I had a therapy session last week for PTSD. When I first started therapy, my emotions were shut down and I talked about trauma like I was a news reporter - factual without emotion. But last time I cried and cried.
I said, "I'm such a failure - failed in my career, can't work full-time, divorced, hardly see my son, own practically nothing."
The psychologist replied, "You're not a failure. You have bipolar disorder and trauma which has made things very difficult for you. You've been doing the best you can."
After the therapy session, I had vivid dreams and sleep hallucinations. The hallucinations are like intense dreams but I'm partly awake and have strong sensory sensations - they can be terrifying. Some of the imagery was metaphor of carrying a heavy load that threatened to throw me off a cliff. I haven't worked out how to let go of the heavy burden. But painting and writing helps me process things and I've come a long way since I was hospitalised and diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago at the age of 42, even though I've had symptoms since my late teens.
The day after the therapy session, I decided to do a painting. I hadn't painted in weeks because I struggled to do anything with an episode of depression. I wanted to try paint a bird. I'd only done a few digital paintings of birds in the past. I only recently picked up paint brushes after not having painted for many years.
I chose more muted colours than usual and used a reference photo of a Tui I took when I went for a walk around the botanical gardens. Painting is relaxing for me - quite meditative. I found it calming when my mind was manic and it has helped me process traumatic experiences on my own while I was waiting a long time to see a trauma psychologist.
I think the Tui looks a bit sad - mainly its eye. Its shoulders are hunched like it's carrying a heavy load. I painted it in autumn colours even though it's a summer composition. It's facing away from the viewer. I called it Mixed Seasons because it's like a mixture of seasons, much like mixed moods with bipolar. My paintings reflect my moods and emotions, even if I shut off my emotions. That's why I've found painting and writing to be therapeutic - it has expressed how I've felt, even if I've just splattered paint on paper or scribbled with a pen or typed a few paragraphs.
This Tui might be sad at times, but this Tui will find her voice to sing again.
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.