Stigma Fighters : Erica Schwartz

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Stigma Fighters : Erica Schwartz

“How did I get here?” It’s a question I used to obsess over, feeling distraught over what I felt were the world’s standards for my age versus what I had actually accomplished at that point in time. I grieved how much I felt was stolen from me because of my mental illness and wondered if I could achieve my heart’s desires or if I’d missed my chance. Seventeen years into my journey with mental illness, I feel like I’m on the path to what I’m truly meant to do in life.

I began my journey with mental illness around age 14. My grandma recently told me that she has a vivid memory of when she first noticed something wasn’t quite right. She was telling my family and me that she and my grandpa were moving half-way across the country. In the midst of the conversation, she realized that I had zoned out – I was staring off into nothingness and failed to be present in the moment, so much so that I didn’t even acknowledge her when she called me by name.

The suicidal ideations also began at age 14. I had intensely violent thoughts about how to end my life. I was incredibly moody, with highly fluctuating emotions throughout the day, struggling to deal with life’s normal daily problems. It was originally assumed that my “issues” were strictly hormonal, so I was placed on birth control pills by my primary doctor to bring my body back into balance. Little did we all know that my mental instability was much, much worse than just being out of whack hormonally.

I had my first in-patient hospital stay the last week of my junior year of high school. It wasn’t until then that it was determined I had severe clinical depression. I was put on anti-depressants, and thus began my years’ long path of seeing therapists and psychiatrists, working to get me on the right treatment plan. I would be stable for awhile and was committed to therapy. Then when the regular ebbs and flows of life set me on a downward spiral emotionally, my treatment plan would be reevaluated.

The emotional instability continued throughout college. I had a low self-esteem, not sure of my place in the world, and wondered if I would ever be able to get my act together to even graduate. I did miraculously graduate but I was so disappointed in myself that it took me five years instead of four. My family was proud of me and told me that I should be proud, too: proud of what I overcame to push through and finish college and proud that I obtained a degree that would open a lot of doors for me. My long-standing, unrealistic standards for myself and perfectionistic tendencies highlighted the extra year it took to graduate, and therefore, I was not overly proud.

Post-college life continued to be a struggle. I wasn’t getting jobs that allowed me to be self-sufficient. I was an excellent worker and constantly proved myself, but I always felt that I fell short. My relationships with the people closest to me in life were unstable. I was hostile towards my parents, I was incredibly clingy to any guy I dated and was continually desperate to find a group of friends where I felt I fit in.

My second and third hospital stays were in the fall of 2008. I had given up hope that life would get any better. I was 24, recently lost my job due to health issues, and the foreseeable future was grim. Due to my despair, I planned the date and method I would use to end my life. I don’t even remember how it happened, but my then therapist got me to confess that I planned to die by suicide while my parents were on vacation. I was immediately sent to the hospital and had back-to-back in-patient stays until I was deemed stable enough to be released from the safety net of the hospital.

I started to feel a bit more hopeful during the winter of 2009 when my psychiatrist and I made the determination together that my long-standing emotional instability was actually Bipolar II instead of Major Depressive Disorder. Life started to make a bit more sense. My impulsive behaviors, intense mood shifts, and severe depression all fit within the scope of this new diagnosis. With medication changes and continued therapy I remained stable for several years. I developed very close friendships with a consistent group of people, maintained a solid work history and had a serious boyfriend.

My hopes for my life spiraled downward again after a major life-change in 2014 failed to work out. It was supposed to be my big break, moving me in the direction toward my dreams of helping others, being financially independent, and working with those in my inner circle. When things fell through, I questioned my choices in life, my ability to handle significant life shifts and to get back to a life that was emotionally stable.

I eventually found hope again. I got a job working for a company with a vision that I bought into, I made some great new friends, and began to feel confident in my identity and my ability to accomplish all my dreams. And again, I was fairly stable emotionally, I enjoyed life and looked forward to what God had planned for my life. And then I stopped taking my meds cold-turkey. And all that I gained was lost yet again. I had my fourth and fifth in-patient stays in May and July of this year. And my diagnosis was changed yet again. It was determined that I have Borderline Personality Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder instead of Bipolar Disorder.

And then the last 17 years of my life made even more sense. I felt incredible hope when I learned about Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) during my hospital stay in May. I have participated in weekly group and individual therapy, learning practical tools to help me accept and yet manage my emotions and to develop stable and healthy relationships. Between DBT and a new medication combination, I finally believe I am getting what I have needed all this time.

And the wind of life is most definitely blowing me in the right direction. I am now spreading the message of my journey, my struggles and victories with mental illness, and fighting to break down the stigma associated with mental illness.

Fellow warriors: you are worth it to make the investment in your recovery journey and into the dreams for your future. It’s a day-by-day process, but I truly believe that by sharing our experiences, battling together, and believing in hope, we will all get to where we’re going.

I am a 30-something born-and-raised Minnesotan. I am a Christian and have battled mental illness for over half of my life. I love sports, Africa, music, movies, tattoos, taking photos, and bubble tea. I am blessed to have a large support system. My hope with my blog is to be as honest and vulnerable as possible in documenting my emotional recovery process and to provide a place to connect with others that also battle with mental illness or love someone with a mental illness.

Erica can be found on her blog and Twitter

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One Comment

  1. Erin September 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey! I can relate to so much of it. Sending you much love and continued strength!

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