Have you ever looked back on your life, and wished you could speak words of comfort and wisdom to your younger self for those times when life really tests you? April Kelley has done just that. In her wonderfully candid letter, she revisits a period in her life full of change – understanding that she is bisexual, and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder
You’ve just turned 18. I’d tell you what your poison is, but you already know. Gin and tonic, or rosé. You’ll even grow to love beer (but only from a bottle). I know you love Jäger bombs – that will never change. The older you get, the more you’ll treat them as a short drink rather than a shot – yep, older you is pretty gross.
I also know you’re scared, and you don’t know why. But you have two continuous thoughts swimming around your head: “What the hell is that feeling in the pit of my stomach? Nobody warned me about this.”
And: “Why can’t I choose whether I want to be with a girl or boy?”
Man, I wish I had some definitive answers for you, but I’m hoping 10 years from now, 38-year-old April will have answers for both of us.
April, I’m not going to lie, you have a tough year ahead of you – but nowhere near as tough as many others, so please keep your perspective. You’re going to follow your heart with a girl, and it will backfire in a way that you’ll only recognise from films. I sit here still cringing, but I won’t stop you – it’ll shape the person that you are today.
Do you remember how mum and dad brought you up to believe that “you fall in love with a person, not a gender”? Never forget that. I know you won’t, but you’ll feel pressurised to at times.
Do you remember how they tried to make you feel better by saying: “Everyone has bad days?” I know what you’re thinking, God help anyone whose ‘bad day’ consists of the thoughts in our head.
Well, April, over the next five years, you’re going to lay awake many a night, before realising:
Bisexuality is actually a thing, rather than a segway to lesbianism. You’ll be wide-eyed at 3am thinking: “Am I straight or gay?”… You’re bisexual, April.
You’re not having a bad day. Something else is going on.
You don’t know this yet, you have no grasp of any of this… yet. I don’t think you’re even aware of bisexuality, but the next 10 years will change that. You’ll never feel the need to ‘come out’, primarily due to being unintentionally ‘outed’, but also because you were fortunate enough to be raised with an open mind.
Those bad days though, they’re harder to define, and it’ll take until March 2018 for you to find the answer and – I’m sorry for this – you are bipolar, April.
When you’re finally diagnosed, everything will make sense, and the weight will be lifted. You’ll leave the psychiatrist, and call mum on the way home.
As a heads up, your mum is going to have a broken heart over this, and you’ll hear her crying down the phone, apologising for why she couldn’t fix it. I don’t need to tell you it’s not her fault.
Mum and dad are going to work hard to understand what’s going on in your head. Dad will stay up with you all night when you’re having an episode at 27, and at 4am he’ll ask: “Are you able to explain how it feels?” You’ll tell him it’s like drinking a slushy too fast and getting brain freeze – you just have to hold tight and wait for it to pass.
You know the biggest shocker? Telling people you’re bipolar will be more difficult than telling them you’re bisexual. You’ll try to make a joke of it – the crowd pleaser is usually: “It’s a strong brand at least, you know, ‘bi/bi’.”
It’s crippling, exhausting and can be embarrassing, but it’s not a failure in your strength, nor a failure as a human. It’ll take you years to accept, but awareness and education for sufferers and those who support them will get better.
In your second year at drama school, you’ll set up a business as a consequence of a module requiring you to showcase your ‘plan B’ for when you’re not acting. You’ll present ‘Creating a Production Company’, and your tutor will pull you aside and ask: “Could you come back next week with something a little more realistic?”
Two weeks later, you’ll register the company and name it in honour of your parents, Mini Productions! That company will support you while you carve out a career as an actor.
Oh, FYI, I know why you’re not wearing your seatbelt, and I know others haven’t noticed. Sara will notice though. You haven’t met her yet, but she’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to you. She’s your future business partner, best friend, the Louise to your Thelma.
She’ll be the only person to call you out on not wearing a seatbelt, because she’ll work out that, in your mind, by not wearing one, an accident could be your easy way out. This plan will falter, as you both start earning enough to get cars which beep when you don’t buckle up.
Some of your dreams will have come true, while some are just beginning. You’re going to get a perm – don’t roll your eyes at me, it’s your choice and you’ll love it!
Before then, you’ll cut your hair off ‘pixie’ style, because your meds will make it fall out – embrace it. I’m tempted to do it again!
You’re going to get wasted, then get your nipple pierced in Hollywood. You’re going to have your heart broken by people who were barely in your life – people you clicked with, but are only in your life for a reason or season.
Others will be there for a lifetime. I know you, you’re all or nothing, you feel every emotion so annoyingly deep – nothing has changed. It’s one of your greatest superpowers. Bipolar is a superpower – just Google all the people who cope with it daily. You’re in good company.
You won’t believe this either, but you know how all you want to do is work and move to Los Angeles? Your life is slowly going to shimmy that way. So much so, (and I hope you’re sitting down for this) you’re going to write a short film about your experience as a bisexual, and then shoot it in LA! It’s going to be your greatest achievement, and the best time of your life.
Bisexuals need more representation – I’m not saying you’re going to change this, but you’ll be a part of it.
So, as much as I’m sure you wish you could tell 15-year-old April in the hospital bed that swallowing a load of tablets is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, I’m here to tell you that you’re a fighter, a silent fighter fueled by your family, relationships, production company, and your passion to work.
“How many times have people used a pen or paintbrush, because they couldn’t pull the trigger?” – Virginia Woolf. That will become your mantra.
Keep telling mum and dad you love them, and never let Sara go, as well as all the other incredible people in your life – they are your support network, they’ll continue to let you dream big with your outrageous ambitions.
I’m proud of you. Honestly.
P.S. Anything is possible (that’ll make sense in a couple of years).