The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Being candid about her life as a trans woman has helped makeup artist, model and content creator Nikita Dragun build both a massive fanbase — she's got 14.35 million followers on TikTok alone — and her own beauty brand. Last month, the Dragun Beauty founder shared one particularly vulnerable confession in an emotional YouTube video: She's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which the National Institute of Mental Health describes as being characterized by "unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks."
"I've always looked at social media as my diary," Dragun tells Yahoo Life's The Unwind. "And I think out of anything I've ever talked about — I've talked about surgeries, my transition, getting kicked out of clubs, being in my L.A. lifestyle — my journey in terms of mental health has been one of the hardest struggles I've ever had to share. But also I think it's something that is really real and something that a lot of people are facing. "
While the 26-year-old Dragun says she has a family history of bipolar disorder, she was initially "surprised" by her diagnosis because she didn't quite understand what it meant to be bipolar and therefore didn't relate her own symptoms to a disorder shrouded in stigma. The Virginia native was under the impression that being bipolar meant "being happy and sad and this, that and the other — and those weren't my symptoms."
'Something that even I had to learn about being bipolar is it's not what you see in movies and it's not what you see on TV," she adds. "It's not that you're flipping through emotions in every single second, and you're just a bunch of different personalities. [There are] longer periods of times of ups and downs and mania and depression. And it's a whirlwind to be inside of and to experience."
What Dragun experienced was a difference in her moods and a sense of feeling off; particular things were "affecting me in ways that were strange," she says.
"It was just a turn of events that happened that really made me step back and really take my mental health seriously," she says. "After transitioning, I really had to take a step back and really also take care of my inside just as much as my outside."
And so she sought help, consulting doctors who ultimately diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. The past six months, she says, have been an "eye-opening" exploration into her treatment options in terms of medication, and trying to find the prescription for her needs. Dragun readily admits that there have been a lot of growing pains as she comes to terms with her diagnosis.
"I've definitely received more clarity in my life by being diagnosed, but I will be real about it," Dragun says. "I mean, there's certain days where it is kind of hard and I question the diagnosis and all these certain things. As someone who is newly diagnosed, I think that's a normal thing to kind of face; you don't want to feel different and you don't want to feel not like everybody else."
That vulnerability has taught Dragun the value in sharing her story, even in moments of uncertainty or self-doubt.
"A lot of times, people look toward people like myself to have all the answers and be an activist and a martyr ... but I really don't have all the answers," she says. "I'm just human. So I really do turn to my online community to have support, but also have answers in some way. I think a lot of times in terms of mental health, you can feel so alone and it can feel so isolating, but there are so many people who are kind of facing the same thing as you are."
Her experience has also served as a reminder to prioritize her mental health, something she's been focusing on over the past couple of years.
"I've tried to learn better therapeutic practices," says Dragun, who practices mediation and journaling. "Before, I would just dive myself into work or relationships or other things that weren't as healthy, but now I really try to look inwards and spend time with myself.
Working out and getting her blood flowing is a favorite form of therapy for the YouTuber, but she also finds the value in sitting still and switching off. Going outside without her phone for 10 to 15 minutes each day helps her center herself amid an "overly stimulated" online life. But while many people cite social media as a stressor in their lives, Dragun says the connections she's made far exceed the hassle of being trolled from time to time.
"I've feel like I've dealt with negative comments my entire life," she says. "I grew up in a small town in Springfield, Va., being a very flamboyant little boy at the time. So for me, I've kind of gotten used to it. And obviously it is part of the job, but at the same time, I do wish it would change. In terms of negativity, it does affect you on days when you are kind of low, and it is really hard to tune out sometimes, but I always try to remember all the amazing people that I am affecting. I look at it as like a stadium: The negative comments are the people in the front row, like the 10 people who are really, really loud and doing the most. But there are so many people out there who love and support you. And I always just try to remind myself of that.
"I'm not gonna lie," Dragun adds with a smile. "I do have my clapback days, and I do allow myself to go off every once in a while."
Dragun is also committed to living her life "as boldly and loudly as possible" in the face of haters — especially at a time in which both the trans and Asian American communities are frequently targeted. The vitriol, she says, "fuels a fire in me" to fight for change.
"I'm not just posting pictures of my butt all day; I want to have a message," says Dragun, whose Dragun Beauty is offering its bestselling TRANSformation Kit for just $25 through the end of June in honor of Pride.
As Pride month comes to a close, that message is this: "There's a world out there that's accepting and loving. To the small-town people who can feel so isolated or feel so alone or feel like there's no one out there that they can turn to outside of their family or friends, there is a world of acceptance out there. And I think it shows time and time again with Pride. And that's what I really love about our community is that we kind of band together and create a celebration where we live out loud. And obviously it translates so much more than just one month."
—Video produced by Kat Vasquez
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