By Sue Mi
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 18 but due to my internal stigma and denial, I refused to face what ultimately frightened me the most, myself. Growing up in a large family my illness went mostly unnoticed for some time and was a roller coaster ride of misdiagnosis, severe depression, and mania which affected all my interpersonal relationships. It was the somewhat textbook story of teenage angst that didn’t seem to dissipate after teenage years. I never sought out help and became quite unwell for a number of years. The highs felt amazing! They made me feel like I was invincible and connected spiritually to everyone, but the lows were filled with crippling guilt and despair that was unshakable followed by suicide attempts and ideation. I went on and off medications and resorted to drugs and alcohol to numb my pain. I was loving but also very aggressive and unable to maintain any kind of relationships.
When I was 20, one thing led to another and I was hospitalized for one and a half months as an involuntary patient due to being in a severe psychosis, experiencing grandiose ideas and hallucinations. For the first two weeks, I don’t think I was even aware of what was going on. I was in the special care unit closely monitored because the doctors thought I was a danger to society and myself. Ultimately it took me hitting rock bottom to learn that I couldn’t run away from my mental health nor could I pretend I wasn’t affecting every facet of my life. I left a trail of destruction and lost a lot of friends, family, and relationships. It came down to me taking responsibility for my illness through self-care, mental health support networks, a good doctor and the right medication combination. Recovery was a long journey for me and I felt cheated for a long time because I rejected so many parts of myself and didn’t seek help sooner. Self-love and acceptance were something that took me a long time to learn. I learned that I am okay and I can still be a fun, loving, generous, creative person who lives with Bipolar and live a happy, full and meaningful life. It took a lot of hard work and support during my recovery to get where I am today, the best thing I ever did was admit that I wasn’t okay and really work on embracing me for the way I am.
During my early recovery days, I used the art of Lapidary and Silversmithing as a form of therapy, meditation, and means of grounding myself in the present moment. Spending time in nature, on the beach, with loved ones and laughter helped me reconnect with who I was and am today. Integrating yoga and breath work followed by using mindfulness techniques allowed me to accept where I was and I was able to drop all the judgments I had about myself. Being someone that was so unwell for such a long time, I knew this would be a challenge but alas without struggle there would not be transformation. With loving support from my partner, family, and mental health care team I have tapered off my medication and here I am. This is how my little business Depth & Shallows was born. It was suggested to me that channeling my hypermania into a physical outlet would be a way of dealing with the highs and lows by giving me a creative outlet where I can draw inspiration from the things I truly love in nature. I cast organic material from the beach, mountains, and my own backyard using recycled silver and lapidary as a form of color therapy. Art, for me, has been one of the most powerful therapies as I can be raw, rough, and express what excites me as well as simple, delicately smooth and fluid. All my pieces I create are an expression of my soul and individually have so much meaning behind their final structure.
One of the best things I have ever done is embrace who I am through artistic self-expression. Above is a piece that was one of my first completed works. I call it Ebbing Tides. I cast organic plants and found a local shell on my favorite beach, hand cut this milky green piece of natural Australian Chrysoprase. The ocean, to me, is like life, it comes in waves with its highs and lows but is always fluid. There is so much beauty all around us when we look beyond the crashing waves. Nature and the ocean don’t have to be perfect or faultless to be admired or beautiful and neither do we as people. The less judgment we place upon ourselves and others, the more perfectly imperfect everything and everyone is. Mental health stigmatization needs to stop. Awareness, support, and self-acceptance are empowering tools to help anyone struggling with the highs and lows. Having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and let us embrace and celebrate our uniqueness.
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