Love More, South Lamar, Austin, TX.
SoCo, Austin, Texas. March, 2016
My thinking went like this: If work is crazy, and I am crazy, it’s time to do something crazy to get close to normal. Influences including Edge of Humanity , Greg Davis and hypomania collided, and I decided to rent a studio to paint and play with street photography. If you’re coming to Austin for SXSW, enjoy your stay, and look for the ordinary as much as you do the extraordinary; you won’t be disappointed.
Wow, I’ve been away so long on an exciting vacation! Not really, I just got a job, saw some hippos swimming and listened to a woman in Victorian garb giving me one word answers. One of those was a hallucination.
I fell asleep on the sofa and awoke to a woman in Victorian clothing, content to call my name and dispense advice in a three syllable word. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming, but I called out “what?” in a startled voice, and she just nodded her head and said “attrition.”
Well, of course I looked it up, and I absolutely chose the definition that works best for me:
the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.
I tried to bargain with her in my head, because I knew she meant I needed to stop obsessing over some things, one thing in particular being a man, but I promised I would be ever vigilant about signs of a bipolar episode, never letting my guard down, always taking preventative measures. She didn’t seem content until I acknowledged that it was the guy.
Did I listen to her, to myself, or whatever? No. I mean, I tried. I really did. But eventually I had to learn that I have some symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder as well, and that maybe it’s time to take it seriously. That was in February, and I was a mess. But hey, I’ve already had DBT therapy for bipolar, and it’s a suggested therapy for Borderline, so I’m thinking I got a bargain; two mental illnesses for the price of one therapy.
Those old time feelings of abandonment are creeping in with another relationship and I am handling it well. I keep the image of the Victorian woman in my head as a reminder; I picture her smiling, showing off her newest dress sewn entirely in DBT diary cards.
I still don’t understand exactly what the voices in my head are. I only hear them a few times a year when I’m under extreme stress, and usually when I’m exhausted. I’m aware they are coming from inside of me, but they are never the sound of my own voice.
Recently, in search of answers I became captivated by Eleanor Longden, who gave me a new perspective in her Tedtalk. While I may not have gained a full understanding, I have more compassion for myself and less fear of the voices. The video is fascinating whether you have auditory hallucinations or not; her unique interpretations of the purpose of voices and her resulting conclusions about how we should treat all humans are inspirational.
Sometimes my brain creates images for the voices. I am a visual thinker, and it helps me focus on the message and not the fear.
Several months ago, exhausted and on the verge of sleep, I was startled by a male voice warning me graciously, “You are going to die tonight.”
I propped my head up, trying to discern if it was a dream. I could “sense” him four feet to the right of the side of my bed; he was wearing a suit, and was quite dignified.
“Oh shit,” I thought, “I should probably clean my house.”
I was so exhausted, would it be okay if I just died with this pile of laundry at the foot of my bed? He delivered the message again.
“You are going to die tonight.”
My heart started to race. I thought about my daughter sleeping two rooms away. This can’t be true, I decided, it must be my brain sending a message to add something to my diet other than grilled cheese sandwiches. Or to lift weights heavier than the remote control.
A few moments passed, and he relented, “Okay, maybe tomorrow.”
I let my shoulders slump back down into the bed and my body relaxed. If I die in my sleep, I thought, there’s nothing much I can do about it anyway. If by chance I get another day for final gestures, I’ll take it. Even the voices tease me about my procrastination. I fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning I didn’t forget to appreciate that I was here, breathing and laughing. I thought of my friends who aren’t so fortunate – whose voices are much more menacing and persistent – and I wished for them to have more peace. I said a special thank you for those who loved me. I also jogged and ate fruit instead of cheese and carbs; the guy was wearing a suit after all, the least I could do was consume another food group while wearing jogging attire best reserved for my indoor treadmill. It’s a start.
I climb the steps of a shuttle to take me to the airport. The doors close behind me and off we go. I’m not one to talk to strangers first unless I’m manic, and I was not. Not at all. When a man about my age in a business suit commented “interesting shoes,” I was beyond faking pleasantries; I managed a quiet “these are my Modigliani shoes, but she’s not smiling, so I think they are making me sad.”
“I don’t think that’s what’s making you sad.”
I looked at him and there wasn’t a trace of a patronizing smile across his face; in fact there wasn’t a smile at all.
“Going away or heading home?” I ask. He is just visiting for a few days.
This makes my confession a lot easier. I have something I want to tell someone that I will probably never say again. And he wants to listen instead of talk, so I’m taking advantage of it.
“I had a front row center ticket to Next to Normal. I could have been the main character. Almost. I must have been close to a microphone, because I heard myself crying at a moment when there was dead silence in the theater. And it was projecting. At least that’s what I thought. So I held in my crying when I could, and they turned to sobs, and there were three songs that I am sure I inverse sobbed my way through. Even the hopeful song at the end. When I woke up the next day, my ribcage and insides felt bruised from holding in sobs. I’ve never had that happen to me before. Have you?”
Awkward silence. Or so I thought.
“I will let you know.” I looked at his gray green eyes and they were welling up. “I’m on my way to my mother’s funeral.” He was able to keep the tears just at the rims of his eyes without spilling over. He stood up and cleared his throat as the shuttle doors open.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out his business card and extends his hand towards mine; I look at the logo and read the card as he disappears into the crowd. He is a truck driver, and he lives in the town I was born in. We could have made small talk about my hometown, but I’m glad we didn’t.
My art was having a mid-life crisis and dragging me along with it, but we are both back. I cannot wait to get to my studio each day. I’ve also been away due to my most comedic bipolar episode ever. Well, I can laugh now, and I’ll post about it soon. For now, click on that image and read a great article about the “Aggressive Work Ethic of Highly Creative People.”
I’m reblogging this to show to my teenage daughter, whose first novel shares a similar theme, and whose persistence and unwavering curiosity inspire me daily. These stories are compelling, you’re sure to find one that hits home, so take a look around.
Everyone knew about the Spectre of Claymoore, the restless spirit roaming the halls of a long-abandoned school, but rumors stirred of who it could be; while so many played into the rumors and composed their own theories, Daun couldn’t help but wonder why there were so many sudden deaths associated with a single school, and why it took so long for the council to close it down. Despite never getting more than speculation about safety codes, complaints, and small-town gossip, the investigation made her aware of a unique focus she possessed, and a dogged persistence that answered the question that so many other teenagers dreaded: what do you want to do with your life?
Catch-22 number one: The side effect of my medication is that I forget to take my medication.
I think about where I am today in this moment, feeling relatively stable in terms of my bipolar, and excited to be starting an online art course tomorrow. But I’m also aware of how my brain has slowed, how I’m sometimes foggy, and lose my short term memory. My doctor told me it’s a side effect of my medication; it depletes folic acid, and that contributes to the brain fog. She gave me a sample of folic acid at her office, and of course, I forgot where I put it for about three days. And now I know where it is but I just forget to take it. So I put the pills smack in the middle of the kitchen counter with a post-it note that says:
“It’s ten o’ clock. Do you know where your brain is?”
Catch-22 number two: In order to be happy long term, I have to be sad.
During all of my manias I have spent too much money, ruined relationships, exhibited very poor judgement and also had a hell of a good time. The aftermath has such destructive consequences, however, that my psychiatrist decided it is probably safer to keep me a little depressed from time to time than to risk the chance of getting full blown mania. I revisit this decision every time I am depressed, because I feel there must be a better solution. If you are bipolar and have a medicine that works for your lows in conjunction with a mood stabilizer, I’d be interested in hearing what you are taking.
Catch-22 number three: In order to allow creative chaos, I have to be stable.
There are moments in creating a work of art or writing, when the work takes on a will of it’s own. I begin the work, my hands move the paintbrush or pencil, but my mind starts telling me which direction to go. This is when my judgements quiet, I experiment, and trust that no matter where this chaotic process leads me, it will have taught me something. It hovers in moments of uncertainty and it either destroys the work or makes it better.
I have learned over the years that if I don’t take care of the chaos in my life, that crucial moment of chaos in my art will lose it’s strength and purpose. I will sometimes try to control it because I feel so out of control. The result is lackluster work that never went far enough into risky territory to inspire people to relate to it.
What are the Catch-22’s of your mental illness, creativity, or life?
I returned the napkin that I stole from County Line Barbeque without incident. No arrest. The napkins were still the same, so I just slipped it on the table. I even ordered an all vegetarian meal as penance.
Today the pizza guy delivered a pizza; I signed for it and stole his pen. He asked for it back, eventually. Pointing to the antique desk on my porch with a puzzled look, he tried to figure out why the seat was in front. I gave him a moment to process, and he got it. I pulled the seat up and down. “It’s old, it’s from Sicily.” He smiled. “Cool, that’s cool. Can I have my pen back, unless you need it? It’s my only pen.” Now I wonder if he even cared about my antique desk at all or just wanted his pen. Men who deliver, they are always trying to find a way to let you down easy.
I have stolen more pens than napkins, and certainly have stolen fewer hearts than the two of those combined. I feel I’ve returned them all; sleep will come easily tonight.