Freedom to Break Rules
Painting in abstract means I can let go of perfectionism as I'm not trying to paint something realistically. I choose colours to suit my mood (I have extreme moods with bipolar disorder) and it's not essential to use a paintbrush. Sometimes I paint with a knife. I don't usually have a finished picture in mind. My aim is not a pretty picture but to get out emotions, which for me get 'stuck.' Here is an example of a painting step-by-step to release some of my stuck grief (which made me feel depressed and feeling like I wanted to die).
I usually listen to music when I paint, so don't think too much but rather go on instincts. I tend to listen to a song over and over until all the emotion is out then move onto a new song. Whatever song is in my head at the time. Music accesses emotion for me. Sometimes instead of paints, I've scribbled with pastels or felt-tip pens. Usually layers upon layers.
The Process of Painting Emotion
I initially painted streaks of yellow, red and green, not knowing at the time what it meant. Then I left it on the easel where I saw it daily. Then I felt that the red and green symbolised ruby and emerald of symbolic jewellery and a broken heart pendant to do with a failed romance and breakup. The yellow was my child who lives overseas (my sunshine) and the green and yellow was also Australia, a country I left in great pain to come back to New Zealand after having another breakdown and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I was feeling weighed down and distressed so I decided to continue painting to get out the stuck emotion which was surfacing but having difficulty being expressed. Painting can express what I can't find words for. I kept having images of myself being hit by a truck and dying, which was rather distressing.
I felt the painting was going to be mainly about the pain of divorce and the pain of separation from a child. The song 'It Must Have Been Love' by Roxette was on my mind so I played it over and over. I was sobbing while I painted a huge dark chasm between the red (me) and the green (ex & Australia). It didn't matter it didn't look realistic. It was symbolic. It was dark. It was ugly. Just like the separation and divorce. Love that was over and the pain that remained.
I painted dark points as it felt like I was being stabbed. Then I picked up a knife and put red paint onto it and dragged it across the points, bleeding. That's how I felt. I was still sobbing listening to the song as I painted. I used the tip of the knife to scratch green paint onto the other side, representing the pain I've been through.
I painted a blue-silver lightning bolt through the chasm. It has symbolism for me including childhood trauma. Painting in abstract means I can connect several themes - this painting is not just about the pain of divorce and separation from my child across the ditch. It's also about other traumatic themes. I felt calmer - I had sobbed out the emotion that had been locked inside.
I changed songs a few times and settled on the theme song to Forrest Gump. I thinned the dark grey with medium and dulled out the background representing the pain from the past fading. This painting is darker and duller than my other recent paintings.
I painted gold leaf shapes on the lightning bolt which was now also a branch. A gold seam through the lightning bolt. The leaves represented new life, love and hope for the future. Golden wisdom which is what my name means - I changed my name to Xanthe Wyse in mania. I felt calmer and a huge burden had been released with this very simple yet symbolic painting.
I feel a variety of emotions when I paint - not usually feeling extreme pain. Usually, I feel like I'm in a trance - like a meditation in action which is calming to my brain which can race with bipolar disorder. Sometimes I feel 'high' and euphoric even when painful themes flash through my mind letting me know what I'm actually painting.
I understand what all my paintings mean, but sometimes more meanings become clearer afterwards. There are dozens of links in each painting. I use art as therapy as well as see a therapist and take medication.
The images of being hit by a truck eased but came up again the following day. I went for a walk by the lake, listening to music and quietly crying behind my sunglasses. The images of dying stopped and something had shifted.
Doing this painting was the first time I had really cried about the end of my marriage - let out the grief. I'd grieved losing my son but not about losing someone I once loved. My heart has been learning to trust again.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
I read the incredible memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly several years ago and also watched the film. I nearly always prefer books over films as they can be more rich in metaphors and nuances. Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a stroke which left him with locked-in syndrome where his mind was mentally sharp and aware but his body was light a lead weight with paralysis of nearly his whole body.
He authored a memoir by blinking an eyelid with a helper writing down the letter he blinked to. A very long and tedious process to communicate. I still remember after initially wanting to die, he used the short time he had left to soar out of being trapped in his physical body into his imagination. He shared what he did and it was very inspiring. I believe the key to creativity is imagination.
I have been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and I also have trauma and anxiety in the mix. I've experienced euphoria and everything going too fast then breakdowns plunging into severe depression. Like heaven and hell often at the same time.
My body cooperates most of the time but my brain doesn't. I have difficulty talking sometimes and trying to communicate what's going on in my head. My brain keeps forgetting yet can remember what happened decades ago and some things continue to haunt me. So my brain takes me to a magical place in my imagination but it's like a butterfly that will fly away if I don't capture it while I still remember it. Sometimes the medications affect me so bad I can hardly walk or talk.
I am doing a near impossible challenge for myself - writing fiction. Fiction is much more challenging for me than memoir as I need to remember what things I've made up and my mind keeps forgetting, so I draw mind-maps and art to help me remember. My grammar and spelling during the process is shocking but I just need to capture what's in my head and sort those bits out later. Today I woke up wanting to write a blog post. There are likely to be imperfections in my grammar and spelling as my brain is struggling to be organised. But I feel like I am writing something reasonably coherent.
My artwork as and writing gives me meaning and purpose. I'm collecting up my art intending somehow to do at least one exhibition (my vision is more than one) for awareness about mental health issues. Also to show how art can be used as therapy because of the long wait for mental health services. Most of my materials are donated such as bits of wood panels to paint on.
My wings have been broken many times but I am starting to fly now even though I've had many crash landings. I am determined that this Kiwi is going to fly. I can fly in my imagination on a jet plane lolly. I didn't think I can write fiction and it's more challenging for me but I know I can. I just need to believe in myself. Through Spinning Orbit, I'm sharing my creative process. It's taken me several months to develop a loose framework but I have now started writing snippets for chapters in no particular order - my brain doesn't work in linear order.
I've been like a butterfly, going through a transformation process, but now I'm facing my fears head on and starting to soar in my imagination like an eagle. I hope to inspire others to have a reason to keep living.
My page Spinning Orbit on Facebook, where I frequently post.
Xanthe has suffered from mental illness for over 25 years and has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and anxiety.