STEP INTO THIRTY: THE SEARCH FOR AUTHENTICITY

 

Understand

 

Greetings Thirties Peeps & Home Skillets,

I finally entered the 30 club almost six months ago and so far it has been quite a wild ride. Obviously, we have all been dealing with the shock of the pandemic, the lost of normalcy and the loss of loved ones and friends. Honestly, I was looking forward to turning 30. 30 somethings seem to be more confident to me and they seem to have a better sense of self. Finding a sense of self is so much harder than I thought it would be. I have been in NYC for almost 4 years and I know that I have grown, but I still have a long way to go. I haven’t really seen much of the world, and this is definitely not the best time to try to see the world. Meanwhile, this quarantine has gotten me to think about how sheltered I have been my whole life. Obviously, I was super sheltered until I moved here, but I still have lived in a bubble, even here. Yes, I went to auditions, went to therapy and discovered quite a bit about myself and how to interact with the world. But I have never been out of the country, I have never really dated or had a real relationship, and I have mostly kept to myself, even in NYC. I worked, auditioned, and went home. I only just started to socialize a bit more with a few co-workers in the last year or so.

Over time, I have realized the significance of the phrase, AGE AIN”T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER. My numerical age is 30, but I am nowhere near where I would have pictured myself at this age. I was hoping to be on Broadway, or performing on a national tour. The funny thing is is that if I had been on Broadway or on a national tour, I would have had to stop doing that due to this pandemic. Maybe things really do happen for a reason. I wanted the world and I wanted it now like the little girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But was I really ready for the world, mentally, spiritually, socially, or physically? The answer is NO.

I have worked on my mental health quite a bit in the last few years, but that has brought it’s ups and downs. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder when I was 24 years old. I have attempted to get off of my medications twice, but regretted that decision both times, the second time was as recently as late 2018 when I decided to join the NAVY. Yes, I failed my hearing exam, but with my mental illness, I never should have made it past the application. I lied, am I proud of it, no, but I wanted it so badly and since my talent manager wouldn’t let me out of my contract for three years, I thought it was the only option at the time.

Getting off of my medications basically set me up for a rough 2019. I knew it might, but I did it anyway. When you get off medications, you cannot just start taking them again. You have to basically start over from scratch with the doses, so it took months for me to get back to the normal dosage that I had been taking. I was extremely depressed and for a person who usually had superb attendance at work and school, I started to miss work often because I couldn’t get out of bed to do anything at all, let alone work an 8-hour shift. By the time I had gotten back to the correct dosage, I had quit my job abruptly and was out of work for three months, a pretty scary thing in NYC. I had been taking voice lessons and even got a vocal coach, but I could no longer afford it and honestly, couldn’t handle the anxiety of voice lessons anyway. Voice lessons have always given me anxiety, no matter how great the teacher was. Socially, I have always had so much anxiety because I want to please everyone and be accepted all the time. I still don’t speak up enough, and I still haven’t quite found my real voice. Honestly, the only time I don’t feel some type of anxiety, is when I perform onstage. Performing became an obsession for me and most times, I only felt complete when I was onstage. I was so unsure of myself off stage and people seemed to like me better in a show than in real life. So I obsessed over that goal for years and put my time, energy, and fulfillment on whether I booked a show or not. I was devastated when I didn’t get cast and elated when I would get cast. It was a constant emotional roller coaster and when you already don’t think very highly of yourself, it can exacerbate your inferiority complex to the tenth power! My depression was so bad that my therapist and I made a safety plan around this time last year because I was having suicidal ideation and was thinking seriously about taking my life.

Truth was I was also insecure because I was not living authentically and I am still trying to work on that. I haven’t told many people about my diagnosis including my family. Mental illness is not embraced by the black community and I knew my family wouldn’t understand. Also, I didn’t want people to think that I just wanted attention, so I mostly kept it to myself. I know there are many young black women who struggle with mental illness, but feel they must push through and ignore it because they don’t want to feel judged by family or friends. You have to take care of you and if your quality of life is impaired by not going to therapy or not taking medications, or not taking proper care of yourself period, this can be dangerous. Yes, I believe God is a healer, but God helps those who help themselves. If you think you have mental illness, seek attention from a psychiatrist or psychologist. Many people are diagnosed with mental illness, but refuse to be medicated. Bipolar II patients have a higher rate of suicide than Bipolar I patients. Staying medicated can be the difference between life or death and this is REALITY.

I wish people would understand that you can get sick in your brain just like any other part of your body. It doesn’t make it any less important than physical illness. There is a general stigma about this and one of the future aspirations that I had written last year was that I wanted to get people to understand mental illness and become educated. What you see on TV is not reality for every mental health patient. Bipolar II patients don’t have psychotic episodes or engage in reckless activity as much as Bipolar I patients. Bipolar II patients are hypomanic for long periods, which can feel wonderful. It is euphoric and you think you can conquer the world.  You start all of these projects and sign up for all of these activities. Then you hit a wall and the depression sets in and it can be really devastating. Depression in Bipolar II patients is usually worse than Bipolar I patients. The Bipolar I patients are usually depicted in TV and movies more often. Their mental illness is more visible to the public and they act in obviously irrational ways frequently. Bipolar II patients never reach full blown mania. Hypomania just looks like high productivity and high energy and can look completely normal to most people. I had so many hypomanic episodes in college, signing up for 19 hours every semester, and auditioning for all the plays and musicals, participating in choir and opera workshop, staying up all hours of the night, and even pledging a music fraternity, all at the same time. But then, I would crash and I would have angry outbursts ending in tears and I would lose it in class often. This actually started in high school, but it got really bad in college and post college. My junior year of college was the worse, I had an episode in the middle of my recital hearing and flunked my hearing for the annual junior/senior class recital. I sang this French song and I messed up and I just started singing whatever out of anger. I would do these things, but not recognize that there was a pattern that had been going on since I was a teenager. 

The diagnosis has made me more cognizant of my mental, spiritual, social, and physical well-being. I have learned to spend time with God on a regular basis. I found a Brooklyn church home and I have attended bible study every week until the church was closed for the pandemic. Since we have been having church online, the pastor has asked me to sing solos every week, which has been really fulfilling. I pray almost daily and I feel better now than I have in a long time. Walking and exercising has helped me at least maintain my weight and release some stress as well. I have been on the same dose of meds for close to a year and I feel better than I have in years, maybe even ever in life. I became obsessed with school, then college, then my career and that wasn’t healthy. I WAS A WORKAHOLIC! So I started making some time to meet with friends, obviously not now, but I had been doing this for the past year.  

You know, leaving my job may have been the best thing that came out of 2019 because it led me to apply for teaching artist positions and I got a part-time position as a teaching artist for the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services. After working this job, I decided to apply for full-time teaching positions at the beginning of 2020. I applied and interviewed right before we all had to quarantine. I was offered a full-time position as a teacher- in-residence at Achievement First Crown Heights. God’s timing is amazing because if I had waited longer to apply, I wouldn’t be able to interview for positions now. Furthermore, my current job told us on Thursday that we are basically laid off after June 30th due to Coronavirus. I start training for my new job on July 1st. God is truly a provider and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I have been able to work from home with my current job and I am still getting a paycheck, when I know many people are out of work including my roommate. I never really knew the power of God until now. I decided to teach for a few years so that I can afford vocal lessons, vocal coachings, masterclasses, summer programs, and opera company audition fees in the future. Pursing a career in opera seems like the best option, but I think teaching would be a great stepping stone to assist with this career aspiration.

In closing, the biggest thing you can do in your thirties is to live your truth, be unafraid of taking chances and stop caring what people think. I have bipolar, but I am not defined by that, I have accomplished many things before, during and after the diagnosis. However, I was in denial and not living my truth. Keeping secrets and not showing all of yourself, the good, the bad and the ugly, will hold you back from many things. Revealing your truth can not only be healing for you, but inspiring and motivational for many people. You could save lives, help people overcome fears, and give them the catalyst to begin to live out their personal truths fearlessly and unapologetically.

Break free and enjoy your thirties guys!! See you next time!

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