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.

Alien from outer space

I’m not sure why I’m still here sometimes. In this foreign land that is supposed to be my home. I lost most of the friends I had, and got rid of my job, too. I don’t have a community where I live because I’m afraid to meet new people. I don’t go to church and I’m not part of a cult. All my family members all except one actually reside here. They’re all in the old country. Not that I’m close to most of them. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next in my life career wise and it sure doesn’t look easier over here or there. I guess the psychiatrists are better and so are the therapists- they get me, so that’s one big reason. But otherwise, what the hell am I still doing here?

Taking the road not taken (before)

Another late night post, folks. (Because of the usual insomnia.)The move is technically complete, except for some important details:

  • I need to find a psychiatrist
  • I need a new therapist (!!!)
  • I need something to do to get a routine going
  • I need a plan

I’ve called to get an appointment but it looks like the numbers for psychiatrists aren’t exactly up to date on my insurance website or the web, so I just left messages at all the good hospitals around the area. As a chronic Spoonie, I have my 90 day refill with me so finding one right away isn’t the most dire thing. But still. No psychiatrist! AHHHHH!!!I’ve been told that Psychology Today is a good place to look for therapists, so I’ve taken a peek, and it was nice that everyone listed their modalities and specialties. It will take some time to find a good one as I meet with them to evaluate whether if they’re going to the best fit. My lovely therapist in Chicago sent me a card saying really sweet things about the improvements I made and it almost brought me to tears. We worked together for about a year on and off and she’s seen basically the darkest corners of my life, and it was sad to let that go and a bit scary to have to find a new person.Now, on what to do with my time here… in the short term, I’m still in treatment. Not in a sense I’m going to a treatment center a few times a week for group therapy, but I’m still staying away from returning to work for a bit longer. I’ve already decided the path I was on was not good for me when I started this blog, and I’m doing everything I can to not relapse, because I know how painful it can be to go through another hospitalization again for myself and those close to me. So instead I’m looking at classes I could take in the interim that I would enjoy. I was thinking art classes such as print making classes, which wouldn’t be hard to find in the city. Long term though, is a bit more complicated. There are so many options out there, with limitations as always, since I cannot take jobs that are very high stress or need certain educational backgrounds. My majors in college (math, statistics and economics) were right for the job market, but it certainly wasn’t right for me in hindsight. I did very well academically, but it prepared me for the typical high stress/ highly competitive jobs in the business world. Without having knowledge of the underlying chronic illness, I was not a good fit. I’m at a place where I could try again and see if another type of corporate job would be right for me, or I could switch paths completely. Health sciences are the most desirable field for me because as providers of the care I need, they would be understanding, and I wouldn’t have to hide myself from getting found out that I’m “mentally weak” or something ridiculous as you’d face in the corporate world. I’m hesitantly considering becoming a developer because I like programming but I’m hesitant because the hours they work are pretty long and stressful. Another option I’m considering is to join a monastery and become a Buddhist nun. No, not kidding. I don’t know how they would feel about pill popping nuns, because some of the traditionalists don’t approve of western medicine, but I’ve thought about going down that path since I was in college. My values and principles basically come from Buddhist roots, and I’m the most home when I’m at a temple. Everything fits the criteria, except the money aspect. It’s a very different lifestyle that these monks and nuns live, so I will have to do some more research before I dive in.

Goals I set for myself

Recovery goals are always a moving target. And not a linear moving target, because recovery isn’t linear- sometimes you take 2 steps forward, other times you take 5 steps back. And it’s hard to accept that sometimes you have to do less than what you planned a week ago for that week because things just happened to go south. It’s seriously frustrating. So sometimes, oftentimes, you might find yourself biting more than you can chew, or reaching for low hanging fruit.

Two weeks ago, I thought I was at a place where I could start pushing myself with learning something and just do more in general. The weeks before, I was starting to do things that I enjoyed (like drawing), without getting prompted to do it- which I think was a huge step forward. (Sidenote: depression makes it very very hard to want to do the things you enjoy, or used to find enjoyable; or get out of bed to live… or live.)

Because I felt good about where this was going, I said yes to the NYC trip for the weekend, and I also said yes to many other social activities over the course of the two weeks. And by that I mean, meeting friends from my life-before-hospitalizations in the afternoons after I came back from group, which is more overwhelming that it should be because I’m vulnerable, I don’t know how to phrase things about what I’m doing, and I’m just usually tired all the time. To top it off, I’m mostly an introvert, so I burn a lot of energy by hanging out with people. I didn’t want to say no to these interactions because I value relationships and that’s more important than anything else right now because not only is it enjoyable, but it also gives me a sense of belonging with the rest of mankind.

That’s all really fine on its own, but I also did sign up for an online course (algorithms) that might be a good segue into a field I’m thinking of getting into, which turned out to be very time consuming and stressful. Clearly, not really something I can handle all that well. The material was very interesting and it was a great course on the subject matter, but experimenting with my meds, and all the social obligations with friends and family wore me out. I seriously felt bad about myself for a few days because I knew I couldn’t complete week 2 of the course because I didn’t have anything left, and I knew I couldn’t finish the problem set on time. I compared myself with my past self without the mental illness, and thought, well I could have done 4 of these at the same time back then! I hated that I committed to the course, but I know that I was feeling more confident two weeks ago about where I would be with my recovery. Unbeknownst to me, my recovery decided to take two steps back, and because of this, I was not at a capacity to do everything I signed up for. And I think I’m starting to be okay with that. I’m not going to let myself think I’m a failure, or that I can’t ever get into this field, or that my future is doomed (I’m not going to lie, I’ve already thought this, but now I’m pushing back).

Now I’m going to try to sleep again. Thoughts, comments are always appreciated!

Are you avoiding?

It’s the standard go to line for therapists everywhere. And you know they’re always going to be right because if you say no, all the reasons you come up with become excuses.

But yes. I guess I was avoiding. Avoiding making decisions on what kind of job I’m going to take, and coming up with the worst case scenario and giving up now. Because that’s easy to put your hands up and give up and not try. My perfectionism always gets in the way, and I need to handle that better. I also need to stop avoiding my friends. I don’t remember how to interact with friends (outside friends who are not in therapy) anymore because it’s been a while.

Lost

It’s like I’m in an Amazonian jungle, lost for days- which turns into months. Some days are sunny, so the road is visible. Other days are just so rainy it’s impossible to see which way to go. It’s always so uncomfortably humid. The weather is so unpredictable, and it’s like there is no end to this jungle, like I’m trapped. Trapped in my bipolar world.

I realize the hospital was a place of respite. Now that I’m out there, I’m getting bombarded by questions. What are you going to do? Where are you going to live? What kind of life do you have in mind? When are you going to get another job/ go back to school?

My answer is: I have no clue. Honestly. I also have a chronic headache that stops me from making great decisions. I don’t know if I will be stable with my new meds. I don’t know what kind of income I will be bringing in from my future job, if there will be one. I don’t know if I will have a career. I don’t know if I will be able to live off of my salary without getting help from my parents. I just don’t know. And all this terrifies me.

Everyone I know who has bipolar II has either written a book, came out with having the illness as a celebrity, or has a blog. I know that I have very little prospect of becoming an actor or writer, so I need suggestions. What do you all do for a living?

It’s not always all good or all bad

I think there is always a flip side to everything, and I rarely talk about the upside of my mental illness or hospitalizations. Honestly, there isn’t much, but I try to find at least a few things to help me think positively about the experience.

1) I’ve gotten so much closer to my family: My family has been my rock through my recovery, especially my mother. She fed me when I rejected food. She was my cheerleader when I couldn’t get out of my negative spiraling thoughts before my meds were correct, and she literally held my hand at night when I had too many racing thoughts that gave me panic attacks. She visited me every day when I was in the hospital. My parents have been supportive about the possibility of my career change, and wants me to be happy. I honestly did not expect this from them and I cannot thank them enough for their love and support.

2) I know who my real friends are: I lost a few friends through this journey because it was hard enough as it was, and I could not sustain friendships with those who were not 100% supportive of my recovery. Real friends stand by you during your lowest, and I hit rock bottom. I wouldn’t have known who my real friends were without having gotten sick.

3) I understand life a little better: Life is not easy and it is certainly not linear. Things fall apart when you least expect it, but you have to carry on. Life is also much harder for someone with a chronic illness, like bipolar or anxiety. I struggled a lot in college, and now I understand why, thanks to my diagnosis.

4) I value seemingly mundane moments of serenity (up there): After I got on the Lithium, my mood stabilizer, the suicidal thoughts dissipated like magic. Before the meds, it was constantly popping up, and I wasn’t able to live my life because a small voice in the back of my mind was saying that I should just die. Life is so much better without that violent voice.

5) It’s made me stronger and less afraid: Now that my meds are starting to work (!!), I’m excited about what the future holds for me. I know that I have a long way to go, from finding a career path that I could feasibly work in, but if I made through two life threatening hospitalizations, I think I can handle a career change.

6) I know what my weaknesses are, and how to prevent recurrence: This is still a work in progress for me, as I learn new coping skills. I know I can’t work as much as I did before, and I need a lot of time for myself and really need to work on self care so that I don’t have another episode. I can also see an episode emerging before it’s in full force, so I feel like I’m going to be ready if it comes back.

7) The hospitalization forced me to stop living a toxic life I was not happy with: Let’s face it. I had a cushy job, but I was not satisfied or happy with it. The place was toxic to me, and I needed a change desperately, and it would have happened sooner or later. Thankfully, it was sooner.

8) I’ve gotten reconnected to my old hobbies and passions: Because I had a lot of time during my hospitalization, I picked up art again, and I’m writing and reading more.

Next time I’ll talk about some ideas about what to do with my career…