Unhinged: True stories about living with mental illness
Come one, come all! On April 25, SpeakeasyDC has the unique opportunity of partnering with Joani Peacock to produce the show Unhinged: True stories about living with mental illness. Joani, the writer of Unorthodox and Unhinged: Tales of a Manic Christian, works in her church and community to normalize the conversation about mental health. This show, Unhinged, is SpeakeasyDC’s way of adding to the conversation. It’s a show that I’m especially excited about because I live with a mental illness myself. Hi, my name’s Elizabeth, and I have anxiety. (This is the part where you say, “Hi Elizabeth,” in unison.)
Yes, I’m at a point in my life where I can joke about my condition. In an interview with Joani we both agreed that we use the term “crazy” with affection. However, getting to this level of comfort with myself wasn’t smooth sailing. In fact, I fought with my parents whenever they mentioned I might need help. My younger sister went to a psychiatrist long before I did, but I didn’t feel I was on the same level as her. However, the truth was that we expressed our anxieties in different ways. She would say hello to every plane that flew overhead, fearing it would crash if she forgot. I was secretly checking on my sleeping sisters to make sure they were still breathing at night. She would repeat “amen” over and over after finishing her prayer. I was quietly debilitated by homework assignments, sitting at the table for hours doing nothing. My sister’s anxieties were so out in the open that it took me awhile to realize that my quiet obsessions and worries were just as harmful to my health.
I was lucky my parents sought help for me at such a young age. During my time talking with Joani she shared that “60 percent [of people] will deal with a mental health issue in their lifetime, and about 60 to 70 percent of people never get any help.” Joani herself wasn’t diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder until she mentally crashed and burned at age 48. Until then, she lived her life as a “hypo-manic person,” never realizing that her brain was “differently wired.”
And that’s the important thing to note. Living with a mental illness just means your brain is wired differently. According to Joani, “Everything we do requires our brain, so everything in reverse has an impact on our brain. It’s very holistic. I just want to help people understand that what goes wrong here [points to her head] is just as normal as what goes wrong here [points to her heart]. It is an organic illness. You don’t bleed, you aren’t bruised, you don’t throw up, but it comes out in your moods, or your thinking, or your behavior.”
So, after lots of tears and anger, I saw a psychiatrist my junior year in high school, and it’s the best thing I could have done for myself. I fought it for so long because I didn’t want to rely on medicine---or be labeled “crazy” or “different.” However, as much as I hated to accept it, I could see myself changing after finally reaching a stable dose of the right medication and a stable level of health. I let my room get dirty like a normal kid. I experimented with makeup because it no longer felt daunting and stressful. My brain started changing, and I suddenly had the freedom to be myself.
“Recovery,” Joani shared, “is about picking up your whole self.” I am by no means cured, but the wonderful thing is that I have picked myself up. I can live with and manage anxiety. I have accepted myself for it, and others have accepted me, too. In fact, the more open I am about my struggles, the more I find that I am not alone.
Joani refers to telling her own story as “coming out of the closet.” She explained that as more people come out of this mental health closet, and as more humans meet real people with real struggles, the more the stupid stereotypes fall away. This is what SpeakeasyDC is striving for. We hope that with the show Unhinged we can help the stereotypes disappear by providing a safe place for people to share their stories. Everyone struggles with something. But by talking about those struggles we break down barriers and become better people. As Joani noted, “[Telling your story] gives other people permission and a safe place to also tell their story. And then there’s validation that you’re not alone.”