You’re probably wondering why some days you are an attention-seeking
extrovert, constantly bouncing in your chair, class clown, while on others you have to vanish from classes. You’re often punished for truanting, even though you haven’t left the school premises. You seek refuge in the stairwell around the corner from the nurse’s office that leads to a long-closed storeroom. Nobody ever goes there.* Through the cracks, you watch the disapproving clock tut away the time and succumb to bouts of on-off crying, as you try to figure out what the hell is going on in your head. Deep down, you’re aware that you have, well, something. A sneaking suspicion that you feel in a slightly higher definition than your peers that fuels creativity, but also leaves you open to being bruised more easily.
It will take years before you can firmly affix the labels of ADHD and bipolar disorder to your confused emotional careening, but once you have, it will seem a lot more likely these things can be dealt with. Therapy, medications, understanding loved ones and a slowly growing knowledge of how behavioural patterns tweak brain chemistry will all become valuable tools in your emotional first aid box. Not all labels are bad. As any horror movie starlet will tell you – it's much easier to be scared of something when you don't know what it is.
You will still have days when you wake up and find the Black Dog sitting heavy and immovable on your chest, growling dark and self-destructive suggestions in your ear. Sometimes, you will still consider his ideas, if only briefly. But so far, you’ve always managed to scratch the Dog behind his ear until he falls asleep, or pick him up and throw him out the window. The important thing you’ll learn is this: the more open and honest you become about talking about this stuff to friends and in the podcasts, documentaries, writing and films you’ll make (and my god, the Black Dog really hates it when you show you're not ashamed by talking about it), the more others in your life will confess to similar feelings. All it will take is for you to admit your struggles and you’ll so often be joined by an avalanche of mental health fist bumps, an ‘I'm Spartacus’ of mental illness. With this kind of stuff, there's no easy solution or one-size-fits-all treatment, but knowing you're not alone will drive home the reality that you're not an odd outlier.
If I can give you one piece of advice it’s this: the Black Dog hates you doing what you love. Your passion is Black Dog Kryptonite. He will try to strip you of your self-belief, enthusiasm, ideas, and your desire to make. He will try to convince you not to bother with any of that, perhaps not even to bother with being alive. So, whenever you’re alone in an unfamiliar place, far away from your support network, take Lego! That way, when you’re at your most vulnerable and unable to make anything useful, you can at least make something useless. It's still making. And for you, it’s usually enough to keep the Black Dog at bay.
*One day you’ll find that someone has left you a chair, a carton of lemon tea and a box of Pocky and realise Mr Wong, the caretaker, has known about your secret visits to the storeroom for quite some time. You’ll learn more from him about the resilience of the human spirit than all your other teachers, mentors and therapists put together, and the relief will be immeasurable.