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'I lost my job, my house, my mind': Beauty queen's bipolar battle

Penny Burfitt
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·4-min read

A US beauty queen has opened up about her experience of bipolar disorder, using her newfound platform to shed light on the often-taboo area of mental health.

25-year-old Rachel Slawson won the Miss Utah crown this year, and though she didn’t place at the Miss USA competition in November, the rising star tells Yahoo Life she is thrilled at her new future as the first openly LGBTQ woman in the Miss USA competition after a very rocky road to the title.

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

Now proudly competing as her true self, Rachel who also went for the title back in 2014 says her original bid for Miss Utah was a very different story.

Between reckoning with mental illness, and trying to fit a mould that wasn’t her own, Rachel’s initial run came to a shattering conclusion.

“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 reveals. “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.”

Photo: Instagram/ saltyrachel
Photo: Instagram/ saltyrachel

“I had gone and gotten plastic surgery, my eating disorder was at its worst and I was just not in a good place.”

She says reckoning with failure after decimating herself to fit the competition left her ‘crushed’.

“When I still didn’t win after trying to become something I wasn’t, it crushed me,” she admits. “I just didn’t want to be here anymore.”

Rachel, who had experienced plenty of devastating lows like this one before, was ultimately she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after she faced a battle for her life, her health and was ultimately left homeless.

Rachel’s experience of bipolar

Rachel Slawson Miss Utah mental illness bipolar battle
Rachel opened up about experiencing mental illness to the point that she lost her job and her home. Photo: Instagram/ saltyrachel

She gets candid her experience, relaying one manic episode she experienced that encapsulates the struggle she was facing.

A manic episode occurs when a person has high energy and loses touch with reality.

“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,” she says. “They called a family member because they obviously felt like something was odd.”

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“[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,” she continues.

“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.”

Rachel ended up being homeless after the incident.

“In a matter of a week, I not only lost my job and my house, I also lost my mind,” she says. “I felt like I had no place to go.”

Like so many, getting help wasn’t simple – 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, and at the same time she was struggling 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.”

Rachel’s journey from mental health advocate, to Miss USA competition

Rachel Slawson overcomes mental illness to become first LGBTQI+ Miss USA contestant
Rachel has since launched a self-love project and gone on to win the Miss Utah title. Photo: Instagram/ saltyrachel

It led Rachel to start the I Am Why project, a stigma-free self-care community helped her transition into her role as a mental health advocate, which she uses to inform her mission as Miss Utah.

Rachel also made a major splash at this year’s Miss USA pageant for being the first openly LGBTQI+ woman to compete, something which she was surprised didn’t trip her up in the competition gi9ven Utah’s very conservative reputation.

“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.

Coming out was something that wasn’t immediately accepted by her family, but that they ultimately loved her for.

“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,” she reveals. “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.”

With additional reporting by Kerry Justich

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