"Despite My Diagnosis..." Stigma Story by CCM Contributor Tatiana Bonner
Published on October 30, 2019
The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called "Despite My Diagnosis." Read one of these stories, by Tatiana Bonner:
I was only 16 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar I. Something my mother's family never saw coming, something I feared would shame them for the rest of eternity. I come from a long line of Italians. People who were taught to suck it up after World War II had ended. People who pushed their problems to the side, and acted as if nothing was wrong.
I never once thought that I should seek help for my prolonged sadness. For the longest time, I thought it was normal to feel that way. I'd let the little demons in my mind toy with my head. I'd let them get the best of me each and every time. I pushed my friends out, and built my walls up. I didn't want anyone to know just how vulnerable I was. I wanted to suffer alone. My mother never saw the signs, as she didn't even know what to look for. She never worried because I'd act like the world's happiest person around her. I didn't need her to worry. I also certainly didn't want anyone's pity. I'd felt that enough after the death of my brother, and pity was one thing that bothered me. It was one thing that I could not stand. Some days, getting out of bed was a process. I'd have to drag myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Every word spoken to me was like a poison to my ears, in the aspect of the fact that I did not want to hear it. It was a miserable existence.
My sadness would turn into Mania, into happiness, into irritability, and actions I could not control. The even sadder bit, was that I often would not remember the days I spent Manic. I would lose time from the story of my life. People would ask what I did yesterday, and I could not answer them. I knew I wasn't myself anymore when I went home and asked to be signed up for a gym membership, when my depression was dragging me down into my sorrows, and I had absolutely no energy to even think about going to the gym. I knew something was wrong when my mother would be angered at me for having a fit that I could not even remember. I knew something was wrong when I went to the doctor, and they handed me a depression screening, and every single blurb on the little white paper made me feel as if someone from the office had been monitoring me. I grew paranoid. My mind played even worse tricks with me. I knew the government was watching me. I knew all about their plan to harvest my organs, and sell them on the black market. My mania went as far as me spending nearly three hundred dollars alone at Hot-Topic, just because I was convinced that the world was ending, and that I wouldn't get the chance to spend that money tomorrow.
My mother thought nothing of it. She was never taught anything about mental illness. She didn't think anything was wrong with me until I woke up at three o'clock in the morning, and ran into my grandmother's room, screaming and crying about the man in my closet, who ate my dog who was clearly okay and sleeping in his bed in the next room over. I didn't remember this at all the next day. That's when my mother and grandmother had decided that I needed to seek help, and took me to the doctor, who agreed that something was wrong.
They made me pour my thoughts out on the table. They made me expose each and every one of my problems and fears. I was given medication, and the number to a therapist. My first few therapists told me I was exaggerating, and always put down my problems. I'd get to the second or third therapy session, and never go back. That was until I met my current therapist, who sat with me, and listened to me, and understood me when I spoke to her. She told me and my family that I had Bipolar I and Anxiety, and that I needed to see a psychiatrist, for my medications to be managed. My first psychiatrist was a complete idiot. She continuously put me on SSRIs, medications that I would learn are not always helpful to someone with Bipolar, as they basically make you more upbeat, often activating mania. Each time I went back to her with a new complaint, she'd threaten me with inpatient, something I certainly didn't want to go into. My family saw that I was miserable, and decided to pull me from her care. We spent a long while looking for a decent doctor, until I met my current one, who listens to me, and actually does something when I say that my medication doesn't make me feel too good.
It was 2 years prior to my diagnosis that I spent suffering in silence. Then, it took me two whole years after my diagnosis to get settled into it all. At first I was ashamed to say that I have Bipolar Disorder. I feared what people would think of me. I worried that they would think I was crazy or disturbed. I would scribble the words "Manic Depression " across forms at doctor's offices, out of shame to say the word "Bipolar ". Even to this day, I still feel my heart racing in my chest every time someone asks me, "So, you have Bipolar? ".
Three years after my diagnosis, and I am doing wonderful. I've come to terms with my mental illness. My medications are managed well, and I'm seeing an awesome therapist. I still have my dog, my fish, and my plant collection, which all keeps me going. Keeping things alive helps me to feel alive. I am so, so happy that someone finally saw that something was wrong, and helped me to seek help. I don't know that I ever would have on my own. Despite my diagnosis, I wake up in the morning. Despite my diagnosis, I get out of bed. I brush my teeth. I care for my body. I push myself to succeed. I keep feeling, I keep dreaming.
Despite my diagnosis, I keep living.