As I walked up to her house in Tacoma, Clayressa Borland met me with a tight hug. We hadn’t seen each other in two years, so we couldn’t stop smiling.
We met in a psychiatric hospital.
“I was very spiteful and angry that I was in treatment for a chemical imbalance in my brain, and I took it out on other people back then,” she told me. “I was kind of mean back then.”
At 17, Clayressa has struggled with bipolar disorder for years. I went to her house to interview her and meet her daughter.
We giggled and walked inside. A puppy ran up to my feet. From the kitchen, Clayressa’s mother Dana told me to excuse the mess. There were many people watching television in another room. I didn’t feel like the house was messy. I felt like there was a family living there.
As we headed to Clayressa’s bedroom for some quiet, we reminisced about our time at the hospital, laughing at old inside jokes and the nurses who we thought were cute.
But Clayressa got in fights with the nurses sometimes, especially when she had to take a shower and thought there were strange men in the bathroom. Nobody knew if the behaviors were delusions, or just defiance. She didn’t fight with me though. We didn’t expect to form a lasting friendship, but that’s what happened.
Clayressa was discharged from inpatient treatment in the spring of 2015. Months later, she learned she was pregnant.
“It wasn’t like an immediate, ‘Oh my gosh, I have a baby inside of me,’” she said, laughing a little. “It kind of took a while for me to process it, and my mental health slowly actually got better as I got bigger.”
On the table next to Clayressa’s bed, I saw an assortment of pill bottles neatly organized. I saw that we both take Lurasidone, a medication used to treat psychosis and bipolar disorder.
“I had a lot of guilt in my pregnancy,” Clayressa said. “I was always very shameful.”
She said doctors told her that she could pass her diagnosis down to her daughter. It’s not clear how bipolar and borderline personality disorder are inherited, but people with those mental illnesses often have relatives with mood disorders.
“I still worry about that sometimes, because experiencing it firsthand – bipolar and borderline personality disorder – it’s a struggle every day. Obviously, I’m not going to wish it upon her, but if she has it, I know how to experience it with her, together.”
Clayressa gave birth to her daughter Amelia in the spring of 2016. She guides me to Amelia’s nursery the next room over. It’s pristine and quiet, totally different from the rest of Clayressa’s hectic house.
“How do you think your life would be different now if you hadn’t had your daughter Amelia?” I asked her.
“I actually always think about that,” she said. “All the time. If I didn’t have my daughter I definitely would be still be hospitalized.
“You know, I think about if I was to kill myself, who would my daughter turn to? I mean, she would be visiting her mom at a grave site, and that’s too hard for me to even fathom.”
Clayressa currently attends Tacoma Community College as part of the Running Start program to pursue an associate’s degree in nursing.
Her boyfriend and Amelia’s father, Karigan, was over at the house too. He played with Amelia, to the baby's delight.
Clayressa’s life looked like nothing but happiness during my visit, as though it wasn’t hard to get to this point.
“Can you describe your life before Amelia in five words? And what about five words to describe your life right now?” I asked her.
Clayressa: “My life before Amelia was definitely a hot mess. And now I would say my life is a life worth living.”
Me: “They always say that in therapy!”
She laughed. “Mmm-hmm! They do.”
She turned to her baby daughter. “Okay, clap hands, ready?” Clayressa said to Amelia, and laughed.
This story was created in RadioActive Youth Media's 2017 After-School Workshop for high school students at New Holly in partnership with Seattle Housing Authority. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.