After my first hospitalization I began writing. I signed my name, about five times, proving to the staff and myself that I was ready to be discharged. The envelope held against my chest contained reading material, a diagnosis, and copious sheets of paper with lightly drawn animal sketches. Two weeks in a hospital, sitting at a desk by a caddy-cornered television, holding a styrofoam cup of decaf coffee, I'd sit listening to news stories while skimming through piles of xeroxed copies of coloring books. This became the precursor to many more manic months that would eventually and periodically follow.
Adolescent behavior is uncertain, but a child that runs off into a wooded enclosure to scream until collapse is significantly more uncertain. More often than not, when a child screams, an adult comes running. But when the source of the scream is just as misplaced as the child, it will only become an echo lost to the wind. When feeling lost becomes a constant what else is there to do but draw a map, or in this case, animal sketches.
Have you ever cried hysterically while laughing? Not producing tears from a belly ache caused by momentary elation, but two conflicting emotions? Imagine dowsing yourself in gasoline and running into a burning home to get a drink of water. Picture yourself flying through the air, wind caressing your face, but you can't fly, and right before you hit the ground you only just realized that you jumped. No child can prepare for this, as much as an ignorant parent can help their child clean wounds that will not scab over. Medication will become a bandage, and if the wound can never heal, the bandage will eventually be ripped off.
Art therapy before therapy was introduced was sitting on the bedroom floor, fashioning little cut-out rectangles, hole at the top, and string pulled through and wrapped around my big toe. A blanket pulled over my face, just to know what it was like to rest in peace. But you know, kids will be kids, or so they say.
Aspirations to be an artist should have been the first clue that mental illness had come and was here to stay, but the dreamers of the world ruined that. You start painting happy little trees, and two months later you're medicated in a hospital room with the faintest idea of what a tree even looks like, let alone the fact that because of these unimaginable trees you are able to breath. But you are breathing, and slowly you are able to grasp a pencil, and soon after you are able to draw these trees, these happy little trees that you not so long ago had forgotten about. And you lean your face down, nose touching the sheet of paper, and you inhale. You feel reborn. Not exactly home, because, well, you're not home, but you're comfortable in your new skin. This new skin leads the doctors to explain to you that you are manic. You nod your head, obligatory nodding, seeing as how your mind is elsewhere, many places in fact, thinking of all of the ideas you'd like to put on paper. And soon enough you're signing your name, multiple times, being discharged with your diagnosis. This is your enlightenment you're told. This is the first day of your new life.
But it's not. The cycling wasn't explained. And you failed to read the paperwork given to you that was sealed in the envelope. Instead you tore it open to procure your drawings and discarded the rest of the contents.
Those drawings lead you to college. To be the artist you know you are.
You bleed for your work. Figuratively, at first. Until you decide to find a new medium. You put yourself into your work. Red smeared all over a canvas. Curled up in a ball on the floor, losing blood quickly, eyes slowly closing. And when you wake, with tubes in your arm, and hands secured to a bed, you wonder what season it is. And what the trees look like, whether they are barren or blossoming.
Then you smile.
You smile because you remember what trees are.
If only you could find a pencil.