while i have been diagnosed with depression my entire adult life, the past year was one of intense and dark suffering like i have never experienced before. after my second hospitalization, i made the complicated decision to resign from my job. i knew i needed some structure to my day, so i signed up for a drawing class at the local community college.
i would cry during the entire drive to class. i would sit in my car, shaking, and tell myself i had to get out and walk into the building. like a robot i would walk through the parking lot, up the stairs, into the elevator, avoiding eye contact with anyone. i would slink into class and sit in the back, hoping that nobody would look at me. i wondered, can anyone tell how sick i am? can anyone see that i am barely holding it together? my mind would run on two tracks – one was trying to listen and focus, the other was panicking and spiraling out of control. i would slip out the door, barely able to hold back the tears until i got out in the hallway. i would go to the women’s room and curl up in the bathroom stall, silently sobbing.
i would obsess over the assignments we were given. i am not good enough to do that. no way can i complete this assignment. everyone else in the class is better at drawing. i can look back now and see that i was totally capable of doing the work, but at the time i felt beyond overwhelmed. my family encouraged me to talk to the professor and explain that i was dealing with an illness, just so she would be aware, and i refused. i didn’t want to tell her, i didn’t want her to know. so i went on, suffering through class after class.
so one week we got our midterm assignment – to draw a self portrait using objects. oh great. can i draw a pile of trash? i thought to myself. can i draw dirt? or something broken? or something useless? or nothing? but i chose to draw a pitcher that my grandmother had given me and stay away from how i was really feeling.
in an art class, you go around the class and discuss each other’s work. we all tacked our drawings on the wall and stood back to take a look. one caught my eye because it had a lot of pill bottles in it. coincidentally, the artist of that piece was the first one to share. he said, “my self-portrait is a representation of my bipolar disorder.”
i was blown away. this 19 year-old kid just told a whole room of people that he has bipolar. not only that, he drew a picture of it and put it up for everyone to see. and it was a beautiful picture – it had the pill bottles and it also had his drumsticks and a book he liked and a picture of his girlfriend. it was a whole picture, a holistic picture.
i wanted to tell him how amazing that was. how i couldn’t believe that he just put it all out there. how much i admired that he could share openly about his mental illness. i wasn’t able to talk to him at that time. i was in too much pain to make that connection. but it still made an impression on me – there i was, suffering in silence and then this teenager shows incredible self-acceptance of his own mental illness. isn’t it funny how sometimes those with the illness can have the deepest struggle with the stigmas that surround it?
kid from art class, wherever you are, i still think about you. you are a brave person. you are helping to tear down the stigma that surrounds mental illness. you are a warrior. keep it up. i’m going to give it a try too.