Mental Illness Adventures: Bipolar Edition

Read about my adventures with a mental illness. I'm bipolar, and sometimes confetti shoots out of my ears.

A photo of Matt Vaillette smiling!

A photo of Matt Vaillette smiling!

My mental illness adventure lasted from about age 6 to around age 26.

 
 

Mental illness As a child

I suffered from mental illness from a very young age. I didn't know anything was wrong.

I was awesome. I loved origami when most kids could barely hold a crayon. I have always been very artistic, and visual.

I was also very nervous, and quiet. The goblins and bullies existed in my head, and I could not escape!

Anxiety was one undoing of mine—but not the only one.

First grade

I had OCD when I was young. I was smart enough to know that the thoughts were illogical and scary, but didn't know it was out of the ordinary.

I hadn't talked to my peers much yet, after all...and I don't think most 9 year olds talk about psychology anyways.

I would wonder...if I was blurting out terrible things at people, without my knowledge. It often made me feel guilty, for no logical reason. It still happens in adulthood.

Drawing kept me calm-ish

The only way I could pay attention in school, was to draw on paper. I got wonderful grades, but everyone thought I wasn't paying attention. (?!?!)

No one had a clue what was going on.

This continued throughout college. I had to function without notes because I had to draw during lectures.

A happy artist eating a cupcake!

 

The storm within

I have always had a storm inside of me. Sometimes it helps me focus, and do exceptional things. Sometimes it juts sucked.

This beneficial storm even makes me more creative!

I think it helped me learn fast, too, because I could think very quickly. On a normal day, I could do a complex calculation in my head. Something that would take me a pen, paper, and 2 minutes on a depressed day.

It's a mix of extreme fear and intuition...both horrific, and exciting. It was motivating usually.

I knew I was ahead of the other students, but I also talked to no one—I was too scared.

I was afraid of everyone. Mostly, I was afraid of the feelings I got when talking to people.

I felt so incapable and worthless, even though I was good at most things.

I continued on drawing...I continued with my art therapy!

The storm within!

 

Creativity

Like I suggested, I was intensely creative and visual. I had so many things going for me at school, but no respect for myself.

I was always pushing further, harder, never reaching the point where I could relax, and congratulate myself. Even in the first grade.

The storm inside of me keeps me going and going.

My art remained therapeutic for a while.

Panic attacks

Scary monsters in my head.

I really had no emotional association with panic attacks when I was young. I didn't know that they were even bad or unusual.

Sometimes they would excite me, and I could think quicker. Other times I would be paralyzed with fear of the unknown.

 
 

Mentally Ill 5th Grader

I was still quiet. No no. Scared of other kids.

I had made a few friends, on the street I grew up...but it wasn't until the 5th grade when I made a friend at school.

I'm still friends with Bryan, and I made most of my other friends through him.

Bullying

I got bullied a lot. So did Bryan. We were awkward, and smart. I won't go into this, but I still have dreams, and recall memories of this stuff. It has very much changed my view of the world (for the better) but my view of myself is still being repaired. More quickly thanks to using art as therapy.

All I can say is none of the "adults" handled this issue well, except for my parents.

"Love vs Hate" by Matt Vaillette, 2014

"Love vs Hate" by Matt Vaillette, 2014

 

High school

I was depressed, and anxious. I physically harmed myself in highschool, a lot. I missed the majority of my classes.

My mom terrorized me every morning to get me to school. No one got it. No one understood what I was going through.

No one even questioned why I was doing these things. I was just a bad kid.

I continued to avoid people. Between the anxiety, and the bullying, there wasn't much left of me for other people.

Add to that the fact that my high school was crappy, and I didn't learn much. I'm a motivated learner, but it wasn't even enough for me.

 
 

Therapy up till now

I had been to talk therapists here and there, growing up. No one got it right. I don't think that's their fault, but it's frustrating.

I wish they had figured out what was wrong...then maybe I would have not developed Bipolar Disorder. Maybe the whole recovery process would've happened more quickly.

Off to College

I left home for college around 2004.

I lasted one semester, before it all fell apart. I was suicidal & depressed, but I got perfect scores in all my classes...at the expense of my health.

I was always pushing too hard to do well, or to help someone, at the expense of myself.

Darned storm. Stupid goblins. Annoying dragons. Oh yea, and the real life bullies hadn't helped me think much of myself.

Returning home

I returned home after that first semester. 2004. I felt defeated.

A doctor put me on the wrong pills, and I was subsequently diagnosed in a psychiatric ward shortly afterwards, with bipolar disorder II.

Even once I was diagnosed with bipolar, it took a while to feel okay. That's just how it is with Bipolar Disorder, and a lot of other mental illness.

Recovery takes a lot of time and patience.

 
 
Me digging in the sand at the beach!

Me digging in the sand at the beach!

Illness from 2004 to 2012

The next 8 years were the worst. I abandoned my art until 2010~. I went to the best specialist on the east coast, once a week. Therapy too, once a week.

I was, at some point, diagnosed with Bipolar I with rapid cycling (Bipolar one is a more severe form of Bipolar Disorder, and rapid cycling is really awful.) 

The therapist and psychiatrist were both helpful, but I wasn't getting better—I was just not getting sicker. There was so much pain to unravel, and it wasn't being unraveled without my art.

Eventually we had decided that I wasn't getting better. I was offered Clorazil, or electroshock.

Clorazil is one of the best drugs for mood stabilization, but it also has some nasty side effects.

I turned it down, at least until future notice.

Electroshock Therapy

Eventually I went on electro-convulsive therapy.

After the first treatment, I was happy...almost giddy. Everything was okay, except my memory. While getting treatments for months, I was non-functional. My memory was fried.

I still wasn't doing much art.

I had abandoned my art because it was no longer helping me, and because I was ashamed that I had failed at what I'm good at.

Shame is my worst nightmare.

 
 

My Art as Therapy

At a point I began to invest in understanding various behavioral therapies, philosophies, and the very basics of art therapy.

I started to apply Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to my habits—specifically my creative habits.

It took some time to figure out, but once I did, my successful strategy took a few hours to completely rid me of unhappiness....and as I continued, the happiness lasted!

I HAD SLAIN THE DRAGON!!!!

and now I just gotta make sure the necromancer doesn't raise it from the dead.

"She loves all" digital painting by Matt Vaillette, 2014

 

Happiness

Against all odds, and with much frustration, we figured out how I could recover from bipolar disorder.

I figured out the last part of the puzzle—The art therapy bit, but it took a lot of different efforts to get me to the point where I could make a big difference for myself.

Once I was able to think clearly about the problem, and confidently take some risks, I was off to a much better start to the rest of my happy life.

If I can do it...

I had doctors telling me they've never seen anyone like me. They had so much trouble treating me, and now I'm good. I'm happy. I'm mostly asymptomatic.

You can do it too. You can recover from your troublesome situations... or help someone else recover!

"Hope" and stuff.

Squishy fluffy words like "hope" never meant much until I discovered how important hope is in recovering from bipolar disorder.

Now I know how important it is to believe in yourself, and have hope that things will improve.

"Dance of peace", Illustration by Matt Vaillette, 2014