By Devin Hiett
Bailey Lewis is a senior journalism student from Flower Mound, Texas, a former News21 fellow, and a news editor at The OU Daily, but according to her “those are kinda all just titles and shit.”
Our conversation delved beyond these titles to explore Bailey’s life, passions, struggles with mental health and advice to those facing similar challenges.
Devin: So, tell me about yourself.
Bailey: I really, really love to write obviously―that’s why I do what I do, but I’m also really interested in biology and the medical field. So I’m really nerdy in the sense that I read a lot of medical case studies and biological case studies on my own and that’s kind of what I want to do in the future is write about those kinds of topics. Yeah, but other than that I’m just a student and I’m working constantly and I have a pet hamster named Scooby and she’s the light of my life.
Devin: How would you ideally see your passions for science and writing converging for you someday?
Bailey: Potentially writing at maybe a magazine, something to where I could do more longer form stories―kind of what National Geographic does where it’s kind of these long-form stories about scientific discoveries or even things like astronomy. You know, things scientists find out even if they’re not long-form and they’re just breaking stuff. Anything really in the science realm is stuff that I’m interested in and I want to write about that specifically.
Devin: What came first, your love for writing or science?
Bailey: That’s a good question. So I was always that kid growing up―you know how some people are more of a science, math brain and some people are more of an English-y brain? I was always more of the English brain type of kid and I’ve always had a natural―not gift―it’s not like I’m amazing or anything, but writing always came easier to me than some other kids. It was always easy for me to write and science and math were things that I was not good at growing up, and then as I got into high school I started really getting interested in science. I started to really appreciate that side of things, the less creative side, and the fact that it’s very logistical and to the point and fact based.
So I have this weird conundrum where I’m really interested in this logical fact-based type of topic and then also the creative form where usually people are more one or the other. And I’ve grown to intertwine the two, so to answer the question I feel like it probably started out with writing and then slowly I started doing my own research and I got interested in science.
Devin: I feel like science and writing are both ways of explaining the world and learning more about it, so do you think maybe you love both of these things because you’re a naturally curious person?
Bailey: Yeah, I think that would definitely make a lot of sense because I’m a very curious person and I’m very much a problem solver. Like whenever people come to me with an issue immediately I console them, but I’m like let’s figure out how to fix it. Let’s figure out the best way to make you feel better by finding an actual solution to it. So I think my brain is always working like that and science has given me an outlet for that because my beliefs are in science and facts so that to me is a way to not control the curiosity but make it make sense. Especially when you get into things like astronomy and you think about everything that we don’t know and how there are just all of these planets that are lightyears away and just how tiny we are in the actual scheme of the entire universe it’s really freaky. I feel like thinking about things like that it helps to conceptualize it by learning about it. And it’s still mind boggling to think about, but you learn more and you’re like oh OK there are all these theories about if there’s going to be alien life and things like that and it’s really interesting and it gives you a perspective on how to try not to take things too seriously and enjoy where you are.
Devin: Do people often come to you for advice?
Bailey: Yeah. When I was growing up I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues, so I was never that person that could be there for other people. People always had to help me. So now that I’m doing a lot better I want to help everybody else around me. And I don’t just want to say “I’m sorry that sucks,” or whatever. I want to actually find a way to make someone feel better―a way to fix the issue even if it may not work. I at least want to try because when I was going through stuff I felt like I never got genuine advice that helped me it was all just words of encouragement. That’s just the person I am. I love to listen to people talk, I’m very empathetic and I have this way of being able to relate to people’s emotions and understand how they’re feeling to the best of my ability. I try to use that as much as I can to actually help people because I feel like that is something that’s kind of lost in our world, especially with social media and everything. I’m super introverted so I don’t talk to people as much as I should. I’m not very outgoing, but at the same time when people come to me and they genuinely need my help I’m there for them and I will do whatever I can to make their situation better.
Devin: Is there a specific time you can think of when the transition happened from you being the person that needed help to you being the person that other people ask for help?
Bailey: It almost feels like it just happened. My whole journey with mental health is kind of like that in a way where you feel like you’re always kind of drowning until you just think to yourself one day holy shit I’m doing great right now. And then all of a sudden I got to this place where I was like I’ve really become an advocate for the people in my life and I’ve become the person that people always were in my life. Now I’m using that to help others. So there wasn’t really a transformational moment. It’s just one of those things that’s very consistent with how my recovery―and not full recovery obviously, it’s something you always struggle with―but recovery from mental illness, it’s just kind of like you’re always under and then all of a sudden you see the light at the end and you’re like wow I’m doing so much better now.
Devin: On the days you’re still feeling “under” what do you do?
A: I was born with mental health issues because it’s very genetic for my mom’s side of the family so it was always a part of me and I didn’t start medication until I was 19 which is way, way later than I should’ve. But I was scared and I didn’t want to be dependent on something like that. I wanted to take care of it myself but that’s honestly the worst thing you can do and I didn’t learn that until way later. I know a lot of people are hesitant of medication because of side effects and thinking it’s not healthy to put that in your body, but the reality is if your brain lacks certain neurotransmitters you need it. That’s the only antidote―that mixed with actual therapy and talking with a psychiatrist to actually learn how to cope with that kind of stuff.
That’s really the only way that you’re ever going to get better because if you just keep ignoring it and keep thinking oh I can push through it sometimes you might feel OK but then you’ll go right back down again because you’re just letting it start to pile up. So I guess my biggest advice to anyone is if you genuinely feel like you’re struggling do not ever hesitate to go see a doctor and talk about medication. Even if it’s scary, you just need to try something. You don’t want to get to the point like I was where I was finally just like I don’t have a choice anymore, I have to do something. I was mentally on my deathbed and you don’t want to have to get to that place.
Devin: What made you realize you were at that place of being mentally on your deathbed?
Bailey: When I was 13 I tried to commit suicide. Sometimes you don’t know when you’re in a dark moment and that was absolutely my darkest moment struggling with mental illness. Even then―I was suicidal and that wasn’t a wake up call for me. But when I was a freshman here at OU I went home for Christmas break and the change of being a freshman compiled with all of these issues I’ve had my whole life just started deteriorating me mentally. I had literally lost 20 pounds by the time I got home for Christmas break. I was a walking skeleton. You can’t see mental illness and so when you actually look at yourself in the mirror and your ribs are poking out you go holy shit I’m literally killing myself physically and mentally. I wasn’t even trying to lose weight I was just genuinely that anxious that trying to eat made me feel sick and that’s when I finally was just like OK I am literally never gonna get through this unless I do something and I can’t just keep letting this happen to me because it’s not healthy and now it’s literally starting to show.
Devin: Do you feel like you’re in a much better place now?
Bailey: Yeah, definitely. I mean I can’t say that it’s ever perfect. Anxiety will literally be a part of my daily life forever but it’s something that I genuinely feel like I can control now. To go on the medical side of it, what’s really interesting about antidepressants and anxiety medication― specifically the type I’m on it’s an SSRI―it’s called Prozac. Everyone has heard of Prozac, but what’s interesting about them from what I’ve noticed is you just start to think more logically because when you’re dealing with mental health issues everything’s emotion based. And emotions are great and they’re very important, but when you have too much of it it’s a huge, huge problem. So I’ve just noticed over time as that medication has bumped up my serotonin levels that I’m starting to think very clearly and logically and I’m not just clouded with emotions.
Now whenever something overwhelms me it’s not just complete panic it’s like OK let’s list this out, let’s figure out how to do it, let’s attack it this way. So that shift in brain chemistry has been exponentially beneficial to my mental health and how I approach everyday tasks. Sometimes if I haven’t been sleeping well or whatever I notice that I get overwhelmed and it still happens on occasion, but for the most part I know how to get through the day. I have what’s called Generalized Anxiety Disorder which sadly means you’re literally scared of daily life. Growing up, I was scared of playing on the playground, riding a bike, swimming, literally everything that normal kids do. Then I get to high school and I was a hypochondriac for a while which is when you think you always have cancer and stuff like that. It’s horrible. It’s literally one of the worst periods of my anxiety I’ve ever had, but now I’m in this phase where even though I’m on medication my brain has kind of latched onto being very worried about school and grades. It’s not horrible, thank God. If it weren’t for the medication it would be really, really bad but my anxiety goes in stages and when I talked with my psychiatrist about it she told me that’s very consistent with what I have and I didn’t know that until literally last year. Other things make me anxious too, but there’s always that one overriding subject or topic that’s just a huge trigger for me. So with school that’s still where I can find my anxiety for sure, but I’ve learned how to control it by not letting myself get overwhelmed and by problem solving. Just putting out what I need to do and attacking it as needed. Sorry that was long. I get so passionate talking about this stuff.
Devin: Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about that you wanted to talk about?
Bailey: I don’t think so. Oh yeah― shoutout to my pet hamster Scooby. She’s 2-years-old and she’s really cute and I’m about to adopt a black cat so I’m going to have to keep them separated but you know, it’s all good.