Art, Bipolarity, and the Spectrum of Emotions

Let's talk about art and mental health...

Man in greyscale being clinged to by demons in black and white with a colorful superhero breaking out of his head into a background of rainbows

I think there are two misconceptions about how Bipolar Disorder works... even among those of us who live with it. Part of that is because psychology is an ever expanding science being studied by the very thing that seeks to study it and part is because living with it is weird.

Misconception 1: Sad-Sloth vs Crack Puppy

It's easy to blame it on the term "Manic Depression." I mean, that's a horrible name for it... but also not. It's not inaccurate, just incomplete.

For me, the depression side is pretty much what people think it is. This heavy, powerful weight that drags everything down and makes the world dreary and painful. It is an exhausting, colorless existence where hope feels meaningless because everything is terrible...

Mania is different than what most people think it is. Too be fair, I have BPD Type 2, which means I don't experience a full manic state. I have what is called hypomanic states.

I think a lot of people believe mania is feeling like you're on powerful stimulants. It can feel like that, but it doesn't always.

For me, a hypomanic state cranks everything up to 11. Things feel stronger—bigger.

Sometimes, that's awesome. Feeling good feels really good. But, the flip side is also true. Feeling bad feels really bad. If something is funny, I can't stop laughing. If something is enjoyable, it is orgasmic. If something is a minor inconvenience...


Let's Sum Up

So, to make a long story short, here is how I experience these states:

  • The word feels thick and foggy.
  • Emotions are muddled and heavy.
  • Energy is nonexistent. Motivation is nigh impossible.
  • The world feels like it is made of lightning.
  • Emotions are overwhelmingly powerful.
  • Energy is endless. Harness people in manic states to solve the energy crisis.

Misconception 2: Flipping a Switch

The second misconception is that people with BPD have a switch that flips between the two modes, and that's just now how it works... for me...

For me, I live on a spectrum... it's a pendulum I'm always swinging on with a bit of a pause at each end that lasts a couple of weeks. I hope that makes sense...

Probably not.

Here, I made an illustration:

Now that we've made that clear, let's talk about how that interacts with another apsect of my mental health: my Generalized Anxiety Disorder!

This Week's Emo Spiral

In addition to all the endless fun of BPD2, I also get a dose of sexy anxiety.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder means that I have, "a mental condition characterized by excessive or unrealistic anxiety about two or more aspects of life (work, social relationships, financial matters, etc.), accompanied by symptoms such as increased muscle tension, impaired concentration, and insomnia."

Now, there's a whole lot of things that I get anxious about, but one of the biggest is my intense, overwhelming need to be considred useful and productive. If I'm not meeting some completely arbitrary and immeasurable metric of value generation inside my own head, my jerk-brain will start to tell me it is because I am a useless piece of shit.

Lucky me, I also get the added bonus of "intrusive thoughts." This is when ideas pop into my head I don't want to think. I can't stop it from coming and I usually don't want to hear what it is saying. So, when my jerk-brain decides I'm useless, it feels perfectly fine with letting me know.

This is independent of my BPD2. So, I can get this in either state. Same meal, different flavor:

When I'm depressed, the intrusive thoughts take on a hopeless, heavy flavor. "Of course you don't want to do anything. You're a useless piece of shit. You should just fucking die."

When I'm hypomanic, the intrusive thoughts take on an angry, violent flavor. "Of course you fuck everything up. You're a useless piece of shit. You should just fucking die."

Either way, that's a lot of self-loathing and self-violence inside one brain. It can be... a lot.

Fortunately, I've found a semi-decent way of helping allieviate that voice.

I draw.

Art Therapy

For me, drawing is a form of meditation. There is a focus to it that can blank out my mind and choke off all thoughts—intrusive or beckoned. It gives me an emptiness I need and lets me sort and organize my emotions. It can put an end to a serious dark spiral of self-loathing and give me a clarity that lets me take a bit of control back from my own mind.

Turns out, there are healthy coping mechanisms.

And that's what I've been doing this week. Because this week has been a hard one on my mind. The jerk-brain is at full force and relentless. So, I've spent a lot more time this week drawing and trying to make things. Because that helps things feel more tolerable.

As of right now, I'm actually feeling a better. It is hard to be in a dark place when the sun comes out and the temperature goes up. I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

I know more dark days are out there. I'll be back in the darkest parts of the emo-spiral eventually. But, at least I've learned how to use a tool to make it a little easier to get through. Because, if you can get through the dark days, it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the sunny ones.

Until next week: take care of yourself, stay hydrated, and ignore the jerk-brain.

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