I'm standing in front of a Turner painting which depicts a storm at sea.  At least I think that's what it depicts—it's a late Turner so it's pretty abstract, and there are too many people between me and the curator's card to see the title.  For a moment, I'm fidgety, wishing I were alone in the museum and knew exactly what I was seeing.  But then I think, does it really matter?  I'm enjoying getting lost in the sensuous swirl of textures and colors, all merging and melting into each other.  It is whatever it is, and it's lovely.

Today at least, that's how I think about my bipolar disorder.  I know it's doing strange things to my mind, but whatever it is, it's lovely.  I know that what I'm feeling right now isn't what the other people around me are feeling.  They aren't tasting that particular shade of saturated blue on the tips of their tongues; that lonesome patch of yellow-green in the corner—a ship, perhaps?—doesn't make them want to cry.  They're not inside the picture like I am, intensely aware of the direction of every brushstroke, the intent behind every seemingly random smudge of impasto.  They may have the advantage of knowing what they're seeing, but they don't know what it's like to swallow it whole.

Art keeps me alive.  No, more than that—it makes me want to live.  I can't count the number of times I've woken up in the morning determined to kill myself, then gone to a museum instead and forgotten all about it.  I sometimes think if I'd lived in New York City or Washington, D.C., with access to their amazing museums, my life would have taken a completely different trajectory.  I'd be sane, with beauty to anchor me and provide a safe haven for my intensity.  Whenever I felt too much, I'd just go drown it in art.

But I'm fortunate enough.  The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is only a half-hour's drive away, and it's got enough masterpieces to satisfy even my manic appetite.  There's a Cezanne painting of a tulip there that's made me literally pirouette with joy, much to the guard's consternation.  And then there's the Hammer Museum in Westwood—a very small permanent collection, but one that should speak volumes to anyone who's bipolar.  It boasts two Van Goghs:  one of a rectory garden in winter, bleak and dismal and dreary, all browns and somber grays.  The other he painted at the end of his life, in the asylum at St. Remy.  It's the Van Gogh style most people love:  bold, vibrant colors and flame-like strokes, the trees so alive they're dancing.

Ever since I first laid eyes on these paintings, I felt a mission:  to see them hung together.  For some ridiculous reason, they were always placed at opposite ends of the gallery.  I wrote letters, made phone calls, and pestered the staff whenever I visited.  Maybe somebody heard me, or maybe somebody finally just got it; because the last time I was there, a week or so ago, the paintings were hung side-by-side.  Seen separately, you'd think they were by two different artists, the moods and the execution are that far apart.  But seen together, they're a portrait of the astonishing schism of which one soul is capable:  manic depression incarnate.

I seriously doubt whether Van Gogh could ever have witnessed the waltz in those trees, or captured the ache in a wintry garden, if he hadn't been bipolar.  It's a cursed gift, and all of us who are drawn this way should appreciate this.  It makes me suicidal, yes; it also gives me an exquisite sensitivity.  My depressions force me to see the world as it really is, so I recognize truths most people can only access in a nightmare.  But mania lets me see past the truth, and into possibility—like the madness in a sunflower, or the white hot brilliance of a shooting star. 

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Replies to This Discussion

Ty Elspeth. I finally got my smile for the morning, ty!

I agree with Elspeth about your talent, Quingu, but I do not consider myself to have what you consider to be a problem, since I have never been diagnosed that way, however, I can see all that you see, even if I can not talk about it the way you do.

See, I painted, while I lived in my own country in Cuba, as a child as a compulsion, and then in  New York, as well, where I sold some of my paintings, but I visited both all the Museums in New York and Washington, and the Louvre in Paris, and the Rikjsmuseum in Amsterdam, and the best all over Europe and the USA, since I also lived in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the USA, before I finally seem to be settle here in San Diego County.

You are an artist and you should paint. 

And never mind what comes out, I am sure  someone will enjoy your art as much as you enjoy that of others. 

To me painting was a compulsion, I also wrote poetry, and yet, I was not as good as you are with words to express the whole gamut of feelings as you are. 

But al of that, and the ability to do and bring out whatever was within me, contributed a lot to my ability to deal with this seeming limiting World of ours, but it is up to you and all of the malcontents to create a better and more expanded World. 

That is what I am engaged in doing, in my own unique way...

I enjoyed reading the text.
In fact, everyone has a little crazy.
It is a popular saying here.
What is right or wrong?
What can be transferred to an image or text of what you are feeling at the moment ???
Judgments, only.

Mhmm!

Thanks for the comment, Margarida!

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