Going in for a small-scale medical procedure for pain relief shouldn’t result in a mental health diagnosis – but for one woman dealing with neck pain, that’s exactly what took place.

In 2010, Kandyce King, an artist based out of Oregon, USA, went to the doctor to receive a steroid shot to alleviate her neck pain, a treatment that is quite common. What came next was something she never could have expected.

“Within two weeks of the steroid shot, I went into mania and then into psychosis,” says King. “We didn’t have a name for it, we didn’t know anybody that had gone through something like this before. I was spinning out of control for about three months, doing really crazy things.”

Her symptoms were overwhelming, even evolving to the point where she felt a hyper-spirituality – something that isn’t discussed too often among sufferers of mania and psychosis. King recalls being scared during the months following the steroid shot as a result of her unusual behaviour.

“I got hyper-spiritually focused, and when I say that, I mean I thought I was a prophet, and I became very creative with writing and other things,” she says. “When I was in psychosis, I was in another reality. It was very scary.”

King’s sudden onset of mania and psychosis following the shot prompted her to seek help, which was when she was diagnosed with bipolar 1. The diagnosis helped put the pieces together and ultimately gave a name to the struggles she was facing.

This phenomenon is more common than most people may think. In fact, according to a 2006 report from Current Psychiatry, “Psychiatric symptoms develop in 5% to 18% of patients treated with corticosteroids. These effects—most often mania or depression—emerge within days to weeks of starting steroids.”

As she looks back, King remembers thinking during her college years that she may have had bipolar, but never experienced a full-on manic or psychotic episode.

Now, ten years after her formal diagnosis, she is reflecting on the challenges she’s faced and how her faith and relationships have been tested over time.

“I think the most challenging part, and I’m going to be honest, is my connection to God. The hardest part has been my spiritual relationship, because I am a Christian and I do believe in a higher being than myself,” says King. “Some other struggles that I’ve had have been losing friendships, not because I did anything, but because people just aren’t part of my life anymore. But I’ve also gained so much from it [the diagnosis], and that actually softens the blow from the losses.”

King’s relationship with her husband was also tested, especially right around the time of her bipolar diagnosis. After attending marriage counselling over the years and learning to work through their hardships, they have become stronger than ever, and are there to support one another during the rough patches.

It’s important for anyone going through a new diagnosis, whether it be related to mental illness or physical illness, to keep a strong support system around them whenever possible. Having others to build you up and encourage you when the hard times hit is essential.

“When I went through this, it really showed me who was there,” says King. “People came out of the woodwork who had gone through similar struggles, or who had pain in their life and knew how to help and how to comfort. That was huge. I gained people who could really see me.”

She’s also gained connections through social media. As a mixed-media artist, King runs a successful Instagram account where she showcases pieces that she’s working on to her audience of 10,000 followers. Many of them have reached out to share their own stories about mental illness.

Before her diagnosis, King went back to school for art after leaving an elementary education program. It didn’t come without struggle, however, but the journey led her to an amazing new career path that now provides an outlet for healing and connection.

“I loved art since I was a little girl. But in 2007, I dropped out of school. I had a bit of a mental breakdown, not knowing I would be diagnosed three years later with bipolar,” says King. “All I did when I left school was paint, it was very healing. I went back to school and finished my art degree because it’s what I needed to do.”

Her art is one of the main ways she expresses her energy and is able to heal, and she continues to inspire others with her incredible paintings.

“A lot of my paintings are very emotive, and it takes me to a place where I feel free, where I’m exploring with colour, and I don’t have to worry abut the anxieties of the day,” says King. “Doing art, I always thought that I had to wait for that little high, whereas now I practice art every single day, and I can have that creativity flow no matter what. It might not always feel like magic, but it’s there.”

While her art is a guiding force within her life, King still experiences bouts of depression, which she initially had during her mania and psychosis episodes earlier on. Her current depression bouts are much less severe, but she says there are still times when it can be a struggle to do everyday things.

Because she is a full-time creative, King remains on a low dosage of medication, which helps her to maintain a healthy state of mind while still retaining the ability to have a flow of creativity.

“I have small bouts [of depression], but not full-blown mania,” she says. “But I know the drill. I have to get up, I have to shower, I have to go to the gym. And I’ll say to myself, ‘Kandyce, you only have to go for ten minutes’, and there’s only been one time when I’ve gone to the gym for ten minutes and then left. It’s just about setting those small goals, one step at a time.”

In addition to her art and medication, King also goes to therapy around once a week to talk about anything that may be on her mind. Speaking with someone, especially a person who isn’t related to you or a direct friend, can be a great way to express your feelings and worries without judgement.

“I took a break for a while [from therapy], but I find it to be so helpful to be able to talk with someone that is objective when I can’t figure out certain situations in my life,” she says. “I feel like when that support is there, I don’t have to burden my family.”

While what happened to King is slightly unusual, it can happen to others. Mental illness affects many people, ranging from minimal anxieties to full-on illness that can take over someone’s life.

For those who are going through a similar struggle, King recommends taking responsibility for your own recovery and taking pride in the little successes.

“Remember that recovery is your responsibility. Hang on, because your story is needed. You are needed, because there are so many people going through what you’re going through,” says King.

King’s life has been a roller-coaster of ups and downs since 2010, but now that she’s on a steady path, she sees the value in how her situation played out.

“Everything has changed. I hate to say how grateful I am, but my perspective, my compassion, my outlook on life one hundred percent has been changed. I’m not the same person I was before this happened,” she says. “I love this quote, and I don’t know who it’s by, but it says, ‘Mental illness is not a choice, but recovery is.’ Even though it’s challenging, I feel like I recover everyday.”

For anyone interested in looking at Kandyce King’s art, find her Instagram handle here: @kandyceking.

By Heather Gunn