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 recently started a painting of a beach. I was quite pleased with some of the rocks so decided to add some more along the beach near the middle of the painting. Only the rocks looked like dog poop. I think it may have happened because I felt annoyed that someone left their dog poop behind at the beach when I went for a swim earlier that day. That annoyance came out in my painting. Lots of subconscious themes come out in my paintings. I signed the painting, indicating that I was probably finished. I say probably, because often I go back and do a bit more.
Now all I could see was the 'poop' in what otherwise felt to me a tranquil, beautiful scene. It's a bit like that in life. Sometimes I've been distracted by the negative rather than the positive. It's one of the things that came up in therapy. For example, I often feel disgust and shame with sex, even though rationally, I view sex in a positive way. My feelings and thoughts about it don't match up because of a trauma of sexual abuse.
In episodes of depression, I notice all the 'poop'. Sometimes I've had more than my fair share of poop in life. Most people will go through some pain and challenges in their lifetime. Living with a mood disorder, bipolar disorder has made things extra challenging. Then with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) on top of that, sometimes it has felt like I'm drowning in poop.
I was tired and decided I would try again the following day. Courage can be getting out of bed, taking the risk and trying again.
I decided not to white out the poop rocks and try to paint the sand again as I felt happy with the sand. Although, I thought there was perhaps too much sand and that it looked a bit like a road, so I decided to add two fern fronds. It was my first attempt at painting ferns. It risky because I might further 'mess up' my painting, but I decided to take the risk. If I 'fail' I can put the painting aside and try again later. Or I can start afresh. The fern fronts 'framed' the poop rocks more.
I tried to paint the three poop rocks into one larger rock. Now the focus was on a rock near the middle of the painting. That still looked rather like poop. Then I saw an opportunity. The big rock started to look a bit like the shape of a boat. So I dabbed on more paint to shape the a row boat with oars sitting on the beach, perhaps about to go into the water.
I added a few shapes to represent two people. Finally I felt happy with the painting. Like all my paintings, it was open to interpretation. I thought perhaps the two figures were children playing in the sunshine with out a care in the world?
Then I thought the people were adults who cared about each other chatting about their hopes and dreams. They might venture out into the water. Perhaps they were falling in love? I thought they perhaps they were developing a romantic relationship so I called the painting Romantic Summer.
The painting is a metaphor of two adults who have been through a heap of shitty situations, been stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place and then new love is blossoming and growth is taking place (symbolised by the fern fronds). I know the 'poop rocks' are still there in the underneath layers even though no-one can see them. Crap still happened in life.
But we can improvise. To change our focus. To create something different. We can make the best of a crappy situation to make something beautiful. It takes risk and it takes courage. Painting takes courage. Living with bipolar disorder takes courage. But one thing I know I can do, is to inspire others with my words and my paintings. It makes a difference to my life and to others. It turns all the crap into something beautiful. It gives me a sense of purpose which helps keeps me moving forward.
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.