Both of my parents struggled with severe persistent mental illness. Meeting in a halfway house after getting out of the state hospital in the 1970’s, they quickly fell in love. After getting married, having two kids, and struggling with finances and other issues, they decided to divorce when I was three and my sister was seven.
Growing up, I experienced the roller coaster highs and lows of my father’s bipolar disorder. I also experienced the disconnected silence of my mom’s schizophrenia and depression. While I always knew that my parents loved me, I often felt criticized, ignored, misunderstood, and alone.
I tried hard in school to get the positive attention of teachers and my parents; in 2003, I graduated valedictorian from my high school.
When my mom died of breast cancer in my second year of college, I retreated into academics, isolation, and caring for my ailing and devastated father. After my first hospitalization for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts in 2006, I decided I would stay on medication and attend therapy–possibly forever. I never wanted to return to the dark depths of hopelessness and despair.
Ten years later, I’ve many struggles and successes. I graduated college, taught English in Mexico, got married, had two children, and am now in graduate school. I’m still on medication and attend weekly therapy and two support groups. I still have frequent mood swings and have begun to see their connection to hormonal cycles and early trauma. With the help of my therapist, doctor, and other specialists, I’m working to manage these issues and find joy in being who I am.
I used to think I was too messed up to help others. I realize now that my life experiences make me well prepared to understand others and support them through their struggles. After graduating with my master’s degree in social work next year, I hope to become an advocate, public speaker, and leader in de-stigmatizing our society’s view of mental health. By sharing my story, I hope to show others that we all deserve to find joy, success, and happiness, regardless of labels, diagnoses, or stereotypes.