Mental illness is real, and it hurts. My name is Emily Katherine Harrington, I’m thirty-three years old and live with multiple mental illnesses. I want to share my story and my paintings with you in the hope that you can benefit from my struggle, either by learning how I cope or simply finding out that you’re not alone in your struggle.
My diagnoses are phrased as “bipolar II: mixed-state, rapid cycling episodes with psychotic features; generalized anxiety disorder; and strong borderline personality disorder traits.” I experience several different kinds of episodes. Some episodes seem to be primarily based in bipolar, others in generalized anxiety disorder, and still others in my BPD (borderline personality disorder) traits. Since all three conditions are mixed together in one brain, my presentation of symptoms if frequently mixed and messy, but there definitely are some times that an episode will embody one disorder more than the other two. With a bipolar episode, I may have a hypomanic, depressed, or mixed-state (both hypomanic and depressed at the same time) episode. Generalized anxiety disorder usually shows up during conflict or when I’m nervous and manifests primarily as strong tremors and dissociation. Generalized anxiety disorder can also trigger an episode that looks like bipolar, BPD, or both. In BPD-type episodes, I will have a negative thought about myself that spirals down and builds in importance until I’m crying because I believe that I’m a horrible person who is only a conglomeration of problems and will lose everyone I love because I am too much of a burden. I get really upset and cry for about an hour, during which time I may have visual disturbances and hallucinations.
I live in Waco, Texas, with my cat Penny. I live a quiet, domestic life where peace, fun, and love are my main goals.
I was born in Austin, Texas in 1986. My family moved to Waco, Texas when I was 6 years old. I started playing violin in second grade and joined the Waco Girls’ Choir in 3rd grade. I continued both of those activities until my sophomore year of high school when I started taking private voice lessons. I won many awards in singing competitions over the next few years, and after graduating high school in the top 10% of my class, I was accepted to Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio to study opera. My bipolar started to present about two months into my college career. I changed from being the best at whatever I applied myself to into someone who could barely keep it together enough to shower every day, much less make good grades. I had a psychotic break and two hospitalizations during my freshman year in college, which included my first suicide attempt. After three years at Oberlin, I decided I wanted to change my major to psychology, with the ultimate goal of becoming a therapist. I completed one year of that major, and have tried off and on to attend the community college in Waco, where I currently live, but I have not completed any sort of degree.
Getting to make this website has been a dream. I used to rant to myself during mania about how I would learn how to live with this disability, write a book about it, have that book become a best-seller, and go on a book tour that ended with me telling my story to Oprah herself. This was a thought I fixated on from the very first year of my illness, and while I will probably never meet Oprah, my words get read by people now, and I’m able to put my experience and hope out into the world. It brings so much meaning to my life.
I express myself through writing and symbolic watercolor-and-oil-pastel paintings. I have always loved to write, and I started painting when I was eighteen, one year before my bipolar initially presented. The messages I’ve hidden from myself in my own art are still surprising to me when I find them. The deep end of the brain is a fascinating place.
Living with mental illness demands strength, grace, and hard work. I have fought to acquire the skills it takes to survive multiple diagnoses of mental illness. I want to share my hard-won coping tools with you and anyone who is struggling to stay alive. It gets easier, but you need skills. I hope my insight can give you hope, or even strength.
I paint because I have brutally intense emotions. I need to put those feelings down on paper and then hang them up in my room to study until I decipher what the symbols mean. I write because part of the purpose I have chosen for my life is to share knowledge about mental illness with others. I created this site as a way to display my writing and paintings and explain how I live with a “broken” brain. I’ve struggled tremendously in order to acquire my knowledge of self and self-care. If I can give anyone a shortcut to feeling some relief from any kind of mental illness or psychological distress, this site will have been worth building.
If you live with mental illness or are trying to better understand a loved one who does, please read my blog. I hope what I’ve learned can help you. We each deserve a chance to find peace.
By Emily Harrington, The Goldfish Painter
I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional. I am a psychiatric patient with multiple mental illnesses that I have survived for 13 years now. My secondhand knowledge comes from doctors, psychologists, therapists, books, college courses in psychology, and the internet. My firsthand knowledge comes from the feelings, experiences, thoughts, symptoms, problems, and solutions that I have lived through. I know myself well, but again, I am not a professional. The information on this site is not a replacement for getting an actual diagnosis or professional help. Coping skills are fantastic, and I hope you learn some here and that they help you, but please seek and continue real medical treatment if you are struggling with mental illness. I wish you the best. You can do hard things.