Under the Untamed Sky  

Today the sky isn’t how I need it to be

or

Is it I can’t quite look up?

 

Some days don’t go as planned.

Dark clouds surround, cloak

and I displace the beauty around and

inside of me.

I wander through the fog,

stumbling over dissatisfaction, melancholy, apathy, regrets.

But today after rolling thoughts

I opened up a hue discarded

and decided my story is still mine to determine the colour

always….

 

My brush blooms untamed across the canvas,

like skies in a magnificent awakening upheaval

and I witness beauty unfolding, an adventure I didn’t foresee.

The Temptation to Dream anything!

Unapologetic

Love,

Achievement

And the mistakes of trying

all at my hands…

 

This moment is an effortless as the sun is to rise.

with vision, purpose

And a blank canvas world in front of me.

 

I have been told at many stages in my life.

that I had my head in the clouds

Now, I know those words are not powerless

but fearless

because I did not fear dreaming, even when broken.

 

I will rise,

to paint the sky in splendid hues

on days I can’t gaze up

on days I hang my head

the colours are before me

and the art of creating pushes me through the fog like sunlight through darkness

removes my “can’t” in tones of beauty

not perfect

but beautiful because I tried even when I assumed I couldn’t

Mine.

Imperfectly mine….

 

freely I choose my pallet

Of this one life

Under the untamed sky

 

 

 

 

Strength in Surrendering  

The storms will come, the rain will fall

and I will continue…

I will walk through, not run to shelter,

as the wind strikes

and the storm catches its breath.

Some days, finding my way sheepishly through with the weight of the rain.

Other days, I walk with the confidence of a wolf after its prey captured.

But most of all, I look up in adoration,

I am still here.

Alive in every moment, living a truth that set me free to continue.

 

There came a point a few seasons back,

when lightning illuminated, and I understood.

In that flash, it was not enough to say I survived.

I had to live…

To stop waiting for clear sky days,

Because waiting meant I was not carrying forward

How much living could I do behind doors?

In daydreams never experienced?

So, I opened up to the forecasts within

Touching the sky with my eyes, spirit.

 

 

Looking up, I understand the golden complexities of life….

And know I must

surrender to live and not live to surrender.

 

Today my heartbeat like thunder and rattled me to the essence

Every time I endure, a new strength is created,

A strength formed by standing on the shoulders of all those that have thrived survived….

 

Now open the door, step through the storms.

it’s your moment to touch the sky…

 

 

 

 

 

One Step At A Time

Oh, my dear ones,

When you look down

Find something to look at

Even when raindrops form in your eyes and make puddles

Splash in them triumphantly because you are alive!

Oh, I know your battles

I look down too

Some days I can’t bear to look the world in the eyes

Today I look down

to the kind shoes I had as a teen

When illness had not reached my bones

And I smile

Stick, stones and names didn’t break me

I didn’t break me….

And I look up

Willing, able to fight for my life

Because I belong here

As do you

Oh, my dear warriors

Even when you look down know you are on the battle ground

Pushing forward

Conquering your battles one step at a time

 

Stigma to Success – My experience with Electroconvulsive Therapy

In 2016, I displayed this artwork at an art show. During the showing, someone came up and asked what this piece was about. Typically, I didn’t stay at shows because I dreaded answering questions about my mental health. My art was my therapy, so while it was an open book, I was not. In the past when asked questions, I would panic, followed by an anxiety attack and a quick exit, but I found the calm, the courage and spoke up.

“In 2015, I was in the hospital suffering from severe bipolar depression and received ECT. I drew this after one of the sessions. ”

“What is ECT” they asked.

I replied in an easy way, “shock therapy”.

They looked at my art, then at back to me.

“Really? I would have never guessed you had shock therapy.”

At first, I was happy, smiled and said “thank you” because all I was thinking is “well that’s good, they don’t think I look crazy”. But as I left them and the show, I felt deflated. I was my own stigma and I was perpetuating stigma by not speaking up. I was better, healing more and more each day, so why the shame?

I kept reeling over in my mind what does it look like?

To my knowledge, I had met no one healed from ECT, so during that art gallery conversation, I thought, great I don’t look like Jack Nicklinson in one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Before my breakdown, I avoided the topic of mental illness in the person and left it to my creating, but five plus years of in-patient to out-patient had taught me a life-changing lesson; with mental illness, secrets are damaging, even deadly.

After that night at the gallery, I decided I needed to bring a voice to this treatment and to my journey to wellness. I began to write about my experiences and thought, “if I can’t yet speak my whole truth, I’ll write it and that’s a step forward”.

My journey to ECT began many years before the treatment when I formed into Charlton Hospital psychiatric unit. My breakdown happened November 15th 2009 after a day of work and cooking dinner. I was frail, mascara dripping down my gaunt face into my red lipstick. I had no want to continue living and the facade I wore for most of my life no longer existed.

After seventeen days, they released me, stable but still chronically depressed, so from there I had a referral to west 5th for more extensive treatment.

In 2010, I saw my first doctor and nurse at the West 5th campus. But Even with all the efforts and care from staff, I cycled from in-patient to out-patient, different doctors, different treatments, all the while trying to keep my hope alive.

In 2015, after years of struggles, the in-patient doctor suggested ECT. I thought, Well, this is the end of me; they can’t do anymore so they are shocking my brain”.

This illness I felt had taken everything. I felt broken, a shell of what I once was, so what was the worst that could happen? Five plus years of other treatments had failed and my hope of recovering was looking non existent.

My doctor explained the benefits and asked me to watch a Ted Talk by the renowned surgeon and writer Sherwin Nuland who underwent the treatment to get his life back. I watched the talk, mulled over the facts and with this new knowledge, I agreed to the treatment.

In my hospital room, I closed my eyes thinking of the ECT I would receive the next morning but all I could think of was the Hollywood portrayals of the treatment and panicked. I stayed quiet because who would calm my fears? Who in the hospital had this treatment to tell me it would be okay? I needed someone who lived through this to say “I made it through, so can you”. The nurses and doctors were amazing, but seeing is believing and I had ever met a healed ECT patient.

I had sixteen bilateral sessions, and each one was as difficult as the last. Every session I would look over to my husband and say,

“I’m not going to make it this time”

I made it but it wasn’t an easy road. The stigma of the unknown, lack of information to both my family and I had made us all afraid. We looked to the Internet for answers which added to our fears. If you look up ECT, you will find a mix that is both clinical and frightening.

The fear with a mix of sadness was evident in my family’s faces after sessions. At times I drooled over breakfast and could hardly open my eyes because of the headaches. Or when I told the same story, I saw the panicked smiles and knew I had repeated myself. They had no idea if I would return; I had no idea.

After a few treatments, I noticed my memory loss was more than I thought would happen. I debated giving up on the treatments, but I kept going. I had way more to lose that part of my memory. This was now a matter of life or death.

I decided I needed to make a plan, so I began to write in my journals before treatments. I needed to see if I was improving in my own words. I couldn’t and I didn’t want to rely on the words of others I was getting better.

After my eighth session, I wrote,

“Today I feel a shift in mood and I hope the bad thoughts continue to dissipate from me”

Another entry after session twelve

“For the first time in years, I feel truly hopeful.”

In 2015, after sixteen sessions of ECT, my cycle of bipolar depression was finally lifted.

Unfortunately, when I got home, I was straining to remember events I didn’t write. I felt like I missing pieces, pieces others held and my anger arose. I knew to continue the journey wellness I had to accept that some memories that would never return.

Instead, I tried to think of my memory loss in another way;How much did I lose not having this treatment? For five plus years, I cycled in and out of the hospital, sometimes up to five months at a time. I lost memories by not being present with my family and the outside world.

Five plus years I heard about events, celebrations I missed out on. Art shows where my art showed up but I couldn’t and years of my family struggling for me to come out of the darkness. Determined with all that in mind, I began building new memories, which I continue to do so today.

I recently had an art show with this piece displayed again. When asked what it was about, I repeated what I said at the 2016 art show, adding ECT is a different name for shock therapy.

Again, this person replied like the last

“You don’t look like someone who had that done”

I replied.

“Don’t believe everything you see in the movies”and smiled

After, we had a conversation about my journey; the stigma surrounding this treatment. To my surprise, they opened up about their struggles as well. On my way home, I felt a new sense of purpose; I needed to do more for stigma and mental health.

So, this year I became a mental health peer support worker and public speaker. I feel I have a responsibility to speak up about the stigma of ECT and mental health for other struggling as I did.

When asked, I will be honest and I say.

ECT was difficult, it caused frustration, confusion, and anger at times towards myself and others. But I want people to know the most important part about ECT….

After five plus years of unsuccessful treatments, fearing my life was on borrowed time, ECT lifted my suicidal depression and put me on a path of wellness.

Today I live each day purposefully, sharing my story, my trials, and tribulations because I know one person can make a difference. I will continue to tell my truth so others can find the hope, the joy and the sheer determination I found.

 

 

The Remains of Paradise

 

For 20 years since diagnosed, I have walked past an ever-changing garden on my way to appointments, even winter didn’t suppress its beauty. Its mysterious tender was meticulous in planning through every season but yesterday it was gone. In its place; mashed soil and a path of winding dirt where splendor used to grow.
The scent was gone, the scene was gone, my diagnosis very much in tack. Twenty years of growth, ripped out, gutted.
I looked around, others must know what is missing? But people walked by unaware, too young or too busy to remember. There have been better gardens bigger, brighter, yet this one regardless what was in my mind I always paused before it. This one held significance, memories of my illness and the beauty found while trying to weed and conquer it.
I’ve made this walk most times in solitude but once many years ago I walked the path, my daughter’s small hand in mine, unaware her mother had to tend to her failing mind. I pointed to the full blooms as she skipped and sang along joyously beside me.
That day, sitting in the office, she sat at a table colouring as the session progressed and my eyes filled with tears.
“When will I know?” as I looked over at her
“Know what?” he replied.
“If she is me”
He leans back and tells me the odds.
If there is one thing that could break my heart is knowing I could pass on such a cruel illness.
I continued living for her, for my family and I was truly happy for moments, moments I forgot the illness existed and welcomed another child.
The years continued, and my garden grew out of control, tangled, I became distant and thought the best way of them not being me is not existing.
That little carefree girl in 2009 gave me all the love I had given her. With only the help of her father, she became a caretaker to me and her brother. Today, I see the effects, but she still grew wildly beautiful. I could write the endless things she did and still does out of love, but it would be too many to list. She and those I hold dear proved love wasn’t a word but an action.
Since the chaos, breakdown, they showed me compassion, forgiveness for and illness the ones I hold dear know I didn’t choose. I am beyond grateful for the fresh start, living to see how my daughter is as a mother and the strong, beautiful girl being raised in her light.
I cannot get back the past, it is gone, it’s lived its life now I must live mine.
Sometimes things must me ripped out to begin again properly. I must believe this because I have lived gutted, barren and survived.
On solid ground I build my Paradise of belonging with hope, fortitude, and gratitude with those I adore.

 

 

Reaching

My Dreams Have Long Arms

Stretching out like airplane trails

Leading somewhere, I have yet to go.

Descending on concrete

Ground

 

My dreams have long arms.

Like branches that hang from 100-year-old trees

Snagging my wild hair and untapped thoughts as I walk by

In blinded routine

 

My dreams have long arms.

Swinging and swaying around my

Masquerade apparel

As I try to live half alive

Taunting

We are ready

Even if you are not

 

My dreams have long arms.

Cut, tend, and dig

Through my rooted depression

Resentment

Seclusion

Restlessly scraping

What I thought I needed to hold on to

 

My Dreams

Of no mercy

Pulling and

Dislocating

My comfort of existing

 

My dreams, their longevity

Have stayed awake, as I lay dormant.

Reaching heights, I could not

Holding me up as the light ignited my unopened eyes

In a hue of life

 

I embrace my dreams of long arms.

Eyes meeting theirs

As they whisper, you have another chance.

Hold on to me…

 

2018

The Magic of Life

2018

The last time I said I was magic, I was wearing stoplight red lipstick, black eye makeup, hair ignited as the suited doctor sat across from me and calmly asked

“April do you believe you are magic?”

“Yes,” I said as I smiled wide, put my fingers out to the sides and wiggled them

Tada!

 

Well, who knew magic could cause so much trouble

 

That was my first time locked away.

 

And guess what, I found out quickly I was not magic

 

High above the city, I couldn’t Houdini myself out of that glass box ward that took my breath away

 

Now I know science is a thing

And I’m glad it is because science/medicine helped fix my brain… somewhat.

 

However, lulled on lorazepam to take the delusional magic away.

Something survived.

 

I leaned on the large glass window; barren face pressed to the coolness my hands trembling. I looked over the city, the beautiful living city, with snow falling so perfectly I felt that was true magic.

It was falling

It wasn’t crashing

The snow danced down onto solid ground.

 

A place I now wanted to be.

Wanting to live became my new magic….

 

It has been 8 years since that moment.

Five and some years to get back up

Different hospitals, different pills, a wee bit shock therapy

 

Zap Zap

 

But the biggest change happened when I changed my perspective of this world.

 

I get up early now, enjoying the solitude now that it is a choice. I listen to music that sounds like falling snow, the dreamy kind that dances, mimicking the melody as I type.

 

I didn’t use to like the quiet/aloneness because my treacherous thoughts were so loud

but over these trying years

I have listened when I couldn’t speak and I hear and see so much wisdom and grace.

 

I know as you read this your thoughts may be loud, you may hurt, you may be where I was and still go sometimes….but please read on

 

 

Let’s start with you are beautiful.

So fabulously beautiful!

Not the frivolous smoke and mirrors kind, but your heart. Even if you don’t think it’s working

Place your hand on your chest …do you feel it? That is your life, your life to change, mend, to strive to do something powerful.

 

You are not your illness.

Ever

It is just genetic, tragedies, an accident that created it, but you get to create you, isn’t that amazing!?

You didn’t get a choice of the other things, but you get to choose what you make of yourself. It took me awhile to understand this, because who was I without the tragedy, bipolar, OCD, epilepsy, and chronic pain? Because while being treated for those I lost track of who I was. Appointments took over my life, so I began to make appointments to find myself again. I went to coffee alone, I read, I took long needed showers and baths; I walked with my face in the sun. I walked in the snow. I wrote, I painted

I created me.

And you can too.

 

You will hear lots of things like “you just have to try harder,” “you should smile,” “you should get out more,”

Let me say this.

You are trying, even when you open your eyes, so start from there and build on that.

Not everyone is going to “get “how hard it is just to get up.

For years, I was so angry with people and I held onto that and guess what anger and healing do not go hand in hand. So I began explaining myself and if people understood great, if they did not, it was not my responsibility.

I had to leave behind those that did not validate my recovery, as wellness of spirit became my full-time job. I surrounded myself with people who loved me through everything, people of integrity, kindness, and honesty.

 

You need to make goals achievable. At first, I made these grandiose goals while housed in a hospital room, it’s only natural to dream that big when feeling so small but I was sabotaging my health and wellness.

I started small, showering, makeup, walking. Then those actions, goals snowballed and somewhere in-between trying my hardest just to live, living became automatic and I began achieving bigger goals.

Now I still stumble, sometimes my brain and heart say “oh no not today” so I go back into that automatic mode and try again.

Always try again.

Because inside of me somewhere (that has yet to be found on any scan)

There is the belief that the impossible is possible.

 

Last week before I entered the place that housed me and my depression, now the place I teach art (that was an unexpected goal) .

I stopped before I entered

As the snow fell immaculately

Fell slowly enough I could catch it.

Fell as though it were not coming from the sky

But from a place of wonderment

 

With my hair half wild, half pinned back

I smiled wide

 

And thought today, tomorrow and all the days I have left I will ignite them with purpose

 

Even if it is simple as smiling at a stranger, getting up on hard days

I will strive to create the magic that is

Life

 

And occasionally

Fingers out to the sides

Tada

(I just won’t get caught this time.)

When Time Stands Still

2015.

When Time Stands Still

I am 16 again, feeling the warm air embrace my skin. The sunlight illuminates my surroundings. I have Pachelbel cannon playing on my cassette player in the front of my bicycle basket. I feel free. Effervescent free…….

As I sit here my eyes water like the puddles I used to ride through as I listen to those very notes from a song I could not listen to without feeling guilt, shame and defeat. So I kept that song away from me.

Until now.

In the years following, they gave me the title Bipolar, a title that changed my life. Although not used anymore, I prefer manic depression. Why? Because it seems more honest.

Over the years I have believed so many delusional things. I have walked the tightrope of mania wearing the perfect shade of red lipstick, laughing with a wide smile, late nights, wild thoughts, and finally self-destruction. I then fell … crashed off the wire into depression, wanting nothing more than death. I loathed myself, what I had done during the high-wire act; I loathed my reflection, and I tried to stay away from it. I lived in and out of cages, either my own or the hospitals to keep me safe. I felt lost, detached from myself and the ones I love.

Was it my choice to be manic or depressed?

No.

But is it my choice now to control it now that I know the signs?

Yes.

I also say I am not bipolar, I have it. The tile I took away because I am more than that.

As the high notes of the melody plays in cannon, I feel the pull of freedom and hope the days I can’t keep my head up and days I feel my fate is to end my life are over.Please be over.

I have amazing titles now, a mother, a grandmother, a wife. Titles I hold dear because of those that gave them to me. I never thought I would be any of those. They never once took titles away from me; they never once held the disease of manic depression against me. My fight /flight was as much theirs.

I also have the title of an artist ….something I never asked for but will wear that proudly.

With humility, I will wear those beautiful titles until I leave this earth.

 

Photo at age 16 by my sister Julie

 

Award Winning Depression

December 2011

On days when I feel faded like someone has clumsily watered coloured my surroundings and hung them up before they were dry, I look up to my wall where a bright painting and certificate hang. I stare at them until the words “you have accomplished that, you have the ability to accomplish much more,” forms boisterously above all negative thoughts in my mind.

It was the week leading up to my big night out and I daydreamed continuously, not of the event, but of my nurse and husband coming to the agreement that I should stay home that night.” Yes,” I imagined them saying “you can be safe in the comfort of your own misery, with your suicidal thoughts and unwashed skin, yes, we believe that is best for you.” However, I knew it was unlikely they would agree to this.

I talked to my nurse, who made sure to book me in for an appointment a few days before the show, knowing all too well I was trying to avoid that night. Once in her office I explained it was still too soon, I couldn’t face anyone in the condition I was in. She continued to listen patiently as I carried on, hoping she would take pity on me and agree, but when I finished she looked at me confidently and disagreed.Then, She went one step further and in precise detail explained the reasons I needed to go, but more importantly, the regrets I would have if I didn’t. As I left her office, I envisioned a brighter scenario for that night, but as I walked further, I felt the vibrancy of her words dissipate like the paint I rinse off my brushes.

I arrived home; thoughts once again muddied and told my husband I wasn’t ready to be in a room with that many people. He calmly reassured me, “I will be there with you the whole time, nothing to worry about. “I expected this answer, but still I hoped he would have agreed for me to go into hiding just until the night passed. I wanted to live the invisibility I felt, I didn’t think that was too much to ask. The problem was I had too many loved ones counting on me; I had to start fighting to get better again, even though all I wanted to do was accept defeat.

I woke up early that day, had breakfast, took my prescribed pills, and “one” extra. I thought the “one would aid my shaky nerves, unfortunately, it did not help. I then went upstairs and laid out newly purchased clothes, costume jewellery, and makeup all bought two days before the event. I looked over everything and thought “I don’t deserve this” and more so, this is all just a masquerade. My husband urged that I must wear something spectacular for my special night, even though I would have been content in paint clothes.

I took a long-needed shower and began to carefully construct myself.I painted my face immaculately as if it were one of my canvas and added the finishing touches, the most perfect, lively red lipstick I had ever seen. I combed and parted my naturally wild hair, pinning it in back with jewelled barrettes. I then slipped into a pair of long black palazzo pants and a flowing shawl top. I finished by putting on an ornate choker necklace and fake pearl earrings.I stood up, put my slumped shoulders back, and there she was, the illusion of the charismatic artist, the woman I used to be, once strong and confident.

My husband came into the room. “You look like a doll!” he said and smiled. “Are you ready?” I knew this was not a question that needed a loaded answer and I replied “yes “but couldn’t help myself and added, “I am just so nervous” but as always he reassured me and we went on our way.

We arrived several hours prior to the show so we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic or get lost. To kill time and settle my worries, we walked around the cold streets arm in arm. We sought shelter from the bitter wind by sneaking into the closest place; McDonald’s. We ordered and sat down keeping the conversation light. He joked about how sophisticated we were eating here tonight, and then he added; “Sorry I can’t give you everything” I responded “this is perfect” and I smiled as we continued to eat our greasy food.

After we walked around the block a few more times, we went back and sat in the car; I was staling. “Look at all the people that are going in “he enthusiastically said, I replied “at 5:05 I will go in I promise “and at that time precisely he said, “Times up” and shut off the car.

Holding my hand firmly he walked me through the doors where we were greeted by unfamiliar smiling faces.They told us where to check our coats and me, being an artist in the show, I was shown where to get my name tag. After we had completed that, we walked the steps up to the gallery, confidently he held my hand, and led the way looking back with a smile.

Once through the doors I looked for my work, there she/I was my reflection. “ Brand” in shades of vermillion paint, clenched arms around myself, gritted teeth and the most horrific feature, my psychiatric file number carved aggressively into my arm. There in front of me, displayed beautifully, was the torment I had tried to hide for so many years, with smiles and the right outfits, until I crashed and the hospitalisations began. I looked over at my husband with glassy eyes “I don’t think I can do this “he held my hand tighter “it’s ok, this is a good night “he said reassuringly. He took the lead again, we walked around looking at all the beautiful and emotive art, and I began to relax.

About halfway through the night, when the gallery was full and lively, they made an announcement. They asked everyone to come into the main room as speeches were starting and awards presented. I listened and looked on intently, not for my name but to see who would win.I was trying to get a good look over everyone’s head. Then it happened they said it my name. I stood paralyzed, thinking there must be someone else in this room with the same name as me when no one went up and they called out my name, again I knew it was me. For the first time since this depression took a hold, I had to find the courage to stand on my own, no Doctor, nurse, or husband could accept this award for me, I had to move forward, and to my surprise, I did.

I got up on stage and all I kept telling myself was “don’t cry, don’t break down here, please just hold on”.I looked around for something to ground me and there he was, as always, my husband. He had rushed up, front and centre and reassured me with jesters it was okay Still shaking I listened to the gallery owner speak beautifully about my work, my chest swelled with honour and pride. When he finished, I shook his hand and looked at the audience.I could feel the encouragement of the crowd, not because I was mentally ill but because I was there, like the many other artists and guests that night we had persevered, we had erased stigma simply by showing up.

I wish today I could tell you that everything is better in my life, but I cannot. However, I can tell you this, when I won the award for “Best Emerging Artist “ at the Touched by Fire show on December 8th, 2011, I emerged as much more that night, I became a fighter again, a fighter who reaches for brightly coloured paint and smiles when it stains my fingers.