Essays · Life Stuff · mental health

Beauty in the Madness


I stood in front of the greasy mirror in the bathroom, holding a little packet of petroleum jelly that the nurse had given me for my lips. I was in a psychiatric hospital, and like all hospitals it made my skin very dry. For some reason (an instinct deep inside of myself I’m sure), I applied more to my finger, turned my face, and patted just a touch on my cheekbones. I smiled. Hospital highlighter! It was the first time in several days that I felt a remnant of my true self emerge.

Let’s go back. Way back. And then I’ll tell you why makeup and all things beautiful help me cope with having bipolar disorder.

Story Time

When I was 5 years old, my mother sat me and my older brother down on the couch for a serious discussion. I remember that my brother sat on my mom’s right side and I sat on her left. I remember that my brother’s shirt was red. It must have been around dusk. Then she told us that our grandfather had died, and my brother began sobbing uncontrollably. I didn’t cry. I can still remember how I felt inside. Confused. I couldn’t comprehend it.

Many, many years later, we found out the truth. My grandfather had suffered from bipolar disorder, and he’d taken his own life. I don’t recall how old I was when my mother gently revealed the truth to us, but I couldn’t have been more than 13. Which, in retrospect, is funny to me, because it’s around that time that I began to show signs of something unusual in myself.

I didn’t recognize it though. I suffered from depression, often severe, throughout my childhood. I recall thinking of suicide when I was 10 years old, pacing back and forth in my room deciding whether or not I should take a bottle of Tylenol. At the same time, I had a rather manic personality. I was incredibly talkative and excitable. It was that grandfather of mine who once asked my mother whether I ever shut up. I was creative, and just a little off, and weirder than others. Fortunately, I also had great social skills and made friends easily, so I was never teased for my oddities. My friends would simply shake their heads and smile and say, “Rachelle, you are so weird.”

Maybe these were tiny hints of an illness brewing. Maybe they were just my personality. At this point, I believe the two are so intertwined that it’s useless to try to distinguish them. I am who I am.

I was 15 years old when I saw my first psychiatrist. He told me I had all the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but that he couldn’t diagnose me as such. (Now, as an adult, I’ve learned that most are cautious of diagnosing children and teenagers.) However, he still put me on two strong medications. And that started it all. I was pushed down the rabbit hole. I’ve been on so many medications, and seen so many psychiatrists, and therapists. From that moment, it’s never stopped.

I’ll be 29 this month. I am still young. But mental illness can make you feel older. It makes you tired. More tired than I could ever express. I’ve reached a point of acceptance: this will be with me the rest of my life, no matter how much I wish it wasn’t. So, every day is a lesson in how to survive and be productive even when I’m severely ill.

I decided to share this personal post right now because it’s been a month since I posted. This is the reason why. I didn’t feel like I could buck up and get back to work on my usual stuff unless I expressed why I’ve been MIA. It’s been a difficult few weeks and I’ve barely been hanging on, unable to bring myself to write a makeup review or something I did with my hair. I just needed to get by. I’m doing better now, though not optimal, and I have to kick myself back into gear. Life must still be lived.

So, what does this have to do with this blog, with beauty, with makeup, with hair?

Back to my last hospitalization. After that rather silly “hospital highlighter” discovery, I tumbled back into a world I loved. Over the course of that 9 day hospital stay, I wrote pages and pages in my journal about my plans for a beauty blog, and a makeup line I could create, and the ways I could help other women feel beautiful. At last, I could see a future for myself outside of the hospital, out of the darkness. I saw an image of who I wanted to be, the things I was passionate about, and I clung to it like a lifeboat.

I lose myself in beautiful things. When you’re sick, it’s important to have things you can lose yourself in. You need a way to escape your own mind. Whatever that is. For me, it’s music – making it and listening to it. It’s old movies, preferably those starring Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant. It’s a conversation with my best and dearest friend. It’s making short films with my little sister. It is also this.

When I was young, I loved the advertisements in magazines because I could just lay there on my carpet, which was being warmed by the sunlight, and gaze for several minutes at one aspect of the image. The sheen of the model’s skin, her elegant pose, the composition of the photograph.

Beauty is simple and easy. I don’t have many simple or easy things in my life. That’s why beautiful things help me cope with bipolar disorder.

I appreciate you reading this very personal post, and I look forward to being active again. I’ve been storing up a lot of ideas and I hope you’ll all appreciate the onslaught of posts coming your way! ❤



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