From Hell to Hope: Recovery Is HonestyJune 15, 2014 • By Share Your Story contribution by Antonella Novi
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.
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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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KendallJune 16th, 2014 at 4:08 AM
I would like to thank you so much for being so honest and shring this story with readers like me. You see, I know that there have been so many times in my own life that I would treated others badly and differently because they are different from me. For that I would like to sincerely apologize.
We don’t ever have any real idea of what is going on with other people on the inside, we only judge them by their outside cover and assume that we know all that there is to know about them when quite obviously that is the case, just as it is true with me.
There are some struggles that I am in no way familiar with and should not judge just because they are different from my own life experiences.
AnonmousJune 16th, 2014 at 3:06 PM
There’s lots of us with mental problems and it’s not our faults. I’m glad your talking to kids about this and telling them it’s ok.
DollyJune 16th, 2014 at 4:01 PM
The more that young people hear stories like this the more I think that they will be willing to share their own problems and stories when they feel like the time is right. We have to show them through our own actions that this is not just a way to get them to tell us their secrets; but it is about sharing the things that worry them and hurt them so that we can work on it together to create a solution. It is important for them to see that we all need help, we all need support, and that that is why it is critical that we all start this conversation and get that message out there that even when things feel the most hopeless, it doesn’t have to be that way.
shirleyJune 17th, 2014 at 4:16 AM
my family has been my rock throughout my entire journey. without their love and support i am sure that i wouldn’t have made it this far. i wish that everyone could know a support network like this one that i have.
Rhonda R.June 17th, 2014 at 5:15 PM
This is a wonderful story Antonella. Congratulations. I agree with you. There are so many people that may not have difficult mental health issues, but they still need a place of total acceptance, a chance to share their story and work out past issues that may be limiting them. And yes, we do need to find ways to limit the stigma…
AntonellaJune 18th, 2014 at 5:53 AM
Hi. Thank you all for responding to my write on mental halth acceptance. I have always visualized a neurochemical imbalance coming on slowly like a cold. There are signs and symptoms that begin, as in a physical illness, like the tickle in the back of your throat. Exhibited in a mental disorder as sudden low self eseteem, or not being able to seep. Soon the illness us out of control and the only way to get well is to accept what is happening and accept help, in what ever form that may take. A mental illness is no different than a physical illness. Let’s stop the stigma today, and find wellness in every way.
Mark N.June 18th, 2014 at 4:17 PM
Many people have problems and do not even recognize them. If no one tells you how to find out about mental illness how would you know if you have it. Teens are highly unlikely to ask.
In AA they do this. They don’t ask the person their story, instead they tell them the their story. The people look for similarities and brains start thinking.
BBJune 21st, 2014 at 8:47 AM
Your message is going to resonate with lots of people. I hope that you continue to share with others, because there are people who will just lose their focus and who will give up. It would have been very easy for you to do that too but you didn’t and I think that as a result of that courage to go on you will certainly persevere. Kudos to you and that courage that you have had to keep going even in the face of adversity. May more peace and healking follow you where ever you may go.
shawnaSeptember 23rd, 2014 at 9:03 PM
I am 42 suffer from bipolar and lately social anxiety I am fortunate to have a wonderful husband who I have put through hell and back I love reading others so I do not feel alone
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