Amber Nicolle Henry, who goes by her artist name Slim the Phoenix, has battled the peaks and valleys of bipolar disorder. At its most euphoric, bipolar disorder can produce periods of overwhelming energy, fanatical creativity, and heightened sensations. In its most distressful state, the euphoria can twist into crippling depression, mountains of anxiety, and the feeling that everyone is out to get you. Slim the Phoenix wrote this letter on dealing with the demons of bipolar disorder and surviving through music.
I began writing music seven years ago.
I had wanted to write all my life, but every time I tried, I thought the results to be complete garbage.
I pushed music to the back of my mind.
But in 2011, I decided to try again. I had started co-oping as a full-time engineering student and was earning enough money to buy music production equipment. I sat many nights with a midi keyboard, tearing away at the software on my computer.
Experimenting with my own voice, the words and sounds flowed effortlessly. I would spend countless hours writing lyrics, studying songwriting, and weaving my words into the music.
In less than a year, I produced tons of unfinished works, but also a body of very soulful, impactful songs entitled Heart Cry. During this time, I was experiencing what is known as a hypomanic episode.
This is the coveted part of bipolar disorder. It is a period of intense, goal-oriented activity. Your mind is able to process ideas and information at high speeds.
You can feel profoundly euphoric.
Nothing is impossible.
Creativity flourishes and amazing work can be accomplished. The danger of this state is that it can tip over into mania (a psychotic episode) or spiral into depression.
Soon after my virtuoso moment of musical success, I began experiencing extreme anxiety and depression. This interrupted not only my creative flow, but also my personal and academic life. I knew something was wrong, but I was afraid to seek help.
I was scared of the judgment that society would impose upon me.
I did not want to be labeled crazy or a freak.
In 2014, I endured my second severe psychotic breakdown. I had battled with depression and hypomania before, but this time I lost all control. In the grips of psychosis, I stripped down naked in the woods and jumped off an interstate bridge (don’t worry, I’m writing a book about it).
I suffered a broken neck, severe lacerations, and a traumatic brain injury. My traumatic brain injury (TBI) resulted from my head hitting the ground with great force. I hit so hard that it caused hemorrhaging. I was rendered unconscious upon impact.
TBIs are classified as mild, moderate, and severe; mine was moderate. Doctors have difficulty gauging the long-term effects of brain injuries because no definite timeline exists for the symptoms to resolve.
Leading up to this breakdown, I was experiencing extreme paranoia.
I could not trust anyone.
I had been on an extreme high at work before the psychosis set in. Running away felt like a saving grace. The paranoia made it impossible to listen to reason.
I saw everyone as a threat to my well-being, including family, friends, and the authorities. Following the incident, I stayed in the hospital for six days. Under medical supervision, I temporarily escaped from the psychiatric ward. Once settled back into the hospital and officially diagnosed as bipolar, I was forced to confront the reality of the disorder.
Down On A Knee
I feel like when people think of someone who is bipolar, they immediately think of a person moody and erratic; someone who is nice one minute and then ready to tear your throat out the next. That may sound like a good description of the word bipolar, but it does not adequately depict the symptomatic spectrum.
When not experiencing hypomania, there is a myriad of negative emotions that someone with unmanaged bipolar disorder can experience. These include dissociation, extreme anxiety, extreme depression, poor concentration, extreme fatigue, and other crippling symptoms.
In my most recent release ‘Inquisitive Proposal,’ I open up about my struggle with these symptoms.
It is a love song.
I call it spoke rap (a cross between spoken word and rap).
The single is a catharsis that speaks to the power of true love and vulnerability. Aware of my insecurities, I wrote this track as I imagined proposing to all parts of myself.
Always Worth It
As someone who knows the depths of this disorder, I ask that if you or someone you know is experiencing adverse and prolonged mental symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or severely low self-esteem, please seek therapy at the minimum.
Most public colleges offer this service to students. My complications extended through my graduation. I graduated from university in December of 2013 and suffered my first episode of psychosis later that month.
I lost my hold on reality. Psychosis can be brought on by increased stress, not eating enough, and lack of sleep. Mine was sparked by a combination. In this state, you can be a danger to yourself and others. Anything can happen when you are not in control.
I felt trapped in a dream while everyone else remained in the real world.
Never be afraid to seek the help you need.
You are worth it.
Now, I see bipolar disorder as a blessing for those who do not let it overtake them. Through four episodes of psychosis and three episodes of major depression, I have discovered an unshakeable strength.
I have faced challenges and overcome mental hell.
I have become more fearless with life.
Struggling to find a purpose to keep living at my lowest, music instills a drive to survive.
When I write, I feel like I can breathe again.
Slim the Phoenix
Watch the music video for 'Inquisitive Proposal' by Slim the Phoenix
Check out Slim The Phoenix's YouTube talk show called #theRealExchange where she interviews creatives. Subscribe to her channel here.
Join Revolvere Coalition here. Founded by Slim the Phoenix, Revolvere Coalition is a community of creatives, outcasts, and leaders who want to see and will work for positive change in the world.
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