***Editor's Note: Our Mental Health Awareness Month content features 
potentially triggering content. This essay discusses suicide.If you're 
struggling with suicidal thoughts, call The National Suicide Prevention
Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

In December 2017, I attempted suicide. I ended a long-term relationship in October, moved back in with my parents, and lost all my friends. I felt I had experienced all this loss because of my “mental illness”. I put that in quotes because I have been diagnosed with many things: Clinical Depression, General Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder. It gets tiring being diagnosed over and over, trying medication after medication.

 On a Thursday in December, I decided to leave work and go home because I was feeling so depressed my body physically hurt; I couldn’t concentrate on my work or frankly, care about it. I got home, binged some Netflix, probably over-ate, smoked too much pot, and went to sleep. I woke up even more depressed, so I called out of work the next day, and just couldn’t leave my bed.

 Once it was confirmed I wasn’t going to work, I took a Xanax. Usually I take half of one, but I was like, “fuck it.” I took a nap, woke up, and took another. An hour later I wanted another. Now keep in mind here, I never was addicted to my Xanax. I liked having it on hand, like having an umbrella in your car in case it rains, but I rarely took them. Until this incident, I guess. Now, I’m in the point of my episode that I start talking to myself: “Ali you are three Xanax deep and you still feel like shit. You hate everything, yourself, and everyone.”  I was sick of it all. So, I just slapped a handful into my mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

 I passed out and the next thing I knew I was being woken up by my father telling me the police are here because they thought I was trying to kill myself. I apparently told one of my friends what I had done (I have no recollection of this) she called the police out of concern. I have unfortunately dealt with the police a lot during the adventures involving my mental illness. So, hearing, “the police are here!” even in a Xanax- induced stupor, ignited a fire in me to stumble out of bed and force myself to throw up whatever was left in my stomach. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to die anymore, I just didn’t want to die in a cop car, or in the hands of the police. I didn’t want to be unconscious around the police. I didn’t want them there. I was so mad my plan was ruined. I could have slipped away from this universe in the peace of my own bedroom. I was cool with that.

 Now it’s been only five months, but I do feel like a new person. I didn’t die that day, but I did kill a big part of me.I was really embarrassed about that whole incident and it took me a long time to open up about it to anyone around me. I didn’t even tell my therapist until April. By this time, I really processed it all alone. Even though my friends and family love me, I don’t think the ones who knew about it knew how to deal with the aftermath. I don’t think they knew how to handle me, either. When you attempt to take your life, it doesn’t just affect you. You scare the living hell out of the people who care about you. They lose trust in you.

 This means from December to maybe March I was super alone. I had no friends and no family to talk to. It was hard, but I think for me, it was what I needed to process what I had done. I still have a long way to go in my recovery from those two days in December. Even now when my therapist tries to talk to me about it, I go from long, run- on sentences to one-word answers.

 This is why I started to take these portraits of myself with clown makeup on. I wanted to put a mask on for the people around me to protect them from my deep, dark feelings and thoughts. I wanted them to see me as a clown: funny, outgoing, and most of all OK. But also, the clown mask is for me. It is a way for me to process my extreme lows and highs by letting them just be, and not taking them too seriously. That’s what being a clown has taught me. I learned that when you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, you can’t control where your mind will take you, but you can acknowledge those thoughts of rage and depression for what they are and move on. I make it sound easy, but it will never be for people like me.

 Both sets of these clown portraits represent the mania in me. She’s the sad girl who cries all day until she bursts out in a fit of unprovoked laughter because she finally realizes life is a joke. She’s the psycho who can’t be saved. She’s the rage- filled woman who will go full “Kill Bill” on anyone who stands in her way. She leads with her emotions, unafraid of the consequences that will follow.

 It was cathartic to characterize these identities within me. This was a way for me to be playful with myself, but not make light of the severity of mental illness. I will always acknowledge that I could have lost my life or disabled myself from taking all of those pills.

 If there was any specific time in my life for me to write about mental illness, it would be right now. Talking candidly about a really scary part of my life is hard for me, but I want to talk about it because, when it is spoken on, it’s often too late, and I believe a lot of people suffering with their mental state really do think they are alone on this. I plan to continue this breath of work as I grow and heal.

Words /images: Ali Niesen