Top of the morning, to you!
Enjoy your day, and remember to wear green!!
Author & Artist
Top of the morning, to you!
Enjoy your day, and remember to wear green!!
In March of 2013, I suffered an extreme psychosis. It stemmed from high energy and OCD. It progressed to an eight month stay in several psychiatric facilities around the country, where I could not be cured. There was speculation about whether or not I would ever return to myself and the people who love me.
Pain has many faces.
My psychiatrist at the time was usually easy to reach. He was readily available to his patients via email. This was one of the perks of working with him. I do not know how or why he was not available when I needed him most. He was reckless with my case. This psychiatrist cared only enough to see well behaved people who needed nothing but prescriptions. I do not believe he was equipped to handle tough situations like mine. He decided to replace my anti-psychotic with a mood stabilizer, causing me to spiral out of control. During this disaster, he was not around to monitor my issues. He was on vacation, and unreachable by email or any other form of communication. Everyone is deserving of a vacation, but he left me fragile and unprotected. He never responded to my plea. I understood that I was incapable of dealing with this on my own. Thus, I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital in Savannah, Georgia. This was the first of many, and my negligent doctor never visited.
For years, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” has been my favorite painting of all time. Recently I discovered that I have more in common with Vincent and that painting than I had realized. This was the view outside his psychiatric hospital window. My story is much less glamorous, as I did not have a window at all.
I did not recognize my parents. I was starving to death; forgetting the functions of utensils and their relationship to sustenance. I was learning how to eat again. In the breakfast line, I was allowed two helpings of oatmeal in order to develop meat on my bones. The man in line behind me asked the server why I received more food, to which she answered, “Look at her!”
Confined to a seclusion room which felt very much like a small box, my body rested; on the bare concrete floor. No window. A mattress the color of Batman. Blankets had been stripped away, punishment for misbehavior. Refusing medication meant painful shots of sedatives in private areas of my body. I can still hear the glee and laughter from the male security officers who sat on my back, weighing me down so the shots could be administered: Payback for my escaping, attacking, and tricking them. I could not breathe. They were large, but I was stronger. I had the power of a woman who lifts a car to save her child. TWO large men were posted outside my locked door. I kept fighting.
My Granmama always spoke about the “inner beloved.” Each time she mentioned this, I surveyed my surroundings. I searched for the closest boy. As I grew older, it occurred to me that my inner beloved was not a knight in shining armor. I am not a damsel in distress. My true love lives inside me. Granmama helped me find her. I finally realized that my inner beloved is my soul. My best friend, especially when there is no other.
When all hope was lost, it appeared to be the end of me. I struggled in the darkness, climbing toward light and life. It felt as if I had died and risen out of Hell. I fought tenaciously and gradually rose from the ashes, returning to the people I hold most dear.
Several years ago, I read a proverb that described my experience in a few words.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”
I can certainly say I have earned those wings.
This week contained my Granmama’s birthday.
My grandmother was a special, exciting, wise, funny, compassionate, kind, and beautiful person. She loved deeply, and I never doubted her love for me. Granmama had a great impact on my life. She experienced life like no other person I have ever known. Her touch was gentle, and her eyes could see right into your soul. She was a spiritual woman, and she was inspiring. Her footprints are large, and her shoes are impossible to fill. Those feet have seen the world, and they mark her journey around the sun. The rings on her tree are many.
Granmama was bold; she loved to dance and celebrate publicly. She appeared never embarrassed to be herself and to shine her light on the path ahead. I envy that. I have never been able to express my feelings in such a vulnerable way; despite writing and telling my story from the confines of my house, behind a computer. She was truly remarkable, and I miss her dearly.
Before I was a storyteller, my dad was a storyteller. He inherited this gift from his mother, and passed it on to me. She told outlandish tales; some true, others fiction. The stories she told most were her versions of Native American folklore, which she interpreted from a book later passed down to her grandchildren.
“Women Who Run With The Wolves.”
Granmama taught me always to speak my mind, to adventure, to imagine, to create, and to remember. She will never be forgotten. I memorized her voice and the stories she told most frequently. When I open that book, she reads them to me, even now. My granmama bestowed upon me the precious gift of storytelling, and she lives on in my words and in my heart.
“If you pile up enough tomorrows, you will find you’ve collected nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”
–The Music Man
Anxiety courses through my veins every day, like the endless flow of water through chilled pipes. Everything makes me jump, instantly causing little pin pricks of adrenaline to spread through my body: A movie scene, the drop of a spoon on a hardwood floor, the dread of change, the pain of loss, procrastination, depression, and the worries without tangible reasons startle me. I cannot keep a part-time job because of the enormous mountain of stress weighing on my shoulders at every moment. Stress exacerbates my illness.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder when I was sixteen years old, nineteen years ago. My life has continuously improved since. The right doctors, listeners, medications, family and friend support have come to my aid throughout these years of struggle. This trek has been arduous. Through knowledge and experience I have trod this path, learning much over several years. For instance, “lazy,” and “procrastination” are terms used when a person is literally “not in the mood.” Mood swings are real and often misunderstood.
In college, I studied fine art. In order to graduate, I had to pass a drawing class. I have never been able to replicate images on paper. My mind is not wired to do so.
When I was younger, I took afternoon art lessons every Thursday afternoon in a cozy loft above a frame shop. It was my favorite day of the week, surrounded by other people in pursuit of artistic guidance. I remember the excitement of new canvas. I can feel the freedom from all other distractions with the lifting of a paint brush. The texture of fresh pre-molded clay, the messiness of charcoal, and the powerful smell of a tin can full of crayons are forever blazed in the recesses of my mind. Magical as those lessons were, I became distraught easily when I could not translate from mind to canvas. I thought art was all about recreating “reality.” When I learned that art has many different faces, I was relieved. I set about my work with an air of confidence, which had alluded me in the past. Unfortunately, I have not mastered every face. In order to obtain a degree in fine art, one must study all forms of creative expression. Hence, drawing class.
I could blame it on subject matter or lack of perspective: I did not succeed, despite my tireless attempts. After a while, I started skipping that class. One skip turned into two, which turned into weeks. In the beginning of this truancy, I could enter the building. Sometimes I made it to the end of the hall. On other occasions I could stand outside the door. Most days, I turned around and drove home to fall into bed. Misery engulfed me. I was drowning in anxiety. I failed that class twice (I was allowed to substitute drawing class for graphic design, so I graduated).
Anxiety eats me alive, and though I have discovered tactics to avoid stressful situations, the anxiety follows me everywhere. It needs no origin. Supposedly, staying away from caffeine helps, but it is extremely inadvisable to be in my presence before my morning coffee. Beware the grumpy, impossibly intolerable person I am without it!
This photo was taken when I was ten years old. I speak of this day quite often, perhaps because I am so grateful for achieving my goals and living my dreams. In my elementary school, there was a week in which every day had a different theme. All of the students dressed accordingly. “Spirit Week.” This particular day was Career Day. I dreamed of becoming an author and illustrator. I packed a bag full of pens, pencils, paper, and books; my typewriter was too heavy to carry around school all day. It was a bit cumbersome. I donned my famous, favorite green dress. This dress is famous because I wore it all the time and the memory of it is burned in the minds of all bystanders in my childhood. My mom promised me that though we haven’t seen that dress in decades, she did not throw it out. Clothed and comfortable, I set out, knowing not what my future would hold, but stepping into the beginning of a long story.
In 1995, when I was seven years old, I received the first-place award for Young Georgia Authors. My story was titled, “A Cat Named Fred.” It was a cute little story. The judges’ decision may have heavily leaned in my direction considering that I had typed my piece, but it was a start. I kept that trophy. It sits on my desk, a constant reminder of key ingredients within myself, pieces of me flooding the canvas with words.
I have been writing and illustrating children’s books far longer than I can remember, knowing they would go unpublished but basking in mirth. I saved them all, but they are solely my own. I share a sacred bond with my childhood words. I had help with the illustrations sometimes. My little sister, Kimberly, sat with me as I created. She looked over my shoulder and made suggestions, watching the images appear. We filled those pages with our sisterly secrets.
I never stopped writing. I published a few poems in high school. I keep a journal, make notes, and research. I love to rescue forgotten words and expand my vocabulary. Reading, writing, drawing, and coloring have always been my favorite activities. Incorporating my experience with art and psychiatric disorders within my work has changed my life. My wish is to share my knowledge, experience, and passion to help other struggling souls. This has become my life’s purpose.
My story continues.
Earlier this week, I went to see my primary care physician. I haven’t had one in years, so there was a lot of paperwork to fill out and much to discuss. I was a bit disgruntled when her final instructions were to “eat more and drink more water.” Why did I go to the doctor?
When the visit was over, the physician printed an overview of the appointment results. The report included items of personal information about me, which she deemed relevant to the case. There, stated quite plainly, were two words that upset me more than I thought they could. According to my physician, I have a “mental problem.” When you sign a release form, all of your doctors have access to all of your records. She approached my psychiatric disorder with slight prejudice, throwing a blanket of stigma over an issue that affects my life so greatly. How many “problems” lie under that blanket? When I realized she had access to files I did not wish to share with her, I felt exposed; my problems were laid bare. The blanket was ripped off, as if it were a Monday morning and I was late for school.
Funny how words can twist and turn based on how they are configured. “Mental problem” is a label even if it is meant to simplify the records, but I find it is cold and insensitive. The truth is, “mental illness,” “psychiatric disorder,” “delusional,” and even “crazy,” touch the same line, but for reasons I do not understand, some of those words are offensive, even when they are not meant to be harmful. Mental illness does sometimes feel like a problem, but it is not unsolvable. Years of experience have taught me that, “How are you doing?” sounds better than, “Have you taken your meds?” or, “Are you okay?” They all convey the same message, but delivery is key. A problem can be solved.
***Disclaimer: In my experience, solving a “problem” does not indicate curing an illness, but striving for stability and reaching for sanity. I recommend handling these issues with professional help.
I am not a licensed professional and cannot diagnose. These articles are solely based on my own knowledge and experience, in an attempt to aid the struggling and their families.
In case you have not noticed, for the past two Fridays, my articles have been published later than routinely scheduled. I have been throwing myself into preparations for my third book. I assure you that I am not creatively exhausted and have not been drained of words. My weeks have been flying by, and the truth is, I forgot! I sincerely apologize. I hope you will forgive me, not turn away, and continue to read my articles!
My memory defects are directly related to a few medications I am currently prescribed. It is a side effect I must endure, for the alternative would be detrimental. I think that many people choose the path of self-medicating, living in a state of denial, ashamed or terrified to admit that they may need help; among other reasons. I am completely onboard the train leading toward healing with medications and talk therapy. There are side-effects. Many rare side-effects beset my mind; most can be found in the fine print. My psychologist has said, “I love your brain,” and my psychiatrists have called me a “special case.”
When I was in the hospital in 2013, a last resort was performed. Electroconvulsive therapy. My body was hooked to many wires, so that while seizers were induced in my brain, my body would not seize during the process. I woke up from those procedures with confusion and enormous headaches. I do not know what damage this may have caused to my memory, or how much progress was made, but at that point, I did not recognize my parents. Needless to say, I have come a long way.
Though I have many issues related to my mind, memory is the most tragic loss. I cannot guarantee that all articles will arrive as scheduled, or will be forgotten, but I ask for your understanding. I hope this will not be a regular occurrence, but I have not forgotten YOU.
When I was fifteen years old, I embarrassed myself. It was not my intention, but despite my efforts to fit in with the crowd, I did not. No one wished to be close to me. No one wished to date me. I had few friends, but that year, I behaved so strangely that I am not surprised. Though there are people in my life who love me unconditionally, they had trouble keeping up with me as I followed a dark, blinding path. They trod close behind me into deep, cold waters, and we faced much confusion. I was certain that there was something “wrong” with me, but the mania colored the waters a bright, sunny blue; the path full of light and life. It was dangerous, false happiness fueled by an incessant flow of high energy.
I do not recall most of my freshman year of high school. Broken pieces of memories flood my mind when I think about those days. I talked more than I walked. It never stopped. My mind spit out all of my thoughts, without a filter. My speech was slurred, and words tumbled over each other on their mission to escape my mouth. I spent money frivolously. Quicksand pulled me under, in the form of credit card debt. Free money!! No.
I stayed up late, believing that sleep was a waste of time. My handwriting became sloppy and scribbly. I was more creative, finished projects early, was never late, and had excellent grades. I overextended myself, made promises I could not keep. I was never hungry and didn’t have time in my day devoted to eating.
I knew something was “off,” but had no idea it could be fixed. I thought I was stuck this way forever. I appealed to my parents for help, and my dad drove me to a psychiatrist, where I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. It was the greatest sense of relief I had ever felt in my life, even to this day. I could not be cured, but I could be treated. There was nothing to be ashamed about, no reason to be embarrassed, and I wasn’t alone! I will never forget that day, because it was the beginning of a story I would someday tell the world.
Living with a psychiatric disorder can be crippling. Some people find it difficult to hold a job, maintain relationships, to get out of bed. I have experienced first-hand the strain involved in faking a smile. Oft times I have wondered, “Why?” Why are people born with, or develop mental illness at some point in their lives? Answering my own question as best I can, it seems there is not a single person alive on this planet who does not have a psychiatric disorder of some kind. People are afraid to be diagnosed, to be labeled, to be treated differently than if they were “normal.” Many people are too proud to accept the fact that they need help, so they fail to seek aid. Mental illness makes waves we are not all equipped to surf. Believing there is no hope, no cure, and no support causes panic to rise and we drown in the idea that we are “stuck” like this forever. Follow the golden rays emitted from the lighthouse and know that you are not alone; there are ways to prevent a permanent collision.
Here are some methods of preventing that collision:
When I feel anxious, I curl up in my weighted blanket and experience security. I also take deep breaths to avoid panic attacks, which cannot always be prevented.
I avoid known triggers, such as food or drink that remind me of false happiness and send me spiraling. My food triggers are apple juice, and buttered brown sugar oatmeal. There are other triggers; listening to certain songs or reading particular memoirs upset my stomach. When I surround myself with too much information about psychiatric disorders, I sometimes feel revved up.
When I feel depressed, it is a huge ordeal to leave my cozy bed, my feet refusing to carry my weight. It takes much energy to fake a smile. My therapist says that on days like those I am not lazy, I am not “in the mood.” My mood disorder prevents me from being productive when I feel so low. It is especially difficult to find time returning library books or focusing on many other menial tasks. Anxiety can trigger depression. Depression can cause anxiety. My husband and I often have goofy photo shoots, just the two of us making silly faces. I print them and whenever we feel low or grumpy, we pull out that album and laugh until our stomachs ache, tears threatening to spill. Works every time.
I hope this is helpful. If you want more information, look back at some of my previous articles for more details.
I apologize for the delay in publishing this article! Have a great weekend!
Once upon a time…
On the 13th of January, 1988, in the late hours of night and the wee hours of morning, a child was born without breath. To my knowledge, a trauma such as this can trigger the onset of psychiatric disorders in a child’s future. Her mother was a nurse and worked in the neonatal intensive care unit for a few years prior. She knew that a baby’s first breath comes out of a confused, disoriented scream. This outburst did not occur immediately after her child’s birth. The baby and her father were rushed to a room where the fluid in her lungs was extracted. Dad reached through the crowd of doctors surrounding his daughter and squeezed her tiny hand. She breathed. Thirty-five years later, she still breathes (it’s my birthday).