Stigma Fighters: Liz B.

My name is Liz. I had my first psychotic break in 1995 when I was 15 years old at a camp for highly intelligent kids who thought they might go to law school someday. I was having visual and auditory hallucinations. Apparently that isn’t normal. I had a few misdiagnoses but was eventually diagnosed as Bipolar I and have been treated for it now for several years.

In 1998, while a first year student in college I was sexual assaulted. I was dealing with that and Bipolar, had another psychotic break and yet still successfully graduated. I went on to graduate school. While in grad school, I had my third psychotic break. I also realized I had been raped and began to face that reality.

When I went to get my first full time job out of college, I was in a full blown depression. And since people usually don’t like sad people, I had a hard time getting hired. So I worked three part-time jobs to make ends meet. Somedays I didn’t eat to save money.

Then I got my first full time job and for the first time in my life I had health insurance. During that time, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I actually started to talk about my sexual assault. Not really with many friends or family, but at least with my therapist.

Holding a professional full time job in a very stressful career wasn’t easy. I often bawled my eyes out in the bathroom in between important meetings. But I survived it for a few years. During that time, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The main reason I was diagnosed was because of the obsessive thoughts. One thought about one insignificant thing would keep me awake all night and would seriously interrupt my life.

I had to leave my professional job for many reasons including that it regularly caused me to have flashbacks from my sexual assault. That’s a long story, but my mental health was my priority for leaving. I was also starting to have physical health problems.

A year after leaving that job and being unemployed/underemployed I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. The most annoying part about cancer was all of the sympathy I received. I never received an ounce of sympathy about mental health – when all of it, in my experience, was much much worse than cancer.

Now I share my story online in hopes that I help to reduce the stigma that people have about mental illness. My mental illnesses are diseases, just like my cancer, and need to be treated in a similar way. If I, myself, can’t share my story then it indicates that I also have stigma so I discuss my mental health issues just like I do anything else. I have found that when I share my story, I have an impact. Sometimes I don’t know it immediately, but I have been applauded for my courage many times when later someone has a diagnosis in their family.

I know for sure through my blogs, WomanlyWoman.com and RadioactiveLiz.com, that I have helped many people. I’ve received several messages and support from my readers in all kinds of ways I never imagined. Some people have criticized my move to be transparent, but the pay off is totally worth it. In writing this post, I hope to encourage others to share their stories.

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Elizabeth Barnett is a stigma fighter residing in Cincinnati, OH. She grew up in the Appalachian region of Southern Ohio where, to this day, mental health care access is limited. She went on to receive a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Psychology from Wittenberg University and an M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Ohio University – Athens. She also began her M.B.A. studies just before receiving treatment for cancer. She is currently self employed and has multiple websites/blogs including WomanlyWoman.com and RadioactiveLiz.com. You can follow her on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/WomanlyWoman.