BY REBECCA HEILWEIL, editor-in-chief
All of those lines across my face tell you the story of who I am. So many stories of where I’ve been, and I how to where I am. But these stories don’t mean anything, when you’ve got no one to tell them to. It’s true, I was made for you.
This is how “The Story,” by Brandi Carlile begins. Though on face simple, these opening lyrics exemplify how I’ve learned to see the relationship between writing and mental illness. I can write for myself, which serves as catharsis. But my understanding and experience with mental illness is more significant when extended beyond the distance between my head and personal notebook. Our histories, our stories, our narratives have the strength of their audiences. Our lives are our own, but possess the most force when shared and disseminated. It is a relief to know people are listening to us. This knowledge can save us.
Beautiful Minds‘ first author, in her piece “And a Silence,” discusses Homer’s The Odyssey, referencing the tempting calls of his sirens. But this scene is a story in a much larger epic. Throughout his adventures, he uses the power of his words, and wields his life-experience as one of his greatest tools. His struggle with the sirens is simply one of his many trials, each of which shapes how he perceives his own life and agency. (This thought might be cliché, but hey, clichés are just historically-approved metaphors.) Narratives are important. We should use them. And that’s why I started Beautiful Minds.
First and foremost, we want to start sharing stories. Stories about mental health, about mental illness. And we want to do more, especially with the love and support of some amazing, beautiful people, who you can read more about here. Everyone at Beautiful Minds has come to realize, through one way or another, at one time or another, that mental health is not a inescapable topic. Rather, it is a necessary discussion.
For me, this moment happened in a sort of kaleidoscope– my first year of college. It was a semester-and-a-half of feeling shaken and confused. I collected my memories like sea-glass, dangerously sharp but still enchantingly beautiful. Escaping with a friend to the roof of a university building. Confessing fears. Experiencing too many panic attacks. Joining an intellectual society (whatever that means). Joining another. The honesty of an ex-boyfriend. A failed diet. A successful diet. The recent suicides at my university, a place that I simultaneously love and detest. The kind and simple words of a TA. Crying rationally. Crying irrationally.
As these happened, I thought my life was just becoming more poetic. I would have more to write about in my eventual memoir. (In truth, I was just becoming more miserable. )
And then my multitude of moments became part of a more complex matrix. There was the boy on the roof, who was suffering too. There was my best friend, who came into a study room and told me everything was spinning too fast for him to think. There were the dangerous relationships with food, or lack of it. The scars on a young man’s arms that I saw from afar. There was the medication prescribed to us, and the medication we prescribed ourselves. There were the national headlines. The time-off. Hospitalizations. A warm face in a common-room couch, whispering, “I’m scared too.”
These stories and moments were diverse, but they all had a common denominator: honesty. Knowing that other people have experiences, though not identical to my own, provided a context for thinking about my own mental health. Other people’s stories can reach the burning in my brain, and seem to loudly declare, “Reb, it’s not all in your head.” It could be in other people’s, too.
While the details of my mental health are not the most important part of this letter, it is vital for me to impress that mental illness affects my life in the most intimate of ways. It causes frustration and despair, and frames my approach to so many of my decisions, in spheres social, professional, academic, and even romantic. It is a constantly present boulder in my life, one of incredibly strength that I war with on a daily basis.
When I wrote my first piece on mental health for my college arts and culture magazine, I said that I could feel better when given a vocabulary to explain my experience, my illness. Words helped. At its worst, my disorder could make me so uncontrollably angry. it was something so tangible and real in my own head, but invisible to the people that surrounded me. And this, here, is the idea with which my letters from the editor’s desk will begin (in reality, they are more likely thoughts at the communal tables at Starbucks). They’re a reminder that I’m here, and I’m human. I’m here to be honest, to myself and to you. We all are.
“The Story” ends quietly, refraining with the simple lines “I was made for you.”
Beautiful Minds was made for you, too.
P.S. On the topic of structure, these letters from me will come every two weeks, every Sunday night. ~get hyped~
Photography by Reece Sisto.