SELF PORTRAITS IN PARIS: "TOO MUCH FOR ME"

EXCERPT BY @HAPPYHINDS

I hate the term "suffered from." Insinuates that a life with mental illness is made of suffering rather than persevering. I have LIVED with bipolar depression since I was thirteen years old, and was diagnosed when I was fifteen. In the beginning, it seemed like this horrible thing that would take my life away, whether my blood was flowing or not. I felt so far away from everyone I knew. Friends have always been so important to me, and having close & intimate relationships with the people in my life has always been a really big part of who I am. I was always known as someone who was always happy but never actually felt that way. People would always tell me, "you are always smiling and happy, I love it!" And I'd reply, "hahah!" because I genuinely didn't know how to reply, or how they could possibly think that of me, when all I ever thought about was dying. I would tell my mom, "I feel like I need a therapist." And she would just laugh. I have always been the "dramatic" one in the family, and also the youngest, so I kind of have to wave 100 red flags before anyone takes the things I say seriously. I was 13 and in my first year of high school, and for as long as I can remember I would spend all weekend with my friends and have the greatest time and then go home Sunday night and go to school Monday morning. On this specific Sunday night, I came home stoic and exhausted, not saying a word to anyone. I just remember coming home at 6pm, going straight to sleep and not waking up until I had to go to school the next morning.
I saw my first therapist/psychiatrist the next week. He immediately diagnosed me with depression, and said that I seemed so exhausted because I was working so hard to hide what I was going through from the people around me. I didn't know what he was talking about because I didn't even know 'what I was going through,' or even what depression was, really. After that, I became extremely aware of how hard I was trying to make other people think I was happy, but I couldn't stop. Everything I'd ever heard about depression was associated with weakness and a lacking. Definitely not anything that would support the 'tough bitch' persona I have always projected. From 9th to 10th grade I would come home and cry my eyes out to my sister about the 'show' I had to put on for the people at school. I didn't have to, but I felt like I did, in order to remain a whole person. And the stigma didn't help. It felt like it was my fault that I couldn't get out of my bed in the morning and couldn't stop thinking about my funeral in classes. Like I was weak because of it; in my head, everyone else had some sort of superpower where they could handle life in a way that I couldn't. I would go to school some days and feel amazing and happy and vibrant and alive ... while other days, I'd feel so down I'd fall asleep while talking to my friends at lunch. Sooner or later, it just got more and more intense and obvious. I'd go 3-4 days without sleeping and feel fine, or the opposite: feel so sad I didn't know what else to do but sleep until it ended, because being awake to feel it, was far too much for me.
At fifteen, it was more than obvious that I was bipolar, or manic depressive. There just was no in-between. I'd forgotten what "okay" felt like. I was either crying in the dark on my bathroom floor for a whole day, or out with my friends getting drunk having the best time.
I try to talk about this part as little as possible because it is a narrative I like to separate from myself, regardless of how much it probably has helped me grow, and shaped who I've become......... I took 95 painkillers in April of 2013. That was my first time being hospitalized. It was awful, lonely, confusing, and isolating, but I also met the most real and honest and loving people I think I'd ever come across at that age. It was the first time I saw the silver lining. I had this horrible thing in my head that made me feel far away from myself and everyone around me, but it also forced me to see the people who were really, really there for me, and the people who really, really weren't. I remember my best friends visiting me there and feeling so genuinely loved and cared about. I'd be in such a panic: "where does everyone think I am?" ..."Relax. We told them you were in Mexico!" they'd say. The thing about hard times is that it forces the people around you to come out of themselves so that they can be there for you. Not everyone can do that, and not everyone will, but when they do, it is special. My best friend in the whole world had just been checked in to the same hospital a WEEK before me; I remember when she first told me she had depression, I always gave short answers, but one time she messaged me about it really late at night while I was sleeping, and I woke up out of my sleep and texted her, "I get that you're sad but everyone has problems." ....................I am going to be 80 years old and still mad at myself for saying that to her. I love her more than anyone in the world. Her hurt is mine too.
It wasn't a lack of love that made me say it. It was a lack of understanding. A year later, I felt the same as her. We were basically on the same page, which was the year we went to UCLA psych hospital within the same two weeks, while not ever being there at the same time. I have been hospitalized 5 times, and to rehab (for suicidal ideations) twice since then. Through my journey of trying to figure out how to manage my illness and remain myself at the same time, I have made such incredible bonds and friendships. While being mentally ill can sometimes take you too deep in a negative way, it can also take you very deep when it comes to love. I am someone who gets more out of loving than being loved. Making the people around me feel good about themselves is something that is extremely important to me, because I know what it's like to genuinely hate yourself. I believe very strongly that if I never hurt the way I did, I wouldn't know how to love the way I do today.
I don't believe in people without psychology degrees, [me], giving mental health advice, but I will say that what has helped me is getting to know myself as well as I possibly can so that I can differentiate what is me and what is my illness - educating myself on my brain to the furthest extent - and being my biggest advocate and best friend no matter what anyone else thinks or says. There is no estimate of an end point that comes with these things. People say "it gets better," but coming from my own experience, it doesn't. YOU get better at handling it, and knowing yourself internally enough to know when you need help. Something I can say from absolute experience is that lying about it, or trying to hide it, only takes the shame further and further, whether you realize it or not. My mom had a really horrible phase where she was in denial and didn't think my struggle was real or true. What helps me know that has changed is that when I am having a hard time, she consistently says "its like having a broken leg. Does anyone get mad at themselves for having a broken leg?" Something I think anyone going through anything should know, is that not everyone is going to understand. But something that might give you peace is truth: their understanding isn't your responsibility. I am not God or Buddha but I do know that regardless of whether you have a mental illness or not, life is good and bad. While there is immense struggle that comes with having a brain that doesn't function properly, you are also forced to have a relationship with yourself that people with other situations don't necessarily have to. There is a point in sadness and in turmoil where you just don't care about anything anymore. For some people that is phase two, for others, that could be phase one hundred and two. For me, that phase has helped with self acceptance. When I'm trying so hard to just function properly, it is almost impossible to put energy towards being anyone or anything but myself. I used to be extremely focused on pleasing others and being exactly what people expected of me at all times, and I was exhausted. While this is hard, it isn't anything I can't handle. Life won't throw anything at you that is beyond your threshold.
I feel like I sound like a motivational speaker that has made it to the other side of the mountaintop but that isn't the case at all. I have good days and bad ones just like everyone else, but each day I do feel myself getting stronger & stronger. I felt the need to talk about this because there are so many people in my life that come to me about these things and I can't imagine that they're the only ones in the world going through something with no one to talk to about it, that won't judge them or make them feel weak because of it. If you know me in real life, you know that I am constantly saying that being bipolar is "inconvenient," but that doesn't make it any less of a gift. Now I get to love hard and make art that makes people feel like someone understands them, and be my own very best friend. While there are things in life that feel extremely unfair and unreasonable, these things sometimes make us who we are. I hope that if you are reading this, you know that you are not your illness, and your illness isn't you. These things make us who we are in the way that they make us strong, and give us character.
My brain works this way due to genetics, and I often think about my children someday having the same problem, and how hard it would be to see them hurt the way I do. I have both dreams and nightmares about this and in both, I imagine myself trying to help them understand that while it is technically inconvenient and "unfair," it will also force you to work twice as hard and be twice as kind. This year's clinical consensus says that 50% of people with bipolar disorder are found to have a history of suicide attempt; twice the percentage of people with [unipolar] depression. Because I have been through so much treatment, I know a lot of random facts and statistics about my disorder that kind of linger in my head on a daily basis. This is probably just my anxiety, but these statistics, in a way, make my life feel like a ticking clock, forcing me to be deeply honest and loving in every moment. As much as I can. To my furthest ability. I don't ever care about what people think of me anymore, but I do really care about how I make people feel. I know that sometimes it is hard to focus on things other than yourself when going through this, but I will say that people who love you really ease the pain and make the journey feel like less of a struggle. It is extremely easy to let something bad consume you and make you into someone you're not, but it is amazing and inspirational to take something awful and gut-wrenching and make it into something transcendent and beautiful.
I hate the term "suffered from." Insinuates that a life with mental illness is made of suffering rather than persevering. I have LIVED with bipolar depression since I was thirteen years old, and was diagnosed when I was fifteen. In the beginning, it seemed like this horrible thing that would take my life away, whether my blood was flowing or not. I felt so far away from everyone I knew. Friends have always been so important to me, and having close & intimate relationships with the people in my life has always been a really big part of who I am. I was always known as someone who was always happy but never actually felt that way. People would always tell me, "you are always smiling and happy, I love it!" And I'd reply, "hahah!" because I genuinely didn't know how to reply, or how they could possibly think that of me, when all I ever thought about was dying. I would tell my mom, "I feel like I need a therapist." And she would just laugh. I have always been the "dramatic" one in the family, and also the youngest, so I kind of have to wave 100 red flags before anyone takes the things I say seriously. I was 13 and in my first year of high school, and for as long as I can remember I would spend all weekend with my friends and have the greatest time and then go home Sunday night and go to school Monday morning. On this specific Sunday night, I came home stoic and exhausted, not saying a word to anyone. I just remember coming home at 6pm, going straight to sleep and not waking up until I had to go to school the next morning.
I saw my first therapist/psychiatrist the next week. He immediately diagnosed me with depression, and said that I seemed so exhausted because I was working so hard to hide what I was going through from the people around me. I didn't know what he was talking about because I didn't even know 'what I was going through,' or even what depression was, really. After that, I became extremely aware of how hard I was trying to make other people think I was happy, but I couldn't stop. Everything I'd ever heard about depression was associated with weakness and a lacking. Definitely not anything that would support the 'tough bitch' persona I have always projected. From 9th to 10th grade I would come home and cry my eyes out to my sister about the 'show' I had to put on for the people at school. I didn't have to, but I felt like I did, in order to remain a whole person. And the stigma didn't help. It felt like it was my fault that I couldn't get out of my bed in the morning and couldn't stop thinking about my funeral in classes. Like I was weak because of it; in my head, everyone else had some sort of superpower where they could handle life in a way that I couldn't. I would go to school some days and feel amazing and happy and vibrant and alive ... while other days, I'd feel so down I'd fall asleep while talking to my friends at lunch. Sooner or later, it just got more and more intense and obvious. I'd go 3-4 days without sleeping and feel fine, or the opposite: feel so sad I didn't know what else to do but sleep until it ended, because being awake to feel it, was far too much for me.
At fifteen, it was more than obvious that I was bipolar, or manic depressive. There just was no in-between. I'd forgotten what "okay" felt like. I was either crying in the dark on my bathroom floor for a whole day, or out with my friends getting drunk having the best time.
I try to talk about this part as little as possible because it is a narrative I like to separate from myself, regardless of how much it probably has helped me grow, and shaped who I've become......... I took 95 painkillers in April of 2013. That was my first time being hospitalized. It was awful, lonely, confusing, and isolating, but I also met the most real and honest and loving people I think I'd ever come across at that age. It was the first time I saw the silver lining. I had this horrible thing in my head that made me feel far away from myself and everyone around me, but it also forced me to see the people who were really, really there for me, and the people who really, really weren't. I remember my best friends visiting me there and feeling so genuinely loved and cared about. I'd be in such a panic: "where does everyone think I am?" ..."Relax. We told them you were in Mexico!" they'd say. The thing about hard times is that it forces the people around you to come out of themselves so that they can be there for you. Not everyone can do that, and not everyone will, but when they do, it is special. My best friend in the whole world had just been checked in to the same hospital a WEEK before me; I remember when she first told me she had depression, I always gave short answers, but one time she messaged me about it really late at night while I was sleeping, and I woke up out of my sleep and texted her, "I get that you're sad but everyone has problems." ....................I am going to be 80 years old and still mad at myself for saying that to her. I love her more than anyone in the world. Her hurt is mine too.
It wasn't a lack of love that made me say it. It was a lack of understanding. A year later, I felt the same as her. We were basically on the same page, which was the year we went to UCLA psych hospital within the same two weeks, while not ever being there at the same time. I have been hospitalized 5 times, and to rehab (for suicidal ideations) twice since then. Through my journey of trying to figure out how to manage my illness and remain myself at the same time, I have made such incredible bonds and friendships. While being mentally ill can sometimes take you too deep in a negative way, it can also take you very deep when it comes to love. I am someone who gets more out of loving than being loved. Making the people around me feel good about themselves is something that is extremely important to me, because I know what it's like to genuinely hate yourself. I believe very strongly that if I never hurt the way I did, I wouldn't know how to love the way I do today.
I don't believe in people without psychology degrees, [me], giving mental health advice, but I will say that what has helped me is getting to know myself as well as I possibly can so that I can differentiate what is me and what is my illness - educating myself on my brain to the furthest extent - and being my biggest advocate and best friend no matter what anyone else thinks or says. There is no estimate of an end point that comes with these things. People say "it gets better," but coming from my own experience, it doesn't. YOU get better at handling it, and knowing yourself internally enough to know when you need help. Something I can say from absolute experience is that lying about it, or trying to hide it, only takes the shame further and further, whether you realize it or not. My mom had a really horrible phase where she was in denial and didn't think my struggle was real or true. What helps me know that has changed is that when I am having a hard time, she consistently says "its like having a broken leg. Does anyone get mad at themselves for having a broken leg?" Something I think anyone going through anything should know, is that not everyone is going to understand. But something that might give you peace is truth: their understanding isn't your responsibility. I am not God or Buddha but I do know that regardless of whether you have a mental illness or not, life is good and bad. While there is immense struggle that comes with having a brain that doesn't function properly, you are also forced to have a relationship with yourself that people with other situations don't necessarily have to. There is a point in sadness and in turmoil where you just don't care about anything anymore. For some people that is phase two, for others, that could be phase one hundred and two. For me, that phase has helped with self acceptance. When I'm trying so hard to just function properly, it is almost impossible to put energy towards being anyone or anything but myself. I used to be extremely focused on pleasing others and being exactly what people expected of me at all times, and I was exhausted. While this is hard, it isn't anything I can't handle. Life won't throw anything at you that is beyond your threshold.
I feel like I sound like a motivational speaker that has made it to the other side of the mountaintop but that isn't the case at all. I have good days and bad ones just like everyone else, but each day I do feel myself getting stronger & stronger. I felt the need to talk about this because there are so many people in my life that come to me about these things and I can't imagine that they're the only ones in the world going through something with no one to talk to about it, that won't judge them or make them feel weak because of it. If you know me in real life, you know that I am constantly saying that being bipolar is "inconvenient," but that doesn't make it any less of a gift. Now I get to love hard and make art that makes people feel like someone understands them, and be my own very best friend. While there are things in life that feel extremely unfair and unreasonable, these things sometimes make us who we are. I hope that if you are reading this, you know that you are not your illness, and your illness isn't you. These things make us who we are in the way that they make us strong, and give us character.
My brain works this way due to genetics, and I often think about my children someday having the same problem, and how hard it would be to see them hurt the way I do. I have both dreams and nightmares about this and in both, I imagine myself trying to help them understand that while it is technically inconvenient and "unfair," it will also force you to work twice as hard and be twice as kind. This year's clinical consensus says that 50% of people with bipolar disorder are found to have a history of suicide attempt; twice the percentage of people with [unipolar] depression. Because I have been through so much treatment, I know a lot of random facts and statistics about my disorder that kind of linger in my head on a daily basis. This is probably just my anxiety, but these statistics, in a way, make my life feel like a ticking clock, forcing me to be deeply honest and loving in every moment. As much as I can. To my furthest ability. I don't ever care about what people think of me anymore, but I do really care about how I make people feel. I know that sometimes it is hard to focus on things other than yourself when going through this, but I will say that people who love you really ease the pain and make the journey feel like less of a struggle. It is extremely easy to let something bad consume you and make you into someone you're not, but it is amazing and inspirational to take something awful and gut-wrenching and make it into something transcendent and beautiful.