Working Through Mental Illness As An Actor

C8A94C7A-B39B-4608-BDEB-827E0F17A0A9

From the picture on the top and left you can see the joy I have in my eyes to be involved in Brainfood, at brunchtheatre and halfthestory a collaborative show centering around mental health. This show is an amazing opportunity to be in and I could not be more grateful to be part of it.
.
But can you look closely and see in that second picture that look of uncertainty, fear and sadness? There’s a resilience there too but it’s buried deep down built up over time.
.
Even working on this show has been filled with self doubt and my own mental illnesses have come to the forefront rearing their ugly, monstrous heads, causing me to think I’m talentless and I don’t deserve a place in this show.
.
My OCD tells me to not take breaks until I’m perfect on my lines which sometimes means hours without food or water( and “perfect” is a concept that DOES NOT and NEVER will exist for any of us -sorry my loves), my ADHD in complete juxtaposition makes it damn near impossible for me to sit down for long periods of time before I realize I am staring at dots in the wall or watching out the window and I can’t even get though the line I am trying to memorize or speak aloud to myself without stopping mid-way through.
.
Being a human with mental illness is difficult enough, and being an actor on top of it I find is an interesting combo. The depth I have as a person due (also the trauma I’ve endured outside of my illness) simply due to the chemical imbalances in my brain and the experiences I’ve had because of them, allow me to tap into levels I think others cannot. But that adds a thicker wall: the ability to allow myself to be seen.
.
So much stigma is alreadysurrounded around mental health (which is what this show is aiming to bring awareness to and make a dent into ending) but much of my life I’ve been told “I’m too sensitive” “dramatic” “clingy” “ moody” Well friend, some qualities can all be traced back to of my diagnoses I have that are rarely talked about- Borderline Personality Disorder.
.
What I’m trying to say is- even though sadness behind my brown eyes in that second picture, (and resilience in the others) as an actor I want to work though my mental illness, try to strip back those layers, use the “you’re too _____” I’ve heard over the years (which is pure stigma blanketed over the years) and now, I want to allow myself to be seen, because that’s what this show is about. Being seen. Saying: mental illness is okay to admit and “I am struggling.”

.

To think I am able to explore some of the depths of my mental illness because of an ad for a theatre company I responded to 2 years ago on backstage.com is mind blowing. I never thought that a magazine that used to sit on a table at my theatre schools and page through between classes had a website, let alone a website and that would then allow me to apply and eventually get cast, giving me the opportunity now, in 2019  return to my second season with this theatre company, is beyond me. It’s scary working though mental health problems, but I’m glad I’m being challenged in my work, and I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

Advertisements

Bipolar Manic Episode *Uckery.

Edit: I also feel like this post could be called: A desent into madness, lets take a journey together!

August 10, 2018 2:53

On July 20, 2018 is when I had my first night of 4 hours of sleep. The lowest amount of sleep I got was 48 minutes of sleep on Tuesday in which I had a full 14+ hour day. Second after that was this past Monday I had 3 hours and 40 min of sleep. So its been 12 days of less than 4 hours of sleep a night.its been 22 days and last night was the first time I got 8 hours of sleep. (I’m done with numbers now, I promise.) Eventually sometime last week I lost an entire week of sleep- don’t know how much I’ve lost now, but who cares- point is, I’m fucked and bipolar blows and insomnia can suck it.

Why such little sleep? Because of an ongoing, seemingly endless, (sometimes draining) Bipolar hypomanic episode. You see I struggle with Bipolar II (vs. bipolar I which is signified by full blown manic episodes which sometimes mean: no sleep for days at a time, psychosis, delusions, hallucinations– basically the shit that gets you hospitalized and REALLY fucks your life up.) Instead I have “lesser” episodes (which at this point, this fuckery has been going on for almost 3 weeks. So, please, try telling me that right now this is a “less severe” episode.)  Although I do know that in some areas of my symptoms things could be worse and certain symptoms that were present at the start of my episode have since subsided. Basically here is what my hypo manic episodes look like for me (but I just use the word ‘manic’- but  from a clinical standpoint I wanted to clarify for you the difference between hypo manic and manic episodes.

  • Impulsivity- perhaps to steal, promiscuity aka the want or need to sleep with all of the Bronx and parts of Queens, drink, occasionally the URGE to spend money (but I don’t act on that specifaclly one)
  • Pressured speech– feeling the inability to stop talking, constantly interrupting people and not being able to slow down my speech

The main way I describe my mania is this: It’s as if someone is standing behind me pushing me, rather shoving me forward while I try to stay still.

  • My mind races
  • I can’t sleep or if I do (usually 4-5 hours) I am able to function completely normally with no hint of being tired. As in I can pull off 15-18 hour days without a hitch. Sure I might be like “Jesus why am I organizing my closet right now, its 3 am go to bed kid” but yet, physically I don’t feel tired. Sometimes my mind gets tired but even then, I cannot sleep.
  • I can hyper-focus which is also a symptom of AD/HD meaning I can (just as it says) hyper focus which means I can seemingly zoom in on an activity for hours at a time. Yesterdays hyper focus of the day was downloading a shit load of songs and listening to music for like, 2 hours straight on youtube.
  • And the weird one; making lists. Like legit- writing lists. Bullet. Pointed. Lists. Of what, you ask? I don’t even fucking know man but when I do, it seems hella important.
  • decreased appetite and having to literally remind/force myself to eat because I can get through the days without eating much.
  • Racing heart 
  • Elevated mood, I can turn into Nice Nancy, who thanks all the cashiers and wishes them a great weekend and rest of their shift! Which is something I don’t necessarily do.
  • And most importantly: Increased creativity! Sometimes (not this episode) I will write songs or just write in general (maybe thats why you are reading this right now? Who knows?)

Essentially all these symptoms just mean none of this stuff listed above is present, or to the extreme degree they are in my daily life- they are disruptive to my daily functioning.

I wish I could say I have honestly 100%  given up trying to make sense of why this happens and try to cope with these disruptions but thats not 100% true. I would like to know how it it physically and mentally possible that I am able to function off 4 hours, or like I said 48 min of sleep ( and that to me is honestly frightening) and feel totally fine and not affected. The only reason I know how much sleep I get is because of my handy-dandy fitbit, which is such a helpful mental health tool for me. Long gone are the days where I constantly check to see (much to my dismay how little)  I’ve walked only to realized I’ve only walked .27 miles or something (thats a lie- I walk more than that. However, also sometimes I don’t leave the house at all for days at a time and I live alone which is magical- most of the time it really is, but it can get lonely.)

Sometimes these episodes are brought on by a clear cause, this one I can attribute to staying up until 6:30 in the morning talking to someone and then thats when it all began to crumble and it just been a god damn shit show since then. I believe this stretch is potentially being elongated because of a number of other factors going on in my life right now, namely the status of my relationship with my boyfriend who I am currently taking some time apart from so we can both focus on our mental health because we are both kind of messes (case in point!) and also I have financial burdens and my living situation is a mess because I’m broke as a bitch! But other times, like I think maybe back in January when I had another long lasting episode that lasted about 2 weeks just came out of nowhere, but we are slowly nearing a month which sucks major balls.

I honestly just want to sleep consitently and not feel altered. Sometimes I feel okay, like I’m not bouncing off the walls (these periods don’t last too long- a few hours maybe if I can focus on a TV show) But as of yesterday (and right now as I write) I have a killer headache which I realized literally 15 minuets ago might be caffeine withdrawal because I didn’t drink soda yesterday ( or really eat) because it’s just too hot to drink anything but Powerade and water because I have been so active (I legit took 3 showers the other day because I kept sweating through my clothing because I CAN’T STOP RUNNING AROUND AND DOING THINGS!)

SO, I guess what a manic episode can look like is someone (most people picture a little boy, but adults have AD/HD as well)  bouncing off the walls and won’t shut the hell up. With many mental illness there is usually co-mordbidy (simply meaning you usually have more than one diagnosis leading you to potentially hate your life an inch more and board the struggle bus more often than others who have one diagnoses) and a lot of the symptoms overlap. So some of the things I deal with daily are exasperated and heightened, however manic episodes are horrendously more disruptive in my daily life than my AD/HD.

I guess all I can say at this point at 3:27pm is I have a headache and I just want to feel like “me” again. And what does “me” look like? Essentially just a lot more sedated and my mind isn’t racing too much. I don’t have a need to keep doing things. I’d like to just sit here, maybe take a nap (“Hah! yeah right bitch!” screams my brain at the mere thought of casual sleep) and just exist peacefully. I wish I wouldn’t have called for an hour trying to find an issue of Variety magazine centered around trans actors at 10 am today calling every CVS, Walgreens and every Barnes and Noble in NYC trying to find it. Only to have a friend actually CALL Variety in NYC in which he was informed that they don’t sell variety in NYC, just Long Island so, that was a cool relization (see, thats what hyper focus looks like- an incessant need to carry out goal oriented tasks- see! THAT makes sense, I should have put that up there when I listed the symptoms. Oh well.)

Luckily I have an incredible psychiatrist who cares so deeply about me and is fighting alongside me to help me control this pharmacologically and end this vicious cycle and firstly allow me to sleep, while at the same time (using the same meds) to end this hellish episode. I guess my only fear I have that just popped into my head is I hope there isn’t a downswing and fall. Because sometimes (and not too common with me- I think?? I don’t remember?) there is a goddamn crash and burn like the Hindenburg and you’re all the sudden depressed, suicidal, maybe drinking even more (if thats your bag) Let’s hope that does not happen because my brain has already been traumatized these past few weeks, and we don’t need the pendulum to swing.

So my dear friend, I hope this gave you a closer look into what a bipolar episode from one persons point of view looks like. If you want to see my rad video I mad describing this (vocally in words, obviously) on my youtube channel including delicious text effects (yay!) here is the link to my video.

Warmly,

your mentally ill, but- fighting- like- a- fucking- warrior friend,

Rilen

A Life Lead in Confusion

Tuesday February 7,2017 10:35pm

My life is lead in confusion. I am confused about my gender, my trauma history, why I drink, why I cut, why I am so mentally ill, why I have no friends, why I feel empty. I am surrounded by endless thoughts of what, why, how come? I wish I had answers to all the questions my mind asks of me, instead I walk around in a haze, stumbling around trying to find the door that holds my secrets and unsolved truths.

I want to be understood, I want to be loved, I want to once again, feel whole. I want to have people in my immediate surroundings who I can spend time with instead of seeing blurred faces through a computer screen. I long for someone to touch, to hold and be held by. I want to sit in my sweatpants and watch sappy romantic comedies with a friend while shoving our faces with popcorn. I want to feel so fulfilled and purposeful in life that I am bursting with life, unable to hold in my joy that I could get up and break into song at any moment. I want to greet my days with purpose instead of shades of grey that paint my days. It’s only been 2 months since I’ve been out of school and I feel disheartened. I wonder, will I ever make it as an actor or will this be my life forever? Living off my dad and lying around, like an amorphous blob in my bed.

When will I look in the mirror and be happy and not see double chins and fat hips? When will my legs gain their strength and tone again? Do I want to continue hrt and become looking more and more male, or do I want to slow down and stay how I am, in the middle? I don’t fit with others and I don’t fit with myself ,there is turmoil and unrest deeply settled in my soul. My withering soul that longs to spark back to life. To feel free, love, understood, apart of SOMETHING. So much, if not all of my life I have been alone and felt disconnected, I now wonder if this because of my disorder, or is that just me? Forced to walk beside my own shadow? I don’t have the answer to all of these pitiful questions and it plagues me. I want clarity, I want to take of my splattered glasses that are covered with fog and dirt and see clearly. To feel complete and needed. I make youtube videos to help others and help myself, but I wonder, who is really helping me? I have a mental health team that encourages me and understands, supports, empthathizes and sympathizes with me, but am I really interconnected with anyone? Or am I just a flag flapping alone in a field?

I don’t know what I want most in my life, if its to feel included and understood? Or to just feel whole and content within myself? I don’t have any answers at this point. I am lost.

10:46

When The Bracelets Come Off (tw: self harm)

January 15,2017 9:48am

When the bracelets come off I know something sinister is about to take place. I can go a full day without even thinking about cutting, or maybe it passes though my mind as I see my arms. But I don’t think about it as much as I used to do. But once I’ve had 3 or 4 drinks in me and my bracelets come off I know I am going to hurt. The weird thing is sometimes it’s not a conscious decision, I just look down and see myself taking my jewelry off. The ritual begins as soon as they are off. I inspect my wrists, feeling the risen cuts usually fresh from the night before or a day before. I plan where I’m going to cut, between which lines that are healed enough, or start somewhere new. I usually cut in-between the lines. My wrists look awful, there is no hiding or pretending that they aren’t self harm scars. My leg looks like a barcode with long scars cut in straight lines, my wrists look the same.

I am ashamed that the world has to visibly see the pain I am in. A physical representation of the turmoil that plagues my mind on a daily basis. I wish I could go back restart and maybe not cut on such a visible place next time. The 2 tattoos that are on my wrists are framed by my cuts, always sure not to touch the art that adorns my body. Sadly a few cuts have spilled into the tattoo I got in memory of my mom, something shameful and sad. I want to be proud to show people my beautiful tattoo and now I can’t because of my arms. What a shame.

The crazy thing I find is how different it feels to cut sober or drunk. I’ve cut sober maybe 4 times total. I get drunk and cut, thats my pattern. When I’m sober I wince and want to yell out in pain because it burns and stings. But when I’m drunk my toes curl in pain but not like when I’m sober. Whats even more fucked is that taking off the bandage the next morning hurts more than the actual cutting. I hope that I can rid myself of this horrible, self destructive habit thats developed over the past month.

Getting life on track

Saturday January 14, 2017 8:48am

It’s 8:48 am and I excitedly await 6pm. I’m going to dinner with one of my classmates who I feel a deep connection with. I’m ready to spill my guts to I person I am fond of and trust. I’m ready to chat about school and why I made the decision to walk away from it.

Yesterday was the first day I didn’t get drunk or cut, a major accomplishment since I have cut the last 3 days in a row. My wrist is still puffy and red but I am glad I am healing instead of waiting for new wounds to heal.

My life since being back has consisted of writing new songs on my beautiful shiny new piano, making a trip to the library where I check out 10 books to read for pleasure— a nice break from the old necessity of having to check out plays to research roles and expand my knowledge of various playwrights. I’ve been watching netflix and just trying to take it easy. As little stress as possible is my goal. I’ve bought a few candle and continue to keep in contact with my friends from far way who I have met online. They have become my life line, the only constant communication and connection in my life.

I’ve had 3 therapy sessions in the past week and a half where we tackled my self harm and abandonment issues. I feel like I am finally starting to see the gap in reality and the illogical part of my brain that tells me people are going to leave me. I am able to see that my brain tricks me by ignoring all evidence and proof that the person who means most to me is going to disappear without a trace. My fp ( favorite person) has done nothing but support and care for me, yet I feel he is going to run away and abandon me. I learned through therapy that isn’t the case- he won’t leave me and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

My therapist constantly lauds me for my extensive effort to better myself and get healthier. He says that most people aren’t capable of being so self aware that they need help, and instead live their lives in silent misery. Where as me on the other hand, dropped out of a prestigious acting school to get my shit under control. Him saying that brings me little comfort but deep down I am grateful and pleased. My mental health has always been a priority of mine as I have voluntarily been going to therapy since I was 16. At first I went to deal with my eating disorder that was slowly developing in reaction to my abusive alcoholic mom, god rest her soul. Then I went to a new therapist to also deal with my mom but to deal with my bipolar disorder and skewed body image. Then I went to another therapist where I dealt soley with my gender identity and came to the startling realization that I am transgender man. I’ve had other therapists beyond that that I don’t want to get into. The point is, my mental health has always been a priority, but now it is the sole focus of my existence.

I am excited to meet my new therapist on Tuesday but also quite nervous. Will she be nice? How fast will it take her to realize I am intelligent, focused, determined, kind caring and wounded? When will we tackle my sexual abuse and my mom? Will she understand my deep emotional pain and be able to help me get healthier and wipe my slate clean and start over again? I am hungry for change, to be on a new playing field of life. As usual with life, things are unknown and hang in the balance of time. There is no way of predicting how therapy will go or the new DBT group I will eventually start going to. For now my focus is on not cutting or drinking excessively in my room at night alone as that has been my daily habit for the past 2 months.

I am excited for my life to begin unfolding in to the way it is meant to be lived, with happiness and joy instead of this fluctuating constant state of hurt, pain, disappointment and fear.

The journey home to a new me.

January 3,2017, 1:37pm
Here I sit at gate D47 after paying a $125 baggage fee waiting for my flight home for my new life to begin. I am a bit shaken by my last encounter with my angry dad over the excessive baggage fee. If I would have removed 6 pounds from my bag, it would have been only $25. I am mad at myself because I used the wrong card so I probably won’t be able to afford my metro card. Fuck. Will I be able to buy groceries? Dumb decision, Rilen, DUMB! Regardless, I am seemingly calm, probably because I have nicotine coursing through my veins as I just smoked my second to last cancer stick.

I am nervous and excited to go home. My flight leaves at 2:55. The gate is quiet, about 20 people scattered about, chatting on their cell phones, quietly listening to music, or like the guy next to me, munching on a piece of hard candy. I don’t know what to expect when I get home. A messy room, an empty fridge, unkept bed and no clean towels. Beyond the physical state of my cozy Brooklyn apartment, I have no idea what to expect of my new life that has just begun. I am on the road to recovery. I will begin intensive therapy, 4 times a week to tackle my self harm, and borderline personality disorder symptoms that permeate my life. I am crossing the bridge into a new me, the life of a professional out of work actor. I am nervous to go on auditions, but due to a new wardrobe I am confident that I will look great walking into those rooms. A shred of guilt nags at me as two of the sweaters I bought are a bit too tight around my hips. My muffin top spills over the top. I am still impatiently waiting for T to smooth out my hips and for the day I finally have the will to stop drinking mountain dew. 20 pounds lighter and that sweater will fit perfectly. When I go on a date I will be one fashionable bitch, clad in my new boots and sweaters. The new me is beginning to be shaped.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I did buy myself a piano which I am so excited to receive by mail later this week. I haven’t played piano in almost 2 years, haven’t written a song in over 3. I was walking down the street with a friend last night and was excitedly chattering about all the material I have to write songs about now, my moms death, being trans, being sexually assaulted, having mental illness— so much to draw on. My therapist says she doesn’t think I should have a job right away because I am still a delicate mess.

The exacto knife still sits in my $125 bag that is currently being inspected by gloved fingers.I wonder what they will think when they see it is shoved in a box of large bandaids, will they know? I hope I never have to use that knife again to peel back the layers of my skin in order to feel something deep that is buried in my soul. I hope that this 2 day, no-cutting streak can continue and I don’t add to the collection of straight lines that scar my wrists and forearms. Self inflicted pain and proof of it is hidden underneath bracelets I made. I am ashamed, I am wounded. I wonder what people in auditions will think when they see my wrists as I hold up the sides to an audition. Perhaps I will wear makeup? Or even still wear my bracelets? So many unknowns that only time will reveal. My goals are to get through this flight and take it day by day. I want to focus on piano, and learning spanish again and keep writing. Beyond that and therapy I have no plans. I will work when I am cleared to but I intend to keep busy regardless. Perhaps the bar around the corner will hire me as a bartender when I am ready? Or I will get a job serving in the city? So many unknowns.