I hope you’ve never heard of the 27 club. I really hope you never join it. In short, it’s where famous artists go to die. Artists like Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. The commonalities between these people are the effects of fame, success, and mental health. I cannot really speak to the first two, but the third, nearly made me a member of the club myself. And now, I feel as if I have a bit of insight into why the club exists and how I made it out.
27. I think this is around the time, you have become, or started to become, who you really are. There are a lot of different theories about this age. A 2014 study, highlighted in Parade, even claimed that 27 is the “prime of our lives.” In many ways, I agree. But in more ways, I’m glad it’s nearly over and I’m almost 28.
What brought me to the end of myself was an honest-to-God mental breakdown. I’m not talking about crying over school, or boys, or a directionless, meaningless life. I am talking about a 3-month long manic episode and checking myself into an in-patient facility. It was the hardest, most embarrassing time of my life. It still is. I haven’t even completely processed it. I’m not sure I ever fully will understand the madness of me. I know some people will always look at me differently, ostracize me and even question why I’d write such a thing for people to read. This isn’t for them, it’s for those who have the capacity to understand and empathize.
The thing about mental health and being 27 is this: if you have a brain, mental health is relevant to you. If you use your brain a lot and you’ve begun to think for yourself, you may have some mental health challenges. It took a lot of effort, genius, and dedication for those artists, actors and various young and famous people all of these things to achieve such success, and in turn, some of them lost control. They turned to drugs, partying, and too often, even suicide.
When you’ve reached your pinnacle, you’re really not as far from the bottom as you think. It’s such a quick fall. Isn’t it? In my case, my mania reached it’s heightened state when I went into a psychotic episode literally in the middle of a family therapy session. Talk about a trigger warning. I knew they wanted to take me somewhere so I looked at them and said, “Let’s Fucking Go.” I’m no Tom Brady and I really had no idea what I was signing up for, but I went. Willingly.
And what’s realllly insane to me is that those artists had the means to get help but help is so hard to get in this country it should be criminal. I literally had every means too. My parents are both in healthcare. They saw me breaking every single day. A psychologist wanted to charge me $1,200 just to confirm what my primary was able to: I have Bipolar Disorder 1. She asked 10 questions and she got 10 answers. Yes. Yes. Yes. You see, at 27, I was frustrated that I couldn’t prove my own genius. I still am. And maybe it’s a “God Complex” or my abnormally High IQ, but no one really cares, do they? Until you can prove it. Maybe through music and fame for some. Maybe academia or writing a book, in my case.
So once you’ve hit your pinnacle, either by mania or success. What’s left but to fall? You’re as close to “heaven” as you can get, so why does it feel like Hell? Why are all your vices whispering in your ear? Why does everyone want what you have? There’s nothing else to do up here. There’s nothing else to prove or accomplish or strive for. Or so it seems. And while I hadn’t proved anything, my manic episode was coming to it’s end. I couldn’t live like that anymore, without sleep, talking in lyrical verse. It was unsustainable. Scary. Alienating. So I did the only thing I could do: I fell. Into the ER. Into the arms of a now beloved psychiatrist. Into the end of my past self. The one who just “experienced highs and lows like anyone else”.
So when you fall, and reach rock bottom, and are looking up, what do you see? I saw embarrassment. I was so embarrassed by who I’d been. What I’d done. What I’d said. How I moved in the world. I was sorry. This is another place where some people want to end it. Escape to peace, or whatever is beyond. That was never an option for me. I found my foundation and I started to build from there. What holds me to this life is my family and my faith. I live for these two reasons. Because hurting myself would also kill them. Rejecting this gift of life may even damn me, depending on who you talk to where I’m from.
I’ve been building since my fall. I’ve been going to church and staying close to my family as I always have. I’m actually happy. I’m medicated and I’m balanced and I’m sleeping and I see my doctor twice a month. I’m at peace with myself. I’ll never be perfect. I even used to say, “I want to be the asymptote of perfection,” some days I still do. But I have what I need: a foundation of peace. I know I am loved unconditionally and that anything beyond that is just a bonus.
So I’m proposing a new 27 Club. One where we do not succumb to the pressure of perfection, expectations or society. Where we learn from those who came before us. Where we get help and do not have to be ashamed about it. When we lean on our resources, despite the thousands of dollars it may cost. Where we lobby for change and aid. Where we are strong in the storm, steadfast in our self love, and here for the highs and lows of this chaotic life. I hope you find your foundation. I hope you have the courage to build upon it. And mostly, I hope you know, you are never, ever alone.