Two steps back one foot forward

Thank you for being there for me, everyone. Your comments, likes and reads have helped me to hold on to dear life this past week. I truly think your thoughts and prayers got heard, and the mental health gods decided to spare me this time, again.

Motivation is coming back to me, slowly. I’m not as triggered by things and the dissociation went away. I’m so thankful that this depressive episode was just a short one.

Here is where I went wrong. I thought I was safe, and that my rapid cycling bipolar had stabilized because I had been more than OK for more than two months. But it humbled me again with another episode. I’m never safe. I’m never cured, even with the help of anything. It has to be managed. I think I put too much stress on myself by taking up full time classes and freelance jobs. They were great experiences, but I feel like I put those job related things before my mental health- and if I don’t want another episode in the future, that really needs to change. So, this month has been two steps back. We live and learn.

It has been quite a while, depression

I didn’t really see it coming for me this time. I know I had been really busy, and it was a bit of a stretch right now to be doing anything full time in my condition, but I did it anyway.

My perception shifts, once again, to the negatives I have in my life. The negatives I have not even thought of for a month or so. I have no real friends where I am, I have no job, I live with my parents, I have no idea what to do about my future. It’s all doom and gloom. I try, at the same time, to remember the upsides, but it sounds like a false prophet. I don’t really feel it. I feel numb, and gratitude can’t be felt with all this numbness.

Call it what you will. The ripple effect from Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. But that’s not what this is about.

When I shift into this kind of mode, as I’ve written about it before, the colors literally look less vibrant, and I can’t emote. I can’t work out, and everything is a catastrophe in my head. Everything I’ve ever done is useless, and I feel like a victim in every episode in my life. I see in my head, a full house of the people who know me, laughing at me for where I am in my life.

My head decided that today was a mixed episode kind of day. So I’ve painted the whole day away, and I don’t feel even a little accomplished or joyful.

I’m going to try to ride it out. But this sucks.

I’m an illustrator! How my life took a dramatic turn (once again)

I feel like it has been ages since I last posted. I should say that it was not because of something bad happening, but it was because of something normal. More than just normal, but good. I’ve been very busy.

I have some good news- and it is especially good because it is about my career and where it is headed. I mentioned before that I was struggling quite a bit to find out what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and I know now. Not fully, but well enough to feel pretty secure. And it’s a cliche, but it had been under my nose all along.

It was this one week, you see, when everything changed. When everything clicked. When it felt like it was a sign from the universe, or God or what have you. It was a validating hug that came from all directions.

First, one of my classmates from the art class I was taking reached out to me to ask if I was interested in some illustration work. She knew a friend of a friend who needed illustrators. My illustration so far had been only for my own pleasure, or what someone might describe as “just a hobby, nothing more.” It had been more than that; it was my therapy- it was where I found peace. I constantly sketched, painted, inked- mostly animals, especially my cat. But a year had passed and I found my skills good enough to draw professionally! The guy wanted animal illustrations (in my own style!)-I was stoked because I could not call myself a commercial artist or illustrator until this day, technically. He liked my portfolio on instagram, and we got to work. I was so proud and happy at the thought that I could maybe make money while doing something I love. I took it as a sign.

The same week, I got another commission. It was for several pet portraits. This time, it was similar- I was at church, and I showed my instagram (which is basically my portfolio) filled with ink drawings and watercolor paintings of animals, and she wanted some of my work for her bedroom! I was so excited to have not one, but two projects come up when I least expected it. I usually don’t believe in this stuff, but this was the universe giving me a thumbs up to what I have been doing with my time, and perhaps a sign that I was heading in the right direction.

My therapist was not surprised when these boons came my way. She had the “I told you so” look on her face. She said that she told me before that I was a good artist, and she knew something like this would happen. She said that she saw a lot of clients who struggle with their creativity and artistic abilities because society isn’t very accepting of us creatives. Instead the message is, “get a stable high paying job, start a family and retire early” and not “do what you do is best suited for you.” I don’t think my math degree and my subsequent job in finance was a waste of time. But I am rather glad that I found out early enough that I had something better waiting for me.

The next step for me would be to keep taking classes, get better at my craft, and above all, create more places online in order to reach out to people to sell my art.

White lies to myself

You know the feeling when something so terrible seems like light years away, stuck in the distant past? Oh, the relief. But there is a twist: the pain from it is still so raw, and palpable but no longer relevant in the present moment. That is how I imagine most of the people in the dormant stages of bipolar recovery to be, when the meds work and the depression and mania are in check. I’ve detached myself from that part of my past- my depressive phase- (at least outwardly), and it became another piece in my private collection, guarded by many locks and bolts to the outside world. To me, it was just another dark past that I have overcome. As Mariah Carey came out of the bipolar closet, I went in as far as I could.

It all started when I started going to a local church. Read: when I began interacting with people outside of my family, my treatment group and my art class. For someone who grew up without a particular religion, as a lifelong atheist, it doesn’t make sense. But I was thirsty for a human connection, preferably a non-judgmental, and kind one, and church seemed like the perfect place,and it was five minutes away from where I live. It may sound somewhat calculating, but I wasn’t so opposed to converting if my needs were met. And my guess was right, the church turned out to be another family I came to embrace, and it was all good.

Except, it got in the way of being authentic. Being me. Long time readers know my issue with this- this fine line of oversharing and being authentic. I found myself introducing myself to these people as a glossy version of myself, which skips the part where I quit my job because of my bipolar breakdown, the multiple suicide attempts, hospitalizations and moving back home across the country, and then moving yet again because my parents moved. And not working, and not looking, or aspiring to become something any time soon.

The glossy, approachable, I-have-my-shit-all-figured-out version is that I’m an art student and voluntarily quit my job and moved to New York City to pursue a career in art. Ah, how different things look when you swap out the true reason for a innocuous, false one. I started taking comfort in this version of my story to others, and I almost started believing it myself. It moved me towards more and more projects, and to practice drawing, painting and towards learning about art history. I actually subtly started dreaming about doing art for a living. Not that I was sure of it or knew how I could make it.

Like a bad breakup, I had abolished what was left of my hospital experiences, and those dark dark moments of depression from my memory (and most importantly, my story.) I feel a slight tinge or guilt when I have to tell people this new version, and frustrated that I may be making myself work towards a rather temporary goal that may not be something that I really want. But really, for now, I’m happy. My story will simply have to change when the time comes, I guess.

What’s now

I’ve been thinking about “what next?” a bit like a graduating senior. And like getting a degree, all in all, it’s a good thing, I suppose(recovery is a good thing.) They, the graduates, are usually bitter sweet, yet full of excitement and potential for new adventures. But unlike a soon-to-be-graduate, I’m not fresh faced, or excited about what is about to unfold at the end of my intensive treatment period. I have too much experience, too much trauma, if you will, to feel completely enthralled and optimistic about what I’ll have to face, yet again. I’m really scared. Scared to foot my foot back into the world, and scared to put myself out there, for whatever I need to put myself out there for.

Already, I’ve started “stepping down” from my self-led, treatment (i.e. isolation from major triggers) filled with psychiatrist appointments, med changes, therapist visits, more self care than I’d ever put myself through in such a short period of time, and retching amount of self compassion (if my old self were to describe it.) And you know what? I’m doing much better now: the meds are fine (no huge side effects that I noticed), therapy has been a bit of a struggle, (because I’ve been resistant to change, as you can tell), I do my workouts consistently throughout the week, and I go to art classes regularly.

But it’s always the “what next?” question that throws me off from feeling good about where I am, and how far I’ve gotten. Somebody told me that if you were to ask that of your own life, it would just be “death.” That is the ultimate “what next,” right? I’ve done the “what next” thing all my life throughout school and my short lived career, and it hasn’t helped me much. When I was in school, I was studying 2 grades ahead of where I was, and at my job, I was thinking two promotions or lateral moves ahead. And you know what? It was really tiring, having to do everything in front of me now, and having to do everything for the future. Thinking about your future once in awhile in terms of saving for your first house, or a special event like a wedding or something isn’t detrimental, but rather smart. But for me, my body was here in the now, but my head was in the future- and I can tell you it’s much more dangerous than having it in the clouds.

So today, I’m resisting the urge, this habit of mine, to think into the future, and making 5 year plans, or thinking about careers. Because I need to be here now.

Hitting refresh

Hi folks! I’m back on WP after a few weeks off. The break gave me time to read a lot of books and get caught up on the news. This freed me from my inner thought patterns a little bit and gave me perspective. I think we all need a vacation from all aspects of life, however enjoyable it might be, from time to time.

Where I’m at now: I think I’m finally stable, and will be for quite a while. I’ve said that I was sort of stable before, but this time, I’m actually, for once, confident in saying that. And it feels amazing and improbable at the same time that this period will last. I can’t remember feeling this well for this extended amount of time in years, including the years before I got diagnosed with bipolar.

Also, here is another responsibility that comes with feeling stable: I need to figure my shit out. Maybe not right away, but soon. I need a direction: personally and professionally. I was so cocksure of where I wanted to be and where I would be in life before my breakdown spiritual awakening, but since then, I feel like my elaborate life plan has been wiped off from the dry erase board mistakenly by a maintenance dude overnight. So yeah. I’m still lost with how to recreate myself and spend the rest of my life (or even just the rest of this year).

Instead of this assignment being a burden (as it was a few months ago), this time, it feels almost a little bit exciting, thanks to the stability in my energy levels and mood. I’ve been working out every single day, like I used to (because I finally physically can!), improving my art- both drawing and painting, rebuilding my wardrobe to fit my true style, and just enjoying the weather.

All in all, this is just to say that I have no idea where I’m headed, but it’s all right for now. So, we’ll see.

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.