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!!!!

You’ll Be Flying Again Soon…

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“You are not trapped, you just need to relearn a few things. We all have doubts that make us feel trapped at times. If you doubt your ability to make a life-altering decision, to take on a new chapter in your life, or to fend for yourself after years of being overly fostered, consider this: Surely if a bird with healthy wings is locked in a cage long enough she will doubt her own ability to fly. You still have your wings, but your muscles are weak. Train them and stretch them slowly. Give yourself time. You’ll be flying again soon.” (p.60 “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently”).

I included this quote in the beginning of my blog post because it inspired me to write about how I feel like I have been a bird locked in a cage for years, half a decade or more. I did not recover swiftly from my first and then second manic psychosis. If I could fly before than I could not even walk after my psychotic breaks. My brain with all its chemical imbalances, shock and trauma, and inability to accept what had happened to me, firmly locked itself in a cage and refused to fly. I once was a bird who not only flew but soared in the open skies that was life. I had it all then I lost it all (same old story I know its a cliche for a reason).

After my first psychotic break I was unable to continue school which is where I truly learned to fly. I fell into a depression deeper than I could ever have imagined possible. Hours were spent laying curled in a ball clutching my head begging the tormenting thoughts to stop, “Your life is over now, you might as well end it too.” I cried all the tears I had and then some and when my tear ducts were dry, I shook uncontrollably. I was in misery. My brain had broken down and decided it had taken enough. I could not wrap my head around the idea that my dream of being a professor was over, that I had a mental illness and was not “normal” (whatever that means but I struggled with the definition of normal for awhile), that my brain devoid of all alcohol and drugs in its system hallucinated and deluded itself. It was too much to bear because deep down I realized my life would never be the same and that I was always going to be different (I had not yet learned that’s okay).

I would be hospitalized two more times after this for depression and another manic psychosis. I felt like an alien, like “less than.” My brain started to self-destruct and simple things like reading I could not do. I literally tried reading a paragraph in a book during this time period and could not remember even the first sentence after reading it, let alone processing it. I went from being an A student in a competitive program based on reading and analyzing texts to not even being able to read. Y’all I cannot even describe how heart wrenching this was. The thing I had been doing since I was a child and that came so easy to me became unfathomable. I began to panic and wonder if I could ever revert to myself, if I would ever be able to fly again.

Years went by on Welfare and then disability. I did not attend school and I could not hold on to employment and rarely sought it out for my mood was detrimentally low. My wings were not used for years and I definitely was and am still doubting my ability to fly. That being said, the past two years or so I have begun to flex my wings, trying to train them to move again. It has been a slow process and this blog has helped a lot. I can now read books (several at a time) and write coherently about them. I may be doing this on my own and not in a formal academic setting like before but it is still a major triumph in my books. This year, as of 2020, I have faced my fear of being unable to learn in a formal setting anymore following my psychoses and have registered for one course at the local college and am auditing one. It might not seem like much but it takes everything in me to do this because I have convinced myself from being in the cage so long that I can never get out. I have also just started (one shift down) volunteering at the local food bank and am exposing myself to the community which I have shied away from since becoming psychotic (I feel I am too different). I am also now deciding to set and attempt goals. Before I decided I could not possibly succeed at anything and so why try and why set myself up for failure by focusing my energy on a goal.

The point is I may have been locked in the cage for a long time doubting my ability to fly but I now see the possibility of it. I am still weary but I believe there is more potential within me. This WILL not be IT. I have more to give. I will fly again. But for now I will stretch my wings until  they are ready and you know what, that’s okay!

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.

12 Ways to Get a Second Chance in Life

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“The only difference between an opportunity and an obstacle is attitude” is a quote I enjoy from the book  “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. In this book they break down “12 Ways to Get a Second Chance in Life” and I am going to go through some of them and how it inspired me to try again. I feel as though I am on my thousandth chance because I keep trying then giving up on my life, obviously not literally but figuratively. I set goals and decide to work on them then slowly lose gusto and give up somewhere along the journey. This year, however, as I mentioned in earlier blog posts I want to live my life with more intent and focus.

  1. Let go of the past – This one is a lot easier said than done for often times we feel our past defines us. We reflect on what we deem “failures” in our past and it leads to us shying away from trying new things in fear of this failure occurring again. The Chernoffs make a good point for why we should let our past go in that every difficult moment in our lives is accompanied by an opportunity for personal growth and creativity. Even failure is an opportunity, an opportunity to try a new way or get up and try even harder. I have decided to let go of the past five years or so following my psychosis that I have remain idle with fear and not really working on what I want from life. I think I was afraid to admit what I wanted and truly work towards it in case it never came to fruition. This year I want to be more productive with my life and I am going to try and take steps each day to make this a reality – oh hey! look at me writing a blog post instead of watching tv or sulking in my bedroom.
  2. Identify the Lesson – Everything is a life lesson. Even and especially when you don’t get your way. For example, me not achieving my dream of finishing my degree and going psychotic off and on for a few years has taught me the importance of my mental health. It has also taught me to share my experiences with others such as on this blog because I know firsthand what it feels like to be lost and searching for answers or understanding. I think I needed to lose my dream to create a new one and that is to share my experiences with bipolar disorder through a published book. I am working on writing this book finally this year and am making it a serious life goal.
  3. Lose the negative attitude – This one is a great one because it led to me believing I could make my goal possible and kick started me into researching my past journals for my book I intend to write. The Chernoffs write the following and it really struck home with me: ”The mind must believe it can do something before it is capable of actually doing it.” Whatever goal you have cannot come into being unless you believe you can achieve it. You are not going to take a bunch of small steps to a bigger goal and continually take those steps if you feel discouraged and believe it will never actually happen. For example, if you want to lose weight but get discouraged every time the scale reads a larger number than you assumed, you’re more likely to give up on your goal of going to the gym often thinking it’s pointless. But with the right attitude those numbers can be interpreted another way such as gaining muscle that week led to the increase on the scale.
  4. Accept accountability for your current situation  – YOU and only YOU are in charge of your life and it is up to you to change it if you do not like it. Take responsibility for your actions and decide each day to work towards the changes you want to see in your life. For example, I noticed I never have any savings so I decided to track my money and see what I am wasting it on. I am now more aware of my situation and can make plans to change my spending habits that are superfluous. Will it be easy after most of my life blowing through money to now track it and manage it better? Hell No! But I am at least now making the effort to change it and I do not blame anyone else for this problem but myself because ultimately I know I got myself into this financial jam through poor life choices.
  5. Figure out what you really want – If you do not do this you will fall trap to never starting anything let alone finishing. I have done some self reflection recently on what I want to work on and have come up with some areas in my life I would like to start taking steps towards changing. One is obviously my book I want to write so I have decided to set an hour each day minimum aside to research, mind map, or even write out chapters. I also want to start volunteering again to feel as though I am contributing to my community in some sense and have a meeting Monday with the volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank. I also have decided to take my doctor’s recommendation of being physically active in the gym a minimum of three times a week which I now track on my calendar. Take some time and think about what you really want whether it be a new house, car, career, etc. And make a plan to work towards it.

I am writing this blog to let my readers know that Yes, You can start again. There’s no hard and fast rule of how to live your life or how many chances you get at one. Unhappy with how things are going? Hold yourself more accountable because ultimately it is you and only you that decides your happiness. If you are unhappy, take some time to reflect on why? and don’t blame others because it’s not their fault. If someone really is impacting your life negatively then it was your choice to invite them in and it can be your choice to let them back out. Once you have identified the problem areas in your life whether it be, career, finances, or your love life, ask yourself what is your ideal version of these? Then make a plan to take steps towards changing them. Seriously go old school, get a pen and paper out and start strategizing ways you can improve your life. Then work on it. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get exactly what you hoped for but hey, on your road there you may find an even better detour. The point is life is never over til it’s over. Right now if you choose, you can have a second chance.

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.

 

Bipolar Disorder – My Super Power

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Me as Wonder Woman. I’d argue its a constant mindset. 

When discussing bipolar disorder we tend to focus on the negative such as the crippling lows and delusional highs. However, this negates the beauty and positives one can find to living and struggling with bipolar disorder. I like to say that being bipolar is like having a super power in that it provides you with empathy, respect and love for others. It makes you appreciate life more and the small things that you once took for granted. Below you will find six things my disorder has taught/given me and how it has affected my life:

Super Power #1: Empathy

I find I identify with people more so than ever after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I particularly identify with the struggles of others. Before, the image of a man on the street talking to himself aggressively would have led me to conclude “wow, he’s insane!” But now I feel empathy for this man and realize he may have a mental illness such as schizophrenia and is battling with the voices or rather demons in his mind. I am less prone to say a person is crazy having gone completely psychotic myself and am more aware of words and how I use them to describe people.

I feel for others who struggle with depression, mania, poor life circumstances, etc, because I have a fuller understanding of how hard life can be. I spent over a year being Agoraphobic and unable to leave my house following a manic psychosis and now have a better understanding of this affliction and how debilitating it can be whereas before I thought it was some made up illness. I genuinely love and respect other people more now that I can appreciate that everyone struggles at some point in their life. I am less blind to this struggle having gone through years of various episodes ranging from extremely high to extremely low.

Super Power #2: Awareness/  Knowledge

They say that knowledge is power and it really is! I can’t believe how grossly educated I was about mental illness and it’s prevalence. According to Statistics Canada: over two million Canadians aged 15 and older have a mental-health related disability. This represents 7% of Canada’s adult and youth population. In 2017, 8.6% of Canadians aged 12 and older (roughly 2.6 million people) reported that they had a mood disorder.

I used to think mental illness was more of an outlier and that I would never experience it in my lifetime. Again, I was grossly misinformed. I have bipolar type 1 and have experienced multiple episodes of depression, hypomania, and mania and even manic psychosis. I was always a very thoughtful and anxious child who had bouts of depression followed by increased levels of activity which have finally been put into context through my diagnosis. 

Having this disorder has taught me to seek out more information about bipolar and attempt to educate my readers as well on the various aspects of it. I am less prone to judgement as a result of this knowledge and always provide a listening ear to anyone and I mean anyone who is struggling in their life and wants to talk (whether they have a mood disorder or not).

Super Power #3: Appreciation for Life and the little things 

Having lost my sanity not once, but twice, I tend to appreciate that shit! Having been bed ridden for months on end makes you appreciate when you are healthy so much more. I now have a new lease on life thanks to my bipolar. I appreciate my family more having been by my side during these tumultuous times. The small things like smelling a flower, writing this blog post or even sitting and simply breathing feel more alive to me now having gone through periods of debilitating illness. I find joy in the little things in a way I never did before. Before my illness, I was moving a mile a minute studying while working full time and never stopping to appreciate any of it and always in a despairing mood. When you get sick something shifts inside your mind space and you promise yourself that if you were to get better, you’d appreciate normal so much more and that is now what I do. I appreciate my sanity more than anything, to be medicated and not experience hallucinations or delusions is a godsend, anything on top of that is just gravy to me.

Super Power#4: Creativity and the Ability to Channel it

Bipolar tends to come with a sense of creativity (which I will discuss in my next blog the link between artistic temperament and manic-depressive illness). When you are hypomanic you get a burst of ideas such as creative projects to undertake and if you are lucky and medicated you can hone these ideas into something great. I have had a manic idea to write about my memoirs but now having been medicated for years I am finally in a position to write them being now sound in mind. However, the experience of insanity brought on by my bipolar disorder gave me the inspiration for this idea and the content to write it. Mental illness can be talked about in creative ways and if you are brave enough to share, you can always find a creative outlet such as writing, painting, etc.

Super Power#5: Judgement is not in my vocabulary (anymore) 

I used to be a snob. I am not kidding. I was the prissiest little priss there ever was. I judged everyone from what they wore to how they talked to where they were from…well, you get the idea. Judgement was my middle name. However, having now gone through a life changing affliction I am less prone to jump on the judgement train. How can someone who has gone psychotic twice get on any semblance of a high horse? I’ll tell you…they can’t. I got literally knocked off mine and catapulted into understanding and acceptance of others. I now try to see beyond first glance and if someone is rude to me, I don’t assume they’re a bitch but realize I have no clue what their day has been like or how their life has played out up until that moment in time. I don’t assume homeless people are lazy bums but rather people who have gone through some sort of hardship that has led them to said point. The point is judgement is not in my vocabulary…anymore!

Super Power#6: Patience

If anything bipolar has taught me how to be patient more than anything else. I spent years (almost five) trying to find the right medication to balance my moods. Some swung me into manic psychosis to the point where I was raving about being a celebrity millionaire going around in a onesie giving out designer perfume bottles like they were sticks of gum. In actuality I was a University drop out on welfare. Some medications on the other hand slumped me into depressions so deep I literally would not leave my bed for three months. I became Agoraphobic as mentioned before and had to have counselling just to be able to walk to the end of my street. I finally found the right medication after years of trial and error but it took patience and a willingness to try. It took me five years to become completely sane and not overwhelmed by the fluctuating cycles of bipolar. If that’s not patience tell me what is.

This lesson in patience has carried over into all aspects of my life. I am more patient with people and understand that they are not perfect nor will they always do what I expect or want them to do. I also have more patience for simple things like hospital waiting rooms and accept that everything will come when it is meant to come.

In summary Bipolar Disorder may have taken a lot of things away from me but it has given me so much more. It has given me a new attitude and perspective on life that allows me to cope better with the things life throws at you. It has given me superpowers!

Emerging Blogger Series – Mental Health @ Home (Part 2)

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I had the recent pleasure of being featured on the emerging blogger series on Mental Health @ Home. I talk about manic psychosis and my own experiences with it. The blog post on this site will be featured in two parts with the second part having been released today. The post goes into detail about delusions, hallucinations and paranoia I experienced during this episode.

As it is Thanksgiving, I feel the need to add that I am extremely grateful for my sanity today since as you will see in my post I briefly lost it and would ultimately lose it again (see my blog post on my second manic psychosis). I am also thankful for bloggers like @mentalhealth@home who give bloggers like me a chance to share their story on an additional platform. I am grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to the emerging blogger series and hope you all give it a read! Link below to my post on Mental Health @ Home.

And Stay Tuned for a Blog Post about the downs in bipolar disorder, specifically the depressive episodes I experienced and was also hospitalized for.

Emerging Blogger Series: Brittany – Part II

 

Reminder: you could die at literally almost any moment

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This reminder: you could die at literally almost any moment slapped me in the face this morning while I was reading Elan Gale’s “You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else).” It is a truly ubiquitous reminder for it’s in the back of all of our minds but we simply choose not to acknowledge it. However,  maybe if we acknowledged it a bit more we’d be striving to be the best version of ourselves instead of settling for mediocrity. Why do we always say we are going to do something but put it off for “tomorrow?” I have decided I am officially done with that bullshit.

It’s easy to lie around and accept what is but it takes true awareness and motivation to want to actively change it. If you do not like who you are or where you are simply change it. And I know you’re thinking “well how do I do that, Brittany?” That’s not up to me to answer for you but for you to do the research. For example, I’ve decided I want to lose weight (keeping it simple here) but I keep saying I’ll exercise and then don’t. I have a monthly gym membership (my bank statement each month reminds me) and I barely use it. But I’ve decided enough is enough! I have set a really healthy and realistic goal of exercising 30 min a day whether that be walking, biking, running, etc, as of today. I have also decided to increase my water intake and reduce my consumption of calories (perhaps cutting out that midnight snack). It is up to me to follow through though and realize that today is all I have and hey, this is morbid, but I may not even have today (I could get annihilated by a city bus).

Another thing I want to work on is my finances cause guess what I am done settling with the mediocrity of walking everywhere. Fuck Yes, you betcha I want a fucking car! This means I need to research how to budget my money cause like every other millennial I was never taught these basic skills. But I am committed to change and I am willing to put in the work. You want something more out of life? Cool. Then start actively working towards that goal and stop allowing yourself to settle for less. You got big dreams? Fuck Yes, shoot for the stars! You may fail but you may just fail into something better. Maybe you won’t get that Audi you dreamed of but maybe through your hard work and determination you might just be able to finance a Chevy Cruise (another more reasonable car I enjoy driving). Stop saying that this is it and work for what could be. Put in the fucking work. Let me repeat myself, put in the fucking work.

And you are probably going to struggle but that’s the beauty of life figuring out the stuff you’re made of. You might just discover you’re stronger than you think. I have this reoccurring thought “I’m not smart enough to go to school” or “My brain has deteriorated since being hospitalized as a result of bipolar disorder” and you know what I ve decided rather than sit on my ass (like I’ve been doing the past three years), I am going to try and challenge this thought by actually going back to school part time. I might fail, who knows? But at least I will have tried and that’s worth something in my books. If you constantly sit on your ass instead of working towards your dreams/goals then you guessed it you’re gonna have to live with regret. And have you felt that shit before? Because let me tell you it isn’t pleasant.

So thank you Elan Gale for reminding me that I may die tomorrow because as of right now I am going to use the best of today. Because fuck it, I know I am worth it.

F**K it – Be At Peace With Life Just As It Is

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I was perusing the book store when I came across John C. Parkin’s “F**k it.” I will admit I was drawn to it more because of my affinity for swear words than anything else but regardless I decided to buy it and give it a read. The book overall was a little bit of a let down, however, there are nuggets of wisdom and surprisingly ideas congruent with that from “The Power of Now.” (see previous blog post) One thought that struck me the most was the following: “We take a big step forward in life when we recognize that working out what we’d like to feel is more important than working out what we’d like to do, or
whatever other aim we have in life” (Parkins 80).

Parkins raises a good point about how to gain peace in life and that is to stop waiting for things to make you feel content such as the next job promotion, the next relationship, etc. Looking to external things for contentment and peace of mind is severely misguided when it is internally that you need to do the work. Haven’t you ever heard you need to love yourself before you can truly love another person. It’s an overused statement for a reason cause its dead right. If you are looking outside yourself for peace such as through a new shiny toy or next big life milestone, you’re missing the point. Life happens now in this moment and waiting around for the next big thing or distraction only takes away from finding the peace of mind to enjoy the present moment for what is. You think you need this or that to be eventually happy but if you’re never happy that’s on you to work through – internally and not externally. You will eventually find you do not even need these things to feel at peace, you just will be. The greatest avenue to finding inner peace is through acceptance of what is and who you are in this moment.

The author himself mentions struggling with his expectations of how things are supposed to go but ultimately to be at peace he had to let that go: “Well, F**k It to how its supposed to go. I hereby (attempt to) embrace how it goes – in real-time-unfolding-reality – rather than how its supposed to go. It is after all, the gap between how I want it to go, and how it actually goes, that will cause me pain. And to close that gap, I must simply accept more what happens, as it happens” (Parkins 168). Parkins mentions a gap between what we expect and what occurs as causing pain. This pain is the emotional unhappiness we feel when things don’t quite go our way. If we can accept life for what is rather than what we think it should be then we will be much more at peace. It is our unrealistic expectations that are slowly killing us and causing deep rooted depressions. If we can be content with what we have then life would feel infinitely more happier which brings us to another helpful activity the author mentions in finding inner peace which is practicing gratitude.

Being grateful comes more easy to some people than others. Most of us focus on what is wrong and what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Parkins says, “being grateful, then, for who we are, what we do, what we have and our lives as they are, is a quick way to find peace in the now” (Parkins 97). Th author mentions that when he feels particularly like moaning he stops himself and writes a list of all things he is grateful for. I strongly encourage creating a gratitude journal in which you can practice this task. You can start light by writing each day three things you are grateful for today – a practice an inpatient group taught me at the hospital when I was hospitalized for major depression. This activity forces you to acknowledge the good things that you are overlooking in your life. They could be simple things like the ability to talk or specific to your life like that you are thankful for your cat who comforts you when you’re down. Being grateful forces you to re-think your life and not fixate on what is lacking but rather look at all the things you should be thankful that you do have in this present moment.

Parkins also references an interesting study in his book that gets you thinking. It illustrates how people most the time are wanting more even when they are wealthy. A survey asked extremely wealthy people, millionaires, and billionaires, if they felt content with their wealth and the majority said no. They were then asked, “How much more would make you feel content?” And they were invited to put a $ figure on it. The researchers turned that figure into the percentage of extra wealth that wealthy people wanted in order to feel content. The figure was, roughly, the same for all of them: 20% extra. Parkins concludes, “It seems then that everyone is 20% away from being content, regardless of their income. And that’s worth bearing in mind as you go about wanting more wealth, more things, and trying to get them. If you believe that you’ll be at peace when you’re wealthy, the research suggests you’ll remain forever 20% away from peace” (Parkins 47).

This reiterates the point I was making earlier about how external things such as money can never truly make you at peace with yourself. In order to be at peace you need to be grateful for what you have and accept it. Even the wealthiest individuals are not happy with what they have and want more so don’t be too upset that you’ve fallen for this trap. Real peace, real happiness, comes from within when you accept that you are right where you are supposed to be. Everything unfolds as it is supposed to and you just got to trust that or you’ll drive yourself insane trying to fill the void of what you supposedly lack. I was thinking a lot about my past and how I refused to accept where I was in life leading to a 6 month deep depression where I literally never left bed and ultimately had to be hospitalized. I am now at a better place because I understand that I am right where I am supposed to be, right now. I can accept my past failures for what they were, a guide to where I am now. Now I am at peace more than ever before because I accept that I have what I have and am thankful for it. I am  happy for the first time in my life, genuinely happy because I am not fighting some idea of what I think I deserve but understand that my life is meant to unfold the way it has and is. The beautiful mystery of life is that you may never truly get what you think you want but you always get what you ultimately need.

So say F**K It! Fuck it to what you think you want and be at peace with life just as it is.