094: Finding the Comfort of Yourself

Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying, self-harm, suidical ideation, and violence, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Finding the Comfort of Yourself," Brian Walker of A Day Without Love

Since the age of 14, I have never felt exactly comfortable with who I am. In someways you can say it's because of growing up in an environment of where I was bullied, I witnessed urban violence and saw gunshots time to time in my neighborhood. But at 14, I moved to a safer neighborhood. I moved to the suburbs and I transferred to a suburban school. Did I change much? No things got worse. 

My only outlet was martial arts, I didn't have many friends but I felt empty. I was bullied, I was not exactly considered dating material and beyond all of the outside factors in my life that were not going very well, I did not feel very good about myself. 

At the age of 15, I started to verbally speak out about my own self hatred and how I did not like who I was. I did not like the fact that I was black because of the racist jokes that were made against me. I was not accepted by people in my own community and people of other races did not accept me. No matter what it was I didn't feel acceptance with myself. I then started to drink alcohol and found fairweather friends. 

Many of these people were not real friends, at 16 I started to find a deeper sense of hatred. Not only was I poisoning my body, I tried to kill myself. I tried to drink an entire bottle of mouthwash and took pills from my grandparents closet hoping that I wouldn't wake up the next day. I wanted to kill myself in my own high school, I wanted to get run over by a car. I confessed these thoughts to my friends and started to get into therapy. 

At 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given pills to "fix me." These pills did not fix me, they destroyed me, I tried to take these pills with alcohol in hopes I would kill myself. I continued the therapy and I found out later that I was misdiagnosed. I switched doctors and was diagnosed with major depression. 

I found out that I had issues with trusting the person that I was and not being comfortable with who I was. My behaviors manifested this depression through insomnia, overeating, addiction to alcohol, and living a relatively balanced life. 

Ages 16 to 20, I went to therapy to try to improve myself. In some ways I made progress, but in other ways I still remained dependent, depressed and rife with self hatred. 

I didn't wake up feeling like I wanted to die everyday, but I still hated myself. Sometimes I medicated with alcohol. Other days I medicated with sex with strangers that I wasn't intimately or emotionally involved with.I looked for a medicine and nothing worked. I started playing music at 18, but I wasn't confident in whether I had the ability to even help anyone. 

You can check out Brian's new album,  Solace , as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here:  https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

You can check out Brian's new album, Solace, as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here: https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

At the age of 20, I stopped going to therapy, mostly this was due to the demands of my academic work. I haven't been able to go since because of time or the lack of financial abilities. But I have found a very healthy coping skill, music. 

Music has opened doors for me that I never thought I could have done and because of music among many other life changes and growing pains I have learned how to forgive myself and learn about myself. I recognize that my illness should not hold me back and I should never be a person who latches on to the idea of hating myself. I am learning how to think outside the box of myself and trying to tell a story to help people. I am taking strides to live healthier and treat my body better by living a non drinking lifestyle. I don't engage in harmful actions, I try to engage in more healthy intimate relationships. 

I still have hard days, but through music, playing and sharing my story I feel that my pain is less, and I am learning to find safety in my own body by trying to improve and allowing myself to feel. For so long I never allowed myself to feel and I am now more aware of what my depression has taught me and how I can now help others with the gift of music.


About the art:

We've held on to Brian's story for a minute. He submitted it back when we first interacted in July, shortly after I came across his powerful piece on being a black man in a white DIY scene, which you can read here.

I find Brian's writing incredible reflective and evocative of an experience that I can relate with on a number of levels, but also have no idea where to begin conceptualizing. I think that's the power in the storytelling approach that both he and I equip within our writing and our music. There's a vulnerability, a comfort in letting it all out and being free to share the innermost frustrations and fears.

I took to creating this piece by focusing on Brian's new A Day Without Love album, Solace. It's a gripping and heartbreaking exploration of a life riddled with anxiety, grief, love, and peace. I took the lines for this piece from the opening lines of his song, "Capacity." Which funny enough, I misquoted on the painting - instead of "brain," he says, "mind." But in talking with Brian, he said that "brain" was actually in the initial lyrics. So perhaps he and I aren't as dissimilar as lyricists as one might think.

I tried to emulate the color scheme from the album cover as well, which makes this piece pop in a way that many of my other pieces haven't. And I like that. It's an imperfect, messy, and vulnerable piece. Which I feel is all the more fitting.

- Craig.

072: Two Auras

Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence, as well as PTSD, bipolar disorder, and depression which may be triggering to some survivors.

“Two Auras,” Anonymous

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.

I always felt I was different. I never knew why. I was happy child, it wasn't until puberty that I started to lose interest in the things I loved. At 16, I started cutting myself. I prefered the physical pain to the aching and sadness I experienced.

At 17, I was molested by my friend’s father.

Like most teenage girls I had a harmless crush. He was attractive and fun. I told him of my crush but was dismissive of it as I was a teen and just wanted to feel attractive.

With all of the pressure and dealing with my depression, when offered pot I took it. I wanted to fit in. He laced it. Everything was blurry. The sounds of pink floyd on the radio had colors in the dim lit room as I tried to cope with losing my grip on reality.

I felt dirty and cheap as his calloused hands touched my face. He laid me on the bed as I lay there not in touch with what was going on. My world fell to pieces as he took from me what he wanted.

I planned on never telling. I wanted it to just go away. His daughter had been in the next room over and a few days later she told my boyfriend i cheated on him.

I went to school with my friends cousin, she told everyone I was a whore and I was drug to my teachers room. I told them what happened and was forced to tell my parents.

After that event I sought help as my depression got worst and on top of that I had anxiety. I tried almost every anti depressant and most of them left me a zombie or in fits of rage.

I struggled constantly with sadness. I felt broken and alone. At 21, I met a doctor who asked me a series of questions and felt I was not depressed but bipolar. I was put on a new medication but it was expensive so they broke it into 2 medications. Prozac and risperidone. It seemed to work and things seemed to get better. There came a point I could not afford my medication and this put a strain on my marriage. Depression had not been as bad but my manic episodes became more severe. Everything was an impulse feel good moment to avoid dealing with real issues.

My marriage was broken for many reasons: PCOS and surgeries that had kept me from having children, manic episodes during fights and depression.

I decided to take my medicine again.

My grandfather grew really ill and passed away and left a huge hole in my life. I suffered in silence and hid my pain until I was at a breaking point. My Doctor wanted me off Xanax for anxiety. She cut me off cold turkey and tripled my prozac. As a result i had a severe manic episode. I was hallucinating and my emotional pain seemed to manifest physically. I attempted to kill myself and my husband admitted me into a mental hospital. It was an all time low. The hospital put me on lithium and monitored me.

The next two years were very trying. I tried to work through my grief. Sadly my marriage never recovered and in 2015 I was divorced.

I always felt bipolar was like having two auras inside of you, ripping you in two directions. One is like a cloud of sadness ever encroaching on your happiness. The other a hyper overly anxious child. Always wanting the high of instant gratification.

It has been an uphill battle. Every day is a balancing act. Trying to recognise manic and depression spells. It has been hard but i am hopeful it will get better with time.


About the art:

This painting for this survivor was inspired by the two sides she has inside her, sad and manic. The colors I used for the painting are a blend of the two sides, blues and greens for depressed moments, and reds and oranges for hyperactive, manic moments. The division between the two is not a straight, solid line, because often the two overlap and are constantly battling over each other.

I also used music notes raining down as an example of how something beautiful comes out of all the messy, unpredictable parts of life.  The umbrella that the silhouette figure is holding is down off to the side so that the figure can embrace the music instead of hiding from it.

This survivor shared with me that she loves listening to music and writing poetry, so the quote I found I thought was the perfect accompaniment to the design and complemented
it nicely.

- Emily Lopez

057: My Boundaries

Content warning:  This post contains information about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, which may be triggering to some survivors

"My Boundaries," Clare Cady

It’s been 4 years since I was diagnosed bipolar II and started medication. When I sat down to write this piece I actually had to look that up, because while I got my diagnosis in 2012, I have been bipolar as long as I can remember...and probably longer than that. The farther I get away from my diagnosis the less significant it seems. The naming of the thing did offer me language to describe the patterns of my life, and allowed me to address the parts that were unhealthy. It did not breathe it into existence, but simply pointed it out so that I was conscious that I was living with it.

For me, living with bipolar disorder is like having a charismatic roommate who makes me feel incredible about myself, invincible even, while simultaneously trying to ruin my shit. She is the one who tells me that I can do ANYTHING. I can start a national organization, climb a 14,000 foot mountain, publish scholarly works, and learn how to make an incredible dish of short ribs...and she’s RIGHT! I can listen to her advice and touch the sky because she obliterates my inhibitions, my perceived limits, my boundaries. 

My boundaries. 

We need boundaries in order to manage our lives, and it is here where she starts to push me out of that creative and productive zone into spaces where I can lose touch with health, wellness, and sanity. Her voice is excited and earnest. She is the most convincing person I know. She tells me I don’t need to sleep, and I can stay up all night building furniture out of repurposed materials, or driving from Utah to New York in under 2 days, and I ignore my health and safety to do so. She tells me my relationships, my jobs, my living situations, are not good enough for me and I should move on, and later I regret leaving. She tells me I can spend money I don’t have, and I rack up debt. She tells me all of these things and more...and I used to listen to her. I listened and believed and I never once thought about who it was that was telling me all these things. I never once considered that she was a liar. 

After all, how could she be? She’s me. 

And those are the good times. When not encouraging me to attempt (and often complete) superhuman tasks or take (to benefit or detriment) massive risks, she is telling me that I am the worst person on the planet...and reminding me that any success I have had is accidental - not mine to claim. Her ability to gaslight me is so incredibly powerful, an artist of deception and denial. It’s almost impossible not to listen to her, because while so much of what she says is so incredibly irrational, she touches on truth JUST often enough that she can establish herself as credible. She does this both when she is building me up, and when she is tearing me down.

Even a liar can stumble onto the truth sometimes. 

It is in those truths that I find myself. 

I have regularly stated in my writings, on Twitter, and on my video blog that medication does not remove my symptoms, but it makes me aware of them while dulling their impact such that they are manageable. Just like my bipolar-liar internal roommate, this is a double-edged sword. The problem is that while I now know she is there, I also know I can’t get rid of her. On my bad days I find this akin to living in an abusive relationship I can never walk away from. It can be the most unempowering experience to consider that I have to live with this liar under my roof for the rest of my life. 

However, understanding what is going on helps me to take control of my situation - to untangle the knotted web of lies and to stand up and say NO. I can claim my successes and forgive myself my failures. I can find health. I can harness the energy I get from mania and channel it into making the world a better place - and in my depression I can realistically assess my impact. I can be a vibrant person, a loyal friend, an honest speaker, and an adventurous learner. I can separate out what is truth and what is lies with clear eyes, and find peace with this person such that she is no longer separate from me, but a part of my whole upon whom I can place my own, reasonable boundaries.

And I can keep my truth, and my power, for myself. 

About the art: 

Clare’s story is so beautifully written and gave me some insight into her experience, but more importantly it helped me to hear her voice and see this truth that she speaks of so eloquently. Clare told me that the official color for bipolar awareness is emerald green, so I wanted that color to be a symbol in the painting.

Clare also shared that she loves art with words in it, and so to tie in symbolism through color, words, and meaning from Clare’s story, I painted this eye with a quote around the iris. This quote resonated with what I heard in Clare’s story, about finding herself, and seeing her truth. The quote from Leo Tolstoy is, “truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”

- Becca Meyers


045: To Know Myself Again

Content Warning: This post contains information about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, which may be triggering to some survivors.

“To Know Myself Again,” MacKenzie Dumas

Finding out that I am bipolar was not surprising.  The negative aspects that come with being bipolar have not surprised me.  But, the positive things that have surfaced since becoming more vocal and open about being bipolar have surprised me.

I have struggled for a while with my mood, but I found out just over a month ago that I am, in fact, bipolar. I will briefly write about the negative things, just to let people know that it is something that people, most of the time invisibly, deal with when they have bipolar disorder.  But, the main purpose of me writing about living with bipolar disorder is to bring light to my situation and hopefully, remind bring a little light to others in the same boat as me.

Both ends of the mood spectrum when it comes to being bipolar are scary.  They are scary because I do not know I am there mentally until I leave those places.  When I dip into the depressive state, I find it more than difficult to pull myself out of bed—

I don’t call my parents.  I don’t eat.  I don’t do the things I typically enjoy doing.  I sleep and can’t convince myself to pull myself up and live.  I do find the time to talk down to myself, and for a person who is hard on herself even without being in the depressive state, this can be astonishingly harmful to myself. 

When I go into the hyper stages, my mind is going a million miles per hour.  I can’t concentrate.  I have driven places, forgotten I drove there, walked back to my dorm, and forgotten my car overnight.  I can’t sit still.  I can’t sit in class without having to leave to go do something.  I crave to run.  I want to run 1,000 miles.   I want to run at 1 o’clock in the morning.  I do not know where I want to run to, but I can’t stay here.

I want to be there, and there, and there.
I want to do that, and do that, and then do that. 

I will sleep for 2 or 3 hours a night and not miss it the next day. I get angry at myself for not having the ability to do multiple things at once and not be able to be in multiple places at once. I forget to eat, because I am too busy trying to accomplish a month’s worth of tasks in a day. I will do that for a week straight and when that hyper time is over, I am mentally and physically exhausted.  

But, I can either focus on those parts of bipolar disorder, or, I can choose to see the great things that have happened.  

The first time I was actually told that I am bipolar, it scared me for about a second. But then, I realized that it explained so much and that there was so much I could do to cope with it and help others deal with mental illness.  I decided to make this a vehicle.  I can drive it anywhere I want.  I can either decide to leave the car in park and not use it for anything.  I can put the car in neutral and let it cost wherever it wants to, dragging me along with it. OR, I can put the damn car in drive and I can travel and go places and bring others along for the ride.  And if anyone decides that they don’t want to go with me, then they can leave, and that’s fine, but I am driving and I have places I need to be. 

So stay or get out—but I. Am. Going. 

I have a blog that I started as a medium to write about my transition into being an adult and start life away from where I grew up.  I decided to use the blog as a way to document my experience with bipolar disorder.  My first post has been my favorite.  

Back when I was in a really depressive state, I decided to get the phases of the moon tattooed down my spine.  For me, it represents that even when I do not feel like all of me is there – when I feel like parts of me are missing, big or small—I am always whole.  I am constantly transitioning.


This tattoo is monumental.  I am cratered with imperfections, but I am whole and I am strong and I am beautiful. 

For my first post, I connected my mood transitions with the phases of the moon.  The moon has been a very important element in connecting my mood with something visible and real. But think about it, the moon is allowed to constantly change, in fact, so is the weather, so why is there such a stigma about my moods doing the same exact thing?

"Phases of the Moon," MacKenzie Dumas

New moon.  This is the beginning. 
I feel like I have not found myself but I have not lost myself, yet. 
I have not lost myself again.
There is so much possibility and probability and potential. 
But everything feels ambiguous.  
And just as the crescent begins to show, so do I. 
A new revolution. 
There is so much to believe in. 
I begin to feel familiar to my own self. 
My skin feels like it is of me. 
I remember, just for a moment what I am made of and how to once again
Catch My Breath. 
Half Moon and the glass feels half full. 
I recall in a way that I could not in the previous moments of being
The semblance of a working soul
Everything can only get better, bigger, stronger. Real. 
I am almost there and so is the gibbous moon. 
Only a crescent-sized piece of me is missing
And maybe I can live without it. 
If only I could stay here, and live with the compromise of myself
I could
I can
Live without the missing piece but I don’t know what it is and my mind is racing
And I can do almost anything  
And then the unmistakable feeling emerges
I am whole
Bright and visible and illuminated
Cratered by imperfections
But they are beautiful and
My soul is beautiful
Nothing is lost
When I look at my reflection, I am within
I am familiar with those who surround me
My thoughts are my own
With ease
I can change the tides of the ocean
And with the victorious awareness of liberation
Comes the inevitable and calamitous
Because everyone knows that even when the moon is full
Half of it is in darkness and waiting its turn
And we try not to be selfish.
Once again, I become a gibbous. 
One again, a piece of me is missing. 
Still, a piece I feel I can live without
If only I can stay here. 
Functional and thriving. 
But just as quickly, 
I am at half once again. 
Half Moon, half empty. 
Still proportionately the same as before,
But diminishing
Half is okay. 
We can do half. 
And a little light is lost. 
And then a little more. 
And soon a crescent sized piece of myself is left. 
And I think
I just need to keep this little bit. I just need to know that some of me is still here. 
Because if this leaves, what if I never come back. 
And pretty soon I am in my own darkness
All that is left are the stars and a glimpse of our galaxy
And I am lost somewhere in there
Just hoping that I get another chance
To know myself again.

I created the post, and then decided to share it to my Facebook and to Twitter.  It was very terrifying for me because almost no one in my life knew what I was dealing with.  But, I really want to use my experience to help others cope with their own experiences, and hopefully foster an environment for others to understand what people are going through.

Posting that poem has been such a positive experience.  I had people messaging me, people who I’ve never met or known, to tell me that they were so happy I posted it.  People were able to connect with it and sigh a breath of relief because someone else on earth knew what they were going through.  

I have told friends and family and for the most part, people have been extremely supportive of me.  I have found that becoming vocal about it has changed my relationships with people, and they have changed for the better.

Here I was, afraid that people would stigmatize my mood disorder (only 1 person did) and I was the one underestimating people for how they would react to me telling them.

If you surround yourself with positive people, your experience will be more positive.  My message is that, you can either surround yourself with people who only go outside to see the moon when it is whole, or, you can surround yourself with people who appreciate the moon during every phase.  Remember to love yourself, no matter what phase you are in.  Learning to love yourself when you are whole is hard, learning to love yourself when pieces are missing or hidden, is even harder.  It’s a beautiful life and I just want everyone else to make the best of theirs. 


About the art:

I was inspired by Mackenzie's poem about phases of the moon to create this piece.  The colors are inspired by the cool, calming colors of the ocean.  I started to paint the phases of the moon, but the quote I chose to use from her poem is about the full moon phase.  With this idea, I painted full moons in different colors and shades.

It's funny that the quote is about imperfections, because this painting is actually upside down.

I painted the moons with the idea that the light source (or yellows) would be at the bottom right of the piece.  After adding the quote which I fell in love with, I noticed that I had painted it upside down.  I loved how it turned out and I think it fits better with the moon orientation this way instead of the way I had originally planned.

Sometimes the picture in our mind isn't what the final product ends up becoming, but I am very grateful for that because it created a more beautiful painting than I had thought it would become. This relates to the events that shape our lives along the way.  It may not have turned out how we thought, but it's even more amazing than we'd imagined.

I hope Mackenzie loves this painting as much as I do and it inspires her to be true to herself, because she is amazing.

- Emily Lopez