At crossroads

Options are great. Really, they are a privilege. I know this, but it’s still agonizing.

Every night I’m up, thinking about how I haven’t made a decision about my career. I’m impatient, of course, and never have been able to “enjoy the ride,” as my therapist recommends. I mean, how can you when every single moment that goes undecided seems like lost time that I could have spent focusing on one thing and not on trying to decide?

My dilemma is one of which many artistic people had to struggle before me.  Do you choose what you love to do (fine art in my case) as your career, or do you choose what is practical? I’ve seen both sides argued eloquently, and I’ve seen successful people on both ends.

Now, while I love the idea of following your North star, your intuition, and following your values, my compass seems a little broken and points to many directions all at once. I would love to do what I love on a daily basis. But I also love the idea of a stable job, independence and good health insurance that usually comes with the package. There’s also the perils of failure. If things don’t pan out for whatever reason, what is the worst it can happen?

So I sit here paralyzed, once again with this privilege of choice. One of these days, I’m going to flip a coin…

 

Purposefully doing nothing

Today (a Friday) is the only true day off from my obligations and that is because I’ve signed up to do too many things during my hypomanic episode earlier this month. And today I can attempt to do nothing without going crazy.

I remember talking to my therapist about taking breaks- I must learn to take breaks if I want to get better. I lived without breaks or vacations for 25 years, and it’s one of the many reasons I got sick. C’s suggestion was that I must learn to do absolutely nothing (no work, or goal oriented tasks) during these breaks. Not even guided meditation (because it’s on my to do list of things to accomplish). I have to learn to be myself without trying to accomplish something, without being someone else I’m not, or trying to get somewhere else away from where I am at the moment.

It’s so difficult for me to actually do this- and maybe that’s why I’m writing about it instead of actually doing it- I’m itching to accomplish things, get things done, cross something off my to do list… The struggle is real- you know when your body needs that break but your mind keeps going and going and going, ad infinitum. I try to stay sober from doing doing doing, but like an alcoholic mindlessly reaching for the bottle on the nightstand, I reach for my laptop and I can’t stop.

Both of my parents are very practical and purposeful people, and it must be where I picked it up from a young age. I don’t know how to be whimsical, follow my gut, or be spontaneous. I like things to be relatively predictable, controlled, straightforward, and scheduled. I dislike dealing with chaotic or dramatic situations where things are unpredictable, to the point where I over practice presentations and over study for tests. One could say this is just a personality trait, but for me, this behavior has proven to be detrimental to my mental health. Some may call it OCPD if we need to name a disorder, but at the end of the day, I just want to be freed from this behavior.

 

What makes me happy is

What makes me happy is different from what makes my ego happy, as it turn out. My ego, which wanted to look more successful, more admirable, more correct, wealthier, and better than everyone I knew, made me greedy- rapacious, even. To support this grandiose aspiration, I sacrificed my mental health. Not knowingly and not gladly. Something had to give in my equation. A sacrifice, you could say. I didn’t really listen to me anymore, I listened to the ego. Everything became a “should”, in my life, and not a “want to.” Anxiety grew as life got flooded with the shoulds, and depression surfaced after these sky high aspirations set by my ego were not met. Bipolar became the diagnosis. But a lifetime of not listening to myself, what do you expect? Denying yourself joy and happiness in pursuit of success and appearing that way to society. And so it goes.

My ego tried to kill me a few times- that harsh voice that told me that “you’re unworthy” to myself was all it took. It took many years, but even small consistent droplets can crack open a boulder- like Chinese water torture.

Recently, with the help of my adjusted medication, I was able to lower the volume on my ego station in the back of my head. I felt the peace that I was looking for in something else. I finished a large scale painting after four or five hours- which just felt like ten minutes to me because I was enjoying it so much. My drawing class continues to help me observe things in a new way, and helps me bring my inspirations and my ideas to the canvas.

I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I’m sure that my battle with my ego is far from over, and I will have to be a bit more mindful of it, even with my meds, because there will be ups and downs, I suspect. And the ego is so ever present, and in control of us in this modern life where there is so much comparison and competition- on social media, on the news and so on.

I can’t answer what makes me happy quite yet- not conclusively or holistically. But I think I’m on the right path.

Drawing naked people

The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, says Andrew Solomon in his book on depression, Noonday Demon. I kind of interpreted that as there being the vitality level and then the happiness level, the next. I am starting to get vitality back, and I felt quite happy today for a little while. It was only for a moment, but I felt it, like the smallest glimmer of sunbeam during monsoon season. It was during an open sketch session with a live model- I have difficulty getting the proportions right sometimes, but during a 20 minute quick sketch, I was able to correct it with some new techniques I picked up from other students the other day. I could see that I was becoming faster and more accurate every pose I drew, and also that there was still a very long way to go. All those things combined made me happy- the progress, and even the part about how much there still was to learn. And I would share my work, but they’re all figure drawings of nudes and I’m not sure if people are going to be cool with it, on a supposedly PG-ish blog.

I think part of my annoying subconscious would give me a lot of crap for going back to the arts and not learning something more “productive.” Like new skills that could help me get a job when I feel better, for instance. But I’ve already decided that this year, or at least a part of this year, I’m going to go after joy, and what I want to do, instead of what I have to do. I’ve done what I’ve had to do full time for the past 24 years, and (I speculate,) it landed me in the psych ward. (It also doesn’t help that I’m a perfectionist with OCPD tendencies, but you get my point.) People take mental health days; mine will just have to be a mental health year.

I turned 25

Immature confidence: bravely (but ignorantly) just going for it because you don’t know what could go wrong and how badly.

Mature confidence: brazenly going for it even though you can count a million ways that it could go wrong and how badly (from experience.)Did I get that right? Sort of?

After a flurry of events, like Christmas, my birthday, New Years, as well as actual flurries outside my window, I’ve had a few moments to breathe finally. This year I’m not doing any special resolutions because my resolution/goal remains the same as the thing I wanted since around the same time last year: recovery. Mostly meaning, getting my life back.I will say though, that I’m much better right now than I was last year around this time. For a few reasons- first, I know what to call the thing that I have (and had), second, I know what my limitations are (however crappy it is to be this way), third, I kind of know what to do with myself now in order to not fall off the wagon (except those times when things just collapse). And all this took about a little less than a year. Considering most bipolar diagnoses take an average 10 years to get right, I can’t be more thankful that it only took a few months to correct my diagnosis from major depression last summer, and that I’ve only a handful number of medication changes to date. Of course, I’ll never know how many more changes I will have to go through for the rest of my life, or how many blood tests are in order (to check on my lithium level), but so far in my journey, things have been better than average for the most part. So I’m just going to call it a small win. With things looking more and more stable with more consistency, the next step in my recovery for me is to set up a routine that will make me feel somewhat productive without overwhelming myself. Stress, hunger and fatigue are real triggers for me, I find, so I have to be careful with what I sign myself up for. I’ve always been interested in art and art history before I went all corporate, so I’m taking some art classes in the city, which are fantastic. The class is for anatomical drawing, which should give me more practice with drawing humans. I am much more familiar with drawing animals from pictures, so this is helping me stretch my comfort zone. Yesterday I sketched live models for three and a half hours, and I loved every minute of it. The people are great and there were so many talented students in the room. Everyone was also so nice and helpful to the newbies. I felt like I just belonged. This is for the future, but I hope to become skillful enough to draw and paint what I go through emotionally on the canvas someday. I don’t know what that will look like exactly but I have snippets of visions of it sometimes with not enough skills to actually render it.Hope. That’s not a word I’ve used recently. It’s good to see it again.

When I’m not blogging…

I draw cats. Instead of an instagram full of cat pictures, and videos, I have an instagram of full of drawings of my cat, and sometimes other people’s cat’s and dogs. I use pen, mostly.

I get a lot of my creative energy from my cat, but how much I feel about my drawing depends on where I am on the hypomanic/depression cycle. I feel more accomplished when I’m hypomanic, regardless of how well I draw, everything looks good and I feel successful; but when I’m depressed, nothing I draw looks good- it’s only after I get over the dip is when I can look back and think, that looks clean, that looks meaningful, that is art.

For the creative folks out there with mental illnesses, does your body determine/hinder your ability to express yourself and your work?