I am a 23-year-old mommy-to-be, and I have bipolar disorder. I have been involved in the performing arts since I was three years old, and it’s been a huge part of my life ever since – whether it be singing, dancing, acting, or even writing. The arts have been a huge part of my coping strategy in dealing with my mental illness throughout the years. During some of my darkest days, I would relate to music more than I found myself able to relate to anyone around me. When I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone, I wrote. I’d write anything from songs to poems to mere journal entries or blog posts. On the flip side, when I was experiencing fits of mania or hypomania, I became a very active performer. I’d sing nonstop, dance, perform, and so on. Dancing and performing onstage saved me many times, as it allowed me to be active and exert all my excess energy, while still grounding me and forcing me to focus and express my true emotions.
Now that I’m pregnant, I’m off all my psychiatric medications for the first time in over four years under the supervision of my psychiatrist and therapist. It’s a huge change for me, and it’s obviously extremely important for me (and for my growing baby) to stay mentally balanced and healthy. I have certainly had my difficult days, as well as my good days… but I’ve heavily relied on the performing arts to get me through this time.
During my first trimester, I had the opportunity to perform a dream role in one of my favorite musicals, Be More Chill. This was a show that had a theme pertaining to mental health, acceptance, and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. I got to sing my heart out, dance, and just have the most uninhibited fun onstage that I’ve ever had in my life. This kept me so focused and active, and it truly helped me through that difficult adjustment period of being off medications and getting acclimated with pregnancy.
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I choreographed a dance inspired by our baby boy due in February. This allowed us to bond in such a unique way, and it showed me that I’m capable of so much more than I ever realized. This was a realization that I truly needed, as I was beginning to face a small fit of hypomania and was determined not to turn back to my old medications during my pregnancy. I can successfully say now that I managed to overcome the hypomania within a couple of weeks without it escalating as it has many times in the past.
I truly believe my immersion in the arts is the main reason I was able to overcome that recent obstacle. I am so grateful for the arts’ role in my life and my mental health.
Emily Poehlman is an actor, survivor, mental health advocate, and now a mommy-to-be. She was born and raised in Fleming Island, FL. She has struggled with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD throughout her life, and had the wonderful opportunity to take part in This Is My Brave Jacksonville (2017). She graduated high school with an Arts Seal as a performance theatre major from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in 2014. She received her A.A. Degree from the University of North Florida (Jacksonville), and then went on to earn her A.S. Degree in Musical Theatre from Florida School of the Arts (Palatka). She is now expecting a son this February with her amazing boyfriend, and plans on becoming a Special Education teacher in the future.
She is currently in the Adult Cast of Into the Woods as Cinderella’s Mother, the Giant, and Snow White
at the Island Theater in Fleming Island, FL.
Performances run October 25th-November 10th.