Regarding my Mental Health and Art- Guest post by Mike

I feel like that at some point I was a separate entity to my mental illness and I find it impossible to figure out where the two merged into just mental illness. Picasso said something about art being like a diary, and I look at my art work over the last ten years and I can see where my BPD and OCD have pushed out the creativity and the obsession has taken over, documentation of various breakdowns and hallucination and the huge gaps where I haven’t made any work because I’ve been too depressed.

The thing about art is that it is incredibly cathartic but it can become a problem. For my university degree I wrote a thesis on exposure and response prevention therapy and a tenuous link to art and in conjunction with this I produced over 400 bird paintings. Just to be clear, 400 bird paintings is a ridiculous amount of paintings to produce. They still clog boxes and boxes in my old room in my parent’s house. It really seemed like a good idea at the time and I guess it proved a point, the point that art is a true reflection of the person’s personality. But what if that person has a personality disorder I ask myself. Well that’s why I haven’t painted properly for months. Painting rejects me. I feel rejected by it. It triggers self-harm when it goes wrong and “wrong” means ‘not exactly as my brain imagines the final image’. When I can’t paint, I write too. Which I was about to say is rubbish. That’s because writing rejects me. I try to create a finished product every time, which isn’t possible and isn’t how writing works. I want it done quickly because I am addicted to the sense of achievement, but like all addictions the sense of achievement is such a fleeting high that it is gone again moments later. So I buy more art materials. Until I have no money. Like a drug I want more and more until I have a pile of fucking materials and no inspiration. Inspiration in this sense is motivation to get to the illusive sense of achievement. The emptiness is always difficult to fill. I guess that is my point.

The problem with creating is that it takes time and patience. And patience is something that is missing in me these days. I don’t know if it is medication related or BPD, but the lack of patience is so hard to bypass. My patience has lessened and lessened to the point that in my initial mark making on a painting I already feel determined that it is a failure. Is it possible to be determined to fail? Of course it is. Even when you are desperate to move forward and produce something, like breathing with a rotten lung, you can’t seem to get to the place you need. Even writing this post I am determined that it will be terrible, just like the paintings I can’t seem to be happy with, like the books of poetry and novels I don’t finish, just like the relationships with all aspects of my work that are full of rejection and that emotional void.


The Constant Identity Crisis

Identity Disturbance


Identity Disturbance – A psychological term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view

Who Are You Today?

Identity disturbances involve an illogical or incoherent, inconsistent pattern of thoughts and feelings which go beyond logical pessimism, low self-image or a negative outlook. People with an Identity Disturbance may frequently speak, think or act in ways which are contradictory, even to themselves. They may think their fabulous one day, and think nothing of themselves the next. Their actions or thoughts may flip from self-serving into self-effacing, or from healthy choices into self-destructive patterns for no apparent reason. They may excel in one activity and appear incompetent in another, or oscillate seasonally from energetic and enthusiastic to lethargic and withdrawn.

This arises partly because positive and negative thought patterns are not always based on facts. The human mind has an ability to simplify the complexity of the world with quick, emotional judgments about what we consider good and bad, desirable and undesirable. However, if a person’s emotional thoughts are not backed up by rational fact-based thoughts, this emotional “shorthand” can result in erroneous black and white thinking – known as splitting – which when applied to the self can lead to an inaccurate self-perception.
People who suffer from Personality Disorders are sometimes prone to think more emotionally than logically. This can lead to extreme emotional highs and lows in response to the natural ebb and flow of life’s circumstances, which can lead to make unsubstantiated, grandiose claims of superiority one day and self-condemning statements of worthlessness the next.

In a 2000 study of patients with identity disturbances, Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, and Drew Westen identified four types of identity disturbance:

  1. Role absorption (in which patients tend to define themselves in terms of a single role or cause),
  2. Painful incoherence (a subjective sense of lack of coherence),
  3. Inconsistency (in thought, feeling, and behaviour),
  4. Lack of commitment (e.g., to jobs or values).

The researchers concluded that identity disturbance distinguishes patients with borderline personality disorder from other psychiatric patients and that it occurs in patients with BPD whether or not they have a history of being abused.

Source: Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder: An Empirical Investigation by Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, A.B., and Drew Westen, Ph.D.

Sorry for the long explanation but I felt it was necessary. I wanted to explain what this looks like in real life.

I define myself by what my current infatuation is. Whether it be writing, a TV series or a celebrity. This definition makes me feel secure. To be able to label myself in a category with others makes me feel included and gives me a sense of being somebody.

It’s almost impossible for me to be entwined with more than one label at once because they can often clash. For example if I’m having a period of wanting to look feminine and ordinary then it can’t overlap with my tattoos and piercings. They have different personas that come out when I feel more of a want for one of them. And of course for some they can easily go together but for me, it’s about fitting one stereotype at a time. A crossover means I don’t fit in with either group. I’m glad for the personas that can go together because it allows me to feel comfortable being a few things at once and enjoying a few hobbies and ideas all together.

In the end I like all the things involved. I wouldn’t be something I wouldn’t want to be, it’s about things that socially don’t fit together and feeling uncomfortable trying to combine them. It’s about being liked.

It happens with values too. While the values themselves don’t disappear they come and go as my main goal. I may spend a whole month obsessing over animal rights and then after that you may see one post about it for a whole year. And in that time I’ll be engrossed in another campaign.

For me, it’s like turning up at a metal gig in a flowing flowery dress. While I love both, It’d just feel out of place.

I’m not quite sure how to have a stable identity because we all act a certain way around different groups of people and I especially notice is almost instantly. If I’ve just been at a family event I act like an adult, not because I have to but It just happens naturally, when I visit my parents then I automatically change myself into parent mode, I notice the change from relaxed to instantly aware and cautious. As soon as I walk through the front door from either of these instances I turn into child, I may run up the stairs and go and sit on Jordan’s lap and have a cuddle. It’s the ultimate comfort. We talk to each other in silly voices, joke around all the time and while I take on the role of parent at times it’s laid back parent. I do appreciate being able to be adult at times when with family as I feel respected but I am cautious not to slip in child mode so I’m not perceived as odd or laughed at. If I were alone I don’t even know how I would be. I’d probably be a complete mess of confusion. Not knowing how to act, dress or what to do. It’s the people around me that help me to stay stable even within many identities.

I love the seriousness of putting on an elegant dress and having natural make-up and the fun of wearing an Nightwish T shirt with jeans, black lipstick and too many piercings. It’s the ultimate contrast but I enjoy both, I never seem to see anyone who has both styles. Most people seem to have a style in what they like to wear, what kind of hobbies they may like but mine seem to contrast so much. I often wonder why people are stuck in one place. It seems so boring just being one person.