Facing Life – Heidi DiTonno
I don’t consider myself mentally ill, although my diagnoses would disagree with me. They are stigmas for my way of having to cope with situations that I somehow had to find a way to survive. And they worked for me, here I am!
Burned and severely facially disfigured at 9 months old was the first thing I was faced with surviving. I spent many months at the hospital after that life-changing event, and the opportunity for me to have a healthy mother/daughter bond was severely compromised. I will never know to what extent my mother held herself responsible for “my accident” as it happened while I was in her care. It was a topic of conversation that was rarely, and never fully, discussed in my childhood home. As a female, growing up facially disfigured with an emotionally unavailable mother was no picnic.
My childhood was filled with stares and gasps, ugly and ignorant comments, and name calling that still haunts my memories even now. My first experience with bullying started right at home. My brother, who is 2 years older than me, commonly and joyfully referred to me as “bald-head burnt-face”. He even rallied the entire elementary school bus to cheer me on with this chosen name. My mother’s unfailing response to my complaints about his bullying and frequent physical abuse was “Well what did you do to deserve it?”
At around 11 or 12 years old, I was walking home from a friend’s house in a hurry to make my curfew when I was stopped by an older neighborhood boy and his friend. Their ruse for me to “see their new fort” turned out to be me getting raped by the both of them behind his garage. As they took their turns with me, they let me know how grateful I should be because nobody else would want an ugly girl like me. After they were done I rushed home late for curfew and was met with “You are so irresponsible, you can’t even handle a curfew, you are grounded”. Oh the shame. I never spoke of this to another soul.
My first mental health diagnosis was Depression in my late 20s, clearly not soon enough. I married an alcoholic and it was a difficult time. I was given a low dose of anti-depressant and it worked for me. My husband and I worked through this together and he has been sober for 23 years.
When I was 41 years old I received my second mental heath diagnosis, Anorexia Nervosa. I had been the victim of sexual harassment at the workplace for a year and a half. Even though my perpetrator was found guilty, I paid the price for it. After filing formal charges against him, I was relentlessly bullied and even spit on. My 25 year employment there ended with a false accusation that someone heard me say that I had a weapon in my purse. I was ambushed at my desk and hostily escorted out of the building. Welcome diagnoses 3 and 4…PTSD and Agoraphobia.
My depression, my anorexia, my PTSD, my agoraphobia – these labels do not define me. My resilience to survive and thrive is what defines me.
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Heidi can be found on Twitter
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