Make Your Soul Sing

Yesterday my good friend Leticia over at Biodagar.com wrote a post which truly woke up my spirit.

She talked about how different artistic endeavours she is involved in, particularly dance, influence and inspire her life, how they help drive her forward and find the strength within herself to be who she wants to be.

Ultimately, what I took from the post was why do anything in life if it makes you unhappy? Everybody is capable of doing anything they want, they just have to believe in themselves and go for it.

Why would you live at all if what you do doesn’t make your soul sing? And why persist with your path if it’s that shit?

This reminded me why I had originally pursued a self-employed life a few years ago. I was tired of my mental illness affecting my work life, having to explain myself to unsympathetic employers, or worse, employers who pretended to be sympathetic while stabbing me in the back and trying to get me out of their employ (and always succeeding in the end).

I loved working for myself but the pressures of people not paying on time, trying to find new clients when I have severe social anxiety and was competing with companies with more resources than I had and better salespeople than I would ever be.

Also, having Bipolar Disorder which wasn’t being treated properly was always going to be a problem in a high-stress career like digital marketing. It didn’t matter how I played the career out, it would always get stressful and stress is a major trigger for me both for mania and depression.

What I learned about myself while doing this though is that following your dreams is so important, what is the point in waking up every morning and going into an office where you feel like your soul is being destroyed one keystroke at a time?

When I went into self-employment I didn’t really know what else to do except what I had been doing through my entire career. I had half the plan right, working for myself, but I forgot that for self-employment to be truly successful you have to thoroughly love what you do, and I never loved marketing. I was bloody good at it, but that’s not the same thing.

The Breakdown

My mental state reached breaking point just over a year ago now, my physical health had also pretty much reached a critical point (although that is now very much on the mend). I gradually spoke to the few clients I had left, most had left me over the months prior, experiencing money problems of their own anyway and I had been in the wrong frame of mind to properly recruit replacements. By the beginning of April 2014, I was officially on sick leave, my business bankrupted and feeling very much the failure.

The year since has been one of the worst of my life. I’ve had worse things happen to me, over shorter time periods but not so much negativity and struggle over such a short space of time. What I have learned this year though is resilience, and to fight for myself really hard.

Mental Health services in this country aren’t as good as they should be and as patients we have to fight really hard for the treatment we deserve, certainly far harder than we should have to (but that’s definitely another post)! I was first diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder ten years ago, by an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist, despite this I have never received any help with how to deal with having the disorder, how to live with it, nor any medication.

In the past year, my Husband and I have fought relentlessly for me to get the help I need. I’ve hit rock bottom more times than I care to think about, I’ve been admitted to A&E too many times, and I’ve struggled with life in general, losing friends, battling with family, and finding that as hard as I try and as much as I want my illness to go away I can’t just magic it away.

A Message of Hope

I have just been admitted back into mental health services after another quite severe relapse, this time something is different with them. They had a reshuffle a few months ago and changed a lot of their processes. I remember reading the letters they were sending out at the time and feeling cynical that anything would actually change, but so far my experience is that things have

I have a dedicated psychiatric nurse who is assigned to work with me, co-ordinate all of my treatments, and help me get back on track and find the light at the end of the tunnel. He takes the responsibility of organising everything from me and is my first point of call when I need help.

I have a new psychiatrist who had actually read all of my notes when I went to see her last week, it seems such a small thing, but it’s the first time a new psychiatrist has been through my historical notes, and given I’ve been in and out of the service since I was nine to me it seems logical that they would read them.

For the first time, I’ve been put on a medication to help with the Bipolar Disorder, it’s too early to tell if it is helping properly but combined with the talking therapies they want to get me onto I actually feel like my life may not be an endless cycle of misery until the day it ends.

Make Your Soul Sing

And so we return to the original point of my post today. Reading Leticia’s post yesterday about art and what art teaches us about life reminded me of all the things I have loved in my life. The quote I lifted for you above is something that especially now, after this dreadful year, I truly believe.

As humans we are born with the ability to do so many things, as a child, even with mental health problems I was a musician, a writer, I played sports, rode horse. As I got older the pressures of life as an adult took things away from me, or at least I became less inclined to let my spirit free in the same way.

Excessive pressure from a music teacher who thought I had the talent to go to the Royal Academy in London if I pursued music A’Level and worked really hard saw me not only crumble but give up music. What would have happened if that teacher hadn’t pressured me? I loved music, I played multiple instruments, wrote music for the school wind band (over 80 instruments), and had attained Grade 8 and my Diploma in Clarinet, Saxophone and Music Theory. I was planning to learn piano and guitar and all by the time I was 16, I wasn’t a genius or a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination but I was talented and I thoroughly enjoyed every second I spent around everything musical.

Jazz was my passion believe it or not, I played a lot of classical because that was how I was trained and that was what we played in the main school band on the most part, but the freedom and intuition which came with playing jazz made me feel like I could achieve anything. I was the only girl in the jazz band at school, and the youngest by several years. I remember that people rarely ever spoke to me and even at that young age my social anxiety was starting to surface so I avoided speaking to the others, all except the boy who played the drums who was only a year older than me and became quite a good friend in the end, but damn I could play my ass off! Once I had my Saxophone or Clarinet in my hand I was a different person, full of confidence and completely self assured in the knowledge that I could kick some musical butt!

My English teacher once told me he expected to see my name in print one day, he said I always found a creative way around assignments, that I never made them boring and I had a vast imagination. I remember one particular assignment when we were studying The Catcher in the Rye. He had asked us to detail what was going through Holden’s mind, what wasn’t he telling us. Having, by that point, spent a good six years in therapy myself I wrote the assignment as his therapists report from one of his sessions. I wish I still had a copy of that assignment. It was one of my best moments of inspiration and one of the first times I thoroughly enjoyed writing, hardly a day has gone by since then when I haven’t written something.

I think what I’m getting at here is that as children we embrace our artistic natures, we let them feed us, our confidence. As adults we are afraid of it. I’ve never picked up an instrument since giving up at 16 even though I miss playing ever single day of my life. I’ve never written a novel even though I’ve wanted to since I first read one before I had even reached double digits.

Leticia was right when she said that people build walls around themselves then congratulate people who knock down those walls as she has. I consistently look at what she is doing with her dance scholarship, and self-publishing books and think how amazing she is. But as she says:

It’s ridiculous, because to me this is just my life. And I say it’s ridiculous because it annoys me when I see people who build walls in front of themselves constantly, while dreaming of things beyond those walls. They stand there, bent over, slopping cement into the wall, and wriggling bricks down into the wall, while saying things like,

“Wow, that’s amazing. I would love to,” – scrapes cement off the side of the wall where it’s oozing out – “love to be able to do things like that.” And they pick up another brick. “You’re so inspirational.”

Reading this post reminded me that I’ve been hiding behind a wall, I’ve let my illness put me behind a double thick wall with extra-strong cement. But I’m tired of hiding, I may have social anxiety, I may have bipolar disorder, I may hear bloody voices that tell me horrid things constantly. But it’s up to me to start grabbing those bricks and taking the wall down.

I need to remind myself what makes my soul sing, I need to find things in life that are worth getting out of bed for, that will both fulfil my life and pay some bills. I’m not bothered about having a fancy career anymore but I want to know that what I do is good for me and hopefully good for others in some way. Who cares if I don’t earn a shit-load of money? I’m not exactly raking in the big bucks on disability benefit.

I don’t want to spend my life being controlled by mental illness. It’s something which is wrong with me, it shouldn’t define me. There is far more to me than some wonky part of my brain, and with that I’m reminded that creativity is a great side effect of Bipolar Disorder and to revisit one of the best books I ever read after diagnosis, Finding Your Bipolar Muse: How to Master Depressive Droughts and Manic Floods and Access Your Creative Power.

Finally, if you haven’t already via my earlier subtle link *wink* I would encourage you to go and read the post which I found so inspiring: Life as art, and what art teaches about life.

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