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.

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Are you afraid of the dark?

Since I can remember I’ve always feared the dark. Like all fears, it’s learned and so I don’t know when it actually started. I must have slept in the dark as a baby fine without any nervousness as most probably do. I didn’t see any kind of horrors until I was at least 10 so before that I wonder where the idea that the dark was bad came from.

My family have a lot of anxieties about the dark and will say it’s stupid for a woman to even consider going out when it’s dark so maybe it stemmed from the over anxious beliefs from them. I wouldn’t even be out alone at night as a child anyway so those concerns were probably only voiced to me at a later stage. 

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I remember being so scared of the dark that for years I slept with the whole bedroom light on. Not a night light but the bedroom light. I don’t know how I managed it but I did. After a few years I decided a lamp might be better and so I had a lamp on all night. I often tried to sleep with the light off but I couldn’t turn the light off myself, I had to already be under the duvet, fully enveloped and one of my parents would turn it off. I would lie there in a panic about all the bad things that were going to happen to me in that darkness until the panic sent me to sleep. I was lie crushed up against the wall furthered away from the bed edge so I felt safe.

When I got a little older, I would sometimes be up later than my parents, if I had a  lot of homework to do or a good movie was on and just being in the living room on my own made me very anxious. When it was time to go upstairs it would take me at least take me 5 minutes to muster up the courage to turn off the TV so that there was complete silence and then luckily there was a door to upstairs so I could shut that behind me (when we got 2 cats a lock was also put on it so they couldn’t get upstairs at night). The light switch to the living room was near to the door so I was stand inside the door with my arm out to turn off the light and when I switched the light I would rush my arm through the door, slam it closed and run for my life up those stairs. The worst part was having to go back down again at any point.

I would always test myself, try and conquer my fears by making myself walk very slowly up the stairs. The door to the upstairs had a window in the top half so I could always see the living room’s darkness, which, meant I would often look behind to check for what horrible things might be staring at me. Sometimes the fear meant I couldn’t do it, I would slowly step up one of two and panic and run to the top but sometimes I did manage it. I slowly walked to the top of the stairs and nothing grabbed or killed me. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to convince me and it all happened again when I had to turn off the hall light and run to my bedroom. And don’t even think about the sometimes hours I would sit needing the bathroom and not being able to out of fear of going out into the dark hallway.

It all sounds so much when I write it out infront of me but I know that if I had to sleep over in that house again I would probably still do this same. Which then makes me think, is it the darkness that was the big issue or the place? The majority of the bad events that happened to me and my family, happening in that home so before the darkness even came, it wasn’t a place of safety and the darkness make it the horror it was at night.

One of my biggest fears was the pitch black, the initial darkness before your eyes adjust and you can see a little bit. I panicked that I was blind. So I would lie with my eyes wide open telling myself I wasn’t blind until I could see at least some of the outlines of my room. The initial panic about blindness was enough to make me have the light on at all times. Where did that fear come from? I can’t even figure that one out. I was an irrationally fearful child and it was always in moments of being alone so no one ever knew about it.

Things finally started changing when I starting sharing a bed with Jordan. I was still scared but I had someone there to make me feel safe or to tell that I need help when I was feeling frightened. While I guess in a way it could be seen as not conquering my fear because on my own I’m still scared but I have learnt to sleep in the dark. Now I can sleep on my own in dark if Jordan is simply in the house. I still ask him to turn the light off so I don’t have to find the bed in the dark but that’s more to do with me being lazy 😉

I think I’ll always have a vivid imagination but it doesn’t have to be a curse. While I wasn’t able to rid myself of the fear on my own, I don’t think there’s any harm is diluting the fear with the help of someone who makes you feel safe. Maybe one day the dark can be my friend because sometimes a lot of beautiful things can come out of the night.

The Constant Identity Crisis

Identity Disturbance

Definition:

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.

The day our lives changed forever.

For my 200th post I wanted to do something special and in unfortunate circumstances this week the perfect post fell into my lap.

On the evening of 21st of September 2012 there was a knock on our door. We had a delivery we had been waiting for all day.

I was so excited I ran down the stairs and there he was, “I’ll bring them in” and the man went to his care and brought out a cage.

He brought the cage up the stairs and placed it on our table and there they were. 3 little body all snuggled up together, they were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. One black, 2 brown, one of them with different ears.

“Wow, that’s a great cage.” the man said.

“So, do we take them out so you can have this small cage back?” I asked with nervousness, I’d never held one before.

“Yes, my daughter needs this one.”

So I opened the small cage door and reached in to try and pick one of the tiny bodies up, hoping I didn’t hurt it or hold it wrong. I took them one by one and placed them in their big new cage.

I’d done research and bought them some toys and bedding, put towels in the cage for them. It was huge in size compared to them.

We thanked the man and he left, thanking us for taking them in.

That was the day the girls came into our lives.

They spent that night in the back left hand cornered huddled together in a cardboard tube. It was the first time away from their mother and I’m sure they were frightened.

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We spent the evening just staring at them. I instantly named the dumbo rat Leia, because her ears reminded me of the trademark hairstyle of Princess Leia from Star Wars. The black one was very pretty and Jordan decided on the name Eva from Wall-e. She ended up being called Evie just because it flowed more. We were stuck with the last one, I tried to think of names from any films or TV shows that hadn’t yet been used. (That’s how I name all of my pets. I take the names from characters I love.) We’d recently seen Resident Evil and so I decided on Alice. So there it was, Leia, Evie and Alice.

We agreed to let them settle for the night and leave them be and introduce ourselves in the morning.

We were greeted by 3 little faces poking out from under one of the towels.

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Leia

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Evie

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Alice

We spent the morning trying to get used to their new names and letting them get to used to being with us. We gave them treats and let them have a run around on the sofa. They were so tiny and precious. We soon discovered their individual personalities. Leia was timid, Alice was lively and naughty and Evie was just a sweetheart.

I got them their first hammock and it was safe to say they loved it.

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They were growing at such a fast rate and we soon let them explore more. As they got bigger though they learnt how to get to the floor and disappear. With of course, Alice, being the great escape artist.

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Every day we fell more and more in love with them and it’s safe to say I’ve taken thousands of pictures of them all and they’ve been spoilt beyond belief. With so many escape stories and the ability to wee all over a double bed in 2 minutes it’s safe to say they have brought an incredible amount of love and happiness into our home. From these tiny creatures to large fluffy mischief makers.

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They’ve been through an array of different hammocks, this being their halloween one which is one of my favourites.

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Being a rat owner means living with your shoulders and chest covered in scratches from tiny claws.

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And the perfect moment for a photo is always the sleepy moments.

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And experiencing more love that you can imagine.945825_514030488676821_1471961775_n

The purpose of this post wasn’t to show you way too many pictures of my girls but to tell a story of our little family and how it came to be. This was especially for one girl. Evie. A few months ago, we noticed a small lump on her neck. Slightly concerned we took her to the vet, tests were done and as it was too small they were inconclusive but the only option was surgery.

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With Evie’s respiratory problems from a young thing I decided to wait a while to see if it grew. It did. Surgery was still an option but the risks for her were extremely high. I was certain she wouldn’t make it and so decided that the best option was for her to live out the rest of days with her sisters until we felt she was too unhappy to carry on. A few months passed and it grew and grew. Although she was still lively, she had been fighting with her sisters more and couldn’t feed herself properly as it had grown over her leg.

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And so on Monday the 21st of October, we took our sweet girl for her last vet trip. We took all 3 girls so they could see their sister one last time. The vet took her away and sedated her. I asked if we could be with her. So he brought her in when she was sedated. I stroked her face and told her I loved her. He gave her an injection and she was gone in an instant. The light had gone from her eyes. He left us with her and I gathered her up in a towel and cradled her, we both did. I kissed her ears, her nose, her tiny foot and stroked her tummy. I lay her back down on the table and allowed her sisters to see her. To know she was gone and that she hadn’t just disappeared. One last kiss on her nose and I let the vet take her. The day she arrived, she brought so much love into our lives and whether she lived 10, 15, more years it wouldn’t have been enough time with her. Her sisters are missing her terribly, they’re the complete opposite to each other and so Evie was their middle ground. We all loved her and we know our family is missing a piece now.

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The first time…

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There’s an infinite number of things we can experience and yet as humans we’re extremely repetitive. When WAS the last time you did something you’ve never done before? Maybe the more adventurous of us may be saying “every day” but I know I find safety in repetition. Not to mention, I’m scared of pretty much everything. There’s so much out there and yet our days are filled with repetitive tasks so we can eat, have homes and even continue to breath. Imagine the endless things you would do if you had all the time in the world. And you do them. Whether you have to wait until you’re 60, you should be able to experience something you have always wanted to.

We all have dreams, ambition and hopes for our lives but it’s only ourselves who put us down. Sure thing cost money and that can be a real set back but sometimes the best experiences are those that don’t cost a penny. A first relationship, first kiss, the first time you make love. Human experiences are things we have to strive for. Not having a fancy car or making a million pounds. Those things won’t be what we think about when we’re in our last days. Making memories is more important than making money. Never miss an opportunity to experience something human for the first time.

Some wonderful experiences will cost money because that’s just how our world works so don’t think that I’m saying not to have those, I just believe in the priority of those priceless moment.

Experiences aren’t always good but they shape us into who we are and hopefully we can make the good outweigh the bad.

Some times I will never forget:

Being asked if I would be someone’s girlfriend:

The nervousness and anxiety. The racing thoughts. Being way too scared to kiss him. The feeling of pressure on my chest from wanting to giggle with excitement.

When I went to my first metal gig:

The adrenaline.

Screaming at the top of my lungs as if I could as If I was releasing every bad thing that had happened to me through that sound.

The thumping of the floor going through my body and making me feel like I was shaking through and through.

The noise, the darkness and the flash of coloured lights.

My arms reaching for the ceiling and aching from holding them up for 2 hours.

When my hand was held for the first time:

Pretending I didn’t notice because I wasn’t sure how to react.

Trying to act all nonchalant and not show my anxiety.

The feeling of safety and love through the hand.

A lump in my throat, not being sure what to say.

Seeing Phantom of the Opera in the Theatre:

Truly experience my love for music and singing right before my eyes.

Wanting to save the characters from their pain.

Crying at the emotions I had experienced and had yet to fully understand.

The sense of rejection and pain and love all at once.

The moment I found my emotional outlet.

My first kiss:

Initiated by me.

Quick and nervous.

Thinking “oh great, it happened, that was so stupid, I should have waited until we were at least not walking through a graveyard.”

Knowing it was going to happen again.

My first break up:

Feeling a huge lump in throat as if I was choking.

Panic that resulted in not being able to eat or hold any food down.

Losing an unhealthy amount of weight in a short amount of time.

Lying on my bed, feeling weak and small, knowing I was sick.

Breaking down at the realisation of mental health problems.

Crying out for help in the form of self harm, showing my parents for the first time that this was what I did to cope with pain.

Sitting in a hospital room.

Wanting him back.

Restarting that relationship:

Going out in the dark in the pouring rain.

Not knowing what to say other than I was sorry.

Just wanting to hold him but not wanting to hurt him any more.

Being kissed and letting everything go.

Feeling like the life had been put back into me.

I remember his smile that night.

Reading a Chuck Palahniuk book for the first time:

It was November and I had been sent the book as an early Christmas present.

I sat in one spot for 6 hours and read the whole thing.

I felt unusual and nothing felt real.

I hadn’t eaten and I wasn’t sure if I could quite yet.

I didn’t feel in my own body.

Putting the book down after the last page and saying “What the fuck?”

Lying there for a while looking at the ceiling as if I was asking for some kind of answer to what I had just read.

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I’m sure there are more but it’s these that really stick in my head. It’ll be those things I remember when I’m old and grey. These experiences are what have shaped who I am today and I hope for many more that will continue to shape and change me.

So, go outside and experience something interesting. Something boring. Something new. Something incredible.