Hospital drawings.

I spent the last few days in hospital. My mental state has been getting increasingly worse and Nick was very worried about me when I started talking about some of the dark feelings I’ve been experiencing, so he took me to see our doctor who saw straight away that I needed help. I was admitted to a psych unit on Thursday night feeling a little resentful and a lot unwell, but it actually turned out to be a good thing. The doctors were very thorough and ran a lot of tests on me and discovered that I have Graves disease. The thing about Graves is that it means my thyroid is producing too much hormone, contributing to my disabling anxiety and social phobia in recent months. I also have to undertake Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to address years and years of unaddressed social phobia. It’s all a bit scary at the moment, but having stuff properly diagnosed means I can hopefully move forward knowing exactly what things I need to get treated.

Over the last six months you may have noticed that I have not been producing much art at all. I’ve had no concentration as my mind frantically bounced from thing to thing, so I lost my ability to get into the right sort of mood to feel creative. For the longest time I’ve drawn to meditate and express myself, so this was pretty distressing for me. I’ve not been able to work as a freelance artist, and because of that I’ve not only been grieving drawing but feeling guilt about not bringing in income. So when you compound that with my general long time feelings of worthlessness, anxiety and social phobia as well as the symptoms of hypothyroidism… you end up with a recipe for a very unhappy Natalie.

If you’ve never stayed in a psych hospital, you might not know much of the experience. It’s lonely, scary and hard to know if you can trust people when they take away all your agency to control your life; and because I’m Type 1 Diabetic and threatened to take an overdose of insulin, they insisted on following me around everywhere and removing my ability to inject myself with insulin and monitor my own needs. Hospital is also a hugely boring place. My phone charger and earphones were taken from me, and there was no TV except for in a common area. If you are a smoker, you might find yourself smoking three times as much as usual because there’s simply nothing else to do, and in the psych hospitals I’ve been in the doctors and nurses don’t bother giving you grief because patients have way more pressing heavy shit to deal with. So I found myself smoking a lot, but also magically I started drawing again. After a six month drought it didn’t come naturally to me but there was nothing else to do.

A pencil drawing of a fat girl with sewn on blush and long tendrils of hair. A gecko with an exposed skeleton sits over her forehead.

For the first day I didn’t speak to anybody. I was in shock and confusion, not knowing how to negotiate my way around this strange place full of new people. One person sat down next to me and we started talking about this and that and then he asked what I did. When I said I drew and wrote about stuff he asked if I could draw a gecko. I don’t really draw animals so I wasn’t sure if I could. I found a card with a flower on it slipped under my door, found a pen at the bottom of my bag, and started drawing an outline of a gecko with an exposed skeleton inside it. I gave it to my new mate and he said I was a genius! Flattered and encouraged, I bought a sketchbook when Nick took me out for half an hour and started drawing a gecko on a girl’s head. And so I started drawing again.

A black pen illustration of a bird skeleton sitting atop an oval frame surrounded by paisley and flower shapes.
A pen drawing of the words "I had to go deep to find love this morning" surrounded by paisley , flowers and flourishes. Underneath says "To the bottom of a pit."

When other patients saw me drawing they’d come up to look, and sometimes they’d strike up conversations. Some wanted me to draw things, often pretty rude and hilarious stuff, but I made no promises! One man was really sad and said something like, “I had to go to the bottom of a pit to find love this morning.” I probably paraphrased but it struck me and I doodled.

A black pen drawing of a naked fat girl with big hair prancing sadly through a circle of tree branches.

When I was admitted on Thursday night I felt a lot of shame. It’s not a new thing. I’m pretty sure lots of people who suffer from mental illness have been shamed into being quiet about their experiences and what they have to live with. I was pretty sure I’d be disqualified from the Cosmopolitan Fun Fearless Female competition for being crazy! For so many years I have worried about what people will think of me when they learn “the truth” about me because the most common feedback I’ve gotten is that I’m flaky, full of excuses, sensitive or given to indulge my melancholy. I’m more than that, I know, but years of negative conditioning has made me feel a lot of guilt and shame.

I got out of hospital on Monday, however I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a place of creativity (“alpha waves” apparently) again so I can maintain this drawing “spurt”. People email me about commissions all the time but I just don’t think I can do it yet. (I’m sorry if I haven’t responded, I get so much email and I am so anxious about disappointing people.) I need to look after myself, and also give this new metric buttload of meds time to help me feel better.

Oh and my goodness, you should have seen some of my hospital outfits. Comfy psych unit chic at its best!

65 comments

  1. Praying for you, lady!! I too know about going to the bottom of a pit to find happiness. I’m glad you are drawing again. {{HUGS}}

  2. Natalie, these drawings are beautiful and I’m so glad to see that you were able to draw again, even if only for a little while. I understand the stigma associated with mental illness – especially for seeking help – and I think it’s so important that you were and are able to get help. At the very least, it led to the Graves’ diagnosis.

  3. Sending you boatloads of love and support. And a bit taken aback at how open you are. (That’s taken aback in a good way – I think sharing is important, and helpful to your recovery, I hope.)
    Let the art flow in the most organic way possible, commissions or not.

  4. Thank you for sharing this.
    I’m so glad that being inpatient had some positives for you.
    While I haven’t been inpatient I have done partial and day treatment. Quite an odd experience.
    I’ve been told I’m flaky and unreliable so much that I don’t commit to anything anymore. That means I don’t let myself try much of anything either. So, I can relate to how hard it is.
    I wish you well.

  5. This post & the way you handled such a scary experience is the epitome of Fearless. I’m SO GLAD you got some help, some diagnoses, and some inspiration from the hospital. I’m also very proud of you, whatever that means coming from an internet pal, heh. Love, hugs, & high-fives!

  6. I suffered with hypothyroidism in my 20s only to find out I had a benign tumor. It was great to have a diagnosis and treatment for it, but I’ve long held to the belief that my doctor keeps my thyroid levels too low, which for me meant my weight would stay up.

    The thing about dealing with issues such as this is just learning to relegate the embarrassment to it’s proper place. It is not your fault. Feel what you feel, learn to cope with it and struggle. Once you get to a point where the struggle is no longer a struggle, then you are past it. Getting normal again is not easy, but believe me it is worth it.

  7. Beautiful Natalie. I am so glad that you got the help you needed when you needed it. Your honesty has always been so dear and refreshing, one of the reasons I am drawn to you and your work. Please keep pushing through those scary walls and continue to let your creativity shine. You are such a bright light. Truly. My prayers for continued recovery are with you and your husband.

  8. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts when you are at your most vulnerable. I admire your ability to put it all into words and drawing when maybe life seems topsy turvy.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this, Natalie. I understand how hard it must have been for you. I’m glad some positives have come out of this and you’re able to move forward with some clear direction and a better understanding of contributing factors (ie. the Graves’) and I hope this flow of productivity continues for you!

  10. i too was admitted to my local psych unit after taking a pack of diaformin in 2007. i was hugely depressed at the time. every thing you have said about the place has brought back the memories so sharp it could of been yesterday not 4 years ago. the 12 ft fence outside so us nutcases didnt escape, the high dependancy unit where i was on suicide watch for 24 hrs was the lonliest scareiest place i have ever been. the bed was just 2 foam mattresses on top of each other. the wals were in deed padded the tables and chairs were bolted to the floor so as not to be picked up and thrown. then when i was moved to the common area with everyone else it wasnt much better. we had to ask for a smoke everytime we wanted one i had to ask for my hair brush everytime i wanted to brush my hair, you had a bag with you? where you found a pen? we were not allowed a single personal item. i even had to ask for a pencil when i wanted to write something. i told the shrink what he wanted to hear just so i could get out on the third day. thank you for sharing … its brought back memories i burried but much needed right now. you have no idea how close i was to canceling my wedding (only 15 weeks away) until 10 mins ago when i read your post. what i was upset at my man for 10 mins ago fades in comparrison to the journey he has traveled with me since 2007. so thank you girl. u dont know me yet you have just saved a wedding from being canceled. I owe u big time. and I love your drawings. :)

  11. hey beautiful, you always amaze me at how strong you are! all the best to a speedy recovery and this was a very interesting read. thanks for sharing always.

  12. I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been feeling poorly. Here’s an inspired [by you!] woman in America sending you lots of positive thoughts and admiration.

    <3

  13. I was just thinking the other day ‘I haven’t seen a post from Natalie in awhile’ and today there was the answer for it. I’m sorry that was the reason for your absence but so glad that you were getting help. There is no shame in that. I hope you continue to improve, a little bit each day and that your creative mojo comes flooding back. Hugs to you and a hug to Nick for being there for you.

    A complete stranger in Canada,
    Carolyn

  14. a. this made tears well up in my eyes. i know it sounds strange, but to hear you went through all this and came out through it and this is the beginning of a breakthrough. it warms my heart for you and gives me hope for yourself.

    b. your new work is lovely.

    c. i had a dream and you were in it. there was a pool on the side of the highway and it was for Aussies living in Texas, but i was allowed in because i knew so many Aussies from the internet and you waved at me and we all did a synchronized swimming routine.

  15. I’ve been keeping you in my thoughts. I understand everything you’ve talked about. I’ve suffered from dibiliating mental illness for over 10 years now. Psych hospitals are strange. It’s amazing how something being given a name can make it feel so much more easier to battle.

    Y’know, I think it would have been crazy if you’d been disqualified. It makes me feel you feserve the title even more. You are an insiration & you are getting help! The world isn’t always fun, but it’s how you get through it that makes you a great person.

  16. I wish you the best of luck Natalie.
    Losing your personal agency was, for me, the worst part of being in the psychiatric ward, and I’m very happy that you were able to regain some of it through your art.
    You are absolutely a fun, fearless, female in my book.

  17. I happened upon your blog months ago and have been following since :)
    I wanted to tell you that even though you may feel lonely, depressed, anxious or whatever, you have people all over the world (literally) that care and support you. As a fellow anxiety and depression suffer, I can understand your pain.
    take the time you need to care for yourself and know that we will all be here, waiting for your return. be well and carry on.

  18. I’m glad things seem to be on the up for you, hopefully your drawing spurt continues, because you’re super talented and it’s a shame to see such talent and general all around fanciness get dampened by something so shitty. Dement there’s always people around here with kind words aplenty for you if it helps :)

  19. I don’t know you personally, (though I do own one of your Fat necklaces), but I just wanted to wish you all the very best – and to assure you that you are definitely worth way more than the negative “truths” you listed. Your writing is intelligent and articulate, your style is inspiring, and your illustration beautiful and unique. (In fact, if I was still working as an illustrators’ agent I’d want to represent you). One of my BFFs has suffered with OCD for half her life and has found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to be fantastically helpful. She’s also a big advocate of Mindfulness, which might be worth looking into when your meds have kicked in, if you’re meditation-inclined.

  20. Thank you for being so honest and raw with your story. I have battled depression and anxiety myself, it’s an ongoing battle, just like any other health issue that has to be monitored regularly. I wish you the very best and I do hope you recognize how beautiful, strong and amazing you are for being you as well as having the courage to let it show! Phenomenal.

  21. Thanks so much for writing about this Natalie. Vaguely related story, last night in bed my girlfriend and I were talking about the house we hope to have one day and I said that when I’m a rich lady I really hope to own a piece of art by you. (Is this creepy? A story about my girlfriend and I in bed? If so, sorry!) x

  22. Your candor and honestly is appreciated and valued. I too have a psychological disability and your willingness to share so openly about it is encouraging and empowering. Your drawings and art are amazing. I hope you get to a place you want to be with your psychological wellness. Thanks for sharing your journey!

  23. Telling your story is important. Thank you for sharing something that some can relate to and some can learn from.

  24. You are brave for sharing this stuff. People are ashamed too often and hide these things and we all think that we’re alone. We’re not, but sometimes it feels like it. I really appreciate your posts about your mental issues (God, that sounds wrong, but I don’t know what else to call it), because I recognise myself so much in them.

    Also, CBT is scary, but oh so helpful. I hope you will find it helpful, I really did. (Finished my therapy today! Very exciting.)

  25. Oh my goodness, I am partly worried I might have triggered this in a bad way and I hope you’re still ok. Your hospital experience sounds really really unpleasant, I was so lucky they let me keep my pens and bag!! I’m glad you have a transformative relationship, I hope you guys have a beautiful and happy wedding. xo

  26. Oh babe. That space where you can’t even access your passion, when the notion of “if you’re not doing it you obviously don’t love it enough”, where you just can’t bring that creative energy up because it’s being burnt trying to keep you somewhat stable. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in that space again.

    I don’t understand why they’d take away media but allow smoking – you can still harm yourself and technology can be really helpful! I’ve thought about checking into a psych ward for a while but ni one will take me and I’d be bored to bits. Or I have to go somewhere that’s $30,000 a week…uh no.

    hugs and love.

  27. Natalie I don’t know you but I’m sending you lots of love right now. (Seriously, just closed my eyes and hummed love- there it goes! winging alllllll the way from NY to Brisbane.) Thanks for sharing your experience, I’ve never been able to talk about my time in the hospital with even my closest friends, so I can appreciate that you were brave enough to talk about it on the internet. I hope you drink lots of tea & cuddle lots with your love and keep on drawing. XOXO Lo

  28. Natalie, I feel like I know you. I have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder all of my adult life, and was only diagnosed recently. A diagnosis helps so much.

    And I so understand the smoking. When you’re thinking of ending your life you don’t really care if you might be contracting something that will kill you in twenty years. Don’t even bother to feel guilty about it- your mental health is SO much more important. And if you’re anything like me, when things get bad you think the world would be better off without you. Well I’m telling you, it WOULDN’T BE. You have helped so many people just by posting this story- you’ll never know just what an impact you have.

    I am in awe of you. You not only were strong enough to seek help when you needed it, but you’ve shared your pain with all of us. That takes a lot of courage. You are an exceptional woman. Keep battling. It sounds like you have a great supportive partner which helps.

  29. Natalie, I’m so glad you were able to go to hospital – and come out again! Yep, it’s a scary place, but every time I’ve had to go I’ve been grateful on the other side….
    Sending you all good wishes and gently reminding you that it’s okay to be fragile and just work on what you can, when you can.
    Your pictures are lovely!

  30. Isn’t the thyroid an insidious thing? I was completely unaware of how many bodily systems it controls and how much it affects the brain for a long time, even after diagnosis. It’s certainly sent my depression to very bad places. I hope that you can continue drawing as much as you want, and that the new meds make a great big difference to you. *many comfy fat hugs*

  31. You’re about the 5th person in a month I know who has been to psych hospital and they all were in pretty dark places before they ended up there so hope you’re going ok. Sending you lots of well wishes and very happy to see new artwork from you too

  32. Nothing shameful at all natalie. You did what you had to do. And good has come out of it (like having some answers as to why you were feeling this way – having hyperthyroidism with the Graves disease – knowing that, I would be asking questions if you werent ridiculously anxious!). I have had my run with debilitating anxiety too (and thankfully my causes were found and fixed also), so I am very empathetic :) If you ever want to talk about it, I’m always here to listen. Just give me a call :)
    You are very brave and very awesome.
    Lots and lots of love
    Stephania xoxox

  33. Honey, I hope you feel better. So, glad the doctors were able to give you a diagnosis and your honest post will help someone else. I think you will find the therapy beneficial and it gives you the opportunity to say all those things you don’t feel comfortable saying to friends and loved ones. God bless.

  34. Honey, I hope you feel better. I am so glad that the doctor’s were able to give you a diagnosis. I think your honest and forthright post will help someone else, who is grappling with similar issues. God bless!

  35. Thanks for talking about this, Nat. I’ve always loved your drawings, but this shows me you’re a very strong person. It takes a lot to face one’s demons. My heart goes out to you. And please keep drawing, you never know what might flow out of that pen.

  36. Congratulations on getting help and recieving a diagnosis.

    Two years after finding out I am Bipolar II has resulted in me finally living a normal life… or as normal as I get.

    You will get there too. Much love. xx

  37. Dear Nathalie,

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now but have never commented i think, because i was too “scared” to i guess!
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and i do hope, now that the doctors have diagnosed you, that you will feel better soon and that you will come out of this black patch.

    Lots of love
    Nathalie xxx

  38. Lady, I’m crazy too (really). I’m also fat and an artist – and like you, struggling with not being an artist right now. Give yourself time to go through all of this. Things will get better, they always do. Lots of love from the internet and California.
    – Val

  39. Natalie, I am sorry to hear about your woes, but so glad to hear that you were able to get the help you needed. You have always been a fun, fearless, fancy inspiration to me (“frellyheck” and “aworldofwant” on Tumblr), and that holds always, especially now that you have been so brave as to share your struggles. It takes a very brave person to write a post such as this. Take good care of yourself. We need you in the blog-o-sphere! :))

  40. Thank you for posting candidly about this. I was having serious issues with my eating disorder/depression/anxiety/thyroid etc and your Tumblr posts started me thinking about inpatient treatment as an actual option rather than in the abstract, which helped me start a conversation about it with my family, psychiatrist, etc. The wheels are turning and I hope that this leads to a better state of mind.

  41. Natalie, my name is Nathalie. I have 80 pounds overweight. ‘I’m an artist (Graphicdesigner, Dancer, Singer). What else? Yes I’ve been in a psych hospital twice, because there is a bipolar disorder visiting my brain from time to time. I want to tell you that I admire you, I love your art and I wish you a lot of strength and health!!! A hug from Germany!

  42. Thank you for this very honest post. We all have issues, illnesses, anxiety or shame in our lifes and so few of us are brave enough to share it. I myself have suffered from depression and eating disorders. But we are beautiful creatures and I’m so happy you are getting help. Best wishes on everything, I hope you find your passion again along the way.

    xoxo Rikke

    http://stickysweetdanish.blogspot.com

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