Several times in my life, I have been told that I am 'too honest'. Lying makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. Over the past few years, I have been working on an semi-autobiographical fiction book called Pet Purpose. I see it as semi-autobiographical because it is telling my story in disguise.
Originally, when I chose the title around five years ago, I intended to write memoir about my bond with pets. But more of life happened and the story has evolved into a story of courage as a young girl suffers trauma and loss, is later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and with her determination to survive, finally starts a healing journey many years later in adulthood.
The story loosely reflects my own journey, but I have changed the story-line to protect myself and others, even those who have hurt me. Changing names wasn't enough. I made the decision to write fiction, to 'lie to tell the truth', to help ease flashbacks of PTSD. So that I didn't have to remember it 'exactly' and keep re-traumatising myself. So that I minimise upsetting people. So people can't say 'that's not really what happened' (because they won't know what really happened) and minimise my message. So that I could have some distance while I still tell a personal story. So that I could express my truth in a creative way.
I had a big bipolar mania episode two years ago. I'm still recovering. I told my psychiatrist that the medications were like putting a bucket under the Huka Falls. The Huka Falls is a powerful waterfall in Taupo, New Zealand that could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in sections. You can hear the roar before you see it. The intensity and energy of emotions being released that had been shut down with PTSD was so powerful that it was a huge challenge to try to harness.
I'm not a detailed planner. Life doesn't work out to plan for me anyway. I prefer to improvise.
When I create art, I might have some vague ideas in my head and even do a quick miniature sketch but it always turns out differently to how I originally started. I like the freedom to improvise. To make things up as I go along. Creative expression helps me re-frame my life experiences.
"I think adults who paint are brave. They need support to shine." Sue Graham, artist.
Art was one of my favourite activities as a child. I have memories from kindergarten slapping on thick layers of brightly coloured paint at a stand up easel. I won a poster competition when I was around 10 years old. It was judged by a well-known landscape artist whom I met. She told me my poster stood out because of the colours and composition.
When I was a teenager, my art teacher at school said, 'you always paint differently according to what mood you're in.' I felt criticised but thought, 'isn't that the point?' The same teacher said, 'you're going to have a nervous breakdown one day.' She said it was because I was busy doing so many activities with no down time to rest.
It's usually hard for me to get up in the mornings. But today I had something to do. Yesterday I decided to purchase a domain name and I started setting up this website. Today I wanted to continue to get it up and running.
Having some sense of meaningful purpose helps keep me going even though things are very challenging for me (unable yet to work full-time and live independently after two decades of being away from home). I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, PTSD and social anxiety in my forties. Previously I was diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression and anxiety in my early twenties.
Xanthe finds writing and painting to be therapeutic. She has lived with mental illness for over 25 years. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder after originally being diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression with general anxiety.