Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Between Two Poles: A longer Piece on Bipolar Disorder

February 10, 2015

Note:  I had published assorted versions of this piece.   This is the longer version. It goes into some depth regarding bipolar disorder and my recent diagnosis with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

This started out late last night and early this morning as a simple edit.  It ended as a flow of consciousness recounting of my planned exhibition this year and the path that got me to that point and the one that is leading me to this one.

Currently, I am working in "overtime" mode to raise funds and awareness for my show. I just began a Gofund Me for it.    The link is here.

You can see more of my work on my web site.

Should you have questions for me, please email me.

An Artist Statement, of sorts, on Between Two Poles
by:  Kurt von Behrmann

              When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2013, it was as if someone had just died in the room, me. It was both a surprise and a relief when I realized I had a serious mental illness. The many problems I had experienced over the years made quickly made sense. However, knowledge did not stop the power of this crippling illness. 

                I tried to commit suicide.

                Having support, going to support groups, therapy and medications, none of that was able to prevent me from committing suicide. For me, there was no real use in living. All thoughts were dead ends. The things that mattered so much simple ceased to do so.

               Suicide attempts, in my case, lead to my first hospitalization for mental illness. Carried in an ambulance, tired and what empty, I spent an entire day in a waiting room hoping for a hospital bed. There was high demand, but low supply.

              The first day was numbing. The second filled with groups. One followed the other. At the tie I did not have insurance. That ensured my stay would be brief. After three days I was released. Although the Psychiatrist was emphatic that I had a serious mental illness and that I needed intensive therapy.
             That did not happen. I was released from the hospital, but there was no exit plan. I went from a behavioral health facility right back into “the real world.”

             There were many difficult ups and downs having and not being able to afford treatment. I would heal, and then relapse. Drugs that were intended to help had my briefly lose my equilibrium. 

A painting that shows the spinning  I felt in Bipolar madness.

             Acquiring insurance provided care. But the drugs I were taking simply were not effective. The wonder drug “Lamictal,” was totally infective. Depressions and hypo mania were bound in a restless cycle that had me up and down. My emotions transformed into a violent roller coaster. 

          When the day started, I might feel optimistic, happy, even filled with bliss. Rapid thoughts accompanied fast thinking.   Ideas were flowing so fast I stumbled on my words. At the high point, I was a jester spilling jokes all around me. Nothing could stop me. I was invincible.

           The downside was that this euphoria did not last. Within a day or two, it would slide into depression. What goes up, must come down. The trajectory I was on always lead to a fall.

           One day's pain turned into days and weeks of me laying on a sofa unable to do anything.   I was falling into immobility.   Every day I was suicidal. There were times I wanted to kill myself, but I was literally too exhausted to do it.
                The pain of hopeless, depression, anxiety and lethargy are hard to describe. They are powerful but elude any kind of crisp description. When I was at the lowest, everything shut down. I felt pain, but not a physical kind.   Nothing hurt, but there was a powerful pain. It was both intense and cold. The very idea of the world had no appeal. Nothing mattered except the depression. I could not pull myself out of it because my entire mind had become this void.

Those were my first cuts.   Most have healed. Months later I still reminders. 

                There were tools given to me by therapy. It my worst state they were of no use. The drugs that were supposed to at least alleviate the pain enough to get some kind of grasp of things were not powerful enough.   I had contemplated, seriously, ending drugs, therapy and any other support. When I need support the most, there was nothing to grab. There was no substance to anything. 

                The only thing I had in depression was depression. The grasp of this illness was reaching a point where I started to feel nothing at all.   There was only me wanting to end all of this insane jumping from high to low.

                As all of this was happening, my identity was drifting away. All of the things that made up me, the artist, the writer, the educator, the politically aware person, everything that made up me was taken away. It was not slow. Depression moves quickly. It leaves nothing untouched.

                My life was becoming surreal. There were moments where it felt like a film. I was either starring in it, or removed from the action. Simple events were monumental moments. 

                Then there were times when I just felt myself pulling so far inward. I was rejecting the world, other people and to some degree myself. It was like drowning and no one was hearing your screams.

This drawing came from long ago.  This was before I knew what was to come.  In retrospect it sems prophetic.

                Now that I look back, I had often felt like I was screaming, but no one was listening. I was in my own personal hell but no one knew I was in it. I either kept it hidden, or it resulted in some odd behavior on my part. 

                My life reached a new kind of low when I started cutting myself. I wanted to see if I could endure the pain of slitting my wrists. I am not a person who likes pain, but I was just feeling so much of it lately that I wanted to see how much physical pain I could endure.

                I can’t say that I thought of cutting as a deliberate act. The idea to get up and cut myself was not a formed idea.   The impulse to do was that. Without a lot of emotion at the time, I was jumped up from my sofa, walked into the kitchen and started.

                The first marks were tentative. I really wanted to slit my wrists, but I was not sure if I had the willpower to do that. This was like a test run for the real thing is how I saw my cuts.

                I started, slowly and I kept going up my arm cutting a little bit deeper every time. I was totally transfixed by what I was doing. I was drawn to this. There was an addictive side to this. I hated the pain, but I could not stop.

Although very much  in progress,  "Cutter" is a chronicle  in visual terms of what I felt like when I started to cut.  To date it is one of my darkest subject matter.

                The scars created by the knife fascinated me. I kept cutting. Briefly, they gave me a release. The scars were expressing the intense pain I had no other way to express. The escape those marks offered was short lived.

                I would stop, realizing this was not a good idea.   Rational thinking intervened. Consciously, I knew I should stop. Emotionally, I felt like I shouldn’t. I broke away to call a support person from my support group. That borrowed time.

                I called the warm line, a phone line that offers support for 15 minutes to people in crises who need to talk. I think I actually reached a former cutter. That only borrowed more time.

                Self-preservation stepped in.   I called a friend of mine and we talked about things other than cutting or bipolar.   I had stopped.

                That was only for a while. I resumed again. No one knew it until well after the fact.
                Much was taking place, but I had reached a point where I wanted to change health care. I was seeing a Nurse Practioner whose healthcare plan was clearly not working. I felt weak, really weak, but I was up when I made my last visit. 

                My feelings made no sense. I was cutting, then left to see this “buffoon.” I was happy, really really up knowing feel well this was my last visit. My feelings were totally out of sync with everything. I was cutting, and then very happy. 

There is so much isolation to Bipolar mixed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  There are so many times when I just wanted to be left alone.   The struggles of daily life were become too much for me to handle.  The drugs and therapy help.  Support groups help, but when you are hit with the downs of depression, it is like being struck with an axe. 

                Eventually I did find a “Psychiatrist.” I am really not an advocate of Nurse Practioners at all. I really do not believe they have the medical knowledge to deal with mental illness, at all unless under the strict eye of a Psychiatrist.   Even then, I have grave reservations. 

                Under new care, a new therapist, things started to move forward.
Bipolar can offer you a few days of mania that can jump start your motivation. I was slow moving and tired, but I was making progress in November of last year. 

                Now it is February of 2015, and I am starting to put the pieces back together. The current combination of medications and therapy seem to be working. I still have bad moments. But, the addictive cutting has ceased.

                 I can paint. I finished a work in January, and about to complete one this month and I know I am create more innovative pieces.

                The only problem is that I do need funds. Between not being able to work or even find work in my state, I have fallen behind with bills.

I am not a VET, but I felt the need to express that kind of suffering.  This painting, which was featured at the Herberger Theater in Phoenix was my take on the Middle East Wars and the toll it took on the men coming home. I had a chance to see VET suffering and for some reason I felt I understood it,to some degree. Although I was spared the horrors of war, I was not spared the emotional pain of mental illness.  I am not putting my pain on their level.  That would be presumptuous. But, I think there is common ground. 

                This is why I am asking for support for my solo exhibition of new art “Between Two Poles, A Bipolar Themed Exhibition.”

                Before I became seriously ill in late 2014, I had created a proposal for an exhibition that talks about bipolar disorder from the perspective of an artist with the illness.
The works would be centered around the idea of expressing the euphoric ups and the damaging downs of Bipolar. 
                The idea for the exhibition came about when I realized how many of my pieces dealt with canvases being divided in half.   Works literally had a dark side and a light side. This has been a salient feature of my work for some time
                After looking over my recent creations I began reading Dr. Key Redfield Jamison’s book “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” I started to see strong connections between Bipolar and creativity. There is a good case made for it in this book. The unusually high number of artists with this affliction makes a compelling case that bipolar is connected to high levels of artistic achievement.

The list of artists who have suffered from mental illness, depression and bipolar, is extensive. The artistic temperament is a live wire that ignites everything it its path.

                There was a study in Sweden, and I cannot recall the details. In this study they examined high achieving student’s psychiatric records. They discovered that a number of them were bipolar. 

                What I have experienced is that Bipolar can literally send you a million and one ideas at once. It can create wild associations between ideas and visuals. It provides the “fire” that sparks the imagination.   When in a hypo manic moment, you get added inspiration and drive. Your sense of purpose is extremely drawn. The only down side is when the depressions hit so hard you cannot move, let alone create a piece of art.    

                For me, my artistic temperament was fueled by yet another diagnoses, Borderline Personality Disorder. That brought another element into the “mix.” From what I have read thus far, a number of bipolar people also have this personality disorder as well.    

              There is the belief among some in the psychiatric community that Borderline Personality Disorder maybe related, or even on the same spectrum, as Bipolar. This is speculative on my part, but I do feel that there is a connection between the two of some type. I am not a psychiatrist so I can only offer what I have seen, but mood and personality tend to be connected in mind closely.

              Amid all of the anguish and chaos, my proposal for a Bipolar Exhibition was approved by the prestigious Shemer Art Center in Phoenix, Arizona.   If all goes well, I will have a show there opening June 25th to August 6th of this year.   

            The show is really the one thing that has kept me going. Knowing that my identity as an artist is intact and that my work and ideas are taken seriously by a well-respected art institution in Phoenix Arizona is confirmation at a very good time.

The divide between the cool feeling of depression and warmth of bipolar mania.  I always see depression as cold and very blue. I see red as the fire and spark of hypo mania. 

           I believe my recovery, which is permitting me time to create this document, is in large part the result of this upcoming exhibition. Advance response to the new pieces has been overwhelmingly positive. The content and imagery in the new work is different from anything I have done.

          A positive sign of my own “renaissance” is that I will have work at a new art center opening this March. The Director invited me to participate. I am very thrilled about this. It will be my first showing of 2015.

         This month I also completed a small commission.   It was small. But at least it was something. I am grateful for small things. Bad times make you appreciative.

          Sadly, I had tried to apply for a grant. Due to my inability to fully function at the time, I had made a mistake and the grant was rejected. This is what Bipolar and Borderline personality can do to you.   

          I know that if I can get through the next few months, I know I can get back to where I was creatively. I do want to teach again and make art and write.

         What I need, desperately need, are funds to purchase paints, frames, canvas and the like to continue.   Funds are literally spent. I mean zero. So anything you can throw my way will help make this possible.

I always feel like I am asking for something.  Then I remembered something I had read.  Prior to Harper Lee writing "To Kill A Mocking Bird," she had a friend give her enough money to stop working and just write.  The result of that one year was a masterpiece.

       Whatever you can do, a few dollars, or just spreading the word helps. I would love to see my web site go viral. Links to my web page, looking me up on twitter and facebook, my web site has the links, all of this counts. I would like to go viral. 

          Aside from me for a moment, Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. It can literally kill you. Awareness is increasing. This is good. Alleviating stigma is still a problem. It prevents people from seeking treatment or even knowing what to look for with regards to mental health. 

          We tend to ignore mental health. If things in life are not working out as planned, or your are depressed, the assumption has always been that you have a character flaw. If discipline is engaged, your difficulties will vanish. “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” and “ Just plow ahead, “ are the standard assumed answers.

         Life has never been that simple. There are instances where simply plowing ahead will get you ahead. Not everyone suffers from a mental illness. 

          But, when you think of suicide, when your behavior becomes erratic, when you moods change for no reason, when your so depressed that suicide seems like an excellent option, it is time to seek professional help.

          No one, myself included, wanted to believe I had a problem. I was somewhat functional in the world. I had overcome obstacles as most people do. I had set backs. I buckled down and moved forward.   I just assumed everyone becomes suicidal. I assumed everyone becomes depressed for weeks on end. I assumed everyone becomes restless, reckless and takes risks. I assumed a lot.
As long as the bills were paid and nothing terrible happened, I was alright. 

I felt like a spinning something.  Forever in motion by not going anywhere fast.

            I was terribly wrong.   If I have ever made a huge mistake in my life it was not seeing the signs. They were painfully obvious for a long time.   The moodiness of High School. The suicidal thoughts at a teenager. The frequent bouts of suicidal thoughts off and on over the years.   Manic behavior that would keep me up all night and active during the day for weeks on end. 

             When I went to my first Behavioral Health Facility my first thought was, “these poor people, and thank God that is not me.”

            The joke was totally on me. I was just like those people and had been for a very long time.

         No one selects to be Bipolar. But, if you seek treatment, persist and become your own advocate, you can hope for a positive outcome.   Bipolar can do a lot of damage, a lot. But there is hope.

           I can tell you that there maybe ups and downs. Everyone is different. For some, recovery comes with medications. In time the pills go from several a day to just one.   For some people, that is realistic.

          For others, Bipolar means taking care of oneself.   For me that means a healthy life style. It means no smoking, no drinking, eliminating certain foods and certainly no drugs other than those prescribed.

"Toulin" is still my most autobiographical painting to date.  It said so much when  I made it and says much now.  If I had ever painted a self portrait that was accurate, this was it.  All the wounds are open here.

            I have not been in recovery long enough to know what it means for many people. What I have seen informs me that it does require vigilance. 

           I do know for certain that not taking psychiatric meds, not altering your lifestyle, or ignoring Bipolar is life threatening.   No one gets better without psychiatric meds, therapy and support groups.    People may say they do, but I have only seen cases becoming worse, a lot worse.

           If you think, even suspect, that you are Bipolar and/or Borderline Personality Disorder, please seek professional help from trained professionals. Talking to friends is great, but that is not enough.
Thank you for reading this document. If any of this helps just one person, I feel very successful in my goals.

        I am actively seeking support for what I know will be a unique exhibition.   Help me make it happen.   I have much to say and this is a subject that demands a public dialogue.

          There are so many myths and misconceptions about mental illness. There are just as many about what constitutes “good mental health.” There needs to be a conversation about Bipolar.

A direct link to my video

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