I commented, “I was scared I was putting too much of myself in my designs actually,” to that he replied, “You can never put enough of yourself and it will make what you create more authentic and meaningful.” I will always carry this conversation in my mind in my future design endeavours and try to remember the importance and value of inserting your beliefs and values into your design.

My favourite program to work with is Adobe illustrator in terms of graphic design, however, I discovered I am extremely proficient in Photoshop and InDesign as well. The assignment that my instructor had us do for Digital Technology 2 (I completed the first course and then completed the second part!) will always stand out to me as a life changing assignment (not only because of the technical skills learned but because of the opportunity to express my values through my design). Our teacher laid out a “cookbook assignment” in which we were to design a cookbook with ten recipes or rather layouts. We were to include a cover page, a back page, a inside cover page, a table of contents and ten spreads (with pictures and content) using the program InDesign which until that point I was starting to like the least out of all the programs we were learning. I thought the idea of a cookbook was boring and always hate the idea of doing the exact same thing as the other students in my class. So I emailed my teacher and pitched an idea that I created a book more in line with my values and interests. I asked to layout a book with ten unique spreads on ten different mental health topics taken from popular blogs or articles. He loved the idea and appreciated my passion. I took the go ahead and designed what would become my favourite project I have ever completed to date (including and counting the three years of University which had a lot of cool projects, don’t get me wrong). It resonated with me because I was able to apply design to a topic that interests me and where my true life’s passion stems from – mental health.

             I titled the book “10 Perspectives Through The Lens of Mental Health.” Inside you would find a brief bio about me the designer (picture included below), ten spreads on various mental health topics ranging from post-grad blues or depression, to letting go of negative people, (my own seamless self-promotion of my blog post “Sever The Tie, Let That Shit Go”) to signs warning of suicide. The book was a compilation of topics in the mental health world I find interesting or pertinent. I also wrote a poem summarizing the intent of the book’s creation to appear as the back cover. The poem is as follows:

This is a journey…

Through mind, soul, and body,

This is an exploration…

Through beliefs, misconceptions and facts,

This is a compilation…

Of stories, insights and advice

These are my favourite:

Roads to Loving,

Breaking,

and Healing.

-Brittany Gushue

            It was refreshing to not only have an assignment I was genuinely interested in but showed me the capacity of design to create beautiful and meaningful things. I gradually learned more and more skills and found nearly every assignment in this course to have value. I designed an “ad lyric” for a magazine editorial spread assignment in which I took the lyrics from my favourite band of all time, Canadian band “Stars” and visually portrayed some of my favourite lyrics from “Dead Hearts” with a heart design I created inspired by the song (Pictured below). I had the joy of printing this design onto a hoodie at a local print shop and seeing my design come to life! It’s now my favourite hoodie and quite comfy too! I designed a heart being gripped by a hand on top of a heart beat flatlining. I thought this flatline was clever as the lyrics are about “dead hearts.”

“I may have found my calling through a series of misfortunate events…but I rediscovered what I was born to do – share and make a living from my art.”

-Brittany Gushue

            Learning the technical aspects, the digital side of design gave me the confidence to start exploring ideas and new designs on my own accord without the guidance or pressure of class assignments. This is when I realized graphic design is more than a career choice but a passion because I genuinely love it and the process of bringing an idea into a completed concept/design. I also see graphic design everywhere I go. I notice the designs on beer cans, advertisements in grocery stores, billboards, etc. I reflect on whether these are effective designs, if there is anything that could have been improved on, but more times than not admire the creativity and effort it took to develop an idea into something tangible, sustainable. I am starting to figure out what does and what doesn’t work for me in my design process. For example, I have discovered I prefer to sketch out my ideas in black and white then scan them into the computer and illustrate digitally from said reference point. Every day, I am learning new techniques and ideas. I am excited to grow as an artist and designer in this industry. I finally found something I am interested and intrigued by to the extent when challenges arise either technical, conceptually, etc., I am not discouraged but genuinely want to figure it out. I may have found my calling through a series of misfortunate events. I may have not realized my dream of graduating with a degree from Carleton University but perhaps (don’t want to jinx it but…) I rediscovered what I was born to do – share and make a living from my art.

Lately I’ve been into illustration and zombies! She’ll eat your heart out then your braiiiiins!!!!

Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End?

I tend to shy away about talking about my relationships on here because I tend to treat them as sacred. But I realize that would be negating a big part of my life that my readers may relate to and honestly, walk with me through this break up, and I will have you better on the other side for it – because I generally have a level head when it comes to relationships and the sometimes inevitable ends of them. I can experience the pain of rejection, loss, and missed opportunities wash over me but I will forever be rational in the way I choose to interpret these feelings.

The simple fact is and what I genuinely believe: what is meant for me will be meant for me. Basically, if he walked then I am actually one step closer to where I am supposed to be – clearly not with him. I gave this person so many opportunities to rise up and grow with me but unfortunately he was not interested – and that’s ok! That’s on him and not me. But what IS on me is the question I have been asking myself the past few days since breaking up and that is: “Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End?”

The fact is whether I want to admit it or not, I made myself smaller than life for him. Let me explain that… I kept quiet all the pieces that make me uniquely me and that I adore personally – that I am passionate about writing, mental health advocacy and most importantly and unfortunately I kept quiet my belief that everyone deserves a certain level of respect in a relationship (whether romantic or not but most especially romantic). I accepted less than I deserved from this person CONSISTENTLY, seriously I am debating whether I am a sadist at this point, hmmm…?

Things I let slide that I would never tolerate before, or let alone accept my friends to let slide in their own romantic endeavours. I became a less shiny, push over version of myself that quite frankly I feel as though I must have fell down the rabbit hole to some alternate universe that I ever became this version of myself – it’s my least impressive version yet. I’m starting to wonder am I “mousy?” as in a meek person in general or was I so blinded by this person’s potential love (key word potential because he was giving me nothing to go on from the start) that I made myself dull to be more accommodating or “easier to love?”

I am used to being called “Firecracker!” by strangers who meet me the first time, and told I have an energy that is delightful but I fell trap to this rebound that lasted six months too long. If I am being honest I made myself into a gray version of myself because not only did I want so desperately to be in a relationship (having ended a very serious three year one before this), I also on some deep internal level did not trust this person to see ALL of me. And again, that’s ok! But I should have trusted my instincts that consistently screamed “Get Out Now!” instead of continuing to make myself small for a person who honestly was worthless.

Never have I been consistently treated like garbage since my early 20s – when girls typically let all kinds of shady shit slide. I somehow convinced myself that’s what I deserved and that maybe that’s how a “normal” relationship is supposed to work, and I just didn’t get the memo. My gut told me “to walk” over and over again and with each ignorance of my instinct, I became even duller in my opinion.

At the dark core at it (sorry to bring it back to the dark place), I was simply afraid to be alone – to die alone. My clock is ticking and I can hear it mocking me, “You need to settle now to have someone in the bitter end.” But honestly fuck you! To people who drive this cookie cutter idea of what love is supposed to be down our throats. I want to stand alone in the end, loving myself, and if someone joins me, that’ll just be the icing on an already delicious cake!

So Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End? I’m still figuring it out but I am taking the time to do that. I do know I shine brighter when by myself and after each break up, I return to an even better version of who I am. I’m learning…and if my unnecessarily long rebound taught me anything – it taught me to take time to heal and sort through the mental baggage that comes from all those scary and real feelings when something that you thought would be special comes to be trashed.

I will not make myself smaller to fit into anyone’s misguided idea of a box for me,

Taking Time to Heal,

All my Love,

xoxoxoxoxoxo,

BiPolarMania

New Year, New Me?

Why do I set new years resolutions? This is why. I lost all the weight my crippling depression and medication had caused me to gain by setting a goal , a SMART goal to be more specific. Read on for context!

So I’m going to write about something so stereotypical around this time of year…New Year’s Resolutions. Each year I set general ones which I inevitably forget about in a month’s time but this year I am going to do my best to set tangible, reachable, time sensitive goals – if you ever went to any career building workshop, you’ll also recognize these as S.M.A.R.T goals. So what is the difference between your run of the mill goal and a SMART goal? A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. They’re called SMART for a reason in that they hold you more accountable since you have to do a little bit of strategizing on how you’re going to complete this goal (Measure it? Time it?) and not just set it.

I tend to shy away from making these goals cause I feel I’ll be disappointed when I do not meet them after putting effort into thinking not only about the goal but how I can achieve it. If I am being completely honest this avoidance stems mostly from laziness and a fear that if I put effort into creating a SMART goal and it does not manifest, I will only prove myself right again in my negative generalized idea that I am destined to be a failure. But no more! New Year, New Me? Huh? I also think that expression “New Year, New Me” is a little ridiculous. I believe in life in general you should always be striving for greatness and growth but do not necessarily throw out all the good parts about yourself you may be neglecting. So without further ado…I have two major SMART goals I would like to set for 2021 and a few general ones that I will address.

My first SMART Goal? You’ve heard it before but this time I will be tracking my progress through a calendar and setting a time frame for it – To Quit Smoking! (once and for all) They say you never truly quit until you’re ready and I was just not in the right frame of mind to do the past five years of my life and the past two years that I tried on and off to quit. I want to be one year smoke free on this date in 2021. I quit last Monday and have not smoked since. What is different this time around? I am holding myself accountable. I intend to write down each day that I break down and have a cigarette and how many to be precise.

What is also different is my view and thoughts towards it. In just over a week smoke free, I have noticed I cringe when I smell smoke whereas before it would trigger me to light up or I would be so desensitized to the smell (having constantly being in it), I would not even notice. It now literally triggers a gag reflex and I do not enjoy it. I also am more sensitive to the idea of a set back this time around. I have decided that if I do give in and smoke I will smoke that one cigarette and re-set my quit date to that moment right after and acknowledge that I am human, and that in reality “that one smoke I just smoked today is better than the twenty I usually smoke in a day and to get back on the quitting train.” This is vastly different from any other thought processes I had in previous attempts at quitting where I would break down, have that cigarette than use it to justify smoking even more since what’s the point? I already smoked one.

It’s like my counsellor said (oh yeah, I go to a STOP smoking program as well currently) that it’s about decreasing that bond of my brain to nicotine. There’s a reason they call it the most addicting substance in the world. If I can just slowly remove myself from nicotine and my habit of “rewarding” myself with cigarettes I believe I can eventually remove it all together for good. I am currently using the patches which I was being supplied in other times I tried to quit but never ever actually used them consistently and properly. This time around I am sticking one on every day until I am ready to decrease it in size and then remove them all together. Another stereotypical thing you hear when quitting smoking is to DISTRACT. I am working on writing and reading and painting more as a way to ease the cravings and keep my mind off of them. But the most important difference I’ve noticed this time when quitting is my mindset. I have a new attitude towards it that is in my opinion very healthy and it can be summed up in a cliche, “Take it one day at a time.” I also believe if I can’t handle that then take it one hour, or even one moment at a time.” Trust me, the cravings do and will actually come to pass.

My other and final SMART Goal is to have the first draft of my nonfiction book (about my life and struggle with my mental health as a person with Bipolar Type One) written again, one year from today. I have set the goal of writing 100,000 words at a rate of 1,500 per day on average. I know what you’re thinking…this girl sucks at Math! But hear me out! This accounts for days dedicated to revising and researching. It also allows some slack days when I know, I just know I won’t want to push myself. I will be tracking this goal on NaNoWriMo which is a site for writers to literally set time sensitive writing goals and track them as they move towards these goals. I intend to post my goal on my wall to serve as a daily reminder of what I want to work towards and achieve this year. I may also post a little thermometer which is a thing us English majors did – to color in different milestones of word counts when writing big research papers. To visually see progress, encourages you to continue and helps you have an idea of how far away or how close you are to your set goal.

My run of the mill goals – ABS! Haha, I wish I was kidding but I am a little vain and used to have a very visible six pack in my youth and early twenties. I intend to work towards this goal by being mindful of working out consistently and being very aware of the trash I tend to feed myself. I also want to blog more! And will be working on some new content more often than ever before. This blog is now on its own Domain (if you hadn’t noticed) and therefore owned by me! It was the first step I made in becoming more serious as a blogger. The next will be to build more consistent content and build a followership (if you have any tips on that, please, please, please shoot me an email with advice! I eat that shit up!). I also now own and have rights to the logo pictured below. It was to be honest a spur of the moment purchase but I am looking forward to making business cards soon and sharing the word of this blog more!

My official logo!

I want you to know your goals are valuable and deserve to be shouted from the roof tops! And at the very least, if you’re not comfortable with that, write them down somewhere you can remind yourself and hold yourself accountable. We all deserve to test our potential and we should want to embrace change. For example, last year I set a really important goal for myself to lose enough weight to be 130 pounds (at the time I was 155 which is a little too much for a short bitty such as myself). I am happy to say as of today, I weigh 117 pounds. I crushed that goal! But I set time limits and tracked my progress (as nerdy as this sounds) on a graph. I wrote down each time I went to the gym in a week to be aware whether or not I was meeting my three gym sessions a week, I had and quite frankly the doctor had, prescribed. Your goals are achievable quite frankly if you believe they are (and obviously if reasonable). But I am going to share with you one secret – they don’t come easy. You have to strategize how to achieve them and sometimes why? The why is important to those of us who need to be reminded what our motivation is, for those days when we just feel like we don’t give a flying fuck about anything.

So Why? Why set Goals this year?

For me it’s simple – I want to be a forever changing better version of myself. I want to be standing somewhere completely different next year – somewhere better.

All my Love,

XOXOXOXO,

BiPolarMania

Life Update

One of those bomb photos I’ve been taking and oh hey! A Self-Portrait – yeah that’s me.

I’ve decided to write one of my “Life Update” posts since I have not done that in awhile now and in case anyone was curious on how’s it going, ahaha. I find myself recently in a funk of procrastination but have decided to finally get moving on some projects (fingers crossed I actually start). One of these projects is to write more frequently for my blog and give it a facelift so to speak. I intend to change the layout and buy an official domain soon and hopefully start to learn how to monetize my blog (if you have any tips leave a comment or send me an email). So far all I have done is fall down the rabbit hole of debating whether or not to switch to WIX for my blog, but after some research have decided WordPress exceeds my needs. I am hoping to learn how to do some coding soon and really tweak with this blog in a way that will help bring my vision to life. But first, let’s start with some content!

Last year around this time I was really insecure and fixated on my weight since it had been getting out of control as a result of my medications. I am happy to say I lost twenty five pounds since then and have managed to keep them off. I had a super active summer which I was proud of from playing tennis, to longboarding, to swimming, to running almost every day. However, life update alert – I have not exercised in three months now. I went from being super active to sitting at a computer all the time or lounging. I have been procrastinating getting back into a workout routine but have decided that THIS WEEK I shall start again! I have come up with a feasible plan of doing one short workout video a day, every day! (Well, we’ll see about that, haha) I found a great fitness youtuber last year when I started my fitness journey called MADFit and her videos range from minimal equipment to no equipment at all. She has a whole range of videos depending on what you’re looking for whether it be a full body or simply an ab workout – 10/10 I recommend her!

I have also been putting off what I think it my life’s project/purpose which is to write a memoir on my experiences with bipolar disorder from mania to psychosis, to depression, to mania and psychosis again and eventual recovery. I admit I get a little discouraged by the enormity of writing a book firstly and secondly one that exposes me in such a raw, inhibited way. I am a little worried that certain people will read this and think differently of me and judge me from where I’ve come from but honestly I believe it’s a story that needs to be told, and shared. I want that one person coming down from a full blown manic break from reality, to have a piece of literature like the one I intend to write so they know, “hey, someone else experienced this and came out better for it, maybe I can do the same.” Basically I want to offer hope to not just those with bipolar but to those who struggle with being “different.” Being different is a super power that needs to be harnessed and not stuffed down or hidden from the world. Our uniqueness should be celebrated and poor mental health should be acknowledge not just as a weakness but rather a strength – a place from which you can grow.

I digress… another thing I have been working on is chipping away part time at a degree in Graphic Design at the local college. I took what I imagined and convinced myself was going to be the hardest course by far called Applied Digital Technology which is basically digital art. We used three main programs: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. I have never used these programs before and have very limited computer knowledge (for example, I had to google how to properly “zip” a folder to submit my assignments). This is why I had been avoiding taking this course for I thought it would be the nail in the coffin that would indicate to me that maybe Graphic Design wasn’t actually the right choice. I decided to take it on though and online so virtual nonetheless! And drum roll….I aced it! I finished the course with a 92 which to me was beyond my expectations. I was so sure I was going to fail, like tank it!

Another new thing in my life is my renewed interest in photography brought on by school. I have been practicing taking portraits of my friends and can honestly say some of the stuff I’ve shot looks pretty legit, like profesh! I really enjoy the process of finding that perfect shot, from behind the scenes (staging make up and coming up with outfits), to the more technical and artistic aspects of it (finding the right light and camera setting). I recently sold my Canon Rebel T5i and upgraded to a Canon Rebel T7i and even got an additional telephoto lens (I have yet to play with, omg!). Below is the first picture I have so far taken with it of my dog Riley. I saw him on the deck shoving his nose in a pile of snow and immediately ran for my camera and chased him around the yard taking shots until I got this one!

My dog Riley, shot with my new Canon Rebel T7i

So the general consensus is life is good but it could be better, however isn’t that always how it goes? We’re never truly content with what we have or enjoy the present moment for what it is. The point is I need to get off my ASS and start working on these projects, both my fitness, personal, and academic ones. The only way is to take it one day at a time and hopefully build up some momentum in setting and achieving goals. But one very key Life Update: I am in a very different space mentally and physically from last year, and the year before that, etc. I think I am slowly recovering to who I was before all this bipolar shit got in the way. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate my past of mental illness for it makes me a more open minded and accepting individual (some might say too accepting sometimes, but oh well) but I’d be remiss to say it didn’t completely fucking derail and blow up my whole life.

But hey, I got a story now to tell! And if you couldn’t already tell – I am a pretty bomb writer 😉

Stay Healthy Folks! And stay tuned for some new stuff from me,

BipolarMania.

XOXOXOXOXOXO

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.

The Link Between Disorder and Genius

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“The subject of genius and mental illness has been discussed and debated on a scientific level for decades. Our cultural awareness of the link between mental disorder and genius is as old as philosophy. Plato wrote of what he called “divine madness,” and Aristotle recognized that creative people tended toward melancholia. It is no coincidence that such a high percentage of American Nobel and Pulitzer Prize – winning writers are also alcoholics” (Saltz, 9).

It was these lines in M.D. Gail Saltz’ book The Power of Different that led me to read this psychiatrist and bestselling author’s take on mental illness as a driving force for creativity. Saltz relies on scientific research, stories from historical geniuses and from everyday individuals who have not only made the most of their conditions but have also flourished because of them.

Being a blogger on mental health, specifically bipolar disorder, the idea of disorder being linked to genius extremely interested me. Saltz found in multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been scientifically, clinically proven to correlate with creativity and the artistic temperament (Saltz 136). Being both an artist and a person suffering with bipolar disorder this peaked my interest even more.

Clinical psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison writes in her book Touched with Fire that Saltz references,  “Many of the changes in mood, thinking and perception that characterize the mildly manic states – restlessness, ebullience, expansiveness, irritability, grandiosity, quickened and more finely tuned senses, intensity of emotional experiences, diversity of thought, and rapidity of associational processes – are highly characteristic of creative thought as well” (Saltz 145). Bipolar is a disorder that has links to creativity which can be traced back to writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Anne Saxton who unfortunately took their lives as a result of their cycling moods.

The most creative individuals however are not the “most well” or the “most ill” but rather are often “mildly ill.” Saltz references the research of Robert Bilder and Kendra Knudsen at the University of California, Los Angeles who observe this phenomena: “These are the individuals who can be diagnosed with all sorts of brain differences – like depression or bipolar disorder – who are simultaneously well treated and flexible enough to move back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking” (Saltz 206).

Examples of this kind of flexibility can be found in a forty-year longitudinal study conducted by Swedish researchers and published in the “Journal of Psychiatric Research:” “These researchers found that being an author “was specifically associated with increased likelihood of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Clearly the authors who suffered from these brain differences were functioning at a level high enough to enable them to produce publishable work. Moreover, these same researchers found much higher representation in scientific and artistic fields among those whose first-degree relatives had diagnosed mental illness” (Saltz 206).

In the words of Bilder and Knudsen, the creative brain needs to balance at “the edge of chaos: “the kind of creativity that produces novels, musical scores,entrepreneurial ideas, and scientific theories requires the ability to flip back and forth between organized and messy thinking” (Saltz 206).

Often times people with bipolar disorder who enjoy the creative frenzy that accompanies mania or hypomania neglect to take their medication in order to ride the high out a little longer, so to speak. The flurry of ideas that come during these manic episodes can seem intoxicating and I can speak from experience of a rush of ideas that came over me that all seemed pressing and yet I was too disorganized in thought to be able to hold any one idea down.

Nassir Ghaemi, Who treats many bright students in their teens and twenties, says, ” is that people with bipolar disorder can benefit from taking a broad view of their own creativity. When patients resist medication, the real issue they’re having is that they think about creativity is just one thing, as this kind of flash of inspiration that happens when you’re manic. And that is part of creativity, but there’s another kind of  creativity.”(Saltz 150). 

Ghaemi cites the work of psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques, who wrote about what he called “sculpted creativity”. “This is not a flash of inspiration, but it’s insights that overtime you put together, like a Sculptor. And it’s not something that happens all of a sudden. This durable sort of creativity depends on maintaining equilibrium over the long haul –  that is, not burning out like a light bulb or losing time to severe manic and depressive episodes” (Saltz 150).

Ghaemi tells his patients the following: “instead of having a lot of creativity really briefly and then being depressed and fallow for a long time, you’re better off having less creativity more regularly, more consistently. it actually adds up more that way.”  (Saltz 150).  

In multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been scientifically, clinically proven to correlate with creativity and the artistic temperament (Saltz 136). I can speak from experience as a visual artist and writer with bipolar disorder that the shift between moods elevates my work in ways if I was quote on quote normal would not be as interesting. When I am hypomanic (not manic because that is too much of an extreme) I have creative ideas and am more able to execute them such as writing this blog on the link between creativity and bipolar disorder. When I swing into more of a depression, I am more prone to edit my work and create visual art because I ruminate more and am able to take on longer projects such as a big painting or technically precise artwork that takes several bouts of time.

However, I have been medicated for years and now notice a more sculpted creativity Nassir Ghaemi speaks of in that I have more creativity that is productive instead of bursts of disorganized manic ideas that I would have a harder time following through on. I am also prone to experience mania as psychosis and so my ideas turn psychotic in nature and no longer productive at all, like thinking I can buy eight mustangs with money I do not have.

I do notice an artistic temperament to bipolar disorder, in that us bipolar people tend to be more melancholic in nature and so reflect on the world in a more drawn out manner and have the gifts of mania/hypomania to illuminate ideas/ ways in which we can translate these thoughts to the general public, typically through writing and art. However, there is a pendulum effect to being productive with creativity in that you must ,as discussed above, be slightly insane but sane enough, or rather medicated enough, to be able to translate that insanity into something coherent. Me raving mad in the psych ward about the millions of dollars I have and trying to order things I cannot afford are not well executed ideas or a productive use of my illness. However, writing about it later while medicated provides others with bipolar disorder a sense of hope, that they can create normalcy out of insanity and even discuss it openly without shame or stigma. I couldn’t string more than two sentences coherently together while manic let alone write a full blog post. It is through medication that creativity can truly foster and grow. It is through balance that the bipolar mind can be as creative as it was meant to be.

The link between disorder and genius is evident through research and influential creators who are linked to this disorder. Virginia Woolf may have committed suicide but she is still arguably one of the best English writers of her time and for that matter even all time. Bipolar disorder has its pitfalls like in the case of Woolf a higher risk for suicide but it also creates a powerhouse of potential, the potential to create something meaningful from the chaos of the mind.

 

You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else)

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As you all know I am a self-help book junkie so when I happened to be in my local library picking up an autobiography, I could not help but be distracted by the self-help section. I was distracted by a small light pink book that might as well have been screaming its title at me: “You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else)” by Elan Gale. I thought now that’s a book that understands me and in general life. Gale is anti-positivity and pro-owning your shit. He promptly states in the beginning of the book that positivity is bullshit and holds you back from being  a better version of yourself. He states that people are more concerned about feeling good about themselves (being positive) then owning their emotions, most negative,  that could catapult you into being a better you.

Gale speaks bluntly and tells it as it is, “Even now you’re probably feeling a little uncomfortable because you’re used to reading self-help books that tell you how wonderful and charming and great you already are and are so complimentary that they might as well just be licking your genitals as they take your money like a prostitute” (Gale 13). Gale has a point because the self-help book industry has a lot of bullshit books that just tell you to be positive and never get to the actual how to improve your life bit. The industry is saturated with feel good reads that beat around the bush when it comes to negative emotions like resentment, jealousy, pride, etc. Gale in his book instead says that these negative emotions can act as motivators to motivate you to become a better version of yourself.

An example of this is when Gale references Michael Jordan and his feelings of not being good enough when he did not make the high school basketball team.  “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan explained…instead of feeling good about himself, Jordan felt embarrassed and ashamed, and he USED those FEELINGS to push himself further” (Gale 133). If he had not pushed himself because of his feelings of worthlessness he may never have made it to the NBA.

I can attest to harnessing these negative feelings and using them to push me further. Most of my life I was told I was not good enough to be a journalist so I studied constantly throughout high school to get the grade point average needed to apply and ultimately get into one of Canada’s most competitive Journalism programs at Carleton University. I would eventually change my major however from Journalism to Art History and English with a minor in Psychology but I was still pushing forward to be a Arts Journalist. I became one for the school newspaper and reported frequently on events at art galleries and artist run centers. I was so good students quoted my articles in fourth year papers and I actually manged to get paid for some of my journalistic efforts as a student.

As my followers know I would be later forced to abandon my journalistic cap in order to focus on my mental health with the onset of bipolar disorder happening in my fourth and final year of school. The point is I succeeded at becoming a journalist in my own right and all those people, especially my family, were proved wrong. I’d be lying if I said it was positivity that led to this but rather a deep fire in me to prove every asshole that told me I couldn’t do it wrong.

Gale also states frequently in his book that you are not that great: “The key to getting bigger and growing up is to admit you are small. The less you know, the more you can wonder, and the more you can stop being a narcissistic shithead and start living an interesting life” (Gale 97). He claims that you can become the smartest person in the room by admitting that you don’t know anything. He says there is never a time
when you don’t have more to learn. There is always room for growth and people who think they are the greatest are arrogant assholes who do not truly want to better themselves and rather accept what they are as all they are. Acknowledging that you are not that great in the grand scheme of things is the first step to a better life. From this point on you can start to look for things to better yourself because you REALIZE you could BE and DO better.

INKTOBER – Empirical Evidence of An Improvement In My Mental Health

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My Inktober sketch for Day Four’s Prompt “Build”

Inktober is a month long art challenge created by artist Jake Parker that is focused on improving skill and developing positive drawing habits. Every day for the month of October anyone participating in the Inktober challenge creates an ink drawing and posts it online. There is a new “prompt” list each year for the challenge which is a one word prompt such as in the above picture where “build” was the prompt. I decided to draw the Brooklyn Bridge because many lives were lost to build it and it still stands today.

Inktober this year when compared to last year’s efforts has already revealed an improvement in my mental health. For example, I lacked the motivation and esteem to follow through and complete a drawing for each of the thirty-one days of October last year. This year, however, I am six days in and have completed a drawing each day and within the allotted day instead of spilling over days’ drawings.

I have noticed this improvement in my mental health since I got sober roughly five months ago. I am starting to challenge myself to set goals and follow through with them with things as simple as Inktober to things such as quitting smoking cigarettes which I am in the process of doing (haven’t had a smoke the entire day! and until a month ago I was a five year straight smoking a pack a day kind of gal). These may seem like simple things but they are building blocks to setting the tone for my next goals. If I can accomplish getting sober, quitting a pack a day habit and well, hey, Inktober then I feel like I can do pretty much anything I set my mind to. It’s about showing up for yourself and practicing self-care. I have also adopted a new habit of running each morning which until recently seemed like an impossible endeavor due to lack of motivation.

The change I’ve noticed the most in my mental health since last year compared to this year is my motivation. I have significantly higher energy levels since quitting dope and have decided to turn this energy into positive things like completing blog posts , finishing a book, running, exercising in general and the greatest thing I have put my energy behind is setting goals. Now last year I could not have even dreamed up a goal much less set one, I was too busy smoking up and wallowing in a pool of self-pity. I had zero self esteem and assumed I was not capable of accomplishing any goals I could think of setting – so I just didn’t set any. This year I have several goals, all kinds of goals, to starting writing those pesky memoirs on my experience with bipolar disorder to trying my hand at going to school again. I know I may not succeed but I know I am in a good enough place that I can handle failure and I think that’s what was stopping me before – a fear of failure.

Inktober has shown me that I am more than capable and yes some days my drawings suck but I still finish them and other days I make a freaking masterpiece and am so glad I put my mind to it. The important thing is to show up and the rest will fall into place.

Below is my latest creation and yes, I am quite proud of it. It’s for the prompt “husky.”

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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.