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Mental illness

Mental illness

Hyperglycaemic whimsy: put a flower on your bike.

3 April, 2013

Since I was blessed with my bipolar 2 diagnosis a lot of things have started to make sense. I don’t want to make light of mood swings and behaviour changes, but I can identify with oscillating between saccharine whimsy and eye-rolling cynicism and it’s pretty evident in the sort of things I make. I also tend be more prolific when experiencing hypomania; I used to think my periods of frenzied output were just me returning to a normal functioning life (though these periods never lasted longer than a week or so), and so when I crashed into depression afterwards it was compounded with feelings of frustration and shame that I could never sustain this “normal” functioning mode.

When I am hypomanic I tend to speak more. Witty repartee rolls out of my face with ease and I feel like I sparkle with charisma – whether or not this is true is immaterial because I am right, and you are wrong. The ideas I have must be caught and put down on paper before they fall out of the air and plop into the bog of eternal stench (and depression). I notice the things I create are generally more light-hearted and amusing, but even if I’m dealing with difficult issues I will approach them with extreme whimsy. Hypomania as described by me sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I still have difficulty regarding it as not-normal because I have fetishised the normal functioning life other people seem to take for granted and enjoy so casually.

I have been medicated for about two years, and have experienced minimal mood swings for a lot of that time. I sometimes miss the flurry of ideas and activity of higher moods but I definitely do not miss the depression that I have experienced for the majority of my life. Coupled with mental illness, there’s a lot of bad stuff that’s happened to me so feeling higher than usual is a welcome change. People with bipolar 2 largely experience a majority of low moods and are a higher suicide risk amongst the spectrum of bipolar patients. The new normal for me is unravelling and I’m getting used to it, but I still experience swings however they aren’t as extreme.

So that’s the preamble. It might go a way towards explaining why I get caught up in whimsy, and in superficially delightful things even if they aren’t Adult and Serious. I think I’m nearly done with cynicism. There’s been enough crap I have to continually deal with, so any way I can make shit more wonderful I will do it.

My name is Natalie, I’m 32, and I have flowers all over my bike. Also I bought a ukulele (and I will never apologise, Helen Razer!)

My ice blue bike with a wicker basket adorned with crocheted flowers.

My ice blue bike with a wicker basket adorned with crocheted flowers.

My bike frame has flower stickers on it for good measure.

My bike frame has flower stickers on it for good measure.

A closer look at the nondescript flowers, a few of them vaguely resemble pansies.

A closer look at the nondescript flowers, a few of them vaguely resemble pansies.

Crochet patterns for these flowers are below if you want to choke people with joy as you cycle past:
Nondescript flower
Puffy nondescript flower

Here are a couple photos of Miffy for those who want to know how she’s healing after her enucleation. Her eyelid has healed beautifully and the hair is starting to grow back. It’s still a little weird when I look into her eyes and realise there’s only one there. I keep anxiously testing that eye and worrying about glaucoma claiming it as well, but for now she’s back to tearing around the house after her ball and playing tug of war with rag scraps.

Miffy sitting and gazing off at Nick as he left.

Miffy sitting and gazing off at Nick as he leaves.

Miffy's tiny little stumpy legs kill me with cuteness.

Her tiny little stumpy legs kill me with cuteness.

Art, Mental illness

~tortured artist feelings~

11 September, 2012

Illustration with purple clouds and the text “I’m so sad. What do I do with all this sad?” written in orange and surrounded by rain/ tears.

I’m really fed up with the tortured artist trope. People have said it about me since I was a teenager, and while it’s true that I am kind of a bit artistic and also depressed as fuck, the latter does not positively affect the former. If this were the case I’d be a lot further along in my artistic practice and career.

My craziness has affected me to the point where I can’t leave the house most of the time, let alone go to ~cultural events~ and network with local art people. Making connections is incredibly difficult for me. It’s not that I’m shy, I actually really resent being called shy, it’s that I am overcome with panic whenever I try to do certain social/ professional things. When I say panic, I don’t mean butterflies in my stomach. I sweat. I don’t perspire. Sweat rolls down my face, I get flustered, I forget how to form words and I get disoriented and dizzy. People don’t tend to react favourably towards a leaking, bumbling mess, and so I end up compounding panic with the fear of looking ridiculous. And so on and so forth. I only found out there was a name for this a few years ago, and it’s called Social Anxiety Disorder.

So I don’t go to art events, I don’t hang around with arty types, and I rarely get to immerse myself in discussion and critique. It’s frustrating. Every few months I descend into despair over my worth as a person who creates things, in addition to my worth as a human; but it’s balanced out by hypermanic episodes of frenzied sketching and creating. So it’s ok I guess. My psychiatrist says I might have Bipolar 2. I was put on Lamictal (lamotrigine) and for the first time I felt almost balanced, but now I am experiencing very familiar depths and all creating has halted.

This is my life since 15 and from now on, and that’s very difficult to come to terms with. I don’t wish to receive advice when I talk about my health (I want to emphasise that mental health IS health), I just think it’s important to talk about it instead of feeling ashamed. I try to talk about it, but it’s a struggle, because people’s responses pretty much always fall into one of the following:
* unsolicited advice (try this diet! meds don’t work!)
* redundant platitudes (chin up! be positive! it could be worse!)
* conversation terminated awkwardly (and usually the relationship)

So don’t do that. Thanks.

Illustration with text “Jam sandwich club” surrounded by jam splatters, a jam sandwich, jam donut, jar of jam and jam on a crumpet. A faint piece of bread is in the background.

What I am trying to do is be gentle with myself. I have started to learn ACT techniques, and it’s challenging remembering them but I’ve made a start. I wrote a list of steps I want to take towards sorting some of my drawing feelings out, and that made me feel less hopeless about my creative situation. My plan is to focus on research as well as technique, and to draw every day. Even if it’s simple.

So that’s what I’ve done for the last few days. I hope I can keep it up. These vector illustrations aren’t super slick or fully rendered but they’re something.

Illustration with two roughly cut out photos of manatees that look like they’re about to embrace with “Manatee hugs” above them.

People seem to like this one. You can download it to use as a desktop picture if you like!

Mental illness

Stitch and Twitch: Social anxiety and public crafting.

3 April, 2011

Over the last few months I’ve been coming to terms with learning something new about myself. I’ve been dealing with generalised anxiety and depression for many years but a few months ago I found out I was also suffering with social anxiety. I’ve never been into partying a lot (well, besides my early 20s and that wasn’t terribly enjoyable) and I score dead between Introvert and Extrovert on the Myers Briggs test. I just thought I was being introverted and stuff!

I’m afraid of using the telephone. Sometimes I don’t go outside because I’m afraid of falling over. When I go out I get terribly anxious, I hyperventilate, sweat a lot and stumble over my words. In the last year I started to withdraw into myself, not going outside and I even started falling behind on my work which is largely undertaken inside in the comfort of my own home. My social anxiety is strongly linked with avoidance so I will avoid seeing friends, taking calls (which must distress my mother!) and even responding to emails.

I’m seeing a psychologist and taking medication to help get me through years of pretty crippling anxiety, but it’s very hard. I wonder if there’s a line between just not wanting to socialise because I don’t get much out of it and being afraid of socialising, but these are things I am currently seeking therapy for. My psychologist suggested that I do at least one social thing a week, and after thinking about it and negotiating between all the things in my brain I settled on doing something that I like in a challenging environment.

I love to make things but it’s been a private thing for me up until now. I see the ways in which the crafting movement has enjoyed a revival and how crafty people have started to reclaim public space for making things. Knitting, crocheting, stitching and stuff. I went to a “Stitch and Bitch” night a few times years ago and wasn’t terribly confident about stitching but the social aspect was great. On twitter the other week I wondered aloud about holding a “Stitch and Twitch”, a weekly social crafting session for people with social anxiety. Wonderfully, a few people (pretty much my friends!) said they’d love to attend, so we’ve had a couple of meetings so far and it’s been great!

Today we went to Kerbside and took full advantage of the lovely mismatched vintage furniture, working on our own individual projects. The bar is actually a huge shed type structure filled with interesting stuff and good music, so even if the conversation lulled (another thing I fear!) it was filled with humming and concentration.

I didn’t have much of that concentration today and after unpicking a huge mistake in my cross stitching I switched to crocheting a necklace, then taking photos! Here’s lots of them.

A photo of mismatched seats lining a long table against a fence made out of lots of odd bits of iron fencing facing the street.

A photo of people sitting in mismatched lounge chairs in various floral tapestry fabrics.

A photo of a framed picture of Jesus on a wall next to a mirror.

An out of focus photo of Sonya's silver sequin jacket spangled with lots of silvery bokeh.

A photo of Nick working on his cross stitch.

A photo of lots of bangles on a pale skinned wrist, one is a coiled snake and the others are various big plastic and resin bangles.

A photo of Mem holding up her small Finding Nemo cross stitch in front of her face.

A photo of me taking a photo of my reflection in the mirror. Written on the mirror in white pen is "Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? And can I have their number?"

A photo of various glasses of cider on a table with Zoe and Sonya out of focus behind.

A photo of various crafty things on the table like cross stitch, crochet, scissors and a drawing.

A photo of some cream yarn and crocheting on a floral tapestry couch.

Mental illness

Taking care of business (and by business, I mean me.)

27 January, 2011

I have been sick in the last few months and it’s been very difficult to manage all the different parts of my life while also taking care of me. A few months ago my anxiety got to a point where it was making me withdraw from the world and it probably would have been a lot worse had Nick not stepped in and gently nudged me in the direction of the local GP. I decided to stop everything and focus on my health, my mental health, for the first time in a long time and I’m still working on it. I think I’ll have to work on it for the rest of my life now that I know that it’s not like a cold and it won’t be something I can get through by grinning and pretending I am normal.

I don’t like doctors because even though they’re supposed to care for us, I’ve never really felt like they care much about me. One of the reasons why my anxiety and sleep problems weren’t addressed sooner was because doctors didn’t pick it up. They wouldn’t let me testify for my body and would assume that I was lying or hysterical or non-compliant. Instead of treating me as an individual human being with a unique body, they would look at my body and refer back to the caricature of the fat body. I don’t need to go into details – you and I, we know all about it. I also have Type 1 diabetes and that adds a layer of complication and frustration around looking after yourself, being sick and going to the doctor to seek help. Many GPs and specialists have treated me like I am a criminal against my body, just for having T1D and being fat. They failed to listen to me or have empathy, and thus they failed me.

So when Nick told me that he thought I needed to get help, I protested. I put it off. I knew I’d be ignored again and again, and that it wasn’t worth the hassle. Yet one day I had a bad anxiety attack and Nick had no choice but to take me to a doctor. One I had never seen before. It doubled my anxiety, made me twitch and sob involuntarily, so by the time I was in the chair in the doctor’s office there was nothing for him to see except my anxiety. I’d been able to hide it for a long time because it was more important to keep up appearances for fear of people thinking I was crazy and treating me poorly because of it. This time I couldn’t. I had internalised our culture’s horrible attitude towards mental illness, kept quiet and tucked my crazy back inside; yet in that chair I felt the full injustice of my years of pretending.

This holiday season hasn’t been much different from any other, yet when people have asked me what I’m up to I haven’t had much to say, not because I haven’t been up to much but because I have been struggling with things that aren’t very difficult for people who don’t have mental illness. It’s dangerous when I tell people I have social anxiety disorder because most of them think that it can be cured by smiling, by lifting your chin up or by quitting your “fucking around” and just getting “back into the swing of things”. Just a PSA: these responses are distressing, offensive and even if well-intentioned, do sweet F.A to help the person you’re talking to. So anyway, I did a lot of creative story telling. Sorry family and friends, if you’re reading, but I just didn’t have the energy to walk people through a day in the life of. I want to help people understand, and that’s why I’m writing this, but I don’t have the spoons to educate you!

I’ve been on a few different meds over the past two months and I haven’t yet found the ones that are right for me. It’s difficult when health conditions intersect; at the moment I’m figuring out which tablets can help me sleep and reduce my anxiety while still giving me the energy to go about my daily life (let alone working life!) without mucking around with my diabetes. It’s hard. Luckily I am now seeing a fantastic doctor, the doctor of my dreams even! (Hi Dr C, if you’re reading this!) I started seeing her based on Nick’s recommendation and instead of rehearsing my concerns and fearing what the doctor is going to say, I’m able to feel like my doctor respects me AND I can have a laugh. Oh my god is it incredible to have a doctor with a similar sense of humour!

So there it is. All laid out and kind of ugly, but that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been looking after me. It has meant that I’ve let things go and I’m trying really hard to get things in order – like some necklaces that haven’t been posted, I am so so sorry and they are coming to you soon! I haven’t been answering emails, they have scared me for the last six months and I feel really really horrible about it. There’s this perfect version of me in my head: I’m super organised and on top of everything, super nice and gregarious while standing up for myself too… but I fall short a lot and then I feel wracked with guilt and shame. I want to stop this because I’m sure it’s not nice to have a friend who is more concerned with being perfect and ok than having fun; more importantly I want to feel better in myself.

Giving yourself a treat is often seen as naughty and indulgent but it’s actually very important I’ve found out. For a long time I have worked so hard for other people, oftentimes until I cry, thinking that it’ll get me places. We’re taught that success is about denying yourself in favour of maintaining a killer work ethic – but it really is a killer. I have suffered several lapses in mental health over the past 10 years and each time I blamed myself for not being good enough or hard arsed enough. I never really considered that I might need to treat myself better. In fact, it wasn’t until I read about self care within the fat activism and social justice realm that I realised our cultural narrative around success has been built on a foundation of complete bollocks. Burn out isn’t just a thing for corporate folks, it happens in every sphere of life where you find people working passionately.
A photo of me looking into a bathroom mirror holding a DSLR. I'm wearing a black and white striped long tshirt under a pink pinafore with a white half doily brooch. My hair is now white-ish blond with an undercut and a long top and my sunglasses sit in my hair.
So in the last week I was able to do a few things for myself: I cut my hair (with Nick’s help) and I booked a couple of nights away down the coast. And damn the world if the world doesn’t like it, because I loved it.

Mental illness

Sometimes it’s a struggle to manifest fance (manifance?)

29 September, 2010

This past few weeks I have struggled. Not just with blogging but personally too (and I’m waiting on some blood test results that might return an outcome I’m NOT keen for.) Lots of bloggers seem to cover up all the bad bits and present the shiniest and most palatable version of themselves to the world, and while it’s nice to appeal to aspiration and positivity but I think that it’s important to be truthful and raw too. I think that trying to be positive all the damn time puts a lot of people off blogging too; I’ve encouraged my husband to blog the struggles as well as the victories as he starts his own blogging endeavour, but I struggle to share my feelings when I’m feeling low and asking for help is especially difficult. It’s harder for me to do this more recently because as my readership increases, so does the percentage of people who aren’t very fond of me and often I feel like admitting my flaws and failures is just providing free ammunition. But then I realise that the percentage of warm, supportive and considerate readers basically swamps the haters, and I want to be able to share vulnerability because yannow, I’m a human being too!

Photo of a bougainvillea branch against an unpainted wood fence; the flowrs are bright fucshia.

So in the spirit of being raw here’s a list of things I’m struggling with right now:
● My blemished and scarred skin;
● the impending humidity of summer and worrying about how I will manage not to look like a melting wax effigy of myself in the next six months;
● feeling like a failure in comparison to others even though we are in completely different fields;
● going to my sister’s wedding and feeling like an odd-bod;
● not being tanned even though I have never tanned and have little interest in being tanned, but wanting to just because I am the whitest person in my whole family and the wedding photos will look odd;
● being fat in Brisbane in summer because despite what the news says about an obesity epidemic, fat people are NOT everywhere and I usually feel like a sideshow attraction whenever I am around people who are not my friends;
● a depressive episode that seems to be stretching languidly over a number of months, making me think that I might need to go on meds again;
● the cost of treating my diabetes, having to find money for a MRI for my high heel damaged foot and a possible hypothyroidism diagnosis;
● feeling like I am drowning in emails;
● etc.

I’m not looking for solutions or advice really, it’s just a relief to let these anxieties out to reduce the echo inside my brain.

Photo of water in a pool, the light is dancing on the gently rippled surface and the water looks a deep greeny/ blue.

To be fair, some good things are also happening too:
● I’ve cut back on commissions because even though I like drawing things for people, I feel like I don’t have enough time to focus on my personal work and develop my skills;
● the first meeting of Aquaporko BNE, a fat femme synchronised swimming team;
● I ordered more fat necklaces and hope to create a new design to be cut in acrylic soon;
● plans for camping with friends;
● exploring some lovely Lush product samples that Fran sent me;
● discovering Mylanta can be used as a face mask to draw out zits and reduce oilyness;
● some people really like my illustration and design work and that’s nice.

The other week I was having a fantastic discussion on Twitter about the culture of positivity and how damaging it can be, especially when different issues intersect with this societal demand to be unfailingly upbeat and happy and positive. My own particular beef with it is that as a person who suffers depression there is always someone around to tell me to “cheer up” or keep my “chin up” and, you know, if it was as simple as just being happy I would. Because it’s a real effing larf to be depressed and struggle to do even the most simple daily activities. It’s hilarious when people tell me I’ve got excuses for everything. If I could just wave a wand and cut that terrible “behaviour” out, I’d be a winner for sure!

So, I guess this is me extending my middle finger to that culture of positivity as it effects the bloggersphere. Sometimes I am so immobilised by worry I can’t move. Sometimes I am so sad I can’t brush my hair. Most of the time I am so fearful of how people will respond to my experience with mental illness that I do not talk about it. I want to shrug off that shame because it does nothing for my health.

(Hitting Publish on this is the scariest thing.)