S3: Fine Line - Episode 3 - Helen

Episode Information

Fine Line: Mental Health/Mental Illness – Episode 3 – Helen

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to Season three Fine Line narrative histories about mental health and mental illness, a traveling exhibition and weekly podcast edited and hosted by Michael Nye, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation. May you find insight and understanding in these voices. Episode three, Helen.

Helen:  I was in the Rosa Christians and I was doing this initiation. I had been chatting and sniffing incense and everything for about two weeks. So I sat down in front of a mirror with candlelight. I looked up in that mirror, and all of a sudden the person in the mirror smiled, and I knew that I hadn’t moved a muscle. I think it was a demon, and it really scared me. When I was young in my teens, I always knew that if I had a mental illness, it would be manic depression. I just seemed to know. My mother said that I was always either up in the heights or down in the depths. I remember I read a lot and I would read the same thing over again. I made plans for when the Russians were gonna come get us, and we were gonna hide in garages. I think I played the piano. I took lessons from lady in a big house. I was pretty, nobody ever said I was, but when I look at the pictures that were taken of me, then I know I was.

I really don’t wanna talk about depression. It’s been very painful. It’s a narrowing of vision where everything seems brown, and you beat yourself for all the real or imagined faults you have. My first hospitalization was about a year out of college. I realized that my symptoms were probably mania more than anything else. I couldn’t sit still, extra perception, extra energy. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t sleep all night, but it’s also anger. I had a violent episode through things, said things that didn’t mean yelled My father, held me down, called a deputy, but while he was coming, I agreed to go to the hospital.

I have learned not to take myself too seriously. I think we all need to be kind. I don’t think just random acts of kindness. I think we need to have a kind attitude. These are things I wouldn’t have learned had I not been ill. A life of meaning is working your butt off on something you absolutely love. I love writing. I love creativity. I love music, and I love advocacy because I feel like I’m contributing to society. I don’t really know who I am. I don’t know if I were totally healed or cured, what would be left? (Humming song softly)

[Outro Music]

Host: I don’t know where mental health ends and mental illness begins. This exhibit in podcast is about the fine line that moves through all of our lives as we weave our way forward at times, holding on for balance. These stories are about our shared humanity, about the mysterious genes that we inherit, carious gifts or burdens, and pass on to the next generation. A story can be a window into a larger world than our own places where empathy and understanding begin. Helen told me that understanding her illness was helpful. Finding a doctor and therapist that really listened to her was helpful, that having family and friends nearby was helpful, that singing was helpful. Everyone knows something important and valuable, a wisdom that only they know about their own experience. We are grateful for Helen’s voice, her presence and honesty. May something in her story stay with you. I’m Michael Nye. You can go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast. For Helen’s portrait and transcript. Thank you for listening.