Some people say that the person you are at seven is who you will be for the rest of your life. The british documentary series “Seven Up” is entirely based on this theory. I still haven’t made my way through the entire series (watching little kids grow up is kind of a downer), so I have no idea if this theory is true… but it seems to ring true for me. At seven I was writing poetry and singing songs and making up stories. I was the creative one in my family, and grew up to be an “art freak” in high school (a direct quote from a much prettier, blonder classmate of mine). I was okay with that label, it fit with how I saw myself. Sarah the reader, the writer, the director, the pianist… in my head, that’s who I was. And though I suffered from low self-esteem like any other geeky, anxious teenager, I still felt proud of what I could do. Sure, I couldn’t talk to boys to save my life, but I could write a damn good short story.
The life I built for myself after high school was founded on music, which was on purpose, and mental illness, which felt like a crazy accident. I wasn’t an artsy straight A student anymore… I was the real deal: a mentally unhinged artist like Van Gogh or Britney Spears. It scared off a lot of my friends and romantic partners, but I was still producing work, and some people liked it. That was enough for me. The music was the end that justified the means, the heavy lows and jittery highs. I was still Sarah the writer, though I was a little worse for wear.
But everything changed with the medication. In 2014, I started treatment for my bipolar disorder and started popping pills (on my doctor’s orders) just to see what they would do. I felt like a very sad Alice in Wonderland. The first pill made me sleepy, the second pill made me hallucinate, and the third pill made me turn green (not really). The process, which is still under way almost two years later, started to drain me of all my energy. There were no more ups and downs, instead there was a numbness that was, honestly, just boring. As time went on, I stopped creating. First writing music stopped. Then the will to read a book. And over the past few months, I stopped painting and singing for fun. Of course, I could easily pick the guilty culprit out of a line up. It was my old friend depression, back again, and this time he’d left his fun cousin, hypomania, behind, along with all my passions. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to call myself. Sarah the tv watcher? Sarah the heavy sleeper?
My passions and the art they produced justified my existence. My parents could say “Our younger daughter is graduating from university, and our older daughter just wrote this song/ produced this video/ painted this picture.” It wasn’t much, but it was something. I never for a second felt like just waking up every morning was good enough, even though two years ago it felt like the hardest thing in the world. But there are brief moments, every once and a while, where I let myself exist without any reason to be here. I stop feeling scared that I will never write anything again, or do anything worthwhile with my life, and a fantastic relief washes over me. I’m trying to cultivate more of those moments, and encourage others to do the same. I’m not saying it’s okay if I never feel passionate about anything ever again. I’m just saying that maybe it’s okay for right now if all I do is eat and sleep and stay alive. Maybe today I’m just Sarah, and that’s enough.