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Telling the World About My Bipolar Disorder

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painting


Christine Saenz is a 48-year-old human resources manager in Houston, TX.


I always knew I was different, but I had no idea why. By the time I was eight, I truly felt like something was wrong with me. I was always a moody kid, needed a lot of alone time, and was picked on by my cousins for being grouchy all the time.

When I was 10, my insomnia started, and that triggered my first bipolar episodes, although at that point I didn’t know what there was a name for them. No one talked about feelings or mental health in my house, and I didn’t want to tell my parents because I worried they’d think I was crazy (heck, I did).

Coping strategies hid my pain

I learned I had to hide my depressive episodes—and I did it well. I developed a defense mechanism by being a bubbly, approachable person. I pretended to be fun and laughed a lot in public while stowing away my dark feelings and the need to cry. I realized this was part of the reason I felt so worn out all the time, because after keeping up the facade of being someone else, I had to spend a lot of time alone to recharge. Yet when I was finally alone, dark and sad feelings quickly overcame me. Nobody knew what I was struggling with—not my teachers, boyfriend, or friends. It was incredibly draining to keep up the act, so I didn’t want to go to school and often skipped when I didn’t have it in me to pretend I was OK.

Because no one in my life knew the truth, no one was able to encourage me to get help.

This defense served me well over the years, in that it helped me develop relationships and friendships, and allowed me to keep a professional job. But it also really hurt me. Because no one in my life knew the truth, that also meant that no one was able to encourage me to get the help I really needed.

Starting a family

I got married in my early twenties, and kept my episodes hidden from my husband, too. I still didn’t even know what bipolar was, and I thought that if I told people how I actually felt—so depressed that I sometimes wanted to disappear—they’d think I was an awful person, because I had so much to be grateful for. That was especially true after I had my first two children. I cried constantly and couldn’t bond with my kids, and all the other moms I knew would say stuff like “this is the most beautiful and meaningful experience of my life.” Meanwhile, I was thinking things like, “I’m miserable and regret becoming a mom.” At the time I thought it was strictly postpartum depression (PPD), but now I think my undiagnosed bipolar was also a factor. In the end, my constant depressive periods took a toll on my marriage, and my husband and I got a divorce.

He refused to believe I was sick and said I was just being selfish. I again felt so alone.

In my early thirties, I married again and had two more children. Once again I suffered from terrible PPD. I had panic attacks in bed, and could never sleep because I was so busy worrying that I’d somehow harm my youngest child. I finally went to see a psychiatrist, who said I needed to be hospitalized for depression. My husband was completely opposed to the idea—he refused to believe I was sick and said I was just being selfish. Three months later, he left me.

A mental health crisis

I began seeing a psychiatrist regularly. He diagnosed me with depression and prescribed an antidepressant, which made me extremely manic: I went to the office at 4 am because I couldn’t sleep anyway, was hypersexual, and took on extra projects at work. When I told the doctor about my insomnia, he prescribed a sedative to take two or three times a day max. I found myself taking one every hour because I was so agitated. At my lowest, I was popping up to 20 pills in a day. Finally, I called my doctor and told him I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin and run away from myself. He told me to go immediately to a psychiatric hospital. I’m so glad I actually listened.

Life-changing diagnosis

At the psychiatric hospital, I was sedated and evaluated. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings with emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Rather than feeling shame from the stigma of being mentally ill, at that moment I felt such sweet relief—finally, there’s a name for what I’ve felt my whole life!

I was in the hospital for 10 days, and the medication I was given made me feel childlike, innocent, and unashamed. Being on the proper medication in the hospital allowed me to feel vulnerable enough to call and reach out to people. I told everyone about my diagnosis.

From the outside, I had everything together, but on the inside, I was completely falling apart.

My coworkers were shocked. They’d known me as a polished, hard-working people pleaser. From the outside, I looked like I had everything together, but what they couldn’t see was that on the inside, I was completely falling apart.

Both friends and family came to visit me in the hospital to make sure I was OK. I felt this incredible freedom knowing that I didn’t need to keep my secret anymore. Everyone knew I wasn’t perfect and that I had bipolar—and they still loved me. Even my second ex-husband told me he regretted how he handled things, and we’re friends now.

Finding support and community

My children went to live full-time with their dads so I could focus on my recovery. I took eight weeks off my job as a human resources manager.

With my doctor’s guidance, I tried several prescriptions, gave up drinking, made rigid routines around my sleep, and started cognitive-behavioral therapy to maintain my stability. My therapist suggested I try painting as a way to calm myself when I’m having an episode of anxiety and depression, and it really worked for me. I absolutely fell in love with the way painting allowed the inner child in me to run wild. I paint every day now. I still have my day job, but art has been a lifeline for me—one of the best tools in my tool belt of healthy coping mechanisms.

In 2019, Saenz invested in a small studio space for painting. She loves to create floral paintings with bright colors as they being her joy during periods of darkness

Courtesy of Christine Saenz

I also tried to join some support groups for people with bipolar, but I didn’t find a lot of other people who were in the same situation of being bipolar but still high-functioning enough to keep a professional job. So I decided to start Facebook and Instagram pages to honestly and openly share my journey, in hopes that I could find others like me, create a community, and trade resources. And it worked—I ended up getting DMs from people in all walks of life: a famous radio DJ, investment fund managers, lawyers, and so many others. I don’t go a day without getting contacted by someone telling me that they—or someone they love—is struggling.

We are sometimes each other’s lifeline in the form of a DM.

Now I’m 48, and I’ve been running my Facebook page for nine years and my Instagram for four. My online community is 40,000 people strong, filled with like-minded, bipolar individuals, or people who are affected by someone who has a bipolar diagnosis. We are sometimes each other’s lifeline in the form of a DM. We ask each other simple questions like Did you eat? Have you showered? Did you do one good thing for yourself today?

Moving forward with my illness

Today, I’m able to go weeks (and sometimes even several years) between manic episodes. I’m also now able to spot signs of the beginning of an episode. When that happens, I immediately reach out to my therapist to help settle me down and keep me from spiraling. Certain situations can trigger episodes as well. If I try to go out socially more than once a week, I can feel it happening. My body and mind tell me when I’m doing too much and not resting enough to recharge—the key for me is just listening to it.

I took two years off from dating, just to work on me, and I finally felt ready to jump in again earlier this year. On my first date with my now-boyfriend, I laid it all on the table and told him about my diagnosis and history. I expected him to run for the hills! But he said he saw me as a person who was honest, self-aware, and who liked who I was now. He and I have been together for eight months and are very much in love, and I feel better equipped to be in a relationship than I ever have before.

Looking back, it may have seemed intense that I told basically everyone I knew I had bipolar the minute I was diagnosed. But it was truly the best thing that I could’ve done. My honesty and vulnerability at the beginning of my treatment journey was immediately matched by the love and support of those around me. It’s that support that gave me the strength to tell the world, and to keep sharing my story. Hopefully that helps other people going through mental health issues to feel safe opening up about it, sans stigma or shame.

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Fashion

Chromat Gave Me Permission to Celebrate Myself

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new york, new york   september 12 models walk the runway during the chromat x tourmaline springsummer 2022 runway show at new york fashion week on september 12, 2021 in new york city photo by sean zannigetty images for chromat


We’re by the ocean, but it’s not just any beach. It’s Jacob Riis Park, where queer people flock to get away from city noise and flaunt our bodies, curves, bulges, rolls, scars… everything that makes us beautiful.

“It’s the place where I’ve seen more Chromat in the wild than any place on earth,” says Becca McCharen-Tran, designer of the brand.

Bodies of water have always been a source of power for us. In New York City, those who aren’t at the beach often hang at the piers along the Hudson River. Water is a source of life.

As a model for this collection, I am walking alongside people of different sizes, ancestries, and abilities. We are living embodiments of our lineage carried forward. In these times, colonization has severed us from our past selves, where many of us were spiritual leaders, historians, shamans, mediums—we were respected for the knowledge we brought to our people.

The runway procession at Chromat.

Sean ZanniGetty Images

This collection, titled “Collective Opulence Celebrating Kindred,” demands that the world witness us. We are beautiful and unchanged. We are beautiful in all the ways we seek to transform, too.

“As trans and gender nonconforming, non-binary, intersex people, we deserve to feel pleasure and feel sexy, like hot and delicious, as huge meals and little snacks,” says artist and filmmaker Tourmaline, who collaborated with McCharen-Tran on the spring/summer 2022 collection.

Runway shows have begun to diverge from thin, white, and tall because of the many years activists spent trying to shift entrenched cultural norms. Plus-size models are only sprinkled into runway shows, even though the majority of American women are plus-size in the eyes of the fashion industry. Chromat has consistently showcased the full scope of humanity, in all of our abilities, genders, and body types.

“When we used to ask our friends to model, it was so shocking. Now it’s the bare minimum with brands,” says McCharen-Tran. “With this collection, it’s also a jump forward in how trans bodies can be envisioned.”

new york, new york   september 12 a model walks the runway during the chromat x tourmaline springsummer 2022 runway show at new york fashion week on september 12, 2021 in new york city photo by shannon finneygetty images for chromat

Xoài Pham.

Shannon FinneyGetty Images

“Chromat has consistently showcased the full scope of humanity, in all of our abilities, genders, and body types.”

I have spent years strategizing how to warp my body in a way that creates safety for me. At the beach, especially, where our bodies are on full display, trans women are constantly wracked with danger. What makes it all the more heartbreaking is that my ancestors lived by the Pacific, in central Vietnam. They would greet the day at sunrise to be in the ocean. It was a source of food, play, and solace. The ocean is home. But it was made to be dangerous to me after many centuries of criminalization and targeting of gender-variant people.

What’s remarkable about Chromat’s commitment to showcasing all kinds of bodies is the way it allows us to experience a future we’ve always deserved. For a moment, we are time-traveling together. We are bringing the future to us.

When I nervously slipped on the one-piece, made with a pouch for people who have penises, I thought of all the times I had to hide and pretend that I had a body that wasn’t mine. This time, I was given permission to not only come as I am, but celebrate myself and those who share my experience. I was asked to let myself breathe and take pleasure in just being me, alongside my community.

Hair and makeup was intended to emulate archival photos of Black trans icon Marsha P. Johnson, with heavy blush on her cheeks and flowers throughout her hair.

new york, new york   september 12 models pose with designer becca mccharen tran after the chromat x tourmaline springsummer 2022 runway show at new york fashion week on september 12, 2021 in new york city photo by sean zannigetty images for chromat

Models at Jacob Riis Beach.

Sean ZanniGetty Images

“So much of Marsha’s legacy was around fashion,” says Tourmaline. “Marsha’s actions were in rebellion to the morality of the state, using fashion to control trans bodies, like with the anti-crossdressing laws police enforced to raid Stonewall. Those laws have an aesthetic level of violence.”

The runway show was a ritual in remembrance of the people who led the way for us to be able to be all of who we are.

When we listen to the ocean, we are listening to ourselves. If we listen closely, we can hear the laughs of Marsha P. Johnson, the shouts of Sylvia Rivera in between drags of her cigarette. We can hear the clacking heels of Octavia St. Laurent.

As writer and scholar Alexis Pauline Gumbs teaches us, water holds memories through sound waves that live inside the ebb and flow. All of this history is stored and carried along the Hudson, down to where the river meets the coastline of the Rockaways. And from there, it travels to the oceans that carry our trauma and our lineage. Here we are, unabashed, in each other’s arms, in their name, in their memory.

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Billie Eilish Changed Into a Stunning Red Oscar de la Renta Cape Dress Inside the 2021 Met Gala

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billie eilish at the 2021 met gala in her second dress


Billie Eilish’s nude princess dress just started her night at the Met Gala. While most celebs debuted their second looks at the Met Gala after parties, Eilish changed inside the gala. She switched into a sheer red Oscar de la Renta cape dress.

Kevin Mazur/MG21Getty Images

billie eilish at the 2021 met gala in her second dress

Kevin Mazur/MG21Getty Images

She wore a third look, a lace top and sleeveless black mini dress, at an after party later.

Eilish spoke to The Guardian at the end of July about the pressure some people feel to always look good and how she views it. “Since I was a kid, my dad and I have always talked about a certain type of person who’s so insecure, or hyperaware and self-conscious, that they never move in a weird way, or make a weird face, because they always want to look good,” she started. “I’ve noticed that, and it makes me so sad. If you’re always standing a certain way, walking in a certain way, and always have your hair just so… It’s such a loss to always try to always look good. It’s such a loss of joy and freedom in your body.”

She added that she is not fully immune to the pressures social media or unaffected by the edited photos posted there. “I see people online, looking like I’ve never looked,” she said. “And immediately I am like, oh my God, how do they look like that? I know the ins and outs of this industry, and what people actually use in photos, and I actually know what looks real can be fake. Yet I still see it and go, oh God, that makes me feel really bad. And I mean, I’m very confident in who I am, and I’m very happy with my life.”

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Why Miley Cyrus Didn’t Attend the 2021 Met Gala

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miley cyrus performs on day 2 of the 2021 bottlerock napa valley music festival


Miley Cyrus’s big return to the Met Gala will have to wait another year. The singer was not at the New York City event this evening. She didn’t reveal her exact whereabouts on her Instagram, but she was last photographed earlier this month, performing in Napa, California. The singer was not in New York City for fashion week last week or the MTV VMAs yesterday either.

Steve JenningsGetty Images

Cyrus last attended the Met Gala in 2019 with her then-husband Liam Hemsworth.

Cyrus opened up to Vogue in June about her fashion and how her style has evolved over the years. “Fashion to me is kind of flipping yourself inside out,” she said. “It’s like wearing your heart, wearing your guts, wearing your values, wearing your identity, wearing your pain, wearing your joy. There’s something kind of childlike [about it]. You’re so fearless when you get yourself dressed when you’re a kid. You don’t think about what someone will think of you or what they’ll judge. It’s just about expression and how you feel that day. There’s a fearlessness. And so when I get dressed, I try to kind of think like my inner child, and be genuine and authentic in whatever I’m wearing.”

The outlet asked her what layers of herself she keeps private. “Well, if I answered this question, then I wouldn’t really be holding it back from the public!” she started. “But I have a very intimate and close relationship with my family. But like all families, we’re also complex, but we embrace the fact that each of us are so different from one another. Me and my siblings, we’re a lot alike, but we also have big differences. And we just accept that and don’t judge each other. And our family makes unconditional love a priority.”

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