Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Eclectic curiosity has been the lifeblood of my art and writing, fueling inquiry into the story behind the story. I desperately wanted to study art history and poetry and maybe religion, but choosing journalism felt like a sensible, grown up decision. I was a fish out of water, but it did help me to build structure and discipline and meet deadlines. These tools have been a great benefit to my art and writing practice. I don’t lie around waiting for inspiration, but rise early and get to work.
It’s a long and maddening road, working toward recognition as a visual artist and writer, with many projects along the way. I worked as a bookseller for a decade, in various incarnations of Chapters. For some time, I ran an online arts magazine called the Idea Museum; as part of a collective of the same name, we staged amazing art shows in alternative venues- people’s apartments, dive bars, etc. Later, I opened a small business that offered writing and editing services. It’s work that I love doing, and I still do this as one of my part time hats. But most of my writing is creative or creative nonfiction, usually about art or interesting people or about my perspectives on living with mental illness. I wrote a lot about food for a while too. I started publishing in literary journals and magazines when I was eleven. I’ve written a number of books, including Fascinating Artists: twenty five unusual lives, Fascinating Writers: twenty-five unusual lives, some poetry, some essay collections, and an anthology of short fiction called Funny Stories About Depression. I also write a Wine and Art column at Good Food Revolution. I started doing workshops from home this past year, helping people get creative, and will pursue more of this in the near future.
I spent some time as a planning committee member for Touched By Fire, the artists’ initiative of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, and I’m also involved with Workman Arts, an incredible organization that empowers creative and professional development for people in the mental health care system. And I create constantly, from photography to collage paintings- I refer to my work, tongue in cheek, as mixed up media. It has been shown at the Gladstone Hotel, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ritz Carlton, Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, and dozens of galleries and alternative venues locally as well as in Edinburgh, Brisbane, Belfast, Los Angeles, and beyond. This February, I will also be showing at the Artist Project.
How long have you been painting?
I’ve always been obsessively creative but didn’t really start dabbling with actual paint until fifteen years ago. Collage is my central visual arts interest- when I discovered what could happen if I combined it with painting, that’s when the floodgates opened for me.
What’s the most difficult thing about living with Bipolar Disorder? Is there an upside?
I wouldn’t know who I was without “bipolar disorder” and “A.D.D.” My whole identity, my whole life of confusion, chaos, impulsivity, contradictions, and creativity made sense in that freeze-framed moment of diagnosis. There was a truly bizarre “life flashing before your eyes” effect for me when the nice doctor with the clipboard asked, “Has anyone ever suggested that you assess for bipolar disorder?” It was more than an “aha” moment. It was a moment of profound recognition, like I was finally making sense of what I saw in the mirror.
Many feel differently about labels and categories or being typecast or defined. To each their own. For me, it was a big relief. The suggestion made sense of the vast, disparate, disconnected contradictions inherent in my life. It didn’t mean solving them or explaining away the nuances or the tornadoes. It meant validating them. It gave legitimacy to the hundred thousand parts of me competing within.
Not knowing is the most difficult thing. You exist in a vacuum of chaos and confusion, without a paradigm or structure to contain it.
Everything about being bipolar is a gift, once you find some context and some coping skills, which naturally follow treatment and management/recovery after diagnosis. This is not a popular view, but I hold it to my very core. I have experienced heaven and hell firsthand; I have lived life and loved without limits, I have survived impossible things, and I will always surprise myself.
How does painting/creative expression help you cope?
There has to be an outlet for the intensity.
Do you believe that others could benefit from indulging their creative side? Do you have any tips on how to inspire creativity?
Creativity belongs to and benefits everyone, like exercise or nature or solitude or romance. And like these other gifts, people have different needs and expectations – for some, a little goes a long way, others would do well on a steady diet. The best tip is to get over the fear that holds you back. Too many people are afraid that what they make won’t be any good. So what? Of course it won’t be any good- we don’t just spin gold the first try. The first time you cook, drive a car, plant herbs, the first draft of an assignment for work- creativity is no different. Get over that, and try something new for the hell of it.
What is your favorite thing about doing what you do?
Watching the development of my work, how it changes and grows and improves. It’s amazing to know my best work is yet to come.
Is there anything that you dislike about what you do?
I’ve always longed for security and never had any.
Do you have any other coping strategies that have worked for you that you’d like to share?
Honestly? Stop resisting medication and get off the “drugs are mind control” and “I don’t need chemical supports” trip. Yes, there are lots of bad drugs, lots of bad side effects, lots of profit-driven experiments, yada yada yada. But the gift of science and pharmacology is something the people before us didn’t have, and therapy and diet- both important tools- are also “profit driven.” Don’t have unrealistic expectations of what medication can do, and it works better for some than others, but rejecting it out of hand cost me dearly for years of my life. It’s safe to say it cost some people I love their lives. Bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are fatal diseases.
It’s a strange little story, but Britney Spears helped save my life. For a long time, no one could avoid her private hell, it was on every cover at the checkout stand. She was out of control, spiraling upwards and downwards and all over the place. Suddenly, she was all neat and tidy and stable and working hard. I wondered how the hell this had happened. A light went on in my head- I realized she had probably found the right medication. I’d been reading for years on end that “bipolar disorder is treatable.” And I wanted what she had.
Within weeks, it was as if someone had installed a windshield wiper in my mind and I could see for a change. Or put an antenna on those old TVs, so the picture came in. There are ups and downs with medication, but being better able to control my emotions made therapeutic growth possible. One can’t progress when always in crisis mode.
What is your opinion on the creativity and mental health debate?
I recommend Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Touched With Fire, to anyone interested in the subject. Not all creative people are mentally ill, and not all mentally ill people are creative, and Dr. Jamison’s theory was never trying to make this point. What she does point out, and what many other researchers and creatives have observed or experienced, is an unusual parallel between the bipolar mind and creativity. Today it is fashionable to dismiss such correlations and I would argue that it’s also dangerous to romanticize the stereotype of the tortured artist. This costs too much, for artists who aren’t messes as well as those of us who are. Nonetheless, it’s no surprise that those of us destined or cursed to soar and plummet the extremes of human emotion and experience may have a high incidence of unusual thoughts and observations.
Lorette is a mixed media painter, writer and a photographer. She is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and ADD. You can find her work on her website, and she is also available on Pinterest, and Flickr. She lives in Toronto.