Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mental Illness Through the Eyes of a 16 Year Old Girl

Mental illness is not beautiful.  It's not romantic. Depression isn't just being sad.  I don't know what sad feels like. Anxiety isn't just being nervous.  Bipolar isn't just mood swings. Self harm isn't just attention seeking.

Depression is feeling empty, numb, hopeless. It's staring at the ceiling at 4 am with burning eyes because your thoughts won't stop telling you that you're better off dead.

It's not getting out of bed for days because you don't see the point. It's leaving piles of homework in the corner because you lack any motivation. It's being told you're selfish and lazy when really you want so desperately to be able to go outside and hang our with friends but your depression keeps you in your basement all day.

Anxiety is not being able to pay for your food at a restaurant.  It's the constant feeling of almost falling off a cliff. It's having panic attacks in the middle of class. Hiding in the bathroom as your chest doesn't allow you to breathe and the tears don't stop. You can't speak or stand and you can physically feel the walls caving in around you. It's the feeling someone would get when they're just about to take the most important test of their lives, only instead of a test, it's just asking for a takeout box.

Bipolar Disorder isn't just an over-emotional girl on her period. It's wanting to kill yourself for days as you suffer a rock-bottom depression and then all of a sudden you're so high you can't see yourself ever coming down. Mania is terrifying, not happy.  It's laughing at the most dire situations. It's loud and chaotic. It's like spinning around in circles as fast as you can and not being able to stop, only to stumble into a pit and plummet back to that crippling depression. It's not being able to trust your emotions because you only feel in extremes.

Self harm is ugly. There's no one who is kissing your scars. It's feeling so bad about yourself and who your illness has made you become that the self hatred boils over, spilling out into hysterical crying and the urge to destroy yourself. Or feeling so numb and empty that you bleed to feel something again. It's pain. It's stinging. It's fear. It's regret. It's shame. And it's not being able to stop even when you want to.

None of these things are beautiful. They're ugly. They're destruction. They're chaos. They make you forget what it ever felt like to be happy. Mental illness consumes you. It is hell.

But if not for these illnesses taking over my life, I wouldn't be the artist I am. No one would be able to feel the emotion radiating off of my paintings. I would lose my creativity. To create is to survive. And the only things that is beautiful out of any of this is what I am now able to create. The most important thing I've ever learned is how to take all of the pain and negativity and channel it into a piece of artwork. Out of my suffering I have created beauty.

My paintings may be sloppy and dark, and difficult to understand, but they are beautiful and they are me.

A note from her mom:

I've been surrounded by mental illnesses most of my life, but it is so different to watch your babies struggle. Even though I can understand what someone with a mental illness is going through, I can't truly understand how it feels to them.  In our home I have worked hard to completely normalize mental illnesses.  In fact, my daughter will mockingly call me "neurotypical", meaning I'm one of the only people in our family without a diagnosed mental disorder.  I'm the odd-ball, which also means I'm the caregiver and carry a lot of stress due to doctor's appointments, medications, psychiatrist's appointments, counseling appointments and the day-to-day of helping those who are not-so-neurotypical. It's an exhausting life.  

This piece titled "A Beautiful Mess" was written by my daughter last year, which was a low point in her life.  She has since made a lot of progress, thanks largely to finding a good bipolar medication, but she still struggles daily. I tease her all the time about being so high maintenance.  I am very proud of her for finding healthy outlets to cope, such as painting and writing and I'm even more proud that she is allowing me to share her thoughts with the world. Please, parents, make your home a safe place for your teenagers to share their feelings with you, no matter how dark they may be.


Tracy Lee said...

My youngest daughter is 16 also and going through much of the same, but refuses treatment of any kind. I'm glad to hear that your daughter is doing better! ((hugs))

Angie Toone said...

My oldest daughter refused treatment as well, but then at the age of 19 she decided it was time. I think that's one reason my other daughter is open to it. She sees how hard it is for her sister living with roommates and working with her issues and how much harder it is to find and visit therapists and psychiatrists without your mom making your appointments, etc. I'm sorry you're dealing with these issues with your teen too. You're definitely not alone!

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