Personal Stories

Photo by Barry Shainbaum.

Whitney Taylor

For the longest time before it was diagnosed, I didn’t know what it was.  I noticed it back in high school with attention problems, getting in trouble, being up in the night – beyond the normal teenage things. I was drinking all through high school, had a DUI, drinking at lunchtime, doing drugs. I think everybody just thought it was behavioural. I suffered from alcoholism during college, didn’t really do anything in moderation.  I see a connection between the alcoholism and the mood disorder – it was definitely self medicating.

Then the depression came and I had suicide attempts during my early 20’s.  It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s and was going to a doctor that the depression got really bad. I was constantly crying.  My doctor and I worked for a long time with hormone therapy. I went on progesterone, birth control pills, all sorts of things to level out my hormones thinking that’s what it was.  None of that worked, and I had a very bad episode of depression.  My doctor said, “I’m going to put you on antidepressants.”  So I went on antidepressants and it got worse. Really bad.  After a couple of months, my doctor came to the conclusion that I had Bipolar Disorder.  I’d never heard that term before.  I guess I had heard the term manic depressive, but not bipolar.  So off I went to the computer, found the MOOD DISORDERS ASSOCIATION website, and an instant connection.  From there it’s been ups and downs and ups and downs, but mostly ups – steady ups.

I was glad to finally have a name and a clear diagnosis. As much as I don’t like labels, having that label really helped me. It had a name even though I didn’t really know what it was.

I had a couple years of ups and downs with medications, finding the right one.  I was physically sick, had weight loss, then I found one that worked but I gained weight.  I just remember being really sick for a long time.  Some wouldn’t work and would send me into a mania.  I’ve only recently found the right one and been stable.  Moderating my drinking has been a challenge through all that since most of the medications don’t go well with alcohol.  I’m still working on the alcohol but I’ll always have to be monitored.

I attended a few MOOD DISORDERS ASSOCIATION support groups but my biggest involvement has been with Touched By Fire.”  I had always been an artist and had shifted into commercial art right after college so there would be little bit of financial stability.  I had shelved a lot of my personal painting that I used to love doing.  Seeing the call for entries made everything resurface and I was very motivated. At that time, I was in a mania so it helped pass the time during sleepless nights and focus a lot of my thought into painting, and selecting paintings for submission. I didn’t get into the show that year.  I didn’t let it discourage me because I realized how much I really enjoyed painting and kept working at it.  I went to art classes, back into painting classes, started working on some credits for my fine arts degree, and totally shifted my focus away from anything negative. I just did art and met all kinds of amazing people that I still keep in contact with.  I was in an art show at the Gladstone. It just kept going and going until I submitted three more paintings for the next Touched By Fire show and two of them got accepted. The night at the ROM was awesome.  The work and commission paintings that have stemmed from that night have been amazing.  Nothing would be what it is now if I hadn’t found the MOOD DISORDERS ASSOCIATION and submitted my art to Touched By Fire.

Watching my painting being sold was a little surreal. Just to walk in there, the grandness of the whole event was amazing.  I bet a lot of artists in their entire lives don’t capture that moment, the grandeur of having work displayed in the ROM.  To come in and see my paintings hanging there and have friends and family there to support me was thrilling. I enjoyed just standing there watching people look at my paintings. Surreal.  And my art sold almost instantly. People were seeking me out, coming up to me, wanting to meet and talk with me. I almost felt like a celebrity. People really liked my work.  This was the eye opener.  It gave me the confidence I needed to pursue it even more.

I didn’t realize it for the longest time because I spent so much time being pissed off and angry at being bipolar, but someone explained to me that if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t be who I am now.  Creativity and mental health issues often go hand in hand, and it helped me accept having bipolar disorder, realizing that if I didn’t, I may not have had the creativity and career I do in graphic design or painting.  Then I wouldn’t be who I have come to accept and like.

Touched By Fire has had a huge part in my recovery.  It started as an excellent distraction. It also really gave me the confidence that I could do the art. It was something I loved doing and I realized I could do these things without alcohol. I was going out of my comfort zone submitting those paintings, but it was a confidence booster for me personally. It has spiraled into other aspects in my life to things that I have done because of my increased confidence in the last few years. I would have never guessed five years ago that I would be doing the things that I do, and it all stems back to doing the painting. It’s a huge part of my recovery.

If you don’t have hope, you can’t heal. Without hope you can’t recover. I guess hope is the biggest thing for me.  When I think of hope, I think of patience and perseverance (I don’t have a lot of  patience. I like instant gratification).  To persevere and go through the treatment process and try different things, and not just give up.  My life would have taken a different path, and I don’t know what that would have been, but I’m glad that I took this one, for sure.