One thing that is a common theme when talking to other people with bipolar disorder and PTSD is loss. Loss of a spouse, career, income, house, children, friends, dignity. I lost all of those. I am still processing the devastating loss after a pre-diagnosed bipolar mania episode. The sun went down on me in Australia. Most painful of all for me was that I had no choice but to leave my son in Australia and return to my birth country of New Zealand.
I am now relatively stable on medication but trauma therapy has been difficult to access. Finally, I got to see a clinical psychologist for trauma going back to childhood (sexual abuse - connected to the colour purple). But the sessions were put on hold because some of my trauma happened in Australia and because they want to blame my difficulties in integrating into 'normal' life solely on bipolar and not PTSD. Even though, two psychologists have also diagnosed me with PTSD.
When I started seeing the trauma psychologist (before being put on hold for months while a decision is made whether I can access further sessions), I told her that I had repeated images in my head of dying before my time. At the time, it was images of being hit by a truck.
My therapist asked, 'what does hope look like to you? What would hope be like if you painted it?' I didn't know how I would paint it. The images of being hit by a truck didn't ease until I painted it out and processed 'stuck' emotions. That painting sold at my first solo art exhibition.
I feel extra vulnerable currently with a medication adjustment. So emotions come to the surface. I have just painted what hope means to me.
I was drawn to a photo of Dove Lake taken by a friend in Australia after sunset. The photo was of mountains and a lake and sky in purple. I set out painting a landscape painting with texture in the rocks and sky. Usually I don't name paintings before I start them but I chose the name Purple Dove (I was also thinking of songs by Prince, Purple Rain and When Doves Cry).
I realised later that I had made the mountains much steeper than in the photo. I also did this in another recent mountains painting. I compressed them vertically so they were taller and steeper. I think this is subconscious and I interpret it as the extra difficult journey faced while suffering from bipolar disorder and PTSD.
The painting was dark and purple and I wanted more light. I could see abstract wing shapes in the clouds, so I decided to go more abstract and suggest more the bird I could see rising above the mountains. I streaked on titanium white and brilliant magenta. Colours have symbolism for me and titanium white represents innocence and strength and magenta bloodshed and suffering when I have used it in my paintings.
The dove is flying over the steep mountain peaks. She brings light to a dark sky and the light of her reflection is in the lake.
The dove returns to New Zealand but she is free to go where she pleases. She is independent. That is what I hope for. For lack of money to not be a barrier. So I can see my son more often.
I shed tears writing this. Living with bipolar and PTSD takes courage. Sometimes it seems like there is no hope. But one can dream. There is hope in holding onto a dream. For me, the dream is independence.
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.