The Art of Bipolar
Writing has saved me. I cannot tell you how healing its medicine is, and what a release it is to be able to let go of all of these dormant, rotting thoughts left inside for far too long. I know that words have saved me before, when I was younger - back when I would relay my suicidal sufferings through stream-of-consciousness writings, or stay up all night, writing my simple poetry. Those simple poems were my simple savior. For whatever reason, writing is the form of art that forces its way through, demands to be seen, and accepts no resistance that I may put up against it. It simply must come out. My brain speaks writings silent language, and that's how I can finally hear myself think. But I can NEVER, under any circumstances, read what I write out loud. Not to anyone - not even myself. The words are meant to be read silently, under the cover of their safe unspoken language. What I write sounds grotesque to my ears, when spoken out loud. It feels as though, at any moment, the words will break.
I wasn't raised in an artistic family, and I was never encouraged to pursue any kind of art, or develop any kind of artistic talent. Even in high school, when I really wanted to take a free cosmetology course (my lusted-after artform in my teenage years), my parents encouraged me to take the more logical computer course instead, and that is what I did. Me and my simple poetry made me the oddball in my family. None of them ever understood that part of me, so I basically just kept it hidden. My youngest redneck brother would say "You're all, like, dark and mysterious, and artistic and stuff", in between spittin' out his brown spit, saved up from his chewing tobacco. I remember trying to get my parents to read some of my poetry when I was younger, and watching my parents read them was as painful for me as it was for them. I could tell that, to them, it was like reading a foreign language - and they just didn't get it. So, I was left satisfied that I had secretly discovered my individuality, but discouraged from developing any hidden talent I may have had. Not that I blame them for that. They didn't grow up with any kind of artistic appreciation at all, so they had no way of knowing how important it would be. But I truly believe that art, in whatever form it takes, can save people. Especially people with bipolar.
Along with my love of words, I also love painting (this also encompasses my love of makeup, which to me is also an art). My whole life I've been intrigued by paints and brushes, and of course, color. We certainly would have had the money for it when I was younger, but because of not being pushed out of my comfort zone, and because of not being encouraged to try new and scary things, I never did anything about my love of painting. I just remember getting that feeling in my gut - where the excitement just boiled over - if I would stumble upon an art store. The paper, the pens, the pencils, the brushes, the paint - it was all a foreign land, speaking to me - calling me home. I always had this connection to it, and felt like I really really needed it in my life - but never did. Then, finally, a few years ago (on one of my manic on-line spending sprees), I bought some art supplies. The first thing I decided to paint was a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. And it was beautiful. I was shocked, and so was everyone who saw it. My mother-in-law said she could not believe it was the very first thing I painted, but it was. I am the world's most logical painter. Sometimes I think if you want something badly enough, you can teach your brain to make it happen, even if you don't have the talent. That's how I painted that picture - I just thought my way through it. It took so much concentration, I have not painted anything since - which is crazy because, after that painting, I went on to buy an easel, oil paints, more paint brushes - a whole assortment of art supplies - that have remained untouched. But one of these days I will. In fact, talking about it now makes me hungry for more.
I did the same thing with drawing. That was the one thing my dad saw when I was younger, and was impressed with. Now, I'm the type of person who just cannot draw anything except stick-figures, right out of my head. I'm not what I consider a true artist. I'm not the kid in school who would draw intricate imaginary creatures all over their book covers - that is not me. But if I have a photograph as a reference, then I'm good to go. My family used to own a tanning salon, where I would work all day, with lots of down-time in between customers. So I decided one day that I would start drawing when I got bored at work. I had never drawn before in my life, but even my dad was impressed with what was coming out of those pencils in my hand. Again - I'm the most logical drawer there is - it's really not talent - it's just telling my brain to see things in a certain way, and then translating it to paper. But still, it's a beautiful release.
I'm not too sure what the connection is between bipolar and art, but I know that it's there. And it's my theory that people who have bipolar need art in their life. A bipolar sufferer who has either abandoned their art, or has never discovered it to begin with, will be much worse off, than a sufferer who puts their suffering into their art. That's just my personal opinion. I look at my dad, who isn't exactly an artistic person, and wonder how his life would be different if he would find his artistic outlet - other than the addicting elixirs that he's gravitated toward his whole life. What if he was a painter, and didn't know it? What if he was a musician, or a sculptor? I really believe it's in there, and just needs an opportunity to come out. There's something inside a bipolar person - more so than a normal person - that has an urgent need to come out and be expressed through some kind of artform, whether they realize it or not.
Then there's my youngest brother, who I referred to earlier. He is so obviously bipolar, it may as well be written on his forehead. The only art he has displayed in his home is the head of his dead deer, hanging on the wall. He is a stunted little boy in a man's body, addicted to any girl who will sleep with him, and any prescription that will ease his anxiety. His life is basically one of the dads you see on Teen Mom - paying for a manic episode that blinded him from the person he was with at the time. Now he will forever be tied to a lying, conniving baby momma, whose daughter will only grow up to be just like her. And his only thought is the next slab of meat that he can get in his bed - his chosen form of reality-blocker. Until he regrets it the next day - then he calls his sister. He lives a life with no direction - with no outlet. He lives from one reaction to the next - being blindly led by the sweaty hand of the bipolar beast. And life is just a joke, until it turns deadly serious.
I love that boy to pieces. He will forever hold a special place in my heart - out of all of my siblings - because part of me claims him as my own. I'm 14 years older than him, and my mom says that I practically took over after he was born! He was constantly under my wing, until I got married and moved out west, 2,000 miles away. That's when life back home quickly started to disintegrate. When my brother was 15, our cousin (who was only 3 days younger than him, and who was his best friend at the time) committed suicide. I remember trying to console my sobbing little brother - who was attempting to grasp the enormity of what had just happened, struggling to understand why our cousin did what he did. I had to leave him in that fragile state, and fly back home. Then, a month or so later, my mom decided it was time to leave my dad, which in turn triggered my father's breakdown. So - whereas the rest of us were grown and out of the house - for my young brother, this was now his upbringing. He lived with the dad who was drunk and crazy - I lived with the dad who was sober and business-minded. He lived with the mom who was distracted with inner sufferings, never spoken - I lived with the mom who made her famous lasagne dinners every weekend, which we ate with friends. He grew up with all of this chaos, and because of that, he never grew up.
I know this disease still overtakes many sufferers, no matter how dedicated they are to their art. I also know that many choose to not take medications, which may or may not help them, so as not to have their art stifled. But I can still see the effects of having zero artistic outlet, on my family. How they are left with no release, other than partying, drugs, alcohol, or sex. Maybe I'm simplifying it too much, which isn't my intention. I certainly don't think that art can cure bipolar. But I do think art can help a person have a place to contain the flood of emotions that results from having this illness, instead of the default self-destruction that results from masquerading them with medicine, or keeping them hidden in silence. I don't think there's enough room inside of us to contain all of the feelings that bipolar throws our way. We need a place to put our excess feelings that just keep piling up - and we need a place to share them with others, and let them be seen. Art is that place. It is always there to take what we throw at it, with no judgment or interruption, aside from what we place on ourselves. Art has this magical quality of releasing the very emotions that medications, drugs, and alcohol, try to suppress - the very emotions that need to come out. The feelings and emotions left stifled by a prescription, can be made beautiful by art. And the moment our feelings are free, and the moment we finally feel heard, is the moment we have a chance to heal that part of ourselves. Not that a person will be healed - because there will always be more where that came from. With bipolar, there will always be a barrage of excessive emotions - but with art, there will always be opportunity to express them, and let them go. Art can be like medication, in that both of them act like a bandaid to something much larger than itself. The emotions will still seep out around the edges. The illness that causes those emotions will not be cured. But, unlike medication, which causes a robotic response, and leaves a person emotionally dead - art is fed by emotions, and in some cases, can allow us to feel them fully and let them go. (It was not my intention, in this article, to discuss the debate of medication vs no medication. I certainly do not advocate going off of medication, if a doctor deems it necessary - especially without telling them. I am by no means a doctor - I am only speaking as a patient, who has various personal opinions on the subject.)
My dad just wrote a comment to my post From Father to Felon. I couldn't publish it, because it would have revealed his full name, but I decided to copy and paste it here (I took the liberty of correcting a few spelling and grammar mistakes, because I am a control-freak, and can't help myself):
"Danielle your writing has everything that truly reached my heart. This is the second time I read From Father to Felon. My comments do not come close to how this writing has brought back memories of what I called “The Nightmare” - a letter that I have read several times since the nightmare began - that left me with this person that I don't even know. But it's there, no matter how hard I try to get it out. I wake up to reality, and there it is again - someone that I don't know. You, Danielle, have a talent to bring feelings out in a person. As I read From Father to Felon, tears were rolling down my face. And the memory of what started my nightmare came rushing in - something I thought I was long over. For you see, it takes a brilliant writer to do this. May I say in closing - do not stop writing, for you are a brilliant writer, and a very very very loving daughter." ………………………………………………………………………………….DaD
He doesn't know it yet, but he is an artist. Somewhere deep inside, underneath the mask of these emotions that appear so ugly and nightmarish, lies an ability and need to transform them into something beautiful. He may not know he has it. My brother may not know he has it. But they are both just as crazy as I am. And somewhere, hidden inside each one of them, lies the art of their bipolar.
© 2013 Lipstick and Lithium