Our Story

 
 
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Short and Sweet

The idea of Gentle Mentals was sparked after mishearing my step-daughter say something that I swear sounded like Bipolar Bear. After a good laugh (because that obviously wasn't what she said), we joked and made up a few other characters. It was a ripe topic that I was drawn to. By the end of the night, I decided then and there I was going to make a book about it. 

As the characters began to unfold, I quickly realized that I knew every one of them quite personally. My dad was riddled with various mental health conditions. God knows I have my own baggage. And then there's my husband, some of my closest friends and co-workers who deal with issues too.

As I did more research, it became clear that a lot of the content out there associated with mental health/illness makes us feel bad - from the imagery to the headlines. Why would we want to talk about it? 

I told a few people about the idea. Some met me with, "Wow, you need to do this." Others, "Whoa, that's pretty dark." Both types of responses really resonated and helped to keep me chugging along. So thank you!

What started off as a fun art project has turned into something much more profound for me. If you're curious about why then keep reading. But be advised, it does get dark. 

 

 

 

Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.

Madeleine L'Engle

 
 

Long and heavy

Okay. Deep breath. Here we go...

 

I am a suicide survivor. Not so coincidentally, I'm also the daughter of a suicide survivor.

One of my early childhood memories was waking up to the sound of police sirens and flashing lights. I think I was in kindergarten. I remember it was picture day because I had the pink spongy rollers in my hair that you would sleep in to make your hair curly like Shirley Temple—or at least that's what my mom told me.

I got up to see what was happening. It was my dad, his back against the kitchen sink, sobbing with a large knife in one hand and his other balled up into a fist, forearm facing up. Apologizing for what he was about to do. He said he couldn't bear the pain any longer. I absorbed his pain and sobbed too.

Soon after, I was sent to a school counselor to talk about my dad’s suicide attempt. I felt like I was in trouble and that I had to protect my family with silence. After a series of questions, after saying I was fine enough times, they sent me on my way and that was it. As a family, we didn't talk about it.

This incident became the first of many suicide threats for my dad. He was morbidly depressed. He had anxiety which gave him insomnia. He was also a hypochondriac. He had terrible pains in his stomach, his nose, and his throat. They could never find anything wrong. But he swore he was dying. He had a cabinet full of prescription pills. Who knows what they were for but he took them religiously. And over the years he used a few different tactics to will himself to death by means of anorexia and bulimia. I think he got below 100 pounds a few times. He would double up his clothes so he wouldn't appear so skinny to the rest of us. I would find puke drippings on the bathroom floor. And I even caught him stuffing his cheeks and sneaking the chewed up food into a napkin. He thought no one was looking. He'd been in and out of mental hospitals, but no one knew how to help him.

Even though my dad was a mess, he was a kind, gentle softy who wouldn't hurt a fly, or at least not intentionally. A devout Catholic, he literally gave the clothes off his back to help people who were less fortunate. I never saw him angry. But I could see the light in his eyes was very dim.

My mom worked a lot. Looking back, I'm not sure if it was for the money or for the escape. This meant I was home alone a lot. I found nooses hanging in the garage made of those long orange extension cords and goodbye apology letters specifically written to me. These things were so common that I accepted that this was just the way it was for him and us. For my own sanity, I grew numb to his cries. And no one talked about it. 

So it's no surprise that I inherited a lot of damage. I used to eat to make the pain go away. But it was never enough, so I'd keep eating until I felt like I was going to pop. Inevitably I discovered the release of the purge. I was a pro at covering up the evidence because I had learned from my dad's mistakes. I was so good, that in the sixth grade I wrote a paper about bulimia, got an A+ on it. No one was the wiser.

I was 16 when I ran away from home. I took a Greyhound bus from CA to GA - it took three days. I was going to live with my nineteen-year-old boyfriend. I saw it as an escape route from my pain. After that obviously didn't work out, my world became so small and I didn't see any other option. I was done with this existence. This was not a cry for help, I thought. Unlike my dad, I meant it and was going to get the job done. When everyone was at work, I swallowed a Costco sized bottle of painkillers and chased it with a forty-ounce of Mickey's malt liquor. I laid down on the couch and cried myself to sleep.

After being in and out of consciousness, after the tubes and the charcoal and the stomach pumping and the IVs, and after I was "okay," the nurses told me it was a miracle. I should be dead a few times over and was so lucky to be alive. No one knew this, but by then, this was my third suicide attempt - the closest I had ever been to death. And the first wake-up call to decide to choose life. I went back home to CA with my tail between my legs, ashamed and stunned, and we never talked about it.

I am lucky and thankful to be alive. Many—way too many—aren't as lucky. This project exists because I know from experience that there's amazing stuff waiting on the other side of the darkness if you just hang in there long enough and ride it out. I am living proof.

And it's still really hard to talk about. But I hope my story helps to give some context to the idea of why Gentle Mentals was created. It comes from a very personal, loving place and is in no way meant to offend anyone. The intent of this project is to take an unexpected approach to flip the topic on its head and get people talking. If Gentle Mentals can make someone smile and pop open this difficult conversation, then I think it's served its purpose. 

With love + hope,

:) 

Veronica

 
 

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About the author

Veronica Padilla is a self-taught maker with an extensive background in graphic design, illustration, art direction, product design, and styling. Veronica has spent over fifteen years as a commercial artist and her work has been showcased by a number of industry award shows and publications. She is the founder of Tiny Movement—a consciously-led design boutique which focuses on working with brands, foundations, and non-profits who are doing their best to make a difference. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her seventeen-year-old geriatric Yorkie, Roxy.