Paint the Pain Away

Once I was fired from my job in Raleigh in 2004 and was in the height of mania, I had an unusual reaction. All I wanted to do was paint. It wasn’t merely a therapeutic exercise or escape, it was a visceral need to purge what was crying to get out. I think I completed something like twelve paintings in two weeks. They weren’t depressing wallow-filled paintings but lively, colorful ones, almost happy looking. But when you looked a bit closer, what seemed lively was chaotic and frenzied.

There was desperation in the brushwork, a cry for help in the brashness of the hues that I never noticed until years later. While I thought painting was my “happy place” it turns out that is was my attempt to purge my turmoil, to release the valve on the pressure cooker inside me.

When I was the most manic I painted A LOT.  Well, they do say the most inspired artists are the crazy ones, right? There has to be some scientific backing to this in the study of the brain. Something about neural pathways and synapse firing or something? I don’t know. I guess I understand this at least on an intuitive level. I’ve had a foot in both worlds. And there is a real danger here, especially as an artist.

After I hit the wall on that cold night in 2006 I began to slowly claw my way back into reality. I found a doctor that I didn’t like. She was a little too Tough Love for my taste but I knew she would pull me out of my emotional gutter. Plus, I needed the kick in the ass she gave me. After months of experimentation we arrived at a drug cocktail that kept me more or less stable.

Later on when I had lost my creative spark I never knew whether it was the drugs themselves weighing me down or if it was only “crazy me” that was the artist. Either way, it was same result. I could only make good art when I was manic. And on top of that, being manic was fun, until it wasn’t. But all that creative energy, the ideas and colors and motion and urgency are the siren’s call of drug-ditching. Have you ever wondered why a perfectly well-off, highly-functioning individual with bipolar disorder would suddenly go off their meds? Well, I can only speak for myself when I tell you… it feels good. Drugs suck. Drugs really, really suck when you are an artist.

When I look back, for better or worse, those were the most creatively inspired years of my life. I knew I could never go there again and I mourned the loss. A part of me became dormant and I missed it. A piece of my identity was gone (or in regression, like a sneaky cancer) But that cancerous identity had value. It was a living breathing force. Funny, smart, creative. I wanted to be those things again but I knew the cost was too high. So sadly I shelved that part of me. Giving away a piece of myself was painful, and pretty damn hard.

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