Pick your cause, and fight.

There is a laser focus and a clarity that comes when something you love, or desperately want, is threatened. We are, in many ways, faster, stronger, better in a crisis than we are as we muddle along. Mostly, we talk only about the adrenaline that comes from a threat against someone we care for. Sometimes, though, it's entirely internal.

The ability to get through my degree with minimal stress? Gone. In fact, it's entirely possible I won't be able to finish my degree at this point. And the threat to not just something I love, but something I need in order to make a living has been heart breaking, and a kick in the butt I truly needed.

At first, I did what the vast majority of people do when faced with a sudden brick wall on their sprinting route. I crumpled in a heap and cried, gnashed teeth, threw my hands skyward and asked the universe why it hated me. I grumped and hid under my blanket, and tried to resolve myself to the idea that it just wasn't meant to be. It worked, for a few days. And then I got angry. Who the hell has the right to take my potential income, my right to an education, and tick a box to say my mental illness means I'm not worth the effort it takes to educate me? Who the hell do these people think they are telling me that it's more financially viable for me to live long term dependent upon welfare than it is to get a skill set and get working? I get finances are tight, but three years of help verses fifty years of dependence seems like a better result to me.

In that moment of fury, something became so crystal clear that I can't believe I missed it for so long.

I was passively sitting around, waiting for my dream to show up. I was like one of those well dressed ladies in historical fiction; demure on her chair, waiting for someone to rescue her or give her what she needed. I have been living out the archetypal damsel in distress; that horrible victim mentality that meant that someone or something was sabotaging me, and all I could do was wait and hope they'd leave or someone would step in to magically improve the situation. Ugh. Not a good look.

That realisation prompted something else, too. I realised that all of that passive hoping was a goal killer. All that umming and ahhing, all that edging around, actively avoiding saying this is what I want, and I commit to making it happen meant that I'd never actually defined what it was I wanted in any meaningful way. I'd never looked at what would be needed to make them happen. I'd never stood up for my goals and my dreams. As soon as something came up, I'd back away. Does anyone else ever do that? There would always be a reason: I didn't want to be the bad guy, or hurt someone's feelings, or be selfish. And chasing my dreams? Oh my God, selfish. Saying that something for myself is my number one priority feels an awful lot like being mean to everyone else when you start doing it. I've been told it gets easier. I hope like heck that's true.

Don't get me wrong, right now, the financial side is a killer. It's entirely probable there will be a stretch soon where I have no guaranteed access to any source of income. And the idea of leap and the net will appear when it comes to meeting basic needs is terrifying. All I know is that playing it safe cannot physically work anymore. All I know is that I cannot stand the idea of spending my life struggling to find jobs I am qualified to do that aren't being done more cheaply by teenagers, of working my ass off and still not earning enough to survive without government help. I know that I will not ever again tolerate anyone telling me, or anyone else, that a mental illness means going without education. Screw that, I aced three of four subjects last semester, and only narrowly missed acing the forth. I can do this. I will do this. As of now, there are two camps of people in my world. Those who are with me, and those who need to be getting out of the way.

As of now, I'm chasing down dreams like they're gazelles on the Serengeti.

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Semester One

I'm doing a writing degree.

It seems odd to say that, given how slack I've been with my blog. I'm training to write professionally, and yet I can't even manage to keep a blog going. Definitely something to remedy.

I am finding uni to be incredibly enlightening. Going back into a situation I thought I'd left behind years ago  is so weird. I'm 28, and I'm surrounded by people 10 years younger than me. It's surreal seeing the uni experience through the lens of an adult. Part of it, I think, is that the teachers at QUT are infinitely nicer than the ones I had at Griffith. Most of it comes from the fact I'm a far different person. I was, at times at least, scared of my Griffith lecturers and tute teachers. At times they were downright horrible.

My teachers this year have inspired me so much. They've been quick to offer advice, quick to share a joke, and quick to make me feel like this was the absolute right step to take. It's surprising to admit, but I'm going to miss them. And my tute groups. The most fabulous thing about this degree is that no one cares about ages or what clothes you're wearing, or any of the crap that seemed so important last time. They care if you can write. They care about what you want to go on to do and be. And it's meant having to be completely open and honest. 6 months in, and I know more about the direction I want to travel in than I did in years of trying to figure it out on my own.

I ended up hating Griffith with every fibre of my being. But QUT is like finding my tribe.

I made a decision at the start of the degree to be completely open and honest about my bipolar. I've gotten so tired of that little seed of doubt that comes from hiding my illness, and worrying what will happen when someone finds out. Sooner or later, all secrets come out. It's weird; a lot of my high school and Griffith friends bailed the second they heard. But being open and upfront has meant that no one really cares. It makes it easier to be able to say 'I'm sorry, but right now I'm not able to help you', and easier for people to accept that boundary.

I decided to push the envelope this semester with my writing. Instead of just writing randomly, I wrote from life. I made myself vulnerable on the page, which is terrifying when that page is getting critiqued. I've made a commitment to one idea: if I'm not terrified, I'm not doing it right. It's scary to hand something over to a group for feedback. It's scary to give feedback, especially if you have to recommend changes. It's scary to throw myself into the deep end with writing genres I've never tried before. It's scary to experiment, to offer a piece of my heart up and risk rejection, or being told it's not right. It's scary to try new things and know that it'll take heaps of practise to get the hang of the genre, and to make my work not suck. But it's what I think I need to do. I have three years, four if I do Honours, to move from where I am now. I have three years of learning, and then I'm trying to get work. I'm worried that if I play it safe, and if I stick to the areas I know, I'm limiting myself.

One of the most terrifying decisions was to write a piece that was very firmly based on real life experiences. I sat, talking to my teacher at the end of a tute, and laying it all out. I was scared that I was too vulnerable, that my family would be pissed if they ever found it, that there's something painful about offering up a piece of your heart to be graded. I told him that I was once told that I bleed from the wrist onto the page, but I was scared I'd hit an artery this time. He grinned, and he taught me an incredibly valuable lesson. All writers bleed onto the page. The great writers learn to control the blood flow, learn to control how much blood they put onto the page. Which, I know, is gross imagery. But it boils down to a really important idea. Whether you're an artist, musician or writer, you put a piece of yourself into what you create, whether you mean to or not. Accidental or deliberate, it's still gonna happen.

It means you have two choices. Number one, you can put all of yourself out there and hope for the best. But the problem with putting all of yourself onto the canvas, page, or audio file is that it's emotionally draining. You can't keep it up long term. Worse, that much emotion and self reflection can scare people off, and if there are criticisms, it's very hard to differentiate between people not liking the work and people not liking you. Number two, you can learn to decide how much of yourself goes into your work. It can be as simple as connecting with a strong emotion you felt years ago, or a story you lived through. You can learn to connect with an emotion without drowning in it, without scrawling your life story onto your creation for others to see. That's what I want to do over these three years. I want to learn to control the blood flow. And I can't do that while playing it safe.

It's going to be an interesting three years.

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The start of the art storm

For the first time in what feels like forever (but is more like a week), it's not painfully warm here. In fact, it's cool and rainy.

It's glorious.

There's something perfect about sipping a cup of tea and enjoying the sounds of life outside.

The back to school preparations are coming along. I've got most of the back to school supplies taken care of during the sales, and I can enroll for my tutorials on Friday morning. Fingers crossed I can nab the tutes I want, and if I can, I'll only be on campus three days a week. I'm trying to get through the year as cheaply as possible. I can apply for scholarships, but I can't plan on having that extra bit of money. The fewer days at uni, the less my transport costs are, the more I can save towards next semester's textbooks and transport.

The biggest, most awesome part of the coming fortnight is that the bestie and I have tickets for an MCR concert! Very, very excited. I love My Chemical Romance's music. And theatricality. And the idea that I'll actually get to see them perform live? I don't even know enough adjectives to describe how fantastic it is.

In terms of art, I'm falling a bit behind in Life Book, which is frustrating. Drawing people has never been my strong point, and the first challenge has been a 3/4 profile face. I've never tried one before, and by the end of today I'll have a photo up on the site asking for help on how to get the nose to look less creepy.

In terms of Magical Mythical Makings/ M3 (which was one of the additional workshops offered through Life Book), I have my giant canvas sitting and waiting to be prepped. As soon as it's sunny enough to do so, it'll be coated in gesso so I can get started drawing. No idea how I'll actually draw on it, though, since it's too big to fit comfortably on the easel. Some lateral thinking required, it seems. But already, I'm loving this class. It's drawing and painting mythological creatures and beings, but it's also lessons about working on different bases. Weeks one and two are on stretched canvas. Another one is on wood, one on watercolour paper, and one is working with unstretched canvas and fabric to create a wall hanging. Each lesson is inspired by a different artist, and trying to work within their style is so much more fun than I'd thought it would be.

There are some free courses on Willowing, too, and a monthly challenge group I'm toying with being involved in. The January challenge is 'Dragons', and for me, that's a pretty big temptation. I even have a canvas waiting to be prepped that's just begging to have a dragon on it!

Told you the canvas was huge! And the smaller one will probably end up with a dragon on it sometime very soon. And sorry about the chaos behind the shot, the bestie is on her way back to work tomorrow, and has been rushing around organising herself all day. The joys of living with a teacher! All of those books and folders in the bookcases? All teaching resources. All of them.

It's almost the end of the Sketchbook Project submission period, and I'm hastily trying to fill my reborn sketchbook to the theme of 'monochrome'. So much more challenging than I'd thought it would be. I should know better than to choose complicated themes to work to, but it's a good lesson in being more aware of colour and how it can be used and changed.

That's pretty much everything at the moment. Lots of running around trying to fit as much into each day as possible. My big goal is to start uni without feeling like I'm falling behind in the art workshops, so they're taking up a fair bit of time at the moment. Fingers crossed this update will be the start of weekly ones (yup, another goal for the year!) Wherever you are, and whatever you're doing, hope you're having a fantastic day, preferably full of laughter and creativity.

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And now, the end is here...

It's the last day of 2011 here. Some years, it's like you've won a sprint (you know the sort of win; the one where there's noone anywhere near you and you can make a show of dancing to the finish line, or posing for photos before running through the ribbon), and some years it's like you've crawled your way out of the jungle with a body covered in bug bites, a snake trying to swallow your leg and an alligator biting your butt.

2011 has been an alligator butt year in a lot of ways, but mostly I'm so thrilled to have had so many positive experiences. I participated in 21 Secrets, which means I've learned a load of new tricks and techniques.

I'd decided not to do any courses, but changed my mind about 21 Secrets. So, so glad I did. The women running the workshops have all changed the way I look at art, and quite a few of them really hammered home for me the idea of art as therapy. Not in terms of hiring an art therapist, though that's certainly something to consider in the future, but in terms of using art on your own as a way to let go of the bad stuff and work through the complicated stuff. Quite a few of the workshops used hidden or not overly legible journaling, and I've taken to it like a duck to water. This probably sounds horrible, but I've learned more practical problem solving techniques and coping strategies in a few months of art classes than two years of actual therapy.

I applied to university this year. I told no one, because I was so, so sure I'd not get in. But I did. I start my creative writing degree in February, and I'm flitting between elated and terrified by the notion of dedicating the next 3 years of my life to something so fully. Especially since there are plans starting to take root and grow for a big, awesome, time consuming non profit endeavour.

2012? It's going to be epic.

I'm signed up for Life Book over here, which is promising to be a huge, fun, brilliant adventure. At first when I got into uni I was a bit nervous Life Book would be too time consuming, but now I'm seeing it as a creative outlet and something outside of focusing entirely on writing. I work better when I flit between things, and I can't wait till Life Book starts (22ish hours to go, but you can join any time of year and not miss anything).

I can't wait to hit the ground running in 2012.

Seriously, though, no matter how your year has been, I hope your last day/hours of 2011 are joyful and wonderful, and a perfect lead in to the magic and brilliance of 2012. May the new year bring all you can dream of and so much more.

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A five minute update

It's been a while between updates, so I thought while I was waiting for paint to dry, I'd jump in and say hi.


November is always a very productive month for me, because for the last few years I've been participating in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and pushing myself to write 50,000 words of fiction in November. It's less than 2,000 words a day to do, which sounds easy until you decide to try for a cohesive plot rather than ramblings. I've been pretty slack so far, with less than 1,000 words, but I'm wordy enough to catch up pretty quickly when I have some time to really sit and focus.

For the first time, though, I'm also participating in Art Every Day Month over at Creative Every Day. It's a challenge to do something creative every day in November, and while so far my creativity has been mostly prep work and doing little things that take forever to try, I've decided to set myself an additional challenge for this. Instead of trying to make 30 random pieces of art, I'm going to take a leaf out of Lori Portka's book. She is an amazing artist who has set about creating 100 thank you pictures for the people in her life that have inspired her and gifted her with their love and support over the years. 100 is a bit much for me, but 30? Totally doable.

So far I've got a list happening that I'm getting more and more excited about. I raced out and got some 5x7 canvas boards (because as much as I'd love to do actual canvases for everyone, the budget just won't allow for it). Batch two has just been gessoed and is drying underneath the ceiling fan beside me. Batch one has the first layer of stamping and glued on things drying. There's two more groups to be taken care of (though one has to be returned; a few of the canvas boards were mouldy when I opened their packets- ew!) For now, there's not a whole lot to photograph, but as I go through I'm planning on photographing and putting pictures up here to actually add some images to this blog.

And... that's pretty much it, really. No big, earth shatteringly huge news to report. Just me jumping around between creative acts and forgetting to update. Hope wherever you are, you're having a happy, productive time of it.

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The Legend of October/ Wishcasting Wednesday

There's something about October, I'm afraid.

Don't get me wrong, I try hard not to hate a month, not to dread it's arrival. I want to see the good in it all. But there's something about October that frustrates and upsets me. This time, though, October hasn't just frustrated, it's whooped me good.

Like getting a root canal. And getting incredibly sick right before I had no choice but to finish the root canal. If you've ever had to try and sit still while trying not to cough, you know how hard that is. Now imagine having a coughing fit with a drill in your mouth. Scary, huh?

I was participating in a free (awesome) workshop to help organise the craft stash. It was brilliant, I loved it and was inspired to rock my space and bring it in line. And then everything went haywire. First there was the spider- huge huntsmen- which required fumigating my bedroom. Then multiple dentist trips. Then dealing with my best friend who was sick, and eventually getting the plague myself.

This week's Wishcasting Wednesday prompt over at Jamie Ridler Studios is What do you wish to let go of? What I feel called to let go of this week is the reason behind my October hate.

October? Yeah, that's my birth month. In the last five years, my birthday hasn't gone well. At all. There was the year my family got distracted and showed up 4 hours late because they went shopping. Not for presents or anything, they just went shopping. Then there was the year that all of my family cancelled at the last second, so no one came to my party. Then there was the year that we had a combined birthday party for the five people in my family born in October. There were four cakes- everyone had forgotten it was my birthday, too. Then there was the year my mother went to babysit, and ended up too sick to see me (which, in fairness, bothers me because it's a fairly regular thing for my Mum to cancel plans to go look after my cousins). This year, my sister was working, which bafflingly meant my mother couldn't spend the day with me.

For me, birthdays are meant to be about family. It's a day to share with people you love, and who love you. It's not about presents, but presence. And it hurts my inner child, and my outer grown up, to have our family tradition of spending time together cancelled so regularly.

The thing is, October is a great month. There's Halloween, which means funky lights and pretty art supplies. It's spring here, so there are flowers and butterflies and it's warm enough to go watch the waves or the ribbons of bats dancing through the twilight. Aside from the family issue, there's nothing bad about the month, and I'm tired of wincing at the thought of it. It's a twelfth of my year. A twelfth of my entire life is Octobers- that's a lot of years of wincing. I don't want to spend my Septembers drawing negativity to my Octobers, and it's quite obvious to me that I've done so this year.

So tonight, my wish is to let go of the hurt colouring October, so that I can embrace the beauty and happiness of the month. I want to learn to let go of the baggage, and embrace the positive rather than being dragged into the negative.

Here's to letting go.

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So... I vanished. Again.

I've done my usual, I'm afraid.

Whenever I feel particularly crazy, whether I'm feeling depressed or as though I'm racing towards mania, I tend to hide from the world. It's unhealthy, unhelpful, and causes strain on all of my relationships, but still, I run.

People don't like it when I do. To them, it feels like I'm saying I don't believe them when they say it's ok, that they can ride out the roller coaster of my emotions. And, if I'm honest, I am saying that, just not with the same connotations that people are reading into it. The only person to not run-a-screaming was a youth worker, well used to mad behaviour. To me, it feels like protecting other people, and myself. There's a million and one reasons for it, but mostly, it's because my experience is that when people see beyond the carefully crafted exterior, they run.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not violent, nor cruel. But I'm exhausting when manic and at times self destructive when depressed, and it's honestly ok that people don't cope well with the sudden shift into acting like someone else. We all cope better when the people we love fit into their pigeonholes- person A is quiet, person G is flirty, person J is the one with the good advice. When that suddenly changes, it's jarring. At times it feels like there are three distinct personality types living in the one body. I don't begrudge people not being able to handle it, because it's jarring for me, too.

This year has been about looking inwards for me. Lots of soul searching, lots of hunting out clues behind my behaviours. I honestly don't think it's helpful to say 'this behaviour is dumb and I'm gonna change it', because I need to know why I'm doing the things I do. And it staggers me how much of what I do, both good and bad, comes down to protecting myself from the potential hurt of people vanishing. So instead of stepping out and admitting that I need help or support, or that I'm struggling, I curl inward, and suffer quietly.

Both online and off, I worry that I'll be depressing, or irritating. And I wonder how many interesting or helpful thoughts or ideas are lost out of that fear. So I'm going to try and post more, if only to remind myself that it's all good. What I post here doesn't need to be perfect, it needs to be honest. That was the goal I set myself with this blog, and hiding isn't honest.

There's a belief in weight loss that until you accept yourself for where you are, until you find the good in yourself and love yourself unconditionally, nothing will change. What you hate or fear about yourself, you empower. Maybe that's true of mental health, too. What if, instead of treating my bipolar like some dark little secret, I embraced it? What if instead of grumbling about the down sides, I looked at the positives? How many famous, creative souls are bipolar? Quite a few. More and more, it's becoming accepted understanding that there's something about bipolar, or mental illness in general, that can lead to a more creative person. What if I embraced the good, and embraced who am I right now, instead of lamenting the fact that all gifts come with a downside?

How much better would the world be if we all took a moment today to look in a mirror, meet our own gaze and said 'I love you, right now, just the way you are'?

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