Tom Becka: Hello, and welcome to Tombecka.com, where everyone’s exceptional, everyone has a story to tell. I want to thank you all for sharing the stories with me, the emails that I’m receiving, the tweets, the comments on Facebook. I want to thank you for sharing of this page with a lot of your friends and family, and business associates, letting them know that every Sunday there’s somebody new and interesting that you can meet here at Tombecka.com.
Today, the person we’re going to meet is a fascinating young lady. She’s a beauty queen. She’s an animal activist. She loves animals, and it’s very important. She’s really into adopting and rescuing animals. She’s into animate and Japanese animation. She’s also suffering from Bipolar disorder.
A lot of people suffer from Bipolar disorder. A lot of people deal with Bipolar disorder, but not a lot of people talk about it. But Kaylee’s not afraid to talk about it. I started off this conversation by asking her if people were a little bit put off, or people thought it was strange that she’s so open about her Bipolar disorder?
Kaylee: No, actually they’re not. A lot of times when I come on my Facebook statuses and I’ll talk about an experience I’ve had living with Bipolar disorder, or just talking about not being afraid to reach out for help, people will private message me telling me their story. But then they write, “Don’t tell anyone. Please don’t tell anyone, it’s just between you and me.”
I think it’s important that I speak out, so that people also won’t be afraid to reach out for help as well.
Tom: For people who don’t know, what is Bipolar…is it disorder? It’s not Bipolar disease, it’s Bipolar disorder, right?
Kaylee: Yes. It’s a disorder, so it’s no different than any other physical disorder. This one’s of the mind, so I have a chemical unbalance. I was born this way. There might be some psychological things that happened as a child with my family divorce that might have maybe enhanced some of the thoughts I would get.
But for the most part, I have type II Bipolar disorder, which means that I spent most time in depression, but I could reach mild mania or mid-mania, whereas type I Bipolar disorder is, you can reach full mania and you spend more time in mania versus depression.
Tom: I think everybody knows what depression is. But mania, what is that?
Kaylee: Mania to the full extent would be the ability to stay up for long periods of time like three days in a row, never losing energy. Your thoughts are racing. You are willing to spend lots and lots of money. Sometimes for some Bipolar people, mania is like this really happy feeling. For some, there’s out of control, manic.
Tom: What you were describing to some extent though, sounds like sometimes I have good days, sometimes I have bad days. How do you distinguish what you have, or what a Bipolar person has, versus somebody that’s going through every day good and bad days?
Kaylee: One of the misconceptions about Bipolar is you’re going to have one happy day, one bad day, when really it would be more like two weeks of depression, maybe three days of mania for myself, because I have type II. For other people, it would be entire month of mania, an entire month of depression.
It’s an extreme, extreme high to a point where you can’t even work. You can’t focus. You’re just so energized and hyper. It’s abnormal. It’s not normal to be able to not sleep for three days, and to be able to do some of the things that people can do while in mania.
Tom: Like what?
Kaylee: Oh, gosh, I know they say a lot of famous artists and musicians had mania, and that’s how they were able to create their masterpieces. Demi Lovato is a recent celebrity who has come out with Bipolar disorder type I. Then Carrie Fisher from Star Wars, actually has type I Bipolar disorder. If you listen to some of their stories, I myself who has never reached full mania, I can’t even understand it.
Tom: You were mostly depressed?
Kaylee: Yes, yes.
Tom: At what age did you realize this is a problem?
Kaylee: It would have been about my sophomore year in high school, we saw a problem. I knew I was depressed. My parents were in denial. They thought I had just puberty, high school problems…
Tom: But every kid in high school is depressed, right?
Kaylee: [laughs] Yeah. I had taken psychology class though, and all the symptoms in the book for someone with clinical depression matched up. I kind of felt that that’s a sign, like I know what’s wrong with me, because life was so wonderful. I had the leads in plays. I was involved in every fine art extracurricular you could think of. I had great grades. I had a wonderful family.
There was no reason for me to feel the way I felt, and that’s how I knew that it was definitely something chemically wrong with me, to bring me to those low points.
Tom: You mentioned the great artists tend to have been manic depressives, right? Basically, Bipolar used to be called manic depressive, but now it’s called Bipolar. It’s basically the same thing, isn’t it?
Kaylee: They still refer to it as manic depression.
Tom: People that were manic and accomplished great art or music, paintings, whatever it might be. Nowadays, we just give kids medicine for that sort of thing. I mean, although manic disorder may be hell for the person that’s experiencing it, if great art or great accomplishments come out of it is it really such a bad thing?
Kaylee: It can be really bad, because peoples inhibitions go down, kind of like drunk-driving where people, a lot of times when you’re depressed they see suicide as a risk but in mania it can also be a risk just from being careless. I know that’s happened to quite a few people, and I guess it sounds like it would be fantastic but it’s really not. It’s debilitating. It is, it’s a disability, there’s a reason for it. It’s hard.
Tom: No, no, no, and not to come across as being a jerk or anything but isn’t life hard? I mean, isn’t it supposed to be?
Kaylee: [laughs] Oh, yeah. Oh goodness, it’s hard to explain it sometimes. The depression was really what was hurting me and my family. Once they came to terms “OK, she has depression”, I was being medicated for strictly clinical depression when we had no idea that there was this other problem and that’s why it wasn’t being cured, the depression was getting worse because I wasn’t actually on the right medication.
The mania we just thought was Kaylee’s…just this ball of energy, I could go on and on, I could do incredible things that, when I look back on it I don’t know if I could do them now, especially, in the fine arts, the theater. These incredible things would come out of me that I don’t have any more.
Tom: You say that it’s a chemical imbalance, is it something you could grow out of?
Kaylee: I think it’s genetic for me. Typically, if it’s a chemical thing something along the lines of like, multiple sclerosis where it’s just not going to go away, it’s just something you’re going to have to live with, cope with, find ways to avoid going back into those states. Because even though I’m medicated I can easily go back into them if I’m not careful about what I surround myself with.
Tom: Let’s talk about the medication part of it, OK? I’ll tell you a story from me years ago. I was just going through a time. I was depressed, I went to my doctor, my General Physician and I’m talking about it and I just said, “Hey man, I’m really depressed,” and I said, “Can you prescribe some Prozac?” and he was just going to prescribe it without even doing any real testing. I was like, “Yeah, OK” and he starts to write out a prescription.
As he’s writing out the prescription, he’s telling me some of the side effects of it and one of the side effects being that I could become impotent, and I thought, “Well, if I’m depressed now, being impotent sure as hell isn’t going to help.” I never took it but I was amazed at how easy it was to say, “You know, I’m really down, can I get some pills?” When you were clinically diagnosed as being bipolar, what did they do as far as finding the right medication for you?
Kaylee: First off, I’d gone to a General Physician when I was a sophomore and she just prescribed the depression pill like it was nothing. I even told her the one I wanted to be on, because I’d looked at the side effects of others and she was totally OK with just writing it. You should always be careful, especially with adolescents because our minds are changing to even try and mess with medication.
You should really look at therapy first, but eventually I got into therapy and the therapist was noticing something was wrong, I saw a true psychiatrist and literally I just sat in there for two hours and discussed different things about my life, my past, and he was able to figure out that I had it. The first medication we tried worked, which does not always happen. My sister is going through a similar process and it’s been three years and they still haven’t found the right medication for her.
Tom: You mention therapy. Is it could be a situation or like in your sisters case for instance, where maybe it’s not… There’s not like a blood test or anything for this, is there? I mean, there’s nothing like that?
Kaylee: No, it’d be nice if there was, it would really solve a lot of the problems, like we don’t know what her diagnosis is.
Tom: That’s what I mean. How do you know that it couldn’t, or even you for that matter, couldn’t be solved by therapy?
Kaylee: What was that?
Tom: You say that there’s no physical test for it although it is a chemical imbalance. Maybe your sister is not really reacting so well to the medicine. Could it just be that maybe it is therapy that she needs as opposed to pills? You know what I’m saying? Maybe with you too, why couldn’t it just be handled through therapy?
Going back to the situation that I was going through, I found that if I started going to the gym, if I started eating a little better, and getting more sleep, then I wind up feeling a lot better. I’ll throw that back at you. Why would medication necessarily be the answer?
Kaylee: There’s a difference between mild depression and clinical depression. Everyone at some point in our lives, if you live long enough, is going to experience mild depression. It typically happens with the passing of a family member or a mid-life crisis. That’s where sunlight, exercise, looking for a dog, and going out on dates, is going to help you. You can typically get over that on your own without any medication.
My sister had gone through a lot of therapy prior. They’re hoping with therapy and with medication, they can find it. It is very likely that with the genetics in our family — my mother’s side of the family — mental health problems are pretty prominent. With my situation, therapy didn’t do anything because I can’t control the thoughts. I can’t control the emotions that will overcome me.
Tom: Do you worry about maybe having children? Have you thought that you might not have kids because of this? Or is that even a concern?
Kaylee: It’s really scary.
Tom: You’re pretty neat. You’re an accomplished person.
Kaylee: As long as you reach out for help and you’re willing to take the medicine or willing to listen to a therapist, you can live a normal life. You really can. It’s no different than passing any other type of disorder. I don’t know. I guess I’m just so young. I try not to think about kids. I have my dog and my animals.
Tom: You mentioned your dogs and I know that you’re big in the rescue animals and all. I had dated a woman who was bipolar for a while. We only dated. She was very much attached to her dog. Is there a connection between animals and bipolar disorder? Or am I just connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected?
Kaylee: Funny thing is my dog is actually a prescription from my psychiatrist. He is an emotional-support animal, which means that I can live in an apartment that has a no-dog policy. By law, they have to allow that dog into my life. He can also go on an airplane in a seat next to me. He brings me love and joys. He’s just so happy.
I come home and all he wants to do is to please me. He wants to give his whole heart to me and I just can’t be mad at him even when he does horrible things. He cries and the neighbors get mad. Animals have been shown to do a lot for people of depression, with boosting moods of happiness, giving responsibility, getting you out of the house especially.
Tom: You mentioned earlier at the start of this whole conversation about how open you were about your disorder. Most people it is like, “I’m dealing with this but don’t tell anybody.” There’s a shame. There’s a stigma to it. Why do you think that is? Why do you think that is for other people and not with you?
Kaylee: I had that fear and that stigma. I didn’t tell anyone until my very first Ms. America local pageant, which would have been in 2012. Literally, my on-stage question was about mental health because I had chosen that as my Ms. America platform. Right then and there, I had no choice and I just opened up and I said it. I regretted it at that night. I was afraid that people would judge me for it.
Really, people praised me for it and that’s when I became open, because I felt we need people to talk about this. I have that venue to do it now, so I’m going to. I’m going to change lives and that’s my mission now. I was given this for a reason.
Tom: You’re in the pageant world. You enter beauty pageants and all. That’s how we met. I was a judge of the pageant. Right out of it shoot, “Yes, and I want to talk about my bipolar.”
Tom: That’s interesting. How do people react when you do that? Because I would think it would also be that people don’t know what to say to that. Do they?
Kaylee: A lot of people are excited to hear it, because one in four people have a diagnosable mental illness. Sometimes, it’s mild, like we were talking about depression where it can be treated with time. There are other cases where it’s clinical. A lot of times, those people themselves have an illness and they go, “You too? Me. Wow! That’s crazy.” It’s so common. People just don’t talk about it.
It really needs to be out there in the open. That’s what’ll help that stigma, because we’re OK talking about, “Oh, I have high cholesterol. I have heart disease and stuff,” but “You have mental health disorder. It’s just so awful.”
Tom: You brought your boyfriend here with you. Do you bring this up right away? When you first met, is it like, “Hi! My name is Kaylee. By the way, I’m bipolar.” At what point in time does that come into the conversation?
Kaylee: I met him before I was involved with the Ms. America program. I don’t really remember when I told him. I told him, because I was concerned for our relationship. I wanted to give him a heads up that I could slip in to maybe a possible different state of mind depending on if medicine changes or life changes around me. He’d actually dated a girl before me that was bipolar and was totally up for the challenge.
Tom: Is it a challenge?
Kaylee: It’s a challenge for myself. [chuckles]
Tom: All women are challenges. Do you think you would be more of a challenge because of your bipolar disorder than any other relationship?
Kaylee: No. I don’t think so. I’ve met plenty of women with their own individual, unique traits.
Tom: That’s a nice way to put it. Are you running for office?
Kaylee: [chuckles] I think I’m a pretty good girl all around.
Tom: [chuckles] He’s still hanging around so things must be going OK. What about somebody right now who isn’t sure? They listen to this and they’re thinking, “I don’t know if I just got clinical depression or if I’m just a little moody.” What would you suggest that they do? What would be your suggestions for them?
Kaylee: A really good suggestion is go to your local hospital’s website. A lot of them have little quizzes you can do to see if you possibly have a mental illness. You can also do that. Parents, who might be concerned about their child, put in some of the behaviors that your child is exhibiting.
That can give you a good starting point. If it’s saying you have tendencies for this, you can always book an appointment with that hospital. Go ahead and research it on Wikipedia or just on the Internet in general, because that’s where I found out how things were working in my mind. [laughs]
I saw those traits, and I actually was relieved to know that there is a diagnosis, that other people have this. I felt better having an answer and being able to treat the problem instead of just living with this unknown issue, because we all deserve to have happy lives, and you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out.
Tom: Is there a desire to feel normal, whatever we perceive normal to be?
Kaylee: No. I just live my life. We all have our own individual problems.
Tom: That’s what I’m getting at with this. I look at it that way, too. I look at the great art that has come by people that perhaps now would be heavily sedated or medicated. I look at, say, the great writer Stephen King. Stephen King, I can only imagine him being in school. When he was doodling, he’s doodling knives and guns and horror movies and skulls and all of this stuff.
Kaylee: I’d be a little concerned.
Tom: Nowadays, if a kid does that in school, he’s in therapy. Stephen King took it and wrote “The Shining,” “Carrie,” and a number of other great books and movies.
I wonder sometimes, and this is just my own personal thing. I wonder sometimes, as long as you’re not a danger of harm to yourself or others, isn’t, for lack of a better term here, a little craziness a good thing?
Kaylee: Absolutely. The biggest thing to understand with a mental health disorder is it stops you in your tracks from living a functional life. That’s really the big key. We all have a little crazy in our lives, but that crazy should not stop you from going to school and going to work.
Tom: Was that your problem? You would want to stay in bed and not go out and do anything?
Kaylee: My senior year of high school, when it got to its worst, before we even knew I had bipolar disorder, I didn’t go to school for six months.
Kaylee: I actually failed out of my English class and had to take some kind of a baby English class to make sure I could graduate. I remember I didn’t even want to graduate. I just really didn’t care.
That’s where it reaches that point where it’s just not a little crazy in your life anymore. Something is wrong. Like I had said earlier, I had a really good life. There was no reason. Nothing had triggered this unbelievable depression I would feel.
Tom: Did you try to self-medicate at this point? In other words, a lot of kids in high school, they’re trying pot or drinking, and stuff like that. Were you self-medicating at this time or just staying holed up in your room?
Kaylee: I just stayed home. No, I’ve never been into any illegal things like that. I worked at a vet clinic. That’s the thing that kept me going. Even though I wouldn’t go to school, I would always go to work, because I knew someone had to take care of those animals when the doctors aren’t there.
Tom: Don’t a lot of people with bipolar self-medicate? In other words, with alcohol, or drugs, or maybe sex, or some other way to try to feel better, they find something out there, gambling, whatever it might be, in some way try to deal with that?
Kaylee: Yeah. There are so many different forms of depression that everyone handles it differently. For the most part, though, anyone I’ve ever talked to who has bipolar disorder, the depressed states were, basically, didn’t even want to go out into the world.
They didn’t really seek anything to make them happy, because they just felt, “Nothing’s going to make me happy.” It is a little different from what people might think.
Tom: I like the idea here of you speaking out about it, and, through people talking about it, understanding that it’s nothing to fear, nothing to beware of.
When you tell people, do they tend to shy away? Have you lost friends because of this, or do you find that — like you just said, you talked, and some people say, “Thank you for sharing” — you’re finding just a whole other group of friends that can relate to what you’re going through?
Kaylee: I’ve never had a…Goodness that was a long question.
Tom: Yes, it was. I know. I sort of know what I want to say, but I’m not sure that I put it out the way that I want to say it.
Kaylee: Let me think. I have never lost friends from this. If anything, my friends helped me through this. Sometimes I meet people, who are afraid, but then they get to know me a little more, and they realize there’s nothing, really, to be afraid of. I’m not going to harm them. Nothing bad’s going to happen.
Like I said, there is that stigma. Especially, with the media right now, it’s even scarier to come out and talk about a mental health disorder, because I think that stigma is stronger than it’s ever been. It’s really unfortunate that it’s even there in the first place.
Tom: Why do you think it’s stronger now than it’s ever been? What do you mean?
Kaylee: Because media glorifies the evil that comes from mental health, the scary side of it. They don’t really seem to talk about reaching out for help.
Tom: There’s a mass shooting somewhere, of somebody with a mental disorder. All of a sudden, a person like you with bipolar disorder is now put in that same category.
Kaylee: A lot of people will think that. A lot of those people who have those kinds of issues, it’s way more than just one diagnosis. A lot of them have oppositional defiant disorder. They have shown signs of other things. They’ve had certain tendencies in the past. It’s unfortunate that their friends and family members fail to see these things, or if they do, they just pretend that they don’t exist.
Tom: It would be tough, because, first of all, we do not spend the money on mental health that we need to be spending, I believe. Going back to some of the tragedies of the Columbine shooting, or the Sandy Hook or whatever, or even Von Maur, any of these massive shootings, they lump it all into…They make it into a gun control argument.
For me, it’s an issue of mental health, because millions of people have guns, and they don’t shoot people. It’s a mental health issue, but nobody wants to really touch that and address that, do they?
Kaylee: No. I haven’t researched all the people that have been a part of those mass shootings, but almost all of them stole the guns from their parents, so it’s not an issue of gun control, necessarily.
If there wasn’t a stigma, then I feel that kids wouldn’t be as afraid to reach out. I know that since a lot of those things have happened, high schools in particular are looking at getting therapists within the school, and people that you can go and talk to.
I remember, I went and talked to my counselors at school, thinking that they were actual “counselor” counselors, [laughs] when, really, they only help you find a college. They advised me to go to the nurse. The nurse is the one who called my mom and said, “You really do need to see a doctor.” I’m really thankful to that nurse, because I don’t know what would’ve happened had she not said that.
I knew I was never violent. I think people with mental health disorders are much more likely to harm themselves than others. I think the cases that we see with mass shootings are extremely rare.
Tom: Were you ever a risk to hurt yourself?
Kaylee: When you have depression, a common thought is suicide. I remember having urges, but there are those who go through with it and then those who have the thoughts, because they feel, “Gosh, it’d be great to just be over with. Life is just awful.”
But then you realize, “I really want to watch my favorite show next week. I’ve got to find out what happens. If I kill myself, I’m not going to know.”
Kaylee: There are always those kinds of people who think about it, but then they’re like, “Nah, that’s not a good idea. Even though I’m depressed, killing myself’s just not worth it.” That was me.
I remember sitting in front of a train once and thinking, “Gosh, it’d be great for this to all end.” Then I thought about my family and my friends, and I thought, “Gosh, that’d be really selfish of me. That’d be awful, and it’s not going to do any good. I’d rather just get better.”
Tom: Is there a good part to being bipolar? We’ve been talking about the downside and the depression and negative parts of it. Is there a good side to it?
Kaylee: I think so. One of the best things I’ve learned is empathy that I can feel for people, because I’ve been that low, and I’ve been that high, and I feel I can relate to so many different people. It’s opened my eyes up not only to my own psychology but people’s psychology and how to read people, how to react.
I think that’s one of the reasons I’m in my job field that I’m in. I work with individuals with developmental, physical, and mental disabilities. I can see things now better than I ever could. It’d be nice if we had therapists who themselves had gone through these problems and didn’t just read about it in their book.
Tom: You don’t think that a lot of therapists had the same problems?
Kaylee: I’m sure there are some that do, but a lot of the students I have met who are going into psychology, I wonder, “Why are you going into psychology, because you don’t understand psychology?” [laughs] I look at their own lives and I’m like, “Don’t you see, doing these results in this?” Maybe I should just go be a therapist.
Tom: Have you thought about that?
Kaylee: I don’t like math and science enough. That’s the problem. It’s the calculus that scares me. Oh, man.
Tom: You’re also into anime, which, for people that don’t know, is Japanese cartoons, right?
Kaylee: Yep, Japanese animation. Very different from your average American cartoon, especially since they’re more like a soap opera, in a way, these characters are very, very developed, and there’s a flow to the episodes.
You can’t just watch…Like with “SpongeBob,” you can watch episode 89 of SpongeBob and episode 1, and still understand what’s going on, where there are these elaborate stories that go on in anime. I’ve been in love with anime ever since…I would’ve been six years old.
Tom: I understand how a six-year-old gets involved with SpongeBob Square Pants. How does a six-year-old get involved with anime? Were your parents into it?
Kaylee: [laughs] My dad’s a big “D and D” nerd. I remember, when the Commodore came out, he drove through a snowstorm to Sioux Falls to go get one. I grew up with a father who liked “Magic the Gathering” and everything.
This wonderful thing happened in 1998, called “Pokémon.” I would’ve been six or seven during the time that happened. I remember getting Pokémon cards. My dad was getting some Pokémon cards in the mail, and I could not read them, because they were in Japanese. They were new, because Japan was getting them before America, so I thought I was so cool.
Then I’d be watching Pokémon on TV. My dad would order in Japanese videos of it with English subtitles, so I always knew what was going to happen before all the American kids did, because I got to watch it.
I got used to watching subtitles, and I just branched out. Japanese anime really started to boom in the late 90’s, then it had a big boom in the early 2000’s, and I was just in that prime age group for that love to develop.
Tom: I’ve been to an anime conference, and it’s amazing, because it’s one of these things that like if you’re not into it you have no idea how big this is. I mean thousands and thousands of people all dressed up in different characters and stuff, right?
Kaylee: Yeah. San Diego Comic-Con…Oh, gosh, what is the attendance there? The attendance there is, oh, gosh, like 50,000 I think.
Tom: Yeah. It is. I know that San Diego Comic-Con, I know is multinational, I mean the people that show up for that. You dress up. Do you dress up as a character?
Kaylee: Yeah, actually that’s how I met my boyfriend. We were talking about him earlier. We met an anime convention here in Omaha, Nebraska called, “NebrasKon,” and I was dressed as a character that he recognized, and so we instantly knew that we both liked this specific anime show.
I’ve dressed as a couple of different characters. I tend to pick ones that already have red hair, that way I don’t have to wear a wig.
Kaylee: It gets really hot and really stinky at anime conventions, and wearing a wig I just get really agitated.
Kaylee: Really random, but…
Tom: Can you make up your own character if you wanted to, or do they all pretty much be somebody else?
Kaylee: I guess you could make up your own character, but almost all of the time it’s a recognizable character.
Tom: Is there a connection or correlation between you being bipolar, and then wanting to escape being somebody else?
Kaylee: I actually thought about that a lot as a kid, because I was so involved in theater, and I found that I was so good at theater, because I felt better escaping into a different character.
I don’t necessarily think that anime and cosplay extends to that for me.
Kaylee: Cosplay. That’s the art of dressing up as characters whether it’s from comic books, video games, or anime. Costume playing, Cosplay I think is actually a Japanese term.
No, When you dress up as a character, typically it’s to show support of a show that you like, and I was dressed as characters that I felt a connection to or wanted to be like maybe, but I never felt I was escaping.
I know for a lot of people that it definitely does that, but that’s no different than fantasy football, or you know, when someone goes and does a lyrical dance, escaping to a different realm, so I don’t think that being bipolar really has made that transition.
We all want to escape reality. That’s why we go to the movies, and go on vacations and stuff.
Tom: OK, now. You’re going to hate me for this. The stigma that I have like with people with anime you tend…you know that you’re nerds. Maybe that you’re misfits, that you don’t quite fit into society. Is that appropriate?
Am I completely off base, or is anime just like you said, “A bunch of people who like fantasy football.” It’s your hobby. It’s what you’re into as somebody else might be into, you know, music, dance, or you know, cooking.
Kaylee: I would say it’s no different than any other hobby. Honestly, when I first met my boyfriend, his action figure collection astounded me, but then I realized, I’ve gone to a lot of other guy’s house who have model cars, or they have an entire room dedicated to Nebraska football.
We all have that one little thing that we all really like that we spend our money on. A lot of people in the anime community actually are inspired to think outside of the box in my opinion, because we grow up watching these cartoons from a totally different show.
Watching the culture within those shows, you learn about Japanese culture, or Chinese, or Korean, wherever the anime is being placed. You just want to go on and learn more, so I wouldn’t say that we’re misfits. I think that [laughs] we’re just…
Tom: It’s just your hobby.
Kaylee: It’s just our hobby. We’re no different. A lot of people, when they find out I do pageants, and then they find out I love anime they think it’s just this odd combination when really, they do pageants, and you know, they do broomball at the University, you know?
Tom: It’s just whatever.
Kaylee: It’s just whatever you like.
Tom: Whatever happens to speak to you, and whatever makes you…now you had mentioned one time…by the way, you know, when you take your girlfriend to your house, and she sees all your action figures and she likes it that’s when you know she’s a keeper, right?
That’s like “Yeah, all right, hey.” Yeah, he’s giving me the thumbs up over there.
Kaylee: I was really jealous. I actually knew a bunch of the actual figure arts, and I would tell him the line, and I knew a bunch of stuff.
Kaylee: Most of those got packed away though, because we don’t have room for them.
Tom: [laughs] OK, now let’s talk about, because you’re also into beauty pageants. You had mentioned to me that the beauty pageants had helped with your bipolar disorder, right?
Tom: That actually helps you to what, feel more confident about yourself, express yourself? How does being in beauty pageants help you as a person?
Kaylee: I’m not involved in just any old beauty pageant. I’ve got to say that first. It’s not Toddlers and Tiaras. These aren’t pageants where you literally get up on stage, twirl around, and win a big crown, and money.
Actually, with the Miss America Organization you’re earning scholarship funds and one of the basis is you have a platform. The national platform is the Children’s Miracle Network, but you get to have your own personal one.
I chose Don’t Be Sidelined mental health awareness, which partnered with Husker Sports through the Kim Foundation. Then I switched, and for the next two years I’m doing a platform called, “Positive Future’s adopt a shelter pet.”
Pageantry has given me more confidence than any other activity or organization could give a young woman in the two years that I’ve been involved in it.
The ability to walk into a room and take center stage, and really inspire, and show people, “Wow, she went up, and she did something great,” you know? I want to do that too.
To the eyes of a child, you could be Miss Kool-Aid Days, and they still think you’re Miss America. They have no idea. You’re wearing a crown. You’re royalty.
Going out in the community, volunteering, and having them see you, this princess, that makes them want to volunteer even more, and inspires them. I got involved because I was inspired by a young woman.
Tom: How did you do the first one then? I mean you said, “I got inspired by a young woman.” What made you decide to actually go out there and do it? Did somebody have to prod you, or did you just finally…
Kaylee: My mom was a little excited, because I had finished theater and show choir, and she didn’t have anything to sew for.
Kaylee: She’s a seamstress, so she didn’t have anything to sparkle. She definitely pushed me a little bit. I did not know how to walk in heels or anything like that. I was a big nerd. I played Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and stuff like that.
I got involved because my junior year English teacher told me about her older sister, who — her younger sister, excuse me — that had been Miss South Dakota.
I talked with her, Miss South Dakota 2004, and found out all that she had done, and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool. I can use my theatre background. I can use my love for speaking. I can actually maybe talk about my mental health and make a difference,” and that’s how I got involved. My very first pageant was literally a flyer in the mail that said, “You can be Miss Iowa Teen USA.”
I thought, “That sounds great.”
Kaylee: I did that pageant. I did that pageant, and…
Tom: That just sounds like a really cheesy episode of some bad 70’s sitcom.
Tom: You know it’s like, you know, “Hey, Jan Brady got…” “Hey, you could be Miss Iowa,” you know?
Kaylee: [laughs] I’ve always wanted to be a Japanese animation voice actor, so that…anyway. Anyway.
Kaylee: I did that pageant, and I had a lot of fun. Then I did the America’s National Teenager Scholarship Organization, and I was Miss Iowa National Teenager in that program.
I did Iowa USA for a few more years, and then I was finally ready to branch into the Miss America system, which is the Superbowl of pageants. That is the big one, and I finally had gained that courage to do it.
I came here to live in Lincoln, Nebraska. I competed my very first pageant, which was the Miss Kearney Pageant, and I won it.
I remember I was pretty terrified, and if you ask any of the girls from my first year at the state, I cried every single day. I actually had an anxiety attack. I felt bad like here I am this platform on bipolar disorder and mental health, and I’m not being a very good example of it.
Kaylee: I had stayed away from the Miss America program one, because I was afraid of the platform part, but more importantly I was afraid of the talent portion. I had never had to do that in the previous pageants. In high school, I had loved to sing, and then I was put down by a teacher, and told I didn’t have any singing talent.
Really from then on I didn’t want to sing anymore, so I hadn’t sang in four years when I did that very first local.
Then when I went and did Miss Nebraska at the state pageant I cried, and when I finally performed my song, “Very first night,” Miss America, Teresa Scanlan 2011 had came backstage, and she said, “It sounded beautiful.”
I got a little more confidence. I felt pretty good, but then the next local pageant I cried again, so… [laughs]
Tom: You say something about…which…you know you made this pop in my head. Everybody has bad days.
Tom: Everybody has bad days when you just want to cuss, yell, and throw something against the wall.
Now people know if you’re making your platform on mental health, when you have a day like that do you think and say, “Oh man, I can’t cuss and yell, and throw stuff at the wall, because then people will think I’m going crazy.”
You know what I mean?
Tom: In other words is there some sort of…almost a responsibility now to be as normal as possible, because you are talking about mental health issues.
Kaylee: Honestly I felt that way especially when I was wearing my crown and banner when I was at the state pageant, but I realized, I can’t hide it, because I have bipolar disorder.
I can’t make it out like it’s this perfect world that doesn’t affect me at all, because it does. I’ve gotten closer to the girls, and I think now that they’re comfortable being around me that I’m not going to do anything crazy.
Kaylee: I might cry, but I’m not going to do anything bad.
Tom: [laughs] What do you want people to know about people like you?
Kaylee: When you find someone that is showing signs of a mental health disorder, don’t throw them aside. Don’t ignore them, and think they’re going to get better. Help them. Please help them.
I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my high school friends pushing me to go talk to the nurse, and them talking to my parents, and really working through this.
This is when someone is at their most vulnerable state, so help them be their hero, please, please, please. If you yourself have a mental health disorder know that you’re normal. It’s OK.
We all take medicine for something, but you’re going to be all right. You can live a normal, functioning life. I live a fantastic life. I forget I even have bipolar disorder.
Honestly, I often don’t remember until I take my medicine at the end of the night. I’m like “Oh yeah, I do have that.” Just don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and don’t be afraid to be the help for someone.
Tom: Thank you Kaylee for being so open and honest in dealing with your life living with bipolar disorder. If you know somebody that is dealing with a mental health issue, do what Kaylee suggests, won’t you please?
Won’t you be supportive? Won’t you help them seek out the care that they need to live a normal and better life. Thanks again for joining us.
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