Browsing Tag


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!


Tonight on Disaster Chef… [insert flame visual]

17 June, 2011

I have been craving roasted cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar reduction for the last week and tonight was the first night in a long time that I’ve had enough energy to cook. So I decided to righteously address my craving and because it was such a momentous occasion I took photos. Seriously, when you find five spoons down the back of the couch of your well-being even small things you can do for yourself are worth documenting! As well as the fatigue and pain I’ve been experiencing in the past few months, my coordination has been quite shocking and amongst various mishaps I’ve smashed two full bottles and dropped 2kg of sugar in the floor in the noble pursuit of feeding myself and others. I like to call myself Disaster Chef.

We get a vegetable box delivered every two weeks from Home Fresh Organics and this week it was full of beetroot. pumpkin and garlic, as well as a punnet of delicious cherry tomatoes! I decided to roast all the vegetables as well as the tomatoes and pair them with couscous and my longtime lover, a balsamic vinegar reduction. I could just drizzle it on anything and lick it off. (Except maybe not Nick’s sneakers.)

A photo of my hand splotched with beetroot juice.

Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables because it’s just so FUN. I love getting beetroot stained fingers.

A photo of half roasted pumpkin and beetroot pieces in a baking tray with fresh cherry tomatoes and garlic added ready for roasting.

I roasted the beetroot and pumpkin pieces for 20 minutes at 200˚C then threw in the cherry tomatoes and garlic for the last 15 minutes.

A photo of a saucepan on the stove (inside is balsamic vinegar).

I sat down while the vegies were roasting (cutting up pumpkin is exhausting for me!) and Nick took care of the couscous and balsamic vinegar reduction. Thanks Nick <3 [caption id="attachment_4526" align="aligncenter" width="650" caption="A photo of the roasted stuff just out of the oven."][/caption]

A photo of dinner: roast beetroot, pumpkin, garlic and cherry tomatoes on couscous served with balsamic vinegar reduction and many basil leaves.

I hardly think this is a Masterchef quality dish, but it’s good enough for dinner. I always laugh when serving up food now that “plopping food on a dish” has been replaced with “plating up”.

Disclaimer: I am not a photographer or a chef, just a sick person who is very proud of herself for helping make dinner.

And it was fricking amazing.

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.)

A Beautiful Life

Thank you, Yoko

23 March, 2010

This quote comes to me at such a good time, because I have been grieving my uncle and feeling quite sad about everything. I love the way Yoko Ono approaches life and her statements resonate deep within me.

Question: Is there any way to get rid of depressed feeling? lost my loved one 9 months ago, i don’t know how i start or what should do first.

Yoko: As you know, I lost mine in a very cruel way. So I think I understand what you are going through. First, you have to thank the fact that you are still alive. You look around the nature which are alive. Budding branches. A shining river. The light that shines on everything which shines on you, too. Nature is busy being active as usual. working So you cannot be sitting in your room. You want to go outside, and tune into that. Because you are part of nature, too. In the mirror in the morning, you should try to smile. Keep smiling every day. Soon you will be able to smile, naturally from your heart. Then from the tummy. Then with your whole body. Say thank you, whenever you have a chance to say. Even when somebody is mean to you. Just say thank you. If anything good happens in your life – even a small thing – just say I’m glad. If you did something awkward, just say oh, that was bad. And move on. Thank you, I’m glad, that was bad. It keeps you moving and moving out of the terrible sadness you experienced.

This is similar to how I’ve dealt with sadness and loss in the past, so I was heartened to be reminded of it again. I hope it can help you, if you need it!

A Beautiful Life, Art

Urban Grind and Mental Health Day

10 October, 2009

All up in yr Urban Grind

Today I put some of my work up at Urban Grind in New Farm. Urban Grind are wonderful about supporting local artists and connecting with the community, and I’m really appreciative that Morgan let me put my work up!

All up in yr Urban Grind

Today is World Mental Health Day, and the theme this year is:

Making mental health a global priority: scaling up services through citizen advocacy and action.

I advocate for complete openness about mental health issues, including my own. I hope in some way it helps other people feel that it isn’t taboo, and think of mental illness as a medical condition – just like Juvenile Diabetes (which I also have). I’ve encountered people who suggest “getting off your arse and making a change” and those who say “oh but it’s all in your head” and they’re really dismissive, simplistic and often unproductive suggestions, in fact, I feel personally that they encourage those who suffer from mental illness to not talk about their condition.

So, in the spirit of breaking taboo and stigma: I’m Natalie and I suffer from depression and anxiety. I’m interested in living a wonderful life, but sometimes it’s hard to act out a wonderful life when your brain tells you other things. Sometimes I am sad for no reason. Sometimes I panic about things that other people do without a problem. It doesn’t mean I’m less of a person, and it doesn’t mean I’m less worthy of respect or medical care.

A Beautiful Life

Yoko Ono’s Smiling Face Film

7 August, 2009

My husband and I seem to disagree when it comes to Yoko Ono: I think she is wonderful and I admire her work as an artist but Nick being the avid Beatles fan thinks she split up the band (yada yada ya whatever). When I saw the the SMILING FACE FILM by Yoko Ono group on flickr I decided to submit after browsing through several pages of all these smiling faces, with different smiles, and different faces.

I’ve not had the happiest of weeks, being very busy and stressed. Today the maternal figure in the passenger seat of the family roadtrip that is my usual shrieking, forever accelerating brain turned around and yelled at me: IF YOU DON’T BUCKLE UP BACK THERE, WE’RE TURNING THIS CAR AROUND. So I decided to cheer the frick up. It started with me considering the notion that it might be ok to laugh about things. So I did. And then I found more things funny, and soon after that… the car-full of passengers in my brain did settle down, buckle up and quit whinging about when and if we were going to get there yet. We haven’t quite gotten to the sing-a-long portion of the trip, but I’m sure in no time the paternal figure will slip a cassette of the Grease soundtrack into the dashboard and start hamming it up to the doleful sounds of “Sandy“.

How To… SMILE by Yoko Ono

I told you to smile when you are feeling down.
However, there are steps you should know.
First you go to the mirror and smile to the mirror in anyway you can.
You probably will not feel any different.
Smile a few times that way.
If that is not enough, smile a few times every morning when you see the mirror.
That won’t do much, either, right?

Because there is a way to smile and change not only your mood, but make your body healthy and young, and change your life for the better!

1) Smile just by twisting the ends of your mouth up. That doesn’t get you anywhere, I bet. But that’s a start.

2) Smile with your eyes and mouth. That’s better. Your smile will make somebody feel good, maybe. Add a little giggle, and they will either think you’re crazy or like you for it.

3) If you really want to smile so it will make yourself feel good as well – you have to smile from your heart and your lungs. Don’t worry, if you are ending the smile with a quiet sound like ummm.

4) The next step will make you feel still better. Smile from your solar plexus. This has an added benefit of making your solar plexus healthier, and active.

5) The next step is to smile right down from your stomach. When you do this, make sure to breathe deeply and pull your stomach muscles in as you smile.

6) The next step – yes, there are more steps! – you should smile from your knees. Again, just pull your knees in – as you pull your stomach in – at the same time you use your lungs, heart and solar plexus. You’ll see that by then, you are smililng with your whole body. You won’t forget to smile with your eyes and mouth at the same time. It will happen anyway. That’s how you will get the true benefit of smiling.

How about giving a smile to others? Should we forget that? Don’t worry. They’ll notice your smile. Only, this time, you’ll feel good, too. Very, very good!

I love you! yoko

Yoko Ono
24 July 2009


La donna mascherata

23 June, 2009

La donna mascherata

A new piece (or, drainting! A drawing and a painting) for exhibiting, hopefully, if KILN still want me to participate in the Illustrators show coming up soon! I usually know I’m on the right track if a new piece scares the crap out of me, and this lady sure scared me on several occasions! Despite studying art at university, lots of fine art skills escape me and I usually feel quite incompetent beside other artists because I am mostly self taught. Her skin colour really worried me for a while, but I just ended up layering the colour a bit, and it came good. Horah!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we hide ourselves in public, to become normal or to blend in. From my early teens I wore make up religiously because I had terrible acne, and it got to a point where I couldn’t answer the door without having a full face on. These days, while I love my cosmetics, I’m a bit more relaxed about “putting on my mask” but you’ll never catch me in a social situation without being fully made up and dressed ridiculously. Because, you know, people might find out… that I have… flaws!

Externals aside, I’ve also had a lot of practice at covering up my various idiosyncrasies. It’s easy for me to say I have experience with depression, suicide and anxiety but harder for me to go in to details because I am so used to people trivialising my fears. Mostly, I’m scared of phones and of falling over in public when I’m out by myself. And because of those fears I come off as quite aloof (I’m pretty hard to catch on the phone!) and I only ever go out when I’ve got someone with me, so in the case I fall over I’ve got someone to laugh about it with me! I mask a lot of my anxieties with a huge laugh and a big personality but lately I’ve been feeling quite guilty about it. This work is one of my ways of coming out as hiding.

So there, that’s my story about being a masked woman. What masks do you wear?