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I’m one of those creative people with bipolar disorder. Some experts believe bipolar disorder is often accompanied by an artistic temperament. From actors to musicians, painters to poets, there’s no shortage of artists who live with this mental illness.
I’m a graphic artist by trade. I primarily design graphics on my computer, and I also work with typography, both of which can be very rigid, methodical processes. For me, graphic design is a way to relax and calm my mind. It’s akin to enjoying a coloring book or cleaning for some people. But I don’t often use my visual as a way to express my thoughts or feelings. Although art can be calming and satisfying, you probably won’t see me in a manic state slamming swashes of intense color onto a canvas.
I’m also a writer. Taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is the key to unlocking my internal world and understanding my surroundings. Writing helps me get in touch with my thoughts, calms the chaos in my head, and enables me to live mindfully. While my visual art isn’t really informed by my mental state, my writing very much is. I’d even say the entire reason I write is to express my feelings and make sense of them. I write to help untangle the chaos in my head. Writing helps me stay in touch with my inner thoughts.
I started journaling when I was in high school. My mind swirled with confusion, fueled by teenage hormones. I struggled to grasp who I was and where I fit into the world. I felt disconnected and misunderstood, like many teenagers do. Writing in a journal provided a safe space where I could share my secret feelings free of judgement and without fear. I kept a little blank book next to my bed, and every night I’d recap my day. But it wasn’t just about telling what happened, I also shared how I felt. By turning my attention inwards, I connected to my inner voice, and that built up my self-esteem. Journaling gave me a solid foundation by helping me discover my identity. Writing not only helped me feel sane, it also kept me grounded.
In college, I discovered how powerful free writing can be. Free writing is like journaling, just kicked up a notch. You simply start writing and keep going for fifteen to twenty minutes. You don’t stop to think about what you’re writing, to correct your spelling or grammar, or question the results. Your hands are in a state of constant movement. Free writing is a great way to expose creative ideas and reflections that are locked away in the recesses of the psyche. You’d be surprised what comes out when you let yourself go. This form of expression is extremely useful when I’m trying to access my subconscious.
I grew up with a bipolar dad who caused me a lot of anguish and confusion. I was furious with him for years, and then I lost him to suicide in 1998. I was diagnosed bipolar shortly after my dad passed. Even with therapy and the passage of time, I still couldn’t come to grips with everything. I was unable to shake the feeling that my bipolar diagnosis was a death sentence. If this illness took my dad, would it swallow me too?
For years, I endured an ongoing dance with my own demons. Overwhelmed by my illness, my daddy issues, and a tumultuous marriage, I tried to die by suicide in 2012. Luckily, I survived and recovered. It wasn’t until I began writing about my life that I eventually found peace. I never understood my dad—or his behavior—until I was diagnosed with the same illness, and I wrote about it. By writing a memoir about my life, I finally forgave my dad and in turn, myself.
Writing has been one of my recovery tools. I put myself out into the world when I write. By reading old journals and free writing, I can recognize my manic highs and depressive lows. Even before I was diagnosed bipolar, seeing my thoughts in black and white helped me identify my moods by allowing me to step outside myself and simply observe. Reading my old writing can even help me identify triggers, like toxic relationships, so I can avoid them in the future.
I now write poetry, short stories, articles and a blog. Much of my writing comes from my own experiences. Pieces of my past that caused me emotional pain don’t feel quite so overwhelming once I write about them. Writing helps me heal old wounds. Conjuring words to describe my experiences has broken the spell my trauma once had over me.
And I no longer write just for myself. I hope by sharing my story I can help others. Whether you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, fallen into the depths of depression, flown too high with mania, or lived through a suicide attempt, you’re not alone. I’ve learned that my bipolar diagnosis is not in fact, a death sentence. Writing has helped me save my own soul. It may just do the same for you, too.