Can you tell I have a cat just by looking at me?
Can you tell I have a mental illness just by looking at me?
I began to change in my early teens—blame it on hormones and my shifting brain chemistry, or maybe the stress of my parents separating. Something that stressed me from the outside flipped on the switch to a new life filled with major mood swings out of my control.
Low self-esteem kept me from meeting or caring about being social. I only went to school because I had to. Luckily, one day two high school girls came to my 8th grade health class and talked to us about everything from stress to smoking to sex and even suicide. They asked us to write them a question about these topics and others. I wrote, “I want to die.” It was the first time I admitted to myself or anyone else that I had these thoughts constantly. When class was over the girls kindly asked if I would like to talk to the counselor.
That day was just the beginning of my journey toward understanding mental illness, and ultimately accepting mental wellness. Over the next few years I spent time in psychiatric hospitals and tried medication that I hoped would be the missing puzzle piece of chemistry my brain needed.
Most of the medications tried their best but caused the worst. But I never once stopped taking the medication I was prescribed, for I never wanted to feel so completely out of control again. I realized I was accepting my chemical imbalance and each day I began to understand myself and my issues in a much lighter, hopeful way.
The support I received on my journey toward wholeness helped me see I was a person, not a problem. My mother was my life support at times. She learned all she could about mood disorders and educated our family so as not to judge me, but be very proud. I also met some peers within the mental health community that I still keep in touch with regularly. It was a blessing to know I was not alone in the issues I faced and that I would be understood by my peers, for they had experienced similar challenges.
I knew I had a message and a story to tell. I wanted to share my experience “From Hell to Hope” with high school students. This is where my experience with my journey towards honesty and truth really began. I was brave enough to share my good times and bad.
So I joined forces with a father whose son has schizophrenia. The reasoning behind this father sharing his son’s story was to show the students their parents would still love, honor, and respect them despite their issues. Even with my rapid cycling moods, we have spoken to over 4,000 high school students since 2006. Still my biggest support, my mother is beyond proud of me.
My hope is to stop stigma, treating people badly because they seem different. I want to promote education of mental illness so people suffering and their loved ones will believe recovery is real.
I am a 34-year-old woman living in beautiful northwest Washington. I have been in the mental health system for exactly 20 years. It is time to share my story.
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