“Clara had been working on her book for 3 years. She alternated between feeling that it was an important book and could help people or that it was self-indulgent and too morose even though she always tried to bring the troubling bits around to something positive. Did anybody really want to read about a woman who was bipolar and doing her best to make it through her days in a meaningful way? Could it help people? Was it worth doing? Clara wrote steadily for the first 100+ pages but then hit a brick wall and fell out of the book. She was getting ready to reread what she had written and decide finally if this book has merit or should be shelved. The trouble was that shelving the book felt like shelving her life and that she couldn’t do. How could she decide? She had started numerous books dealing with this same issue, all of which she had quit at some point. Finally it was time to make a decision. If only her whole life wasn’t on the line. What do you do when you quit the book that is about your life? How do you live onward after that? Or do you? Yes, she would, she always would. That was a decision she had made long ago. Perhaps if she was going to live this life it warranted finishing the book even if no one but her ever read it. To finish was key to her well-being. Perhaps she had made her decision. If only she could be certain.”
My story runs parallel to Clara’s except I have worked on my book for less than a year and tabled it months ago. After months of writing day after day and finishing well over 100 pages I came to feel that writing about being bipolar and my bipolar life and days made things in my real life much harder. It was Bipolar squared, living it and writing about it meant that I was seldom ever out of it. Whoa. This I didn’t need, and so I put it aside.
But it keeps surfacing. It came to me today in therapy when my lovely therapist pointed out that we can start one thing but the journey we are on can take us past it on into something else that she was probably right. I am with the Ladies now, and they speak to me and for me. They are teaching me and helping me stay centered, that golden place between the poles where you are neither manic nor depressed. It is a place that one hopes for and strives for and struggles to find betwixt and between sliding from one pole to the other. I have found it with the Ladies and as long as I keep drawing and painting and writing their stories I can experience some precious equilibrium. I want to hold fast to this, but still thoughts of my bipolar book resurface and make me uncertain.
I was more depressed and down when I was writing the bipolar book and I won’t readily return there, especially as we approach the holidays which can play havoc with my emotional state, but I feel that my experience as a woman with bipolar disorder, one who strives to maintain self-care and always finds a way back up and out, one who has grown past years of feeling suicidal and who is firmly planted on the side of living no matter how much she struggles, well, I think there is merit in this, I think I could help people with my story, but how to help other people without sinking my own ship? Therein lies the rub.
Enter the Ladies. Their stories hold my own story + their own. There are bits and pieces of me in most of the Ladies stories, even invisibly in many wherein my story holds the Lady’s story up from underneath. Is it possible to tell my story in a way that can help others through the Ladies? I think that is what I am coming to. And it came to me today during therapy that I would like to write a book about becoming a serious artist in my sixties and how we can all, any of us, be an artist, we all are artists + The 100 Ladies Project somehow running parallel with the art book side of things. This just came today and I am letting it bubble under the surface. I am not yet ready to try to make a book of these lovely Ladies who come bearing gifts as each of them surfaces under my pen and paint brush, I am just letting them be born, letting them speak to me through their stories which surface as they do, often parallel to my own feelings and being, though some not at all. One of them was a Roller Derby Queen for example, I am surely not. They each come with their own unique stories and for the most part surprise and tickle me, sometimes humble me, maybe make me sad for them, but mostly make me feel jubilant inside. To see a Lady surface from the first black lines on the page through the watercoloring to the story itself is an amazing process. I am tickled and delighted every time even when it touches down on something seemingly hard or sad because the creation of the Lady is a transformative process. They transform my life and story through telling their own. They are magic.
And so I continue on. There is a wonderful quote by a writer whose name escapes me (I will insert it here if I remember) “I don’t know what I think till I see what I say.” and that is true of the writing of this blog post. I think I have my answer. I will reread the manuscript to mine for the gold therein and use those bits and parts for Ladies stories. That is how I use my life to heal myself, and use my story to help heal others. It is an alchemical process. My life + The Lady’s story = Healing for myself and those reading the stories. And each wonky, somewhat lopsided, imperfect Lady tenderly sits with her story and offers it to the world. We work together, the Ladies and I. We will work together to write this new book. The time for writing it has not yet come. For now I simply draw and paint and write stories each day. One day I will feel full and ready to spill onto the page in a whole new way. Then the Ladies and I will be a team birthing the book. Until then, I make art and let it make me whole.
This is the bipolar writer’s dilemma, how to do the work and be whole and well in the process. I am coming to an answer and the answer is we never do it alone, nor do we force it, we let it grow and mature in it’s own time. One day a Lady will come to me and tell me that it is time to write this book. That day has not yet come and I don’t know when it will. Until then a black pen, watercolors, and my little sketchbook will accompany me through the days and all will be well. I am in good company with the Ladies. They will see me through.