Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Born and raised in San Antonio, TX, CU Boulder Professor Briana Gonzalez started writing when they were in fourth grade, producing short stories for their English class and continuing during their high school and middle school years and shifting towards poetry during their college career. “[Fiction] was an opportunity to cultivate a new universe to explore things that couldn’t be explored otherwise, while poetry was a way to be more in tune with my body and mind,” Gonzalez recalled. 

Since then, Gonzalez’s writing has focused on the Chicanx experience, Chicanx folklore, suicide, mental illnesses, and grief. Gonzalez hones in on this especially after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2021 – a mental illness associated with extreme mood swings ranging from manic to depressive episodes. However, coming to terms with this diagnosis has been a journey for Gonzalez due to the many stigmas surrounding people living with bipolar disorder. 

Gonzalez explained it this way, “We have this idea that bipolar disorder works as a flip that switches off the wall from a maniac stage that is aggressive and impulsive to a situation where you are in the depth of depression, and that’s not how it works.” They described that manic can have different stages like acute manic – a condition which is seen in popular media as a sign of a good and productive stage performer, singer and songwriter – however, Gonzalez also recounts it as an out-of-body experience that leaves them feeling exhausted: so energized that they feel out of control. 

These popular culture portrayals include almost all of the villains in the Batman comics and movies; from Harley Quinn’s histrionic disorder and Two Face’s bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder to The Riddler’s autism spectrum disorder – and it was from these representations that Gonzalez’s upcoming book “A Wellness Check” was created from. 

They got the idea from a line in the 2022 Batman film with Robert Pattison. Gonzalez recalled, “There’s this line Batman tells the Riddle when he brings this villain back to Arkham Asylum that is something like: ‘You are sick, you need help, and you are going to die alone.’ And for me, it was like, what does that tell someone like me? Batman is basically a man brutally beating very mentally ill people.”

Afterward, during the course of a 14-week creative writing class, they started developing the “A Wellness Check” poetry collection surrounding a Batman parody called “Doctor Ratman” exploring how someone like them would fit in these fictional worlds –in places like Arkham Asylum, but also as a way to explore their own symptoms and cope with the different challenges their upbringing also brings to this acceptance process.

“My dad’s family is from Mexico and they’re also catholic, so sometimes they fall into the treats of denying the existence of mental illness, which is common for generations before ours, and they were too poor for healthcare, so they didn’t have access to language about mental health either,” Gonzalez explained. Mental health stigmas are common in past generations, but within Latinx or Chicanx communities, there’s also a presence of skepticism towards mental illnesses and medication, qualifying them as cosas de locos (stereotypical and outdated views of madmen) or “white illnesses.” 

“So for a while, I was like ‘it’s not me, it’s not bipolar,’ and then, when I came to terms with it, I entered the challenge of talking to my dad and his family about it. They didn’t understand I wanted to be on meds either because of that same barrier in concept.” Gonzalez’s poetry turned then into an outlet for the frustration around this barrier of learning to accept themselves but struggling with their families’ response to it. “I have a poem about that in my collection that’s a collage of phrases in Spanish and English around my Chicanx family and mental health.”

So how does one support someone living with bipolar disorder? Gonzalez explained that mania and depression look different for anyone, especially because the emotional scale for someone struggling with this mental illness is presented with different symptoms. They started tracking how they felt leading up to a depression stage or a manic stage in their notes app. This helped them recognize their symptoms and later inform their friends of what to look for.

Depression can present itself as someone being isolated, disappearing for days and being less talkative than usual, as well as an increase in sleep. It can lead to extremes, maybe staying in bed all day incapable of moving, and having significantly reduced appetite. Mania, on the other hand, can present itself as as increased social energy, racing thoughts, an inability to focus or sleep, and impulsive behavior: putting random deposits, confronting people, planning random trips, and starting projects that will not be finished. 

“It is like Sonic the Hedgehog is running in my brain,” Gonzalez stated.

For Gonzalez, this new poetry collection is about exploring all of these topics, breaking them apart, and helping others in their journey –whether that involves struggling with the media representations mentally ill people see of themselves in the media, skepticism towards mental health in their culture, or just social stereotypes. Their book will come out on September 24, 2024, and can be preordered here. For more information on bipolar disorder or how to support those struggling with mental health issues, click here.

Juanita Hurtado

CU Boulder '26

My name is Juanita Hurtado Huerfano, I'm a first-generation Colombian immigrant and a journalism student at CU with a minor in creative writing. For the last four years I've focused in producing radio and print stories focused on activistic art, language, and culture --especially bringing to the spotlight the voices of underrepresented communities. I've covered topics such as book banning, lainx representation in media, and museum exhibits highlighting black history. More recently, I work for The Bold as the social media assistant and I'm Radio 1190 Assistant News Director. I have my own DJ show featuring hispanic/latin music as well as produce radio 1190's arts and cultures segment.