“Try painting what a bipolar diagnosis feels like,” my therapist told me.
“It doesn’t work like that,” I explained. “I paint, but I paint things. Like, you know, pheasants or whatever.”
“Um, pheasants?” Her pencil hovered over the notepad.
“Yeah, I painted a pheasant a while back because my husband likes outdoorsy stuff. Anyway, I can look at a picture of a pheasant, put some paint on a canvas, and then say, ‘hey, that looks a lot like a pheasant.’ And I feel cool because I know I did it right, because it looks a lot like that picture of a pheasant. I don’t do abstract stuff.”
“You could try abstract painting…give it a chance. It could help.”
Now, if I would have actually followed my therapist’s advice and tried to abstractly paint what a bipolar diagnosis feels like, then I would have categorized this post as “Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy – Episode 2.” Since I didn’t actually do it, though, I can’t put this post in that series. The reason why I will not attempt to abstractly paint a bipolar diagnosis is because this is what I would have to do if I were to do that correctly:
First, I would have to go to Home Depot to buy a gallon of black paint. No chintzy little tube of acrylic could do the job. I would be in line checking out with my black paint when I would decide that I have to buy another color too. To paint only in shades of black would be too dark, like I’m an angsty teenager watching rain drip slowly down my windows or something. I’m not an angsty teenager. I’m a grown woman with a messed-up brain, that’s all. So I would go back to the paint counter and buy a ridiculous shade of neon yellow. Not a sunny yellow, but highlighter yellow. So-bright-you-can’t-look-at-it yellow. No one else would ever buy that ridiculous color, but that’s exactly why I would like it.
I would go home with my gallon of black and my gallon of highlighter, and I would set up my 9 inch by 12 inch canvas on a small easel in my living room. It would be on my coffee table. I would take off the lids of my paint cans and get ready for my abstract painting experience. I would pick up the black gallon of paint first and stand about five feet away from my coffee table. I would pull the can back slowly like I’m about to go bowling with it, then quickly hurl all of the black paint in the general direction of my canvas. Some would certainly hit the canvas, but it would also hit my couch, my rug, my hardwood floors, my walls, you get the idea. I would look at the splotches, satisfied, then look back in the can and see that I didn’t dump it all out yet. I would walk over to the canvas and turn the can directly upside-down, watching black paint pour over the table and onto my floor some more. I would step in some of the paint on my way to go pick up the liquid highlighter, but I wouldn’t mind.
Next I would pick up my can of bright neon. I would look away at first because the paint is so-frickin-bright, but then I would look back at the paint, dip a large paintbrush into it, and start splatter painting the canvas. It would look really cool, actually – the brightness in contrast with the darkness. I would aim for the canvas, but as collateral damage I would probably splatter paint all over the place: on my ceiling, on the walls, in our fireplace, but it would look kind of cool in a destructive type of way. My two dogs would probably run in to see what all of the fuss was about, and they would run through the paint. They would roll in it because it smelled funny. Then they would go frolicking throughout the house, leaving paw prints in my dining room, in my kitchen, up the stairs, and they would roll around on my bed too because that’s what dogs like to do.
Finally, when all my paint was gone, I would stop and look at my artwork. I would consider cleaning up my mess, but then I would think that perhaps it would be easier to just throw away all my furniture, move to a new city, and buy a cleaner house. Unfortunately that’s not an option for me, so I would sigh and go to the kitchen to fetch my Swiffer wet-jet. I would look around the room, not sure where to start, and finally I would randomly pick some square foot of wood flooring (it wouldn’t matter which one). I would halfheartedly start mopping that area even though all it would really do is smear around the paint. I would realize that no matter how much I cleaned, I would never be able to really get my house totally clean. It took about ten seconds to destroy everything, and I would have to take a lifetime trying to put it back to how it was.
With no other option, though, I would keep mopping. I wouldn’t even be sure why. I wouldn’t be making much progress, but stopping completely would mean to make no progress at all. Therefore I would keep mopping. Most of the time.
That’s what it would be like to paint what a bipolar diagnosis feels like. My therapist is going to have to forgive me for passing on that exercise.