Bronchitis: End of Week 2
Things are getting weird.
But also, things are in motion.
Artful, Conscious Living with Bipolar Disorder
21 Mar 2017 8 Comments
28 Feb 2017 16 Comments
in art, art journaling, bipolar disorder, creativity, exercise, health, mental health, mental illness, mixed-media art, writing Tags: art journaling, dissociation, junk art, PTSD, rapid cycling, walking
We may Choose to Ignore Them
But, What’s the Fun in That?
It all started with butt boils.
Take a part of the human body rich in adipose tissue, add pressure and heat (as in sitting for long periods of time), and that body part will revolt—or become revolting. Enough on that matter.
Next came a therapy session where we connected the dots between trauma and food as my drug of choice. Since my diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder, I’d set down my shame and guilt about being a Woman of Substance. I’d become kinder, more accepting of my body. But there we were, dredging up all that business, and I found myself disappearing. My hands and feet went numb; a rushing sound filled my head; I seemed to leave my body and drift somewhere behind and above it.
Later, I learned what I’d always called this “shutting down” was technically dissociation—an altered state of consciousness that can include depersonalization, sensory and psychological numbing, disengagement, and amnesia. Most people experience mild forms of detachment, like daydreaming while driving and losing a bit of time. The more pathological end of the spectrum ends up Sybil-like with fragmentation of the personality. It’s a coping mechanism—a way to keep the psyche safe when under attack, whether that attack is real or imagined.
Clearly, I had more work to do with this. Or, as Megan reminded me, not. I always have choices, and she is not the variety of therapist who requires excavation of Hurtful Things.
Soon after, as I sorted my old blog posts into potential book categories, I marveled at how I once worked so very hard at controlling my eating, how I celebrated small victories and believed I made tiny changes in my behavior. And then I always gave up, as my endgame of losing weight could never be reached. I started to wonder if I could ever push gently against the binge eating, if I could find a way to work with it like I’d found ways to work with bipolar disorder—gently, with acceptance and kindness, while still holding the worst symptoms accountable. I had no idea how that might look, but I opened to the possibility instead of shutting myself away from it.
On my way to Orly Avineri’s workshop in Taos, I started reading Foolsgold by Susan Wooldridge. In her introduction she says:
I began writing these pages when I decided to make a small collage box each day for a year with what I found on my walks—often the most ordinary, seemingly worthless bits of nothing. That’s when fool’s gold became foolsgold for me, a field around us, or state of being, where everything can be transformed by our seeing and creativity. Merged into one word, “foolsgold” describes a paradox, the value in what may seem to be worthless. Foolsgold reminds us to look beyond appearances, even in ourselves. What seems to loom in us most darkly may finally be what brings the most light. Everything can be transmuted by attention, play, love.
I used to walk a lot, then stopped as it wasn’t getting me to the destination I wanted. If I had some different motivation to walk, like looking for art fodder along the way, I might be able to do it. I let that idea sit in my hindbrain as I got my self to Taos.
One afternoon, Orly showed us a small art journal her nephew made. An environmental crusader, all his art is made up of junk with space for sketches and ruminations. Orly’s nephew had no concern for style, or balance, or making things look pretty. His art was raw and powerful. And very simple.
I can do that, I thought. And as that realization settled in, my body demanded it.
It took a few weeks once I got home to jumpstart idea to action. But now I have my WalkAbout journal, and every few days I set out with my big zip lock bag and find my material for the day.
Change, even good change, can be stressful. My rapid cycling has been spinning like a hamster wheel. Some days the amount of trash among the trees and berms disgusts and weakens me. I tell myself I can’t go out among all that thoughtlessness again. But the hamster wheel keeps spinning, and I tie on my purple trainers. After a couple of weeks of this, I’m learning to wait for fodder to signal me—light on shiny foil, strange lumps, a flash of color in the dunny weeds. It gets easier and easier. As does the art that comes after.
I’m still on an Adventure.
29 Dec 2016 14 Comments
25 Aug 2016 24 Comments
One of the things I did when I returned from ArtFest was repurpose my old, barely-used sketchbooks into art journals. This is the one I’m in now. It’s small (9X6), so I thought I could use it for funky lists and teeny collage bits.
It’s been a hard summer, bipolar-wise. The rapid cycling twirls like a toddler in a tutu. The mixed states tumble around like Bingo balls. I’m a little dizzy from all that brain-flux. And discouraged.
I’ve learned a lot from all these years of Bipolar Bad-Assery and Radical Acceptance. I’m much kinder to myself and able to be whatever my brain chemistry dictates. But some days are just God-awful. Period.
So, I wanted to use my journal as a more deliberate form of therapy. I decided on trying An Alphabet of Gratitude.
Each spread has a side for a list of what I’m grateful for (all starting with the same letter) and a side to create some little piece of art relating to the list. I made pretty paper out of my parent’s old farm ledgers, painted the 26 spreads funky colors and textures, then started pondering the positives in my life.
There’s a lot. We all have tons of wonderful things, people, places, talents, events that are easy to forget in this weird world. And because I have a whole page to fill with all the same letter, some of my treasures get ridiculous and very specific, which tickles me. Laughing is a good thing for persistent bipolarism. Laughing is good for everything.
I work on it every day, writing down random loves and appreciation. It doesn’t take away The Black, but it does help me pull in The Light. I can sit with that feeling of thankfulness and let it soak into my dry and sere places. It’s enough to get me through to the next day, which is all I need. Because with twirling and tumbling, a shift in mood is only a letter away.
15 Aug 2016 10 Comments
I forget that neuro-normals don’t always know how to bring crazy into a conversation. I also know other folks with mental illness aren’t always as open as I am (i.e. in-your-face TMI) and have real reasons to keep their condition private. So I grok that asking me how I am might be intimidating. Old taboos, stigma, Midwestern Nice—for whatever reason, some folks are more comfortable asking other people how I am.
My sister told me about one mutual friend who said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask, but…”
I guess it’s possible, during one of my Swampy Brain days, that I might have sprayed venom like a velociraptor if a human being invaded my space (which varies depending on the amount of Swamp). Or muttered an F-word-laced answer to a direct question. Or maybe just burst into tears. It’s possible.
Gosh, I hope not. I want people to ask after me—especially on those Everglades days. When my hold on Reality is shakiest, I need to know people haven’t written me off or (horrors!) forgotten about me. Kindness makes me cry, but I hope that isn’t a deterrent.
Come to think of it, inquiring directly about my state of mind could get pretty messy what with all the spittle, and weepage, and colorful expletives. It might take someone with a HAZMAT suit and no sense of propriety.
I can live with second-hand concern. I’m still touched by it. And I apologize if a squirting, prehistoric potty-mouth responded to anyone’s approach. I hope they try again. I’ll use my words next time.
12 Jul 2016 17 Comments
I’m finishing up a Haven marathon. If you’re not familiar with this SyFy Channel show that got cancelled last year, think Stephen King (it’s based on one of his stories) when he’s not at his best. Hokey, repetitive and, at times, incomprehensible, but with enough great characters and moments of genius dialog to keep my attention. Gloria, the smart-ass coroner, is worth it all by herself. And Dwight, the Chief of Police, isn’t hard to look at either (This GIF is from an episode where they switched bodies—one of my faves).
The folks in Haven, Maine have Troubles—like attracting bullets, or talking to the dead, or blowing up anything they touch. I always liked that understated description for the load of misery the townsfolk suffer. Troubles. I’ve unofficially adopted it this summer. As in “my Trouble is flaring up.”
Which it did today. I got a naggy, creepy-crawly feeling that something bad was about to happen, sort of a Stephen King version of anxiety. Everyone looked suspicious and a little dangerous. And I was worried about screwing up my art projects.
However, I finished a couple of things without unfixable mishaps. I put together my first art journal in over a decade. Even though the memory of making those first ones got lost in the ECT void, I kept the written instructions and assembled all the ingredients over the past couple of weeks. I watched the Dark Fret try to stop me from finishing today, but pushed on. Somehow, it helped to have this new journal done. I did it. While Troubled.
I also finished a new piece for my front door. The text comes from Stephen Dunn’s poem, Reversal, which I loved so much I posted it a few days back.
I worked on this for weeks, waiting after each coat of paint or bit of grunge to see what would arise. Working with matte medium and fabric for the first time, I panicked over the result, then took sand paper to it and loved the effect. Yesterday I tore apart an old alarm clock for the gears. Today, I finished it with gloss medium and hated it. My Trouble screamed, “Ruination!”
The negativity and fear my Trouble conjures up slips into my body like an old, familiar song. But, practice helps me turn down the volume and remember there are no mistakes—just unexpected detours. Art work, fiction, life may not turn out the way I envision them, but they turn out. Most of the time, those detours are the best part of my day. Troubled or not.
04 Jul 2016 12 Comments
I’ve been reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, a self-help/Life Coachy recipe for uncovering and going after your Heart’s Desire. If you haven’t been in therapy for decades, and feel like there’s something missing or off in your life, this would be a decent place to start.
I started therapy when Ronald Reagan was President, so none of the material is new to me. Still, I like hearing things presented in a new way, especially when the author has heart and a sense of humor.
Take her chapter on Treats. These are the things/experiences we’re to reward ourselves for taking a risk toward that Heart’s Desire. Very Pavlovian. But Beck also wants her readers to give themselves at least two other Treats a day, just because folks generally don’t do that enough. I liked that.
And Beck’s definition of “Treat?” Anything that makes you feel like smiling. Since most of us are programmed to grimace automatically in public, she gives homework to help the chronically repressed find what actually warms their cockles. I like how she takes her readers by the hand, breaks each step to Nirvana into tiny, measurable actions instead of leaving them stranded in nebulous Woo-Woo Land. And I like how she compares us to pigs.
So some of these ideas percolated in my hind-brain as I played with my art journal this weekend. I worked on a cross-over spread, taking characters from a short story I’m writing and doing cool things with letters they’re writing to each other. I adapted a Dixie Chicks song that I love and made it my character’s. I treated pages from an antique, hand-written journal to use as their stationary. It thrilled me to come at these characters and their story from a different angle, and to make something so gorgeous.
But, when I tried to write my new lyrics on this scrumptious paper, no marker or pen I owned made a consistent mark. I worked for hours, going over the blotchy, ragged letters again and again. It still ended up looking like a serial killer’s tease for the FBI.
I stopped when my hand cramped too much to hold a pen, and I was willing to let it go. Some experiments don’t work. That’s why they’re called experiments.
But as Henry walked across my shins in bed this morning, I got one of those lightbulb ideas. The problem wasn’t with my pens, it was the paper. I’d made it too slick. How could I give it a little bite?
I jumped out of bed and went to work, mixing matte medium with a few drops of gesso, adding paint, then taking fresh pages out of the hand-written journal and applying this concoction with a roller and paper towels. I tested one corner with a gel pen before spraying the pages with fixative. It took the pen beautifully.
The whole process filled me with joy. Setting a problem aside, receiving the answer as I passed through the Creative Gold Mine between sleep and wakefulness, using media I didn’t own two months ago, and actually creating a thing the way I imagined it in my head.
When I finished the spread, I couldn’t stop grinning. Here was everything I loved—my writing, my art, my music, Richard Armitage. . . Layers of meaning overlapped like the layers of paper (I love a metaphor you can actually touch), and color fed some hungry animal inside me.
Probably a pig.
30 Jun 2016 27 Comments
“What ‘real artists’ have is courage. Not enormous gobs of it. Just enough for today. Creativity, like breathing, always comes down to the question, “Are you doing it now?” The awful truth is that there is always one small creative act for which we can find the courage. As with housework, there is always something, and all the little somethings add up, over time, to a flow. Courage, after all is a matter of heart, and hearts do their work one beat at a time.” — Julia Cameron in The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart
Blogging is so incestuous. I read David Kanigan’s post from Monday, and knew I had something to say about courage, comfort zones and whacking the scales off our sclerotic dendrites. At least I thought I did. Or I wanted to think about those things. Or my ego wanted to jump up and down screaming about them. In public.
I feel pretty brave. Except when I don’t. Driving out to Artfest in Washington this spring didn’t feel particularly brave. Except when I got home and spent the next two months rapid cycling and ducking from my brain’s suicidal dodge balls. Latching onto art journaling to keep from getting hammered by red rubber didn’t seem brave, just a case of self defense. It never occurred to me that drawing and painting when I used to be too scared to do either might be stripping some of the plaque off my craft.
What really felt brave was buying The Hollow Crown and sitting down to over eight hours of Shakespeare. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so dumb. I listened to the pretty words, knew they were an old form of English, but couldn’t translate them. I could feel my brain straining, flabby gray-matter-muscles forced to climb a junior high fitness test rope.
Oh, but, the music of the language! That was the liniment for my bruised brain. Plus, Great Performances emptied out The Royal Shakespearian Theater to cast these four plays, so all the British actors I adore speak this unintelligible music.
I take comfort that I’ve never read Richard II, Henry IV (either Part One or Part Two) or Henry V. I have no bits of them embedded in my hind brain next to the passages of Romeo and Juliet Mrs. Christensen made us memorize in ninth grade.
And, yet, it feels brave to be dumb, to be a Monty Python Gumby shouting, “My brain hurts!”
Sometimes, being brave means finding the right anesthesia. Sometimes it’s embracing my full-out Gumby-ness. Either way, my art benefits.
And now for something completely different.
29 May 2016 17 Comments
It just feels odd to be so creative and crazy at the same time. And yet… And yet, this is exactly who I am. Somehow, I’ve come home to myself through the backdoor. And it’s all okay. More than okay, I’m at peace with the pain. I can breathe through the hopelessness. I find comfort during the hysteria. I am living in a place of sufficiency even while the brain demons scream that I’m not. And sorta loving that all this contradiction and friction seems to be making art.
The Journey Continues
08 May 2016 16 Comments
in art, art journaling, awareness, bipolar disorder, creativity, developing consciousness, distorted thinking, gratitude, management, mental health, mental illness, mixed-media art, obsessive/compulsive behavior, teachers Tags: anger, coffee shops, compulsive spending
Journaling in coffee shops is a big part of my MO. It’s how I push the worst of the internal pain and distortion to my margins. It’s how I remember who I am. Journaling is vital for me. It’s medicine.
Now that I’ve embraced art journaling, I needed to figure out how to make it mobile, how to make it as easy as my old $1 spiral notebooks used to be. Some folks I met at ArtFest do their page set-ups at home and only journal out in public. Some take a few art supplies. Tracy likes to have people stop and talk about his journaling. He even invites them to add to it. Teesha wants to be left alone.
I put together a bag of supplies and launched. It helped that our local coffee shop closed for a couple of days and reopened under new management—Georgina, a sassy, gregarious New Zealander who is bent on upgrading the food quality and increasing the friendly factor. It seemed an auspicious start—new art form and new digs.
Since I’ve journaled in public for years, I’m used to the odd personal inquiry. I don’t get bothered much, but if folks see me as a regular with pen and notebook, eventually they ask what I’m writing. I’m happy to share. It’s also a chance to advocate as a person with mental illness. Almost to a person, they are or know of someone with mental illness. Conversation ensues. Stigma weakens. This is my superpower.
I’m finding that art journaling is a more open invitation. First it was the coffee shop staff—mostly college and very young adults—who seemed drawn to my booth like fluttery moths to a flame. They were fascinated, almost giddy, and inordinately proud that I did this weird thing in their coffee shop. I’ve become a kind of celebrity with my little bottle of matte medium and magazine gleans. They introduce me to their families. They give me muffins fresh from the ovens. It’s so sweet, and totally baffling.
It’s much more visual, this art journaling thing. My crap is spread out on the table and hard to miss. Other caffeinators wander by and stop to find out what it’s all about. And I’m happy to share.
These last few weeks have been rough, mental health-wise. The Bad Thoughts never stop, and reality is a little hard to recognize. When it starts to drag me under, I take a deep breath and go glue something or spread paint. It helps.
In one of my buying frenzies, I ordered some old art ‘zines from Teesha Moore, the wonderful art journalist who organized ArtFest. I figured there’d be lots of stuff to glean and pretty pictures to soothe my Brain-On-Fire (which would be my Hunger Games name).
In one of the zines from 2007, Teesha wrote an article about how she created an art journal page. The more I read, the angrier I got. She had lots of Do’s and Don’ts, particularly Don’t ever, under any circumstance, just cut a picture out and glue it to the page without altering it. And then there was an endless list of art supplies—types of paints and pens, markers and pastels—all with their own Do’s and Don’ts.
I thought, no wonder I could never do this. Complete intimidation. In my righteous indignation, I created a FuckYou,ThankYou,Teesha spread in my journal. Part defiance, part homage, I used some of Teesha’s techniques and a lot of swear words. And it is glorious.
Anger can light a fire under creativity. It can conquer Defeat. It can pound a fence post in the ground and say, This is as far as you get to push me.
A Brain-on-Fire can be terrifying and it can be an open door. With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m happy to share.