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Stigma Fighters : Jennifer Bross

In an instant I finally felt life being restored to my body. It felt like volts of electricity coursing through my veins. As the bright lights begin to come into focus, I hear faint voices becoming stronger. Did I make into the other dimension? I feel suffocated by the tube in my throat and taste the sulfur they dumped down my throat. I know I have failed. I would never have guessed that after twenty years of wreckage that stripped me of my freedom and my ability to mentally and financially take care of myself and my daughter, That I would be finally handed the diagnosis of bipolar 1 and schizoaffective disorder

I was 19 years old when I first attempted to take my life. It was that year that I had lost my brother in a plane crash and I as well as the professionals were not aware that this emotional tragedy awakened bipolar that lurked in my DNA. After another suicide attempt one year later, I was sent home with a diagnosis of depression along with a script of an anti-depressant and a shit load of Klonopin. Nobody would listen to me that I still was not feeling right mentally. I did not have support from my family, as they did not believe in mental health; partly because they were in denial. I then turned to alcohol and a dark fascination with death. I was losing sanity and became more unstable by the day.

Reckless and dangerous behavior became the norm for me. I only operated on two emotions at that time, extremely sad or extremely angry. I began drinking with a crowd that invited my behavior. Not one of them would bat an eye if I started raging because that was the only thing I knew to do to erase the intense anger and irritation. That type of behavior made me get tangled up in the legal system and being labeled an alcoholic and a nuisance. Other suicide attempts followed leaving me with the same diagnosis of depression/anxiety.

The summer of 2013 is when I finally lost complete touch of reality. I was hearing voices and completely paranoid that people were out to harm me. I began drinking quite heavily to try and stop the anxiety and numb the fear. It got to the point where I had to abruptly quit my job. One day I drove around for hours polishing off fifths of vodka because that’s where I finally thought was a safe place. It was far from it, I ended up causing two separate accidents because I was running away from dark and scary figments of my imagination. My stay at the hospital was three weeks and in that time I was finally diagnosed with bipolar 1 and schizoaffective disorder.

I was so relieved about my diagnosis and I was no longer in fear even though I was facing a possible sentence of 2 to 5 years in prison for multiple DUIs. I fought hard to achieve stability and spent numerous lonely nights gathering up as much information I could on my illness. I was going to prove people and the legal system that I was just not another drunken nuisance and that there are serious mental issues creating such behavior. I know we should all take responsibility for our actions and to serve our consequences for our behavior but it made me feel more comfortable having an explanation. At my sentencing hearing, I was able to converse with the Judge with regards to my illness and my treatment. He took it under consideration and I am now currently serving a 2 year sentence on house arrest instead of prison with no eligibility for a driver’s license until December of 2016.

I admit that there are some days where I don’t think I’ll make it through this. Most days it feels like my brain is trying to kill me and I am trapped in a cage with limited resources to make it better but I make it. I know that each day I become stronger at managing this illness. I’m not afraid to say I am bipolar because this illness has and will define me. It has made me the warrior I am today.

I am working on a project with regards to the Judicial system stigmatizing repeat offenders for alcohol/drug related crimes. Here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania we have rehabilitative programs for such repeated crimes but they refuse to evaluate any of these offenders for possible mental health issues while just treating the substance abuse issues. Although, they claim that their treatment plan is 90% successful, I am currently gathering the pertinent information to show that the program’s success rate at this time projects a smaller percentage. Statistics show that 1 of every 3 repeat offender have an underlying and undetected mental health issue. If my petition goes according to plan, such individuals would be ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations in hopes of finding the correct treatment plan. Our Judicial system is one of the biggest offenders of stigma and even if it takes one small change more change will follow.

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sf-picA mother of 15 year old Daughter and a co-fur baby mom to two spunky West Highland Whites. I’m currently weathering my storm and am in hopes to make a few changes that can impact better treatment plans for the mentally ill caught up in the legal system. Also, hoping to work in the mental health field some day.

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  • Diane Grechoski

    This is an article that brings many emotions.. Jen is a brilliant dedicated woman to helping the stigma of mental health. She has opened up her world with the intentions of making others not feel so isolated… Thank you Jennifer…it’s people as brave and honest as you, that may make someone stop and think, before they take actions that often cannot be reversed….

  • paperairplanes

    I have never read an article that so clearly delineates the need for the legal system to distinguish between substance abuse in those who are incarcerated (when they should be hospitalized) with co-morbid neurological disorders such as bipolar and schizoaffective. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that addiction is its own illness. But it’s a somewhat different illness. You can stop drinking, but there simply is no way yet to fully escape the others.

    Jennifer, you are such an inspiration. I hope to meet you soon, even if it means coming to Pittsburgh! Wait, I didn’t mean it the way that sounds, but you know what I’m saying.