What do you see when you look at me?


What do you see when you look at me? Honestly, truly. Do you see mental illness?
We live in a world where looks are as important as much as they are deceiving.


So what’s the stereotype of what crazy looks like? This is so fascinating to me because you’re always going to get a different answer. Some perceive mental illness as being disheveled, unkempt, wracked with weakness & unhinged behavior. The rumpled, dazed, glass eyed girl in dirty cloths waiting for the bus, the homeless person on the street. Some see it as promiscuity, depravity, they see a drug addict, a prostitute on the corner.

Why is that?
What about me?

I’ve always been an extrovert and a people person. When I was little, I loved to meet everyone I could, even adults. I used to ride with my grandpa to take care of my great grandmother and help her with her medications. Her nick name for me was the “little adult” because I would sit and have real conversations with her. For some reason, I just always understood adults and didn’t seem intimidated by them. My mom’s best friend told me once, my mother went into the kitchen to make coffee, and I went to sit down beside her and said, “finally my mom is gone, so we can talk”. Laughing at this little 2 ½ year old girl sitting beside her, and making conversation, she asked how I was. I replied that pre-school was fine, but I was ready for kindergarten because I had goals for the future. She still laughs today about how I proceeded to tell her my goals for kindergarten and that I would be taking dance and piano. (which, I actually did do)

I just liked people, and I liked making friends. And I was pretty determined to do just that. Then my mom put me in outdoor sports, which I wasn’t very good at. I was kind of chubby, and more interested in picking flowers for the other players than guarding a goal. When I kept letting kids score in soccer, my mom asked me why I wasn’t guarding the goal as goalie and I said, “I just wanted my new friends to score”. When I played t-ball, instead of guarding the bases, I was introducing myself to kids running up to the base. Sometimes I was TOO intent to make friends. I even tackled a boy once just because I wanted him to tell me his name and to be his friend. I met my best friend Jasmine the first day of Kindergarten. I came out of the school hand in hand with her and announced to my mom that she was now my best friend and I already had her number memorized.

Although I never took my sports very serious as a kid, I did my friendships. When a boy was picking on Jasmine, I proceeded to get in a fight on the playground to defend her.

So for my elementary years, I was that chatty gooney little kid with the big personality who was either chasing boys to meet them, or beating them up. But as I got older, things began to change. My chubby legs got longer. My bad haircut turned into long hair. And suddenly people started to see me differently.

As middle school and junior high came around, things became more difficult. Growing up with brothers and being kind of a tomboy, I connected with guys. But suddenly, that seemed to be be looked down upon by my girlfriends. I think a lot of people think that if you are viewed as pretty, your life is easier. That’s definitely not always the case. Suddenly girls and boys start treating me differently. Girls started getting angry when boys would talk to me. Boys started behaving weird. You would think that attention from boys would be a good thing….that’s also not always true. It’s a hard transistion to go from being awkward and trusting everyone, to being seen as pretty and not being able to trust anyone. Suddenly junior high drama & hormones made life difficult. Boys weren’t interested in me, they were only interested in BEING with me. But I didn’t really understand that yet…. Middle school to junior high was hard for me. My mom was sick, I had lost a baby sister and my parents were separating. It started getting harder and harder to figure out who was your friend and who was just with you because of how you looked. In junior high, I confided in a boy that I liked, and I thought liked me. I told him I was depressed and thinking about suicide. Big surprise, he didn’t care. Or he didn’t understand. Either way…. from then on school was just a rollar coaster for me. My emotions were never really in check. I became a target when girls started to notice I was only confiding in guys. I started getting phone calls every weekend about whatever rumor had been spread about me that week. Every rumor had to be something weird and sexual, even though they started when I was only 13. Then it turned into guys were embarrassed to be with me. I was a liabity. I had one guy telling me he loved me, but he could never be with me because no one else liked me. One day he decided to take a big drink from the fountain then spit it all over me. One day he decided to write on Facebook, “I hope you overdose on your depression pills”. Classy. I had girls obviously do crazier shit. One girl thought I was trying to steal her boyfriend so she got her entire volleyball team to come trash my house. I had girls trash my boyfriends car at my house just because they were mad I was younger. Things were thrown at me during football games. Girls tried to fight me. The list goes on.

During this time period is when I started created my other personailty, the other Shelby. This other side made my life easier because I never really cared much about being “bullied” anymore, I became numb to it. If anything it was fun for me. Entertaining. It started making me hate weak minded people more and more. This only made people more mad though because I wasn’t completely effected. Everyone is bullied, but some have it worse than others. If you ask anyone that grew up with me, my life definitely was never a cake walk. No one cared though, that I basically lived in the counseling center throughout high school. I was just the dramatic pretty girl. What could honestly be that bad in my life? Even my best friend had no sympathy for me when I came to her about my thoughts of suicide, she said to me, “why don’t you just go tell one of your guys all this like you always do?”

I can’t tell you how many different therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists I have been to in my life that wouldn’t diagnose me because I “looked” like everything was okay. I never went to an appointment with my hair in a mess, or tear stained cheeks, or cuts on my body. I never looked “crazy”. So no one took me seriously.

It’s sad how common this happens. We always hear “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but everyone does. Even now as I’m writing these stories, I can’t begin to explain the true severity of my diagnosis. I may sound like just another case, but had my mom not worked for the state hospital of the criminally insane, I would have been hospitalized often. She just knew how to handle someone as bad as me. Didn’t matter how many times I attacked her or my brothers, I just clearly had problems.

I began to become obsessed with talking about my dark side and the fucked up shit I did. Telling people my darkest thoughts. Most people didn’t believe me anyway. “You look so innocent”. “I’m sure it’s not that bad”. “I can’t see you ever being violent”. The people that did believe me were more facinated that someone could look like me on the outside, and be so dark and twisted on the inside.

This is where the other Shelby would be in the back of my head taunting me to just let her come out and prove everyone wrong.

Right before I was re-diagnosed the last time, I walked into my new psychiatrist’s office, make up done, dressed up for a meeting, with a smile on my face. She seemed to be almost at ease, thinking that I was going to be an easy case. She asks, “so what are you here for today?” I then go into detail about how I have become completely obsessed with torture, control, and the idea of having power over someone else. I tell her about the other me inside my head that is telling me to hurt people and myself and that I can’t sleep because of it, or go to work because I was so scared that I would do something stupid at any moment.

She then goes, “WOW. Now that is not what I was expecting. You look so put together.”
And there we have it.

I always think to myself, what do people think goes on in my head? Fucking butterflies and rainbows?
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “well, at least you’re pretty“.

       Now here we are. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely thankful I look the way I look because most days, I want to look put together. For all my life I’ve really felt that my looks are the only good thing I have going for me. I can manipulate people into my life long enough for them to be too invested by the time they realize I’m a fucking diaster on the inside to leave so easily. I knew that if I had an episode and a guy seemed like he was running, I just had to seduce him. I knew that I was always going to have friends, even if they were all fake at the end of the day.

But where are all the people at when I’m in my room, staring at myself in the mirror, crying because the other me is looking back. Or when I’m on the floor, completely numb, thinking about if it would just be easier to slip away. Why is it that when I have episodes, I always attack my face? I scratch my face and neck, I hit myself, I pull my hair, slam my head into walls. Is it because I feel like I need proof on the outside that I’m going through something? When I get overwhelmed with emotion, I punch anything around me, just enough so that my knuckles will bruise or scab. Just so I have something to look at later to remind myself.

If I have episodes now, in front of my boyfriend, I get almost child-like and feel ashamed if he looks at me. Even though I want people to understand, it doesn’t get any easier having people look at you when you’re most vulnerable.

Today I will do just that.

When I thought about how I wanted to approach this topic, I knew I had to do some sort of photoshoot to show My Side of Crazy. I could have had someone else be the subject but I thought I would break down the wall and let you guys truly in on what my episodes look like. This is very hard for me. Some of you will see these pictures and feel overwhelmed because you relate, some of you will think they look dark or don’t make sense. Some pictures are things I actually do, some are depictions of what I feel or see on the inside.



This, is My Look of Crazy.

Headshot by Cory Wilaby. Photos by Hester Jean.