Why did I stop writing? Why did I start to paint? A bipolar quandary…

WomanWindowVenusBlog

Yes, I write this blog.

What I am referring to is that for most of my adult life I could write a book a year. Now the point is not whether something got published or not, the point is that I could write the books, complete them. Fiction. Non-fiction. I wrote 12 novels that didn’t get published, most of them probably shouldn’t have been anyway, but if I had had all of the options open to writers today to self-publish some of them would have been published.

As an aside I will tell you that something very curious, and more than a little unnerving, occurred with 3 of the novels. One was about an old woman who lived alone with her birds, and, at the end of her life, when she knew she was dying, and her birds were her great loves, especially one that always sat on her shoulder, she¬†worried about what would happen to them when she died. She burned the house down and died with her birds. Now this is disturbing to say the least, but I was only in my 40’s at the time, I was married and raising and homeschooling 3 children, I had nary a bird in the house, and I never imagined that I would ever live alone unless or until, reaching old age, my husband passed before me.

While it is not the same last year my house burned down and 4 of my parrots died in the fire. I live alone with my animals, my dearest loves, and while I would certainly never do what Miss Violet did, (The novel was called, The Birdwoman, Miss Violet Hill.) there are enough parallels between the novel and my life today (A great many circumstances and details are the same, and I wrote it 20 years before living this way.) that it has been more than a tad unsettling. Well, it’s eery.

I wrote another novel called The Threshold Of Pain. My eldest daughter, now 38, read it when she was in college. It disturbed her terribly because it was a rather haunting and peculiar novel and ended in a suicide. (These were not especially good years for me mentally and I wrote a lot about suicide. It was more than a decade before I would be diagnosed as bipolar.) What I was examining in that novel is what the threshold of pain is for different people. We look at the Jews who went through the holocaust and though they survived they went through unspeakable horrors, many lost everyone they loved, but somehow were able to move forward and lead a productive life into old age. Not that it was easy by any stretch, but they were survivors. Then we look at someone who, for all intents and purposes, is healthy, happy, has everything anyone could hope for, and they kill themselves. It seems to make no sense. The thing is that the threshold of pain is different for everyone and it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve been through, or what you seem to have from the outside looking in, no one can know, or understand, when a person takes their life why it happened.

Now the strange thing is that when I wrote this I was still married, and I thought happily, had my children at home whom I adored, but I wrote a novel about two people who for very specific reasons could not meet in person. Throughout the whole book a very elaborate and detailed love affair went on for some time between the two including incredible gourmet meals, several courses long, that he cooked and had delivered to her and they ate together, over the phone. They watched t.v. together, listened to music together, fell asleep together, and much more. Finally, on the eve of their meeting, when both are so excited to meet — and I won’t list all of the details because it is very dramatic and heartbreaking and I think about rewriting it now that the world is so different, at that time there was no internet — or I didn’t have it — no cell phones, no way to communicate except the “old fashioned” phones — one of them dies and the other one, who inherits everything the dead lover had, moves into the house of their beloved, goes mad, and commits suicide in a rather bizarre manner.

Fast forward 10 years later. My marriage had ended, I lived alone, I had had a couple of brief and unsuccessful relationships and pretty much ruled out ever having another one, and I was now online with a very large and successful online community that lasted several years. Toward the end of that website community I met someone online. We connected powerfully, immediately. Because of her job and where she was she couldn’t come to me, and by then my agoraphobia was growing stronger and I barely left the house, but for almost 5 years we had an extraordinary relationship. We cooked and ate together on the phone. She would get in her car and “take me with her.” We watched tv together, listened to music together, and talked into the wee small hours of the night and fell asleep on the phone together. I knew she was my soulmate. Just as I was going to make the leap and drive to her so that we could finally meet in person she had to leave the country for work. To this day, several years later, I have never heard from her again save one phone call and a couple of emails early on. Due to the nature of her work she could have died but no one would have contacted me. I honestly don’t know if she is alive or dead but she was a person with so much integrity that even had she decided she no longer wanted to be in a relationship she would have let me know. I was so devastated, unable to believe it could happen, I had planned to spend the rest of my life with her, and she vanished, as if in thin air. I contemplated suicide more than once, but I am past those years. I was finally diagnosed as bipolar and medicated and thank God suicide, in my heart and mind, was now off of the table. But one day I thought back to that novel and a chill went down my spine. I had come so close to writing our story 10 years earlier that it frightened me. I started becoming afraid to write. And the thing is, I only very recently put the two together.

The other novel that was so prescient it was frightening I will not discuss, it is too personal, but the point is when you write novels that come to pass in a fashion that is so similar, so many years after you wrote them, well, I began to be afraid I would write my way into things I’d rather not live my way into.

By the early 2000’s I was still writing for magazines but I had stopped writing books. And through that decade I started writing less and less. I began blogging and I thank God for that because while it certainly is not literature it has kept me writing. And then, 2 years ago, I started to draw and paint. It saved me then through a long period of very deep depression. The next year, last year, my house burned down. My art saved me through the worst year of my life. In the last months my painting has changed so dramatically, and without, at first, me even realizing why it was happening, my beloved “100 Ladies” (You can see this art as prints and on many products at Society 6.) faded from view and I started doing work that startled me, scared me, and it has kept getting more and more intense, and then I started the painting that you see above, that you have seen in several recent blog entries, and it has taken me on a journey I could never have imagined. And, all of a sudden, I want to write again. A real book. A novel.

The painting you see above, “The Woman In The Window” has led me into a novel. Now writing and painting are working hand in hand. I absolutely believe I could not have come to the place of beginning to write again were it not for my beginning to paint, like this, like what you see above. It is an extremely intense process. It is very deep for me. It is splitting my insides open and letting something flow out of me that was pent up for too long, something that wouldn’t allow healing, secret terrors, hidden nightmares, a pain-filled life.

But something else worries me and if any of you out there reading this are bipolar writers and/or artists I would really like to hear from you about this. I have wondered, and worried, that the other factor in my writing slipping away was the medication that made me stop wanting to kill myself. And I have been on medication and off and trust me, for me, on is better. Were I not to take medication for my bipolar disorder I’m not certain how long I might remain on the planet. Believe me, I don’t want to ever slide back to that place, and I don’t think I ever would. I simply would not do that to my children. But I have written seriously since I was 9 years old, when writing saved me during the terrible sexual abuse that went from the time I was 4 until I was 18. Writing always saved me. Writing kept me going through wanting to kill myself as an adult, and teaching journal writing classes for 40 years gave me a way to help myself and to teach others that writing is a tool that can save lives. But after journalling since I was 9 years old, in January of 2010, just after my mother died and when I moved into this house, I destroyed all of my journals, well over 300 volumes. I did it because they were so full of pain, the processing of a life of abuse, my therapeutic handbook, I came to feel that I would not want something to happen to me and my children ever read them. They did not have to read that. And then, between the destroying of my journals and all the time I spent blogging — and I have had several other blogs than this one — I stopped journalling entirely. I have only very recently, since I started painting seriously, begun to journal again last fall.

Why did I stop writing? Why did I start to paint? Was it because I was terrified that some part of me could see the future, that it came through in my writing, and none of it was good news? Or was it because being bipolar, and finally medicated, the medications have taken from me the one thing that sustained my life? I have begun to write again, but will I finish? Going without the medication is not an option, but what will losing my writing mean? I honestly don’t even want to think about that. It has been terribly painful for many years now. If I can’t start writing books again I know that the despair will grow, and I’m not certain how I will be able to cope with that. It is the thing bipolar, and other writers and artists with mental illnesses, worry about, and many who chose not to be medicated took their lives. I will not go there, but writing has been my partner in life. It is a quandary, and I am simply at a loss.

That I am finally beginning to look at this and trying to resolve it is good. And I want answers. I really want to hear from you if you have been or are going through this. I really want to know.

Until then I will keep painting. I will begin my novel. I will take my medication. I will pray with my whole being that all of it can come together. Please hold me in your thoughts and prayers. I must find my way.

MaitriSz4.4.16.09

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Comments

  1. While medication may reduce some of the emotional highs and lows that can produce good writing, it hasn’t stopped me from revisiting writing poetry (something I hadn’t done in earnest since high school). Actually I think my poetry is better now because I can focus easier; when I’m hypomanic or manic my writing is choppy and clunky. That is at least what I found out after WINS anyway, as in I was hypomanic during that time frame and while I thought I could produce a whole series of books, my writing was rather stilted. Maybe with the medication you can now draw deeper from your experience and craft your writing with careful forethought. That’s not to say you didn’t do it before, but I found with keeping a more even regulation of emotion helps me actually create better works.

  2. Pamela Whitt says:

    I’m approaching 60 in April- recently disabled and in process of making art my new occupation. We share many catastophic experiences – including early childhood sexual abuse, mental illness, child rearing etc. With this background in place, let me say the main issue for me- all my life- is the many many faces of fear I’ve encountered inside and outside my being.
    Don’t let fear stop you dear one. Move forward one step at a time and use all the skills you’ve developed during your amazing journey. Trust yourself and turn your fear into the curiosity that fuels all creativity
    be brave and your writing will reflect your soul…as it always has!

    • Thank you so much Pamela honey, your post meant a lot to me and I appreciate the encouragement, love and support more than I can say. Bless you for your kindness…. <3

  3. we write because NOT writing is painful. not writing is EXILE.
    come back to yourself, the pen is mighty, the soul is willing. your writing is a gift you give the world.
    unzip your locked place, and let the writing pour forth! whether it becomes a book, a blog, a poem, a story,
    an essay, it’s all good maitri!

    xo
    ka

  4. Darling Sister Ka <3

    Thank you so much honey, this means a lot especially coming from you. I will surely keep on keeping on. I know you know that old quote and I forget who said it, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is open a vein and bleed.” The vein is open… <3

    Love,

    M.

  5. The vein is open in this post, Maitri, and the heart is open in those who read it. I’m reminded of something Sam Keen wrote years ago: “To be healed we turn to our brokenness.”

    • Oh sweet Cathryn, thank you, and the vein is indeed open. And thank you so much for reminding me of Sam Keen, I always loved him, and I absolutely believe that what you say, and what he wrote, is true. I find myself gravitating in my life toward those who are willing to be vulnerable and allow us to see their brokenness because as they do we also see their healing journey and I think we all grow stronger together, weaving our open hearts together to form a strong tapestry of loving souls who will make it with their kindreds.

      And you, my love, are surely a kindred and sister to me. I love you sweet Cathryn… <3

  6. Maitri,
    I was wondering (to myself) if reflecting about “writing” and “art” is simply focusing on two forms of creativity, among many. The balance shifts, we reclaim previous gifts, and discover new mediums, as we open up to them.

    The vein is definitely open, as Cathryn writes, for whatever comes forth. Your gifts, warmth, and willingness to write vulnerably about your journey are an inspiration to me.

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