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Mental Health Takeaways From the New Billie Eilish Documentary

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I admit it, I’m one of those people who was late to the Billie Eilish party. I had never even heard any of her songs until the 2020 Grammys, when she swept nearly every category she was nominated in, garnering her a total of five awards and catapulting her to international stardom. After that, I purchased her album and was impressed with her unique style, raw expression of emotion and the uninhibited look she presented to the world. I liked her but wouldn’t have called myself a huge fan. 

After watching her new documentary, “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” which premiered on February 26 on Apple TV, I can honestly say I adore her. What a testament to the power of art and music in connecting people, its capacity to heal the injuries of our minds and hearts, the power of having a supportive family that isn’t just there to see you succeed but to encourage you to be fully yourself even when it’s not conventional or socially acceptable, and the pros and cons of social media. In so many ways, Eilish encapsulates the entirety of not just the human experience, but specifically the range of mental health conditions and chronic illnesses that epitomizes the heart of The Mighty community.

Immediately we see the incredible bond she shares with her brother and musical partner Finneas, who not only appears to be able to coax the best out of his sister but is her greatest cheerleader. When she doubts herself or feels like she’s somehow failing, he is right there, providing her exactly what she needs to inhabit her creativity fully and authentically. And right by both of them are their parents, Maggie and Patrick, the most amazing example of “good enough parents” I think I’ve ever seen, particularly in the context of stage parents who notoriously have come under scrutiny for their overzealous, exploitative or dispassionate involvement with their celebrity kids.

As someone who grew up with an absentee father and a mother who struggled with her own mental health, it was refreshing to see parents who, though flawed and not capable of keeping Billie from experiencing trauma, were constantly present, always supportive and a stable base to which she and Finneas could always turn when times got tough. It was inspiring to hear her mother talk about Billie’s struggles with depression in a nonchalant way, expressing the myriad ways that teenagers today have so many challenges to face and not sugarcoating her daughter’s need to use her art as a means of tapping into her feelings. And in a tender moment with her father after Billie receives her driver’s license, he contemplates how a parent may want to keep their child protected in a bubble and never let them out of their sights, but how that it’s unrealistic and requires a leap of faith on the part of a parent that they have not only instilled good values into their children but that their children are capable human beings. It was all so… average, particularly after seeing horror stories like that endured by Britney Spears with her father.

Billie herself spends a lot of the documentary sharing her struggles with chronic pain, Tourette Syndrome, depression, self-harm, cyberbullying, perfectionism, loneliness and trying to balance her desire to remain authentic with not being “hated” or otherwise attacked on social media. She shares drawings, poems, lyrics and others creative manifestations of her mind via her journal, openly talking about being in a very dark place mentally. She insists upon writing what she knows and feels, not because she necessarily wants to make some kind of statement, but because it is who she is. She talks about her music often expressing feelings she doesn’t otherwise have words for. This is such a relatable thing as a fellow creative with similar mental health struggles. Sometimes, it’s easier to show someone how we feel through writing, drawing, music or dance than to tell them verbally. Art can become the great equalizer, the space where people who are experiencing similar things can find some sense of safety and community, which is one of the primary reasons I believe her music resonates with so many.

And finally, I’d be remiss in not mentioning Billie’s special relationship with Justin Bieber. Her obsession with him as a young teenager may on the surface appear to be typical puppy love or just fandom to an extreme. However, it becomes evident that his music and presence in the world during what was a tumultuous time for her represented so much more. He was a beacon of hope, stability and a kind of symbol of the fact that no matter how far you may fall, you can still rise and reclaim your power in the world. When she actually meets him, her reaction to him hit me in the gut. I know this feeling intimately. It’s one I have experienced with my own idol, Céline Dion, when I met her in person. I was literally moved to tears as he held her while she sobbed. The kindness he showed her and the confidence he gave her was palpable. And she is very much paying it forward to her own fans, with whom she is generous, genuine and has a deep connection. At one point a fan shouts out, “You saved my life.” That is the power of celebrity when it is used as a platform for good, honesty and love.

Billie Eilish is a testament to resilience, persistence and the instinct to survive. She’s almost the ideal model for those who have experienced mental illness. Through her, we see that while we may view ourselves as broken, we are just struggling, and if we surround ourselves with supportive others who accept us for who we are and remain present throughout our highs and lows, we can thrive and be fully vulnerable within our perfectly imperfect selves. I look forward to seeing where the future takes her.

Image via YouTube/Apple TV

Originally published: February 27, 2021
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