A mask: The two sides of mental health

Bree Gannon

Giant white walls surrounded her small frame sitting in the corner.

Her curly brown hair fell in her face as she loosened the grip she had around her legs and softly ran her fingers through her curls. Her arm retreated back to the safety of the other, tightly wrapped around her legs and pulling them toward her chest.

Her hazel colored eyes disappeared as she took a deep breath.

“Okay, I’m ready,” she said as she tightened her grip even harder around her legs.

She leaned back against the white wall as she began to slowly open up.

The white walls she leaned on for support now, have felt like they were closing in on her.
Leaving her feeling trapped; by the walls and by her mind.

Her thoughts brought destructiveness. She would tear herself down and tell herself that she was worthless. The pain she was feeling was also being felt by those closest to her, she thought. She did not deserve them and their happiness would be different without her.

The hard and deep questions about her battles and demons hit the wall she was used to building up. They hit like cannons with an end goal of breaking down the brick that had been built.

This time, she was not going to listen to the thoughts. She was going to open up and let the world know what it is like battling her own mind.

The mind of Jessica Henderson opens up what it is like for those struggling with bipolar depression and borderline personality disorder.

Henderson was first diagnosed with bipolar depression in high school but started feeling the side effects at a young age.

“When I was younger, probably around 6, I remember I went to my pediatrician and told her about these weird feelings I had been having,” Henderson said. “I was having out of body experiences where I felt weird and disassociated from reality. I was put on some type of medicine and that is when it all started.”

Henderson went back to her doctor in high school, during her sophomore year, and received an actual diagnosis.

“I went to my family physician and they told me that what I experienced when I was younger was the start of it,” Henderson said. “I never got diagnosed but they helped me work through it and it was in high school when I was officially diagnosed with bipolar depression.”

Jess’ life before her diagnosis was very difficult. Her family and friends would describe her as a bubbly and happy person but behind closed doors, her mask came off and all of that faded away. At home she was sad and depressed and had no idea why.

“I was living this double life almost,” Henderson said. “At school I was happy and bubbly and at home I was always sad and depressed. It is easy to put on a face and no one knows what is going on behind closed doors and all they see is a happy person.”

She soon started comparing her normality to her friends and suppressed everything she was feeling. In doing so, she acted as if the shadow of her feelings was not following her around.

“Nothing seemed to make sense and it always seemed like I was struggling and I did not have answers as to why,” Henderson said. “I was struggling and no one else around me was feeling the way I was and it was hard. My friends seemed normal and I didn’t, so I didn’t talk about it. I suppressed it and acted like it was not an issue.”

She became unplugged from her friends, family, school and social events. Her motivation had ran from her. She struggled with the depression that slowly crept up on her everyday. The sadness held hands with the depression as they both fully engulfed her. The thoughts and pain that tagged along pushed her so far up against the walls of her mind.

And she broke.

2012. A battle of learning how to attack the demons that followed her everyday, was becoming a losing fight. Her first manic episode led down the path to an end for it all.

“I had a bad episode where I went on a very manic destructive phase,” Henderson said. “That destructive night is what caused me to talk about it with my mom because I had my first serious suicide attempt and she caught me.”

Henderson’s relationship with her mother is the strongest bond she has. In that moment, she saw the pain and hurt in her best friend and decided it was time to get help.

After she was officially diagnosed with bipolar depression, she felt relief and got answers as to why she was feeling the way she was.

“It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and it was nice to finally have an answer,” Henderson said. “My doctor was amazing at making me feel like it was not the end of the world and that it was okay to not feel like every other teenage girl and I’m not the only person who has dealt with this. She made it seem like it was simple and something I could do and work through with treatment and therapy.”

After being diagnosed, Jess struggled with the thought of letting medicines control her life as well as feeling alone but there were still good days. She finally felt like she had control of her life and found happiness in things that she did not used too.

Once she got into college, things started to change.

“I felt a lot better but things are always changing and your body is always changing,” Henderson said. “I started to struggle when I got into college, my diagnosis changed and my medication was changing and things were starting to become harder.”

The daily struggles that came with the bipolar depression were fighting with her mind, herself and those close to her. Jess had a hard time with the anxiety attacks, anxiousness, mood swings, focusing, decision making and triggers.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bipolar disorder is a “mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).”

To Jess, bipolar looks different and is a constant battle between her mind, heart and reality.

“It is a constant battle of knowing. You know in your head what is right and what you should be doing and then you have these thoughts and you can’t control it,” Henderson said. “You do the opposite of what your brain is telling you and you go into these manic phases and everything is a blur.”

It is a constant of her mind not letting her body move. The fast movements of the world around her causes her to be trapped in a frustrating whirlwind. Her mind and heart are at a constant battle, which causes strains on her, as well as her relationships with others.

“Everything is moving around you and you can’t control it and it happens so fast that you can’t wrap your head around it,” Henderson said. “You cannot go rationally about it. My brain thinks the opposite of what is right in my heart and it has caused a lot of strains.”

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 5.7 million Americans age 18 and older experience the extreme highs and lows of bipolar disorder.

Jess has been on her journey for the last six years and has endured the toughest parts of the depression’s highs and lows.

Arguments and disagreements would trigger episodes which caused her to become anxious and worked up.

“Arguments with anyone, in relationships or with my parents, would start the process of a spiral,” Henderson said. “It would cause me to spiral out of control and it cause me to be anxious and the feeling would get me worked up. It was a big trigger in high school but now, stress can cause me to have an episode.”

Her episodes would start self-destructive thoughts. The thoughts that would make her tell herself she was worthless and was not a good person. The pain was mentally, emotionally and physically apparent and in those moments, was whispering in her ear.

“It is a psychosomatic moment where I would be in emotional and physical pain too,” Henderson said. “It wanted it to stop because it was excruciating. The worst feeling is to be miserable and not be able to stop it. I would give up feeling like that in a heartbeat.”

The pain slowly boiled to the top and pushed until she had enough. She had to stop it.

The thought process in attempting to take your own life is long, painful and reflected on again and again.

The number of times Jess went through that process, is four. Four times in which the pain was attempted to be silenced.

“All my attempts have been trying to swallow pills,” Henderson said. “It goes back to the pain and you want it to stop. An attempt can be thought our and I had a few where I considered it for a very long time. For days, I had that pain, sorrow and negative emotion and cried myself to sleep. It is the pain you need to stop and when I wanted to commit, I would think about bad I needed it to stop.”

Her pain was never chosen. She did not ask for this life or for the suffering that accompanied the depression. The loudness of the pain, the screams of worthlessness, drowned out everything else.

She could not get rid of it. Sleep did not silence the voice that followed her into her dreams and even in those, the only thing that did quiet it, was the successful attempts.

The fourth and last attempt happened a little over five months ago. If it was not for those that were there, it would have been more than just an attempt.

“It is hard and it is a selfish thing to do because it is your way out and they say ‘Do you think about your family?’ and I think about my mom and she is the reason why I am still here,” Henderson said. “When you are in the moment, you think that everyone would be better off without you. You don’t think about how they would be upset or how they would mourn you. You think about how better their lives would be without you in it.”

Jess and her mom fought a lot and to her, if she was not around, her mom would not have to go through all the stress of dealing with her. Her boyfriend would not have to be screamed at by her. Everyone would have silence in their life.

“People don’t commit because they don’t have options,” Henderson said. “They do it because it is their only option to get the silence and for the pain to go away. I had a whole month of solid depression and I was in so much pain. You think you try everything and it doesn’t work and there is that only way out and just have it be quiet.”

After her latest attempt, Jess saw her purpose in life. She had someone there for every attempt she made and it made a life or death difference.

“I think for every attempt, I have had someone there to help talk me through it and without it you have those irrational thoughts that tell you is the only way out,” Henderson said. “Without someone who is there to help you think rationally, that is when they are successes. You need someone to help you realize that it is not rational.”

Her experiences have helped her see that her pain is felt by those close to her and that coping can be possible.

“The thoughts are irrational and the pain you are feeling carries over to those who love and care about you,” Henderson said.