Miss Utah Rachel Slawson on living with bipolar disorder: 'I not only lost my job and my house, I also lost my mind'

Kerry Justich
·5 min read

Miss Utah 2020 Rachel Slawson didn’t walk away from November’s Miss USA competition with a new crown, but the 25-year-old isn’t considering it a loss as she looks toward the possibilities that her platform and her position as the first openly LGBTQ woman to have competed on the national stage have for her future.

The young woman from Park City, Utah, opens up to Yahoo Life about the “un-highlightable year” that was 2020, characterized by a global pandemic that left millions of Americans suffering. However, winning the title of Miss Utah back in January allowed Slawson to feel hopeful after a series of struggles tied to her mental health.

“When I was 19 years old, I tried to end my life after competing at Miss Utah USA and it was the second time I tried competing,” she says. “I was already struggling with my mental health. But I had spent so much of that year really trying to become something that I wasn’t. I had gone and gotten plastic surgery, my eating disorder was at its worst and I was just not in a good place. And when I still didn’t win after trying to become something I wasn’t, it crushed me. I just didn’t want to be here anymore.”

Having since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the episode wasn’t an isolated one for Slawson. In fact, she gets candid about a particular experience when she says she was manic — a state where a person has high energy and loses touch with reality. Slawson admits, “it started out really fun.”

“I was a private flight attendant at the time and I walked down in the hotel to meet my pilots and I told them I wasn’t getting on the plane, I was throwing a Christmas party at the hotel. They called a family member because they obviously felt like something was odd,” she says. “And then from there, I tried to jump in a lake because I thought that someone I had been dating who had rejected me a month prior was waiting for me in the lake and I almost died. It took a team of firefighters to convince me not to jump in the lake, to put me into an ambulance and to take me to a hospital where I basically was sitting in a hospital for what was only like I think eight or nine hours, but in my world it was like seven years.”

Slawson ended up being homeless after the incident, saying, “In a matter of a week, I not only lost my job and my house, I also lost my mind. And I felt like I had no place to go.” While it took her four months to be seen by a psychiatrist before getting help and a diagnosis that would put her back on the right track, Slawson also struggled to connect with her family.

“They were obviously more in a place of fear than understanding,” she says. “I think I really just had a moment where I realized that no one was coming to do this for me. That’s why I started the I Am Why project. It’s this reminder that I am why I’m here and it’s I am why I do the things that I do and that is a good enough reason.”

Starting the “stigma-free self-care community” helped Slawson transition into her role as a mental health advocate, which she uses to inform her mission as Miss Utah. She also gained recognition leading up to this year’s Miss USA 2020 pageant for being the first openly LGBTQ woman to compete.

“I identify as bisexual, and I come from Utah, so I definitely was so scared that by being who I really am I would not make it very far,” she says. “I came out a little over two years ago at this point. And when I told my family, it did not go over super well. They were very embarrassed, they were very scared and they basically told me that they failed. A year and a half, two years later, and my family went to Miss USA to support me.”

Slawson on stage during Miss USA 2020 competition. (Photo: Instagram)
Slawson on stage during Miss USA 2020 competition. (Photo: Instagram)

Despite the support that she had from family, the journey to November’s pageant was difficult, all things considered. “I’m now a role model for people and people are looking up to me to speak for mental health, and I started struggling with my mental health again. And then you go to Miss USA and at the end of it, I didn’t win,” she says. “I went home and I sat on my couch and I ate cereal for a week and I cried. And then I got up and I went on with my life.”

As far as what she’d like to do next with it, Slawson has dreams of gaining an even larger platform by becoming The Bachelorette.

“I’m going to continue on advocating for mental health, I’m going to teach self-care workshops for people that are struggling with their mental health and I’m going to go have an amazing career in entertainment. That’s why it’s my dream to be the first bisexual Bachelorette,” she says. “Half men, half women, no straight women allowed. I think America’s ready for that. It would be the most-watched season of the Bachelorette ever.”

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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