BY LINDSAY WHEELER
This picture is about to break my mom’s heart; these words will piece it back together.
This picture will surprise people. It will make them uncomfortable; make them think, but what about her 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. 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 Dr. Abrams 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. Power is braving the good and the bad while acknowledging them both. This picture is triumph.
This picture makes me both a "threat" and deeply human at the same time. It displays a face of what the 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 just 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 the 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.
Lindsay Wheeler is a writer and thought leader on issues of mental illness, challenging readers to consider depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and PTSD – conditions she fights everyday – through a new lens. Passionate about seeing dialogues around mental illness become more open and accepted, Lindsay challenges stigma unapologetically, fighting to be heard through radical transparency and searing honesty. Her story offers valuable insight into what owning one’s diagnosis publicly can look like, how accepting oneself as a work in progress can translate into survival, and how finding an unconventional path to recovery may be the only way to change the world. Lindsay brings an unconventional story of success; a woman who has learned, through fighting the noise that oppresses so many of us, to stay above it and grow in spite of, as well as because of, it. You can follow her on Facebook and visit her site for more information.