Infinite Hope

There is a quote by Martin Luther King Jr that resonates with truth for me,

“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

Today I walked a winding path with the sun as my companion, my shadow cast behind me. Walking, I allowed my senses to take in the abounding beauty as my fingers graced the tops of the long grass. I walked until I reached the waterfall watching the strength of the water, I observed the trees stretching their limbs, the birds in song, flying and taking refuge and the several inukshuks built at the bottom of the falls. I saw my life at that moment with abounding clarity; I had come full circle.

At the age of sixteen, I first felt the confines of depression. Without the full understanding of what was happening to me, I felt lost, confused and was lacking hope. I turned to what I knew and submersed myself in creating. What emerged was my first self-portrait entitled “The Glass Between Seasons”. Art from then on became an unbiased presence in my life, a place I could go for relief of my moods.

The years continued with swings from false light into darkness but throughout it all, I continued to create. It was when I began a family that I sought out psychiatric treatment for stability in my life. A plethora of diagnoses followed, schizophrenia, postpartum depression, depression, “just a little sad at times”. I was in the hands of Doctors I lost trust with and with that loss, my mental health deteriorated.

In November 2011, I ultimately crashed and was officially diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at St Joseph Hospital, Charlton Campus. This was the first time I was locked away from my family and with a heavy heart I did what was familiar, comforting, I drew with supplies brought to me by my loving husband.

When released, a dark cloud still hung heavy over me; nothing had changed except for a prescription and a referral to West 5th.

I can now say without hesitation, my journey to wellness began at West 5th Hospital. I started treatment as an outpatient, when that failed and I wasn’t stable to remain at home, I was admitted as an inpatient into the waterfall unit. The cycle of in and outpatient lasted for years. During those years I continued to find solace in Art, creating works based on the treatments I was receiving, the people surrounding me and how I was feeling.

Almost Daily I have worked on pieces, thinking if I kept creating I would not lose the essence of who I was. Art was that one constant therapy that never failed me.

Eventually, treatment began to work and wellness began to awaken within and along with emerging wellness more vibrant coloured paintings. Finally, I had made it through my first year free of the inpatient ward and shortly after is when “Infinite Hope” came into my life.

For a year I helped work on the piece “Infinite Hope”. Walking through the doors on Thursdays past silent walls asking myself “will I survive another year of this illness”? But my confidence to answer “yes” was pushed aside by my clinging depression. I continued down the hall to the place where “Infinite Hope” was taking form in both paint and in my personal life.

Now when I walk through the doors, I see a wall adorned with optimistic hues, circling around the seasons we all pass through. This work speaks eloquently of struggle in subject matter, to the crackle of paint where colours break through. Strife created beautiful and hopeful, joy abounding and blooming. Announcing boldly that change, growth are both necessary and beautiful.

In five feet by five feet this mural confronts the once uninspired walls with the determination of wellness and within it lives a heart that goes beyond the painting. I know this by the four enormously giving and humble hearts that worked in unison with me.

I create art for a living and as much as I love to work, it can be a lonely job, one of disconnect with the world and many times my creations show that. But while creating this mural I broke down so many personal barriers, I learned to work on art with others, I learned to show my skills I thought served no purpose but to me, I learned to open up and  share a kinship with others who struggle and those that build one another up, often one and the same.

I healed, I flourished within this Art Therapy group, l started to accept disappointment in the dark years and learn from it. By being part of this group growth merged into my personal creations as well, allowing myself to compose struggle in beautiful ways’ something I never thought I could accomplish.

I am aware my life will never be picture perfect with this illness but I will continue on optimistic of my future, creating through the seasons as they come. But after I have lived a full life, if any of my work survives, may it be “Infinite Hope” a group effort of a work that merits longevity of voice in a place where hope needs to survive.

To all those struggling, hope is clearly infinite, hope is tangible, hope is a grander light than any darkness could ever be and experiencing disappointment does not mean you have failed, it means you have tried and that in itself is commendable and fosters growth to wellness.

When I last stood looking at the mural I asked myself the pivotal question that has lived in my mind for years.

Will I survive another year?

And my answer bloomed with bravery and confidence since the completion of this artwork.

“Most certainly I will”

The mural is a powerful reminder that Art Therapy is invaluable, for life truly does imitate Art.

From my healing heart, I thank my fellow advocates in Art and Hope, Laura, Sharon, Tonya and Judy. Without them “Infinite Hope” would have never come so beautifully to fruition.

 To read more about the mural and how Art Therapy is making a difference visit the Hamilton Spectator article here

 http://www.thespec.com/news-story/7333010-therapeutic-art-at-st-joseph-s-west-5th-campus-unveiled/

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Warning High Voltage

I flick the light on and still my eyes onto a singular object to awaken the blur of my dreams .I grab my ragged, paint embellished sweater, fold it around my perpetually cold body and turn the light off making my way through the dark, carefully holding on. Arriving at the kitchen I wait impatiently for the drip-drop of a temporary jolt; two coffees as strong as I hope to be one day.

The light.

The dark.

Are equal places of loss in my mind.

As of now I function within the grey, with a splash of colour from time to time. This is a place to heal, until I can reach the centre “ish” .I am comfortable here, but not content, so I continue on with baby steps towards wellness, still holding the frustration that my illness is invisible to many, but concretely real to myself and those that are within my walls.

 

A flash of blinding light strikes, once a week, maybe less depending on the situation, person, conversation, where I strain to focus.

“Do you remember?” is often a statement attached to joy, smiles and conversation but for me, there is always a pause before the words and sentiments. I watch memories soar out of mouths and go south in grey skies .I can almost reach them ….almost.

My Loves, acquaintances, strangers met briefly are my memory keepers.

And when “do you remember? “rises from words and falls into my chest ,my panic rises ,grasps at my throat then and simmers into sorrow for a brief flicker of dark, because that is all I can allow to seep in .

Others hold what I have lost. This is one part of healing I haven’t been able to let go of, so I tuck it away for another day and move on .If not, I would be certain to slip into the dark, vast waters of depression and I can’t afford to let go , again….

The reason is simple

Because I love some brilliant, amazing and beautiful people.

So tightly I embrace the new memories I am making with them.

The reason for my loss of memory is ECT, the eloquent name for Shock Therapy (and maybe a dash of some other things I’ll go into later). A little over a year ago, sixteen treatments all while my much, much better half stayed in the room while it was performed.

He, my most valuable memory keeper and secret keeper.

Him, the one there as I went under, in more ways than one, even before the voltage.

Yesterday  I went under…in a good way ,rising-up and slicking my wild hair back .Typically I keep my eyes forward and swim ,trying not to make eye contact or human connection with anyone ,but today, In a city of approx 747,545 give or take a few, I lucked out and got an entire pool to myself. I flipped onto my back and stared at the ceiling, white, institutional. I felt weightlessness as I imagined the ceiling to be a Prussian blue night bursting with stars. The weighted thoughts disappeared into the chemical water, and I imagined them getting all sucked into the filter. I felt a flicker of peace; freedom.

And no one holds this memory but me

As I walk out of the pool, the heaviness set in from the chemicals that stabilize me. But quickly, I reminded myself I must be grateful I am alive because of those substances and the people that held me together.

 

I’m here to regain a life I never thought I would make it through.

 

I have been given another chance.

 

So here, in my own words is my truth of breaking down and getting back up.