I never really considered myself as someone with a life calling until one day I woke up and thought, “I’m going to save the world -- as a porn star.”
Historically, I was never one to be so public about my sexuality, so it was a confusing surprise to my family and friends when I started posting things like, “$4,000 FOR PUSSY PICS!” on Facebook. In just a few days, I gotten requests for hundreds of new social media friends, who I assumed were “leads” for my entrepreneurial porn business. I didn’t get why my loved ones couldn’t understand my Marketing tactics, and I continued full force.
I grew up as a prudish Catholic school girl that was afraid of all things related to sexuality. In middle school, I learned that masturbation was a sin - so, naturally, I hid from my clitoris. I basically acted as if it was one of those weird grates in the sidewalk that you never want to look into for fear of getting sucked in by sewer monsters. I didn’t know what was going on down there, but I knew that somehow, bing bang boom, it would lead to the devil? Eternal damnation, maybe?
Eventually, I grew up. In my early 20s, I developed the natural response to being told sex was “bad” for 13 years: a sexually adventurous phase. I had also been raped at 21, which caused me to seek control over my own sexual experiences anywhere I could. All that combined with my very low self-worth meant that any guy that looked in my direction--in any sort of interested way--got stunned with the “come hither” look.
Fast forward to my late-20s, where I finally addressed my promiscuous early-20s; I was ready to settle down. I was set on finding someone that would meet my emotional needs as well as physical. I had been holding off on getting intimate with someone until I felt comfortable, being more selective to whom I gave my time, and was more mindful of dating experiences overall. So, how did I jump from that to posting about my vagina online?
In short, hypersexuality is often a key part of a manic episode. At the time, I had no idea--it was my first experience with this side of the illness, and my psychiatrist ignored my therapist when she mentioned that I was likely bipolar. Even more terrifying was that my first bout of mania included elements of psychosis, which came with extreme delusions. Throughout the process, I actually believed that I was fated to be a famous porn star named Cherry that would save the world by spreading unadulterated, communal love in all her films. In my exploding mind, Cherry was destined to make the skeptics believe in love again through the guise of sexuality. Now, that’s a comic book I want to read, but not a reality I want to live, personally. Don’t get me wrong: I believe sex work is legitimate and should be legalized for a number of reasons. However, when hypersexuality is uncharacteristic of someone and they’re exhibiting it in such an overt way, it’s a symptom.
In the thick of it, Cherry was on a divine mission from The Universe, and I would stop at nothing to fulfill my humanity-saving quest. When my mom showed up unannounced at my apartment, I lashed out, feeling suffocated by her presence. She understandably expressed her concern for the explicit content I was sharing with nearly everyone I knew. To her horror, I fell into a fit of giggles; I guess this is the most appropriate time to say that I was laughing maniacally. I have to say, my mom deserves an Oscar for that interaction. She played it extremely cool for the mother of a girl who lost her mind. In hindsight, I could tell she had poured over articles and books about how to interact with someone in the throes of this disordered state. Not many people could have kept their cool in that way.
In one instance, I was sitting on my bed, texting people incomprehensible messages in a rapid-fire way. I told friends their fortunes, convinced I was all-knowing and a powerful psychic. I do identify as an intuitive, but the way I spoke of abilities indicated that I was experiencing delusions of grandeur, another manic symptom. In a group text, I predicted that my girlfriends were all about to be rich simply because they were associated with me. I pushed the idea onto my friend that she would be my manager when I became a famous public figure. To another friend, I thoroughly described conspiracy theories that I “discovered” from history; at one point, I texted them that Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were secret lovers. Actually, I kind of want to see a fan fiction version of Hamilton with that storyline.
Snapping back to the physical realm, I saw my mom on my couch, quietly on her phone. For some reason, that made me seethe with anger. As if someone pressed the “self-destruct” button on me, I had to get out of the apartment. At that moment, my mom was the enemy. She was keeping me from my ultimate destination of fame. I couldn’t stand her presence, as if she was a stinking cockroach that I couldn’t squash, so I had to flee the site. I told her I needed to get the mail then sprinted down the block early in the morning, when it was still dark.
Just a quick 30 seconds later, a man in grey clothing next to a white van called me over to him. I walked over with the confidence and sultriness of Dita Von Teese, staring him fearlessly in the eyes as I proceeded to tell him I was going to be a famous porn star. He offered to drive me to Los Angeles to start my journey, so of course Cherry agreed wholeheartedly. He turned to me ominously, and he mentioned that he needed to make sure I was ready. With that, the man grabbed my ass with both hands as I disassociated, like it was just an annoying part of my future job. When he deemed my rear worthy, he opened the car door for me. I grabbed at the seatbelt automatically, and he looked disapprovingly at me.
“No seatbelts,” he scolded.
“Oh, right,” I said, acting as if I knew the reasoning behind it. One of my symptoms was feeling invincible--a common idea in mania--so I assumed that it was to prove how truly indestructible we were. I thought he was like me; all-powerful in our mission to fulfill our purposes together.
“We need to check to see if you can be a really great porn star,” he started.
I boldly challenged him, saying, “Go ahead, test me.” With that, he slapped me as hard as he could across my face.
“How was that?” he asked.
“Fine. I didn’t feel a thing,” I said nonchalantly. I truly didn’t feel pain as strongly as I would have in a less activated brain state.
“Oh, really?” he asked. He struck me even harder. This time, my eyes welled up with tears.
In that moment, it was almost as if the blow across my face gave me a glimpse of my old self. In a flash, I saw my family in my mind’s eye, pondering what they would think if they knew a stranger was assaulting me. I started feeling the collective pain of people who had been physically abused. A hint of empathy and regret creeped back into my psyche.
“Let’s check out this beach,” the man suggested. With that, I snapped right back to psychosis, thinking this natural setting would bring me a sign of where I should start with Cherry’s career.
Time was warped while manic and psychotic. One moment, I was laughing and playing alone on the beach as the man fiddled on his phone. The next thing I knew, I was in a strange town, hours away. He took my ID and abandoned me in a parking lot. In my overconfident cloud, I wasn’t worried about it at all. I figured I’d figure out how to get to LA to start my career somehow, and I was very occupied when I found a tiny grey stray cat in a tree. I had this feeling that it was the reincarnated spirit of my late grandmother, so I was determined to wait until that cat came down to be with me. While I believe in some form of reincarnation when I’m in my right mind, magical thinking in this extreme is another symptom of psychosis. I was fully wrapped up in the grips of my severe symptoms.
Somehow, in this dream-like scenario, I came around to a lightbulb moment: my mom was actually trying to help me in my expedition to become Cherry the porn star! Somewhere in my chaotic, racing thoughts, I figured that I had been wrong about her all along. In a frenzy, I asked a stranger with a dapper mustache in a RAV4 if I could use his phone, and I called my mom to see if she could come get me.
My parents acted quickly when they heard from me. My dad contacted a friend of a friend who was a firefighter in the town, who showed up calmly and amicably to make sure I stayed safe until my mother arrived. Time became fuzzy again, and the next thing I knew, I was at a hospital in San Francisco, telling other patients’ fortunes by interpreting playing cards. Finally, I was able to gradually come down from the high that is mania. My brain still buzzed with conspiracy theories and grandiose visions while I was there--bouncing ideas off the other patients--but I was able to ground myself within their group therapy activities and art projects. I’ll be forever grateful to the psychiatric ward at UCSF.
I’ve suffered from mental illnesses since I was 8, so I’m no stranger to therapy and medication. This experience first hit me at age 28, and it was vastly different from the anxiety and depression I experienced in my past. It’s almost indescribable how easily I lost my sense of reality--like my brain split open and the most outlandish thoughts that my subconscious ever could have come up as weird hypotheticals and conspiracies flew through my mind. After this life-altering experience, I had a realization that my true calling in this life is to help those that suffer from mental illness. I want to be the person I had needed as a mentor to help me prepare or prevent something like this.
Even if you don’t have Bipolar I but you suffer from Bipolar II (with a less severe version of mania called hypomania) and/or severe depression, I’d recommend making a plan of action in case you someday swing into the tornado that is mania. Here’s the guidance I wish I had before my severe episode:
- Build a document that includes your current medications, your psychiatrist and therapist’s numbers, early signs, and tips on how to cope with an episode.
- Send an email to your friends and family about how they can care for you in case you find yourself in mania.
- Have a code word or phrase for people around you to use if you start getting uncharacteristic ideas as a gentle reminder that you might not be yourself. Mine is “popcorn.”
Severe mental illness can happen to anyone, and it’s crucial to have family, friends, your psychiatrist and/or your therapist know how to have your back in case of an emergency. With these shared strategies, I am confident that you and your care team will feel more prepared. I’m hopeful you’ll be equipped to avoid the wreckage and danger that an oblivious Cherry caused in the wake of her mental tailspin.