The Mighty Logo

Why I'm Sharing the Picture of My Worst Night With Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

This picture.

This picture is about to break my mom’s heart, but these words will piece it back together.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

This picture will surprise people. It will make them uncomfortable. It may make them think, But what about future employers? For that, I am proud. To any employer who turns me away out of fear, I respect your decision, but I’m better off elsewhere.

I took this picture months ago, when I least wanted to be seen. It lay dormant, waiting, among sunsets and snowstorms, coffees and cornfields, until I stopped fearing it. I am not a pretty crier — this isn’t “The Notebook.” I lost my makeup to tears and my expression is one of utter defeat. For me, this picture is the epitome of “no filter” — the antithesis of social media normalcy. This picture is the most important piece of property I own.

This picture shows a food-induced panic attack, years after my doctor said, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” I am invisible and only the cold tiles on my bathroom floor know I’m not overreacting. Only the tiles know how I hoisted myself up that day and went off to a Chinese restaurant. You may not know it, but that’s years of achievement wrapped up in a mundane bow. It takes an immense amount of practice to say, “Not good” when someone asks, “How are you?” Four years ago, I said “I’m great” and went home to a plate of undressed iceberg lettuce. I believe power is braving the good and the bad while acknowledging them both. For me, this picture is triumph.

This picture makes me both a “threat” and deeply human at the same time. It displays a face of what media calls “mentally unsound,” because God forbid we ever give anything less than our best smiles. And so, we exploit our every ability to emotionally vacate — to put on a happy face when all is broken inside. We deserve more self-compassion. Is a picture “worth a thousand words” when it’s only an illusion? This picture is worth a thousand more.

Define me by my worst night, if you feel compelled. But this picture isn’t as sad as it looks. It’s a declaration of progress in a not-so-pretty package. It’s years of fight pouring from bloodshot eyes. Redness may blanket the blue eyes I was born with, but it can’t take away their luster. We are all born prodigies of emotion, but march deeper into a culture of silence. At some point, no memory of the alternative remains. We are told strength is to never reveal vulnerability, that there is no place for both tears and laughter. Who set that rule, and when will we realize we’ve all been following along? This picture is one radical display of I don’t give a fuck.

Cry. Let out a wail if you have to. I am here to walk you safely away from the wreckage of your past. Your heavy heart can’t hold you back if you trust me to carry some of the weight. I will help you to whatever finish line you need to cross to feel you are enough.

I wouldn’t be creative without the pain behind this picture, wouldn’t know effervescence without darkness. My journal begs me to fill it with the highs and the lows, not just highs. My brain hurts when I cry on the floor, but my heart continues to swell. I wouldn’t change this picture or this day. It says I am enough with the tears, with skin beaten by the storm of another breakdown. It screams out loud to be seen and heard — to say this is me, unpolished and proud.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Photo via contributor.

Originally published: August 19, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home