Writing helps me recognize moods and manage bipolar symptoms.
I’m a creative person with bipolar. Some find that bipolar is often accompanied by an artistic temperament. From actors to musicians, painters to poets, there’s no shortage of artists who live with this mental health condition.
I’m both a graphic designer and a writer. Visual art is one way I express myself, but pictures are abstract representations of ideas. While design is satisfying, taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is the key to unlocking my inner self and understanding the world around me. Writing helps me get in touch with my thoughts, calms the chaos in my head, and enables me to live mindfully.
journaling when I was in high school. My mind swirled with confusion, fueled by
teenage hormones. I struggled to grasp who I was and where I fit into the
world. I felt disconnected and misunderstood, like many teenagers do. My journal
provided a safe space where I could share my feelings free of judgment and
without fear. I kept a little blank book next to my bed, and every night I’d
recap my day. But it wasn’t just about documenting what happened; I also shared
how I felt. By turning my attention inward, I connected to my inner voice, and
that built up my self-esteem. Journaling gave me a solid foundation by helping
me discover my identity. Writing not only helped me feel sane, it also kept
I discovered how powerful freewriting can be. Freewriting is like journaling,
just kicked up a notch. You simply start writing and keep going for fifteen to
twenty minutes. You don’t stop to think about what you’re writing, correct your
spelling or grammar, or question the results. Your hands are in a state of
constant movement. Freewriting is a great way to expose creative ideas and reflections
that are locked away in the recesses of the psyche. You’d be surprised what
comes out when you let yourself go. This form of expression is extremely useful
when I’m trying to access my subconscious.
I grew up with a dad whose bipolar caused me a lot of anguish and confusion. I was furious with him for years; then he ended his life. I was diagnosed with bipolar shortly after my dad passed. Even with therapy and the passage of time, I still couldn’t come to grips with everything. I endured an ongoing dance with my own demons. Overwhelmed by my illness, my issues about my father, and my tumultuous marriage, in 2012 I tried to follow in my father’s footsteps. Luckily, I survived and recovered. It wasn’t until I began writing about my life with bipolar that I eventually found peace. I never understood my dad—or his behavior—until I was diagnosed with the same illness, and I wrote about it. By writing a memoir about my life, I finally forgave my dad and, in turn, myself.
How writing supports my stability
one of my recovery tools. I put myself out into the world when I write. By
reading old journals and freewriting, I can recognize my manic highs and
depressive lows. Even before I was diagnosed with bipolar, seeing my
thoughts in black and white helped me identify my moods by allowing me
to step outside myself and simply observe. Reading my old writing can even help
me identify triggers, like toxic relationships, so I can avoid them in
write poetry, short stories, articles, and blog posts. Much of my writing comes
from my own experiences. Pieces of my past that caused me emotional pain don’t
feel quite so overwhelming once I write about them. Writing helps me heal
old wounds. Conjuring words to describe my experiences has broken the spell my
trauma once had over me.
And I no
longer write just for myself. I hope by sharing my story I can help others.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one to their suicidal thoughts, fallen into the
depths of depression, flown too high with mania, or lived through an attempt of
your own, you’re not alone. Writing has helped me save my own soul. It may just
do the same for you, too.
Carrie Cantwell is an Emmy-nominated film industry graphic designer with bipolar disorder. She grew up with a dad who had bipolar and whom she lost to suicide. She has written a book entitled Daddy Issues: A Bipolar Memoir, about how accepting her diagnosis taught her to forgive her dad and herself. Her blog is Darkness & Light.
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