Hello, Internet! I’m Lex Chase!
I always start my blog posts like that, don’t I? Perky. Happy. Usually do a few catchy sentences about whatever topic. If it’s Flash Fiction Friday here on my blog or if I’m on a blog tour.
But today, I’m not here to sell you anything.
Let’s start again.
My name is Lex Chase and I live with mental illness. And I am not ashamed.
Here’s my story.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 13. Back then it was known as manic depression and still to this day no one really knows wtf it was. But suddenly, my life leading to that fateful moment came into pinpoint focus albeit though a troubling lens.
I was the “weird kid” growing up. I prided myself on being different, unique, marching to the beat of a different drum. Was I bullied? Oh yes. Mercilessly.
I fought to fit in, to hide how “weird” I was, but it never worked. I was the class clown, the go-getter, the kid that had to always be right. And I was the kid who would huddle on the school restroom floor and cry for hours. I was the kid who would skip school for weeks at a time because the voices were too loud.
I missed 95 days of the sixth grade because of said voices. And other things.
Like missing time.
I would wake up in the morning with no recollection of who I was or where I was. But I was surrounded by people who knew me, so I faked it, hoping it would come back to me.
The voices were a constant whisper. Every so often one voice would be louder than others and command me to do horrific things to myself or others.
I carried a butcher knife to school for a month.
I was 12.
I never knew when I would need to use it. But that I knew I had to.
I knew I was a danger to others, and I wanted to protect those I loved. So, I destroyed myself instead. I cut. I carved away the parts of me that made me “bad” and cut “glyphs” into my skin to keep “the evil” within me. Everyone saw the cuts on the backs of my hands.
The final straw came when I was outside of my middle school band class, arguing with my boyfriend out in the open. We screamed at each other, I was sobbing, and he was leaving me.
Here’s the catch.
He wasn’t real.
I was screaming and crying at a wall.
Oh, but I saw him. Every day. For years since my childhood.
Some parents call them “invisible friends.” Mine never went away.
On that cathartic day, two girls same age as me, knew to take me straight to the guidance counselor. I explained very rationally what the fight was about because by golly my boyfriend was 100% real.
She nodded along. I felt better. I left.
She called my mother.
When I found out, I cannot possibly describe my feeling of betrayal. Discovering my much prided weirdness, the voices, the hallucinations, the urges, carving fucking glyphs on my skin, learning that wasn’t “normal.”
I remember vividly the first thing I said to my new social worker.
I sat on her couch, sobbing, and held out my wrists and said “Lock me up, and throw away the key.”
I meant every word.
I was 13. I was completely psychotic, and a newly minted manic depressive baby.
You think that would destroy me? You think I’d feel like a freak? A monster?
I already believed I was a monster.
This was relief.
I won’t lie and say everything was automatically perfect. Far from it. And still isn’t.
I was diagnosed in the early 90s where mental illness was still something of a boogeyman. Like cancer, when obituaries read a person died of “a prolonged illness.” No one ever said the c-word. Mental illness was—and I suppose still is—something that you didn’t talk about. You had that “crazy uncle” but oh no, he really has anxiety and suddenly you feel awkward for laughing at him but don’t know what to say.
My mother was on board with my diagnosis from the start. She read everything she could get her hands on at the time. From Patty Duke’s memoir “A Brilliant Madness” to anything at all. There was very little. Take in mind, the Internet wasn’t even a thing yet.
We didn’t even own a PC!
We were very isolated in our knowledge.
My dad didn’t want to accept it at first. He didn’t want to believe something was wrong with the little girl he brought home from the hospital. The bouncy, giggly girl with the Shirley Temple blond ringlets who loved Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, and Rainbow Brite. The little girl who wore frilly dresses and hair pinned in Princess Leia buns. What happened to that little girl?
He did come around, and Mom tirelessly tried to educate herself, and the family. I had my own work to do. Therapy every week, often more, medications, medication adjustments, side effects, medications to counter the side effects.
I’m not going to lie. Some soldiers fight and die serving our country, but others, like me are a different breed of soldier. We are on the front lines of the war within our minds.
And it never ends. People like me learn how to get better at fighting. Arm ourselves with better equipment. Strategize. Outwit. Outlast.
As they say #alwayskeepfighting
I had to find my humanity again. I had to learn that I’m never going to see the world through a “normal” lens. I had to learn, yes, I can do anything, but work within my limitations. Though there are times those limitations are frustrating and unfair.
I had to learn I wasn’t a freak, a monster, an outcast, or criminal.
I had to learn to not be ashamed. I had to learn to hold my head high as bipolar disorder is the butt of every Internet joke. I had to learn I am not my illness. I’m me. I’ve always been me. Me and my menagerie of voices and faces in the crowd that aren’t there.
I embrace my mental scars. And I welcome the daily struggle. Because I will fight, and I will win.
Why am I talking about this? Why is this important?
In 2016, I lost two of my bipolar heroes. Patty Duke, who broke ground with bipolar visibility, and Carrie Fisher, an icon who gave zero fucks.
It was Fisher who broke me. On a scale of 1 to 10, I was a 9.5 on social media. In my daily life, I was a 400. I had it.
I had to do something. Say something. Keep the conversation going.
For all the people like me, kids and adults alike, getting diagnosed at any point in their lives, and realizing the world finally makes sense but in a troubling way.
Know this, it’s not troubling. It’s not weakness. It’s not dangerous.
We are gifted.
We are bright.
Full of fury and fire, fantastically mad in the best way.
We have spent years trying and failing to play by the rules of the world that will not cater to us. But we play by our own set of rules.
We are soldiers. Decorated heroes each and every one. All fighting our own wars every day.
Over the next six months, I’ll be sharing more of my story, helpful tips, and where I am now. I hope you, or someone you know find peace and solace that you are not alone. I’m here. I’m looking for you.
“Like a dandelion through a crack in the pavement, I persist.”— Wentworth Miller
Persist, my Dandelions. Persist.