Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Yesterday, I got my semicolon tattoo in a now cliche display of suicide and self-harm survival. It was a last minute addition when I was sitting to get flowers added to my seasonal sleeve. The tattoo may be fully mainstream now, hiding on the wrists of strangers all around me, but the metaphor still speaks to me. As a writer, a punctuation mark to symbolize choosing to keep going speaks to me. I could have ended my story with a period but chose to keep writing.

It was 24 years ago when I was first suicidal and continued for roughly a decade after that. Years saturated with depression, pain, self-harm, self-abuse, awful life choices, and consequences. As my oldest child approaches the age I was when I first wanted to die, when her problems appear so simplistic and her understanding of life and the world so rudimentary, I remember how adult those emotions felt.

Wanting to end everything at 12 felt exactly the same as cutting my arm open at 19, feels exactly the same as when the depression gets black now. The emotions are exactly the same; it is my understanding of them and ability to deal with them that has evolved. I have matured and grown up around them. Yet they were just as real then; they only looked bigger and scarier. They filled my small body then. Now, they curl up in a corner in the back.

I need to remember that as my children approach that age. I need to remember that age and experience don’t decide what the pain feels like.

The dark time in my life somehow simultaneously feels like yesterday and another life completely. It both feels like the core of me and something that happened to someone else. In either case, it left a mark on my mind and who I am. Now, it has left a small mark on my flesh.

I’m not sure why I chose behind my ear. Maybe I’m just running out of canvas. Maybe I wanted it close to my brain, where the darkness has lived. I chose the right side because that is the side I write with and to balance out the wedding ring tattoo on my left hand.

I have a strange unbalanced symmetry in my ink. Both wrists, both upper arms, both shoulders, both shoulder blades, both ankles, a couple along the center of my spine, a finger on one side, and behind the ear on the other. Ink therapy. A map of many of the places I have been. How could I not have such an early milestone, such a formative part of me?

I think that dark and self-destructive period of my life is important. It taught me potentially the most about myself and about life. I continue to learn from it as I compare the way my life unfolds to that baseline. Perspective. It gives me and keeps things in perspective.

So now, I keep going. I keep writing.

 

Christina Bergling

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Releasing my novella Savages as an audiobook was a new and bizarre experience as an author. As many nights as I spent writing the book and as many times as I’ve read it over, it was something completely different to hear my entire story aloud in another voice. I loved it, so I decided I wanted to create some YouTube videos reading my own works.

I had to start with “How to Kill Yourself Slowly.” This is the first piece that I ever had legitimately published. I think this piece is where I discovered myself as a writer–my style, my themes, what I had to say. It also got so much response. The people in my creative writing class reacted very strongly. When I posted it on my blog at the time, I received hundreds of comments and emails. I have talked about it at high schools. People have found me on social media from it.

“How to Kill Yourself Slowly” has been out there in the world for maybe 15 years. Yet somehow when I started reading it aloud, it felt more vulnerable, more exposing. The feelings were strange and unexpected, and it actually made me nervous and hesitant to go through with releasing the reading. I felt freshly embarrassed about my past; I worried about how it would sound and how the people referenced in the piece would feel. It feels like being naked in a crowd of people. More than that, it feels like then peeling off my skin, cracking my rib cage open so you can get the full show.

I turned 36 yesterday. I felt compelled to post this because I almost didn’t turn 13 or 18 or 20… That is important. That matters. Aside from the fact that it has been out there for so long already, I kept thinking about all the comments and emails, the people saying that reading the piece helped them or saved them. And I had to post this.

 

 

 

Christina Bergling

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When I started “modeling,” I think I was chasing a way to feel positively about my appearance. In the wake of my most self-destructive phase, I needed to manufacture some semblance of confidence from the shattered pieces of my sense of self. I knew I could never be classified as conventionally pretty or skinny, but I wanted to make that art. I wanted to see myself differently, from the outside.

Over the course of this clumsy dabbling, I worked with photographers with whom I could collaborate, and our visions collided and amalgamated into what I considered my visual style.

But I never did feel better about myself.

My pseudo eating disorder raged. I would starve myself and not eat on days I did nude shoots, as if lunch or water made a perceivable difference. I would turn the pictures on myself, use them to catalog my flaws, use them as a qualifier of my worth. For as much as I have never prioritized aesthetics for any other person, the toxic tentacles of the damage in my brain always made me one-dimensional to myself. It was as if my physical body was an entirely separate entity from the rest of me, judged meticulously by only its appearance–by ever-sharpening criteria. I was never going to be “thin” enough or “pretty” enough because it was never about how I looked. Self-destruction had been driven out of my heart only to make a hidden home in my eyes and my flesh.

Yet I continued to play in front of the camera. The symptom was never the disease. I modeled until we moved back to Colorado from Tennessee. Then I was no longer dancing, I had no established relationships with local photographers, and I had another child. By this point, I resigned myself to simply being too old and the pictures being a closed chapter in my life.

Then I mentally evolved again.

Two major changes happened. Most importantly, perhaps at the root, I finally made peace with the damaged and self-destructive persona in me. I have been analyzing, flirting with, writing, and being her half my life. This time, I actually forgave her, forgave myself for what I did to us. I released that blame and those consequences that it felt so safe to hold.

Perhaps as a side effect to this or maybe as a tangent effort, I put my atypical bulimia to bed. In vain attempts to restore myself after my son, I spent years obsessing and fixating, starting and torturing myself, punishing my body to the point of multiple injuries. Then I discovered intermittent fasting.

I had attempted numerous diet and fitness paradigms, yet fasting slipped on like a glove. For all my anxiety about not eating and hanger, it was just what my brain and body wanted. Needed.

And impossibly simply, food was no longer an issue. The numbers were no longer an obsession. Just like that. It seems utterly unrealistic. I am neither the weight or size I “want,” yet I don’t care. I am happy. I am comfortable. I have finally grasped that confidence that launched the entire endeavor.

It is possible I have simply outgrown some of the fixations. Life continues to get bigger. Maybe I am old enough to just give no fucks anymore. Yet a part of me still fears this is a trap set by that self-destructive girl, a false summit. Feeling authentically good in my skin feels alien, so forgotten it’s almost foreign. I have reservations over so many years of struggle culminating in so seemingly simple a fix.

But I’ll ride this wave until it sends me crashing onto my face.

In this place, I have returned to modeling. Yet this time is not motivated by a search to find something in myself. This time is not a band-aid over the tear in my mind. I am not trying to prove to myself that I look worth something.

I am trying to look scary and disturbing.

I have launched into a new collaboration with members of my “commune.” The photographer is establishing her visual voice, and I am happy to play test subject. We both love horror and have already collaborated on one of my novels. With the addition of a blood minion, we are collectively chasing beautifully disturbing images.

Successfully so far.

The difference is where I am coming from. I no longer feel infected by that pervasive insecurity. I am no longer worrying if the wrong position creates a bulge; instead, I am making sure the fake blood is dripping right. I am able to look at the pictures and see the image rather than all the things I am not.

I have worked with some amazing photographers over years (and plenty not), but there is something unique about laughing your head off as your “sisters” ladle chocolate fake blood on you, about collaborating with women who have held you up most of your life.

The fact that the pictures are turning out is just a bonus.

Christina Bergling

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Earlier this week, I stood up in front of classes of 6-8th graders and talked about being a published horror author. The experience was pretty amazing, far more fun and impactful than I really expected.

The children were very excited to have me there and to broach the subject of horror in their classroom. I gave maybe a two minute introduction; then they asked me questions for an hour and a half. Hands still lingered in the air when the class ended.
davis-middle-school-classroom
I would have stayed and talked to them as long as they wanted.
They were hungry to talk about the darkness. We discussed the best zombie origin lore (they were thrilled I brought up The Walking Dead as inspiration). We talked about how often I kill my characters and why. We touched on depression in writing. They wanted to know about my process and inspirations and methods and future plans. I got a lot of “would you ever write about…” questions. They asked me pretty much everything.
When we were discussing my favoring of psychological horror, I told them I like to focus on the internal experience of my characters, their emotional journey. I told them I liked to torture my characters from the inside out. They asked me why and what scared me the most. I told them, my own mind.
bipolar-2
I stood in front of a class of 50 young strangers and told them I was bipolar. I never intended to go there, to bring up that part of my life, yet I said it just as naturally as I discussed my first writing unit in 4th grade.
And when they asked what I wanted to write about but was hesitant, I told them bipolar again.
I don’t love public speaking. Often when I stand up in front of a group to train them, my mind blanks out. I am always less eloquent standing in the front than I am on the page or even sitting within the group. Yet, this was easy. Everything about this interaction was simple and honest and comfortable.
As a bipolar person, you usually learn or are encouraged to keep your condition under wraps. Since mental issues are largely an invisible disability, you are supposed to play sane, medicate or hide your symptoms, and pretend you are just as well and normal as everyone around you. Especially when it comes to employers, as to avoid the possibility of discrimination.
shhhh
No one wants to be branded as crazy. Then treated that way.
I have failed at that approach the majority of my career. And I don’t regret it.
When I was in college, I did work study at the campus art gallery. Since art is a field where deviant minds are embraced if not celebrated, I was able to be honest with my boss, the gallery manager, about my condition. I was freshly diagnosed and in some of the most turbulent times of learning my disorder. It was formatively comforting to be able to struggle honestly and get support and understanding at work. When the gallery manager killed himself years later, a part of me died with him for all he had done for me at a time I really needed it.
However, when I joined the professional world, I tucked that away. I never really muted my behavior, just never volunteered the explanation. I let people think I was eccentric or volatile or emotional and just made sure it never interfered with the work.
There was no hiding in Iraq though. When I went to Iraq for three months for work, it was rough on me. As an unmedicated bipolar, I use routine to stabilize my cycles. Yet I had just moved across the country to a place I did not want to live; I was half the world away from my partner, who served greatly as a balancing influence for me; I was in a place that intimidated me in nearly every way possible. I was too busy trying to keep myself mentally afloat to even give half a care to what others could perceive.
iraq2
And more than just me, everyone seemed pretty raw over there. Aside from it being a warzone, many people elected to work there to avoid some sort of damage at home. And even for the most balanced individual, when you have no personal life and spend every hour with your coworkers, you can’t really hide much.
At least I couldn’t. Stateside management found my blog at the time and became concerned I was going to crack. My boss had to sit me down and assess my mental status. After nearly every single post went live. I chose to be honest with him and in him found another ally. He trusted me to be who I was and handle what I needed, and that faith was empowering.
After that, I did not care who knew or when.
I have been fortunate in my professional experience of my illness. I have been lucky enough to work for empathetic, equitable employers. I am also good enough at what I do that my work speaks louder than my other labels.
I blog under my real name now, linked very clearly to all my author activities. I talk about bipolar on the open internet and public profiles. In the end, being who I am and talking about it for other people in the same situation means more to me than the safety in secrecy. I have never done secrecy well in my life.
living-with-bipolar-disorder
I have been thinking about this a lot because of how it felt to have a conversation with these children and because of where my head has been the past week. I have been in a strange state the past few days, a mixed state. Mixed episodes, which for me is experiencing a blend of mania and depression simultaneously, are extremely rare. I think I may have had two other experiences in my life, both dating back to before my children.
It is hard for me to describe how the mixed state feels, which is saying something as I am a person who describes things for a living and a hobby. It just feels like EVERYTHING. I’m hyper sensitive, hyper aroused. Every sense is on full blast, cutting on edge. Colors are brighter; sounds are louder; my skin feels like it is going to vibrate off my bones. At first, it feels like amplified mania, but then there is the depression. I am perpetually on the edge. The pain is blended into all the highs. I feel amazing and horrible at the same time. I slam between elation and torture in milliseconds. Sensations and feelings fly around so fast I can’t even gauge them.
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The peak of this particular episode was pretty intense for me. I got to the point where I could not physically hold still. My thoughts were racing. I had a song stuck in my head, but it was playing at triple tempo.  My nerves were so sensitive I could barely be touched. And, if I am being completely honest with myself, I loved it as much as I feared and hated it. I knew it was temporary; I knew it was a cycle. I let myself truly experience the intensity. Yet that was the crescendo. Even in my flurried state, I managed to put myself to bed and wake up more balanced.
It was a beautiful kind of pain, a sublime kind of suffering. When it passed, it was a relief, yet it also left a void. Everything felt dulled and quiet and disappointing even.
So as the vivid extremes recede, I find myself just introspective, locked in the internal cycle of evaluating my own mind. And how, on most days, I love the horror of it.

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com