UPDATED AUGUST 2018 - OVER A YEAR LATER
i'm kelsey. i'm 25. i create fabric art, write poems, and make digital collages. i live with bipolar II, depression, anxiety, ocd, and ptsd. i am a survivor of sexual assault. and i am enough, just as i am.
in my mental health therapy and recovery, i have found a community of individuals who are scared of their identity in all the ways i was. i found a group of people marginalized in our society, despite the fact that 1 in 5 adults in america live with mental illness in any given year. i have lost far too many friends to death by suicide. and i have decided that i need to speak up for those who can't speak out.
in my graduate studies focusing on disability rhetoric, i have found strength in using my experiences to empower our community. i hope this honesty helps you to find power in your own story too.
follow me here, and on my instagram: @kweyerbacher to learn more about my story, and to share your own. you are enough, just as you are.
• TRIGGER WARNING •
the following may contain content that could be triggering to individuals living with mental health conditions.
where i am.
my life 21 months later.
i went to graduate school. i started researching and advocating for disability studies and the validity of mental illness as an active disability. i got a service animal named finley mae. i created work. i won awards. i stood up for myself. i keep in touch with my doctor. i created a health regime that works for me. i remember what it means to be fully in my body. and i am happy.
of course graduate school is stressful and full of its ups and downs. i have good days and bad days. but, my bad days look like a nap and a bag of salt and vinegar chips. i have a support system including a loving and supportive boyfriend and friends who acknowledge my differences and listen when i have something to say.
with a year left of graduate school, i am working on my thesis, learning about the culture of mental illness in rural areas, studying what it means to have been raised in eastern montana, amidst a harmful suicide narrative that took so many of my friends. i am opening up my knowledge of native belief systems and the identity of mental illness on reservations, with the humble acknowledgment of my white privilege. i am excited about my work, but overwhelmed with the immensity of it. but, despite that feeling, it feels good to know i am actively working towards something.
i am a manager of a store my friend owns, creating things daily and surrounding myself with powerful women. i am a teacher of writing, learning patience and compassion every day, as well as the ways i can actively advocate for the best educational experience possible for my students. i run my art business, showing my work in galleries when i find the time, and finding new spaces to sell my work, including a recent vendor's booth at the amazing red ants pants music festival.
my personal life is changed forever, as i began dating my boyfriend, and profound love, Jesse. he is patient, kind, hilarious, and supportive. he cooks me food when i'm busy. he rubs my head when i'm stressed. he makes me laugh every day. and he supports me in all that i do, even when he knows i'll probably call him for help in the midst of it.
jesse is also a single dad to a beautiful, powerful, kind three-year-old. this little boy (though he would correct me immediately to say "big boy") greets me every day with a smile and a hug, telling me he loves me. he challenges me to be patient. he pushes me to consider new ways to teach him respect, kindness, and self-worth. he reminds me to be "happy, cheerful, fun, and kind" as the new motto we have developed for our little family, with the help of Nana Betsy's happy, cheerful, fun, and kind influence.
stepping into a mothering role is difficult for anyone. it was, is, and will continue to be easy to love and cherish my little man. but, parenting is hard as hell. there are constantly calls to jesse, my mother, jesse's mother, my sister, and more to as for advice and resources. we try new things, we fail some days in some ways, but we always begin and end each day with love and gratitude.
my new family has taught me what it means to be myself. to love wholly and completely. to be supported and cherished. while i am privileged to be in such a position, i challenge us all to share that kind of love with everyone we encounter.
be a friend. share love. speak with kindness. advocate for others. remember that you are worthy in each and every way. remember that your differences make you stronger and more powerful, rather than make you less than. remember that you are needed in this world of ours and that i am grateful for your presence and sending you love.
i will always live with mental illness, but that doesn't make me less of a person, less of a woman, less of a mother, less of a teacher, less of a friend, less of anything. we are all fighting our own battles and need each other's kindness more than ever.
i am filled with amazement at the journey i have been on in the last few years, but always eager to see what the next years bring. keep going. keep fighting. keep finding ways to get out of bed. you are so worthy of this life.
10 months after the diagnosis.
my trigger, diagnosis, and the beginning of recovery.
When I was 17, I was sexually assaulted. Which, ridiculously (!!!) happens to 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men during their lifetime, according to the CDC. for six years following my assault, i didn't date. i didn't talk to guys, i didn't kiss guys. I didn't anything with guys. it took a long time for me to even be able to be hugged by my male family members, because of anxieties and triggers i had associated with males invading my space and violating my body.
fast forward to bozeman, montana in the final month of my undergraduate career, following years of running away, from portland to austria (that's another story) and years of therapy in the form of art, counseling, medication, yoga, and finding a community of friends that i could be honest and transparent with. i was just a week away from graduation, with degrees in both english and photography awaiting me, following awards such as best-in-show for my photography thesis and the college of arts and science's student of the year award in english. i had friends that i couldn't imagine being closer with, and had an internship lined up for the summer that was a dream.
and there was a boy.
i remember (vividly) standing in my darkroom, printing a photo piece thinking, "after all the bad things that have happened to me, i finally have everything i want, except for a relationship." and there was a boy. a boy i had been crushing on for months (five months, to be exact). we were dancing around each other, buying each other lunch or coffee almost every day. making excuses to see each other. and i was crazy about him. all of our mutual friends were asking if we were dating, but we kept denying it, saying we were just friends. so, as i stood in the darkroom that night (or morning, i think it was nearly 3am), i took the plunge and texted him.
fast forward to october, following a trip to uganda, a three-week roadtrip with my two best friends and boyfriend (yes, that boy) and the summer that songs are sung about. i was floating on clouds -- with everything falling in place. i would work the internship until just after christmas, move to bozeman, and ski for the spring with my boyfriend. i would wait through the summer and start grad school. i would travel to europe with the boyfriend to see my best friend, and take them both to the places that meant the most to me.
except, i woke up to a text on october 1st, from that boyfriend, breaking up with me.
now, i know many people will say, "so, what? breakups happen!" but, consider this: as someone who had only ever been assaulted by a male before this relationship, as someone who waited six years for a relationship, as someone who suffers from ptsd, depression, anxiety, and ocd -- imagine what being dropped on your ass, out of the blue, by the person you loved would feel like.
that week, i also found out that my grad school opportunity had been pulled from the university. and i was laid off from my internship, preceding the impending presidential election. i was stuck at my parent's house, with no job, no income, and nowhere to go. my spring plans of skiing with my boyfriend were now gone. i had no idea what to do or where to go.
in one week, i lost my boyfriend, job, and future plans.
and within a week, i entered a depressive state that would trigger the bipolar 2 i would be diagnosed with in january of 2017. the important thing to stress here is that this culmination of triggers was no one's fault. i don't blame my ex-boyfriend for my diagnosis. i don't blame my ex-boss. i don't blame anyone. bipolar is a disorder that affects 6 million Americans. most people are diagnosed in their early twenties. *bing* there's me! bipolar is generally hereditary. i would have been diagnosed at some point. it was no one's fault that those circumstances aligned to provide a large enough trigger for me to have a breakdown.
i was 23 when diagnosed. i turned 24 a few weeks later on a ski trip with my family, where i had a massive breakdown (after hearing from that ex again) and had to be taken back to our hotel by my mom, who watched videos of puppies with me until i fell asleep. that breakdown lasted 5 hours. and it was the third of many, many to come. one by one, in the weeks that followed, my friends i had considered closest to me fell away. they didn't know how to talk with me. they didn't know how to be there for me. so, they removed themselves from the uncomfortable situation that was my mental hell every day. and i fell deeper into mind, forgetting what it felt like to actually live. i was a corpse, filled only with negative thoughts and physical pains. i wanted to die.
living with bipolar is a damn difficult thing. on top of my pre-existing massive depressive disorder, anxiety, ptsd, and ocd, i was a wreck. luckily, i found a doctor whom i trust. together, we started the journey of medication trial-and-error, which was not without it's major upsets.
my doctor and i found that the antidepressant i had previously been on (for several years) made me extremely toxic at a higher dosage. i had never felt so ill in my life. i had experienced mono and pneumonia, but neither compared to the extreme exhaustion, muscle aches, or overall incapacitated feeling that i was experiencing. my doctor told me if i hadn't called him when i did, i would have had major brain damage or died within a week.
that was a wake up call.
this wasn't a typical bout of depression. this wasn't a rough patch. this was a serious, chronic illness that i was going to be learning to live with for the rest of my life. there is no cure for bipolar. treatment and therapy can help, but it never goes away. it is heavy limbs. sore muscles. high anxiety. memory loss. trouble reading. difficulty communicating. low self-confidence. and more.
my doctor and i work closely together and have found a medical regime that works for me. that took months of trial and error. medication doesn't work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. i feel fully "kelsey." i am present, working, engaged, and most importantly, happy most days. mental illnesses are largely chronic, as mine are. but, the important thing to note is that i have struggled to find resources that work for me. once i found them, i have thrived. there is hope. i promise.
my experience in being diagnosed is my own. no two people with bipolar are the same. medication, for me, is absolutely necessary to function. i will be medicated for the rest of my life. that isn't true for everyone. counseling doesn't do a lot for me. yoga and art do. each mental illness for each individual is unique. all i can stress is the importance for *all* of us living with mental health conditions to find a doctor we trust and to be completely, blatantly honest with that medical professional. lying, or hiding how you really feel helps no one. it only prolongs an already lengthy process, and sets you back on your road to recovery.
i'm new to the mental health advocacy community in terms of depression and bipolar. i have been open about my ptsd, and am having to be increasingly more so with the presence of ms. finley mae, my service animal. i have days when i don't want to talk about my symptoms or side effects. i have days when i want to scream them from mountain tops so others understand how difficult it is to live with a psychiatric disability. i want to call those friends that left when i needed them most, and ask them why i was too difficult to be around. i want to shake the man who questions my service animal and ask him where he thinks his privilege has a right to do that to me. i want to explain to my nephew why i need more quiet time than he would like when he wants to play. i want a lot of things.
but, for now, what i want most is to share my story, so that others know they are not alone. because, you aren't. there is a community of individuals just like you who are learning to live again. who feel alone and lost. who have good days, bad days, and all the days in between. we are all in this together.
i'm not going to give up on myself. i'm not going to give up on you. people may leave us. they may disappoint us. they may not understand us, or want to understand us. but, that doesn't devalue who you are, or the struggle you are living with in terms of your mental health.
i am enough. and you? you are enough. we are all enough.
bumble me tindered.
the online dating generation with (a) mental illness(es).
almost seven months after i was dumped, i got back into the dating game. it took a lot of prodding at the hands of my friends and family, who were trying to do anything to get me out of bed and doing something productive. i see now, looking back, that it was absolutely something i needed. not because i needed to date, because i don't believe that's something anyone needs. but, it was something i needed, in the pit of my bipolar depressive state, to be reminded that i was valuable. i won't deny that having someone tell you that you're pretty or beautiful feels good. because, it does! of course it does! but, more importantly, it reminded me that there was life after (1) my breakup and (2) my diagnosis. i made a deal with myself to be upfront about my mental health conditions from the get-go. and jesus christ. what was i thinking?!
the truth was that i knew, even then, that no relationship was worth being in if i couldn't be honest with the person i was entering that relationship with. i felt ashamed of my mental illnesses, because my ex and so many of my friends had disappeared once my diagnosis and the struggles that came with it came to fruition. by being honest in my profiles on apps such as bumble and tinder, i quickly weeded out a lot of guys who didn't care to be around me and my mental illnesses. but, the most difficult part wasn't the disappearances, deleted conversations, or blocking that occurred after i shared about my illnesses, it was the comments that the guys felt at liberty to make that hurt the most.
below, you will find a few examples of *real* comments that were made by males on my dating apps, in response to my opening up about my mental illnesses, as well as the responses i *wish* i had felt confident enough to write.
"What's wrong with you?" or "What is your problem?"
I cannot explain how many times I have received this response. I wish I had said, "Excuse me? What's wrong withchu?"
There is nothing wrong with me. I am perfect just as I am -- mental illnesses, service animal, medications, mantras, breakdowns, anxieties, weird tics, and all! Just because I have a condition that is scientific at it's root does not mean there is anything wrong with me.
there is something wrong with that comment you made.
I wish people could understand how harmful this language is. By belittling me, and making me feel "other" than the perceived norm, I automatically categorize my illnesses as something negative. something i should hide or feel ashamed of.
i am not ashamed! kiss my mentally ill ass.
"You are f*cked in the brain."
first of all, your response is f*cked. how could anyone feel that it is within their right to respond to someone telling them about their mental health conditions with a comment like this?
just because my brain functions differently than yours, and struggles to produce the right chemicals, the correct amount of neurons in the correct places, and is damaged in areas due to a sexual assault trauma does not mean that my brain is f*cked.
yes, it means i require medications, therapy, and other services to help me function in our society, but it does not mean there is something wrong with me.
1 in 5 Americans struggle with a mental illness within any given year in the U.S. which means that you probably know more people with mental illnesses than you think you do! be careful of what you say, how you say it, and when you say it. if you are scared, or unsure of what to say, ask questions!
"you're one of those anxious, crazy bitches, huh?"
no. i am not crazy. i have a mental health condition. there are scientific reasons why i have a disability, just like someone in a wheelchair, or someone that has seizures or someone that is deaf or someone that is blind. behind every disability is a scientific explanation. i didn't choose to be this way. i didn't ask to live with these illnesses. but, i'm doing the best i can, despite constant interactions with assholes like you!
yes, i'm anxious. i'm anxious all the time. i have anxiety. not just like, i get nervous before speeches. like, i get so anxious i have panic attacks anxious.
and the "bitch" comment? don't even get my feminist, anxious, crazy ass started, dude. have some respect.
"can i see your tits?"
the good thing about this ridiculous response to my opening up about my mental illnesses is that it just makes me laugh. it is that bad.
not only is this blatantly disrespectful to me, my body, and my self-worth, but it is a shallow response to the heavy thing i just opened up about. i struggle a lot with my self-worth, but i am confident enough to say that i am so much more than a pair of breasts for men to ogle at.
i hope that every person reading this understands that they are worth more than the sexualized images our culture of "dating" has resorted to demanding. whether you struggle with self-love, body image, eating disorders, or other struggles, know that you and your body are beautiful.
only you can decide your body's worth and value. you are never, ever, ever obligated to send nude photos to anyone. not the stranger on bumble, not your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. your body is yours. and you get to decide when it is seen or not!
you are worth so much more than hurtful comments.
People won't always have the perfect responses or questions regarding your mental health conditions. But, there is a difference between someone trying to understand and blundering, vs. someone being blatantly disrespectful.
you do not have to put up with hurtful comments. walk away. remove yourself from the situation. if it takes an excuse, a white lie, or simply ignoring the individual, do what you have to! you deserve so much more than that! no matter how low you may feel, no matter how little you may feel like you are worth, i promise you deserve someone kind, loving, and willing to ask the right questions.
dating is confusing and weird and difficult without mental illnesses. adding another layer of difficulty on top of the already messy experience is at times unimaginably exhausting. remember that you don't have to date if you don't think you are ready! you don't have to go on a date with someone you don't want to. you don't have to respond to every text or call. it's okay to say, "i'm having a bad mental health day. i'll talk to you later." if they aren't okay with that? they aren't okay with you and your needs. and you deserve someone willing to learn, to be patient, and to ask you what those needs are.
you are worthy. and you are enough.
Billions of people are facing serious health conditions — including many of us at The Mighty. It’s so easy to feel like we are facing these challenges alone. The truth is, we are all facing disability, disease and mental illness together.
But when we look online for help, all we often find is medical information. We want a community, too. That’s what The Mighty is building.
We publish real stories by real people facing real challenges. We are building a brand and a community around them. Having a disability or disease doesn’t have to be isolating. That’s why The Mighty exists.
- The Mighty, "Who We Are"
When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar 2, I was reeling from being overwhelmed with the recovery process that lay ahead and the blatant lack of resources I was finding on the internet. Buzzfeed shared an article by The Mighty, and I found the community and resources I needed to feel like I wasn't alone in my fight. With dozens and dozens of conditions and disabilities to choose from, articles, stories, and resources are available for those of us facing these issues, as well as the family and loved ones who are facing those issues with us. check out one of my weekly featured stories here:
the olive branch
want to know more? ask questions? share your story? i'd love to hear from you.