Listening in Color

Born with synesthesia, Deborah experiences color when she hears music. As a way to find healing and peace in her life she started creating mandalas based on the colors she sees while listening to a song. This not only became a cool gift idea for family and friends, but also helped her to manage her bi-polar diagnosis and the unpredictability of being a military spouse. Find Deborah at: @debbalynn on Instagram and on her Redbubble Shop.

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It’s happening again, but I can’t tell. I feel alive. I feel like I see colors the way they are meant to be seen. I feel like I can see the air breathing. The wind hums with my heartbeat and the trees sound like they’re singing just for me. I want to do yoga, I want to clean our house, I want to buy plants and completely re-do our yard. That part never lasts long, unfortunately. I wake up the next morning, and I feel so much anger it is scalding me and I am burning from the inside out. The world feels suffocating. There is not enough time, there is too much to do, and everything feels out of place. I am fighting with my husband, but I don’t know why. I am screaming and crying. A silent part of me watches as it’s happening, confused and upset. Suddenly, the angry part recognizes the silent part, and I am filled with terror. There are two of me! Which one am I?

In a panic, I put myself in the shower. I’m hysterical now, climbing out of the anger and into shame. I get out of the shower, and the world has lost its color. For some reason, I can hear every little sound, and it is deafening. My dog greets me in the hallway. I can’t pet him because his breathing is so loud it makes me nauseous. I open my bedroom door, and suddenly I am surrounded by thousands of sparkling fireflies. It is a forest of streaming, blinking, hauntingly beautiful golden lights. I reach out my hand hoping one will land on my finger even though I know they’re not really there. I hear a low, gentle whisper, “You’ve gone too far. You’ve shattered your reality, and now you’re stuck between worlds.” A shudder goes down my spine. Who said that? Was that me or my creator? I climb into bed praying the psychosis will pass and then spend the next week clawing my way out of a deep depression.

I was diagnosed bipolar several years ago, though I believe I’ve had it for many years. I didn’t start experiencing rapid-cycling and psychosis until my late 20’s and thankfully, I knew right away I needed help. When they said I needed medication, I gratefully accepted and thought that was the end of it, but it was really just the start. I had to uncover my triggers, learn about my biology, and dig into my ugliness. The latter being the hardest. We all have ugliness inside, the shadow self. Most of us bury it and try to hide it from others. When you are bipolar, that ugliness is rather close to the surface and always trying to gnaw it’s way out. It can feel like a portion of yourself is continuously striving to betray you.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot. I now know loud unexpected sounds, and abrupt changes in routine can trigger me. I also can’t have less than 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep or eat a lot of sugary foods, otherwise I risk a manic episode. Most importantly, I need daily healing rituals and a tender, empathetic approach for dealing with my shadow. For a while, I was content with my strolls through the garden and bubble baths, but eventually wanted something more creative to help with healing. This led me to start making art with another one of my conditions, Synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition that creates a crossed response to stimuli. There are many different kinds, but I happen to have the one that makes you see color when you hear music. It’s unrelated to my bipolar disorder, but a little reminder that brain chemistry can be imperfect but still beautiful. As a way to heal and create sacred space, I started using the colors I saw in music to create mandalas. The process was so repetitive and ritualistic, but still fantastically creative that my mind cleared and my spirit soared.

I now run a small business on the side creating mandalas for myself as well as for others who happen to wonder what their favorite song looks like. It’s been a way to not only heal myself but share my healing with others. I am also happy to say I’m (mostly)  stable in my bipolar disorder, but only because I work at it every single waking moment of my life. My best advice to anyone else who has mental illness is to find your medicine, and by that, I don't mean just pills. We are mind, body, and spirit and each of those things need different tools for healing. You have to discover what heals all three and seek it out in every way that you can.  

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Words and art belong to Deborah and are copyrighted. Do not repost, reuse or in any way reproduce without Deborah's express permission.