Stigma Fighters: Monica S.

My name is Monica.  I’m a 27 year old African American Female and I
have Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety and ADHD. For about 13+ year I had
“classic symptoms of ADHD.” So that’s what it was just good ‘ole ADHD.
That is what I told everyone in school as I grew up.

Being diagnosed two years ago was like a slap in the face. I was in
denial and still have bouts of denial…. like this cannot be real. I
struggle daily with work, fear of discrimination of being labeled as
“crazy” and “unworthy” or just the woman that “rambles on in circles
with no real point”.

It’s absolutely terrifying being diagnosed with a mental illness. I
still remember being in the hospital for five hours not knowing what
was going on. Previously, I lost my job six months into the position.
The only way to keep the job was a psych evaluation. How humiliating
and dehumanizing it was to be there all by myself at 24 years old.
I’ve struggled my entire life and now this. The doctor prescribed me
Abilify. I took one pill and had instant side effects of nausea,
lightheadedness and dizziness.

I didn’t have the best health care nor could I afford to be
hospitalized . That would be considered a “luxury” and I wasn’t
“actively suicidal” so there was no need to spare a bed for me. I
often wondered what you would have to do to be hospitalized. How
“sick” would I have to be to be considered for Social Security
Disability. I often angered quickly as I researched feverishly about
Bipolar Disorder, looking for African American support groups. Sadly I
found none.

That is what made me feel so alone. None of the people in my culture
were talking about this debilitating” disorder in fact. I  have found
more people in the past two years in my culture give up and commit
suicide because of the pressures of being a “strong Black man” or
woman. That still haunts me till this day that sadly I will never have
it “all together”.  All I want is a break.

I often share with my twin sister (who is also bipolar) the daily
struggles, because it seems she’s the only one that understands in my
family. In the beginning, leaning on family was tough, but to no fault
of their own. It’s hard to accept that one has mental illness
especially a Black woman. I heard many suggestions from people in my
culture.

The typical:
“You’re just not praying/going to church enough” and “You’re not sick
if you don’t hear voices.” Multiple times I questioned the validity of
these statements until I realized it’s just pure ignorance. To be
honest they’re just so damn scared. I would be too. I am at a point in
life where things are up and down, but now I have the help of a
therapist and doctor to monitor my medication.

I was put in “special classes” from Pre-K to the end of High School
and man was that hell. Teenage years were the worst. Growing up my
self-esteem was always low. I even considered (multiple times as an
adult) taking my own life. I attributed that to being severely
depressed. I come from a culture that does not believe in mental
illness. Black Folks do not have mental illness and if we do, you
absolutely do not talk about it.

I just got enough strength a month or two ago to start my own blog,
but it’s hard. I completely “outed myself.” I put myself out there for
scrutiny and I’m possibly giving up having great jobs because I have
decided to make myself public writing about bipolar Disorder. I’m so
happy that I did this.

Every few weeks I share personal entries about my life and ALL aspects
of my life. I finally got enough courage to start telling people
(especially some members of my family) about my blog. I cannot hide
behind the shadows because anxiety, bipolar and ADHD don’t ever give
me a break.

My biggest dream is to be a mother and a wife to 2-3 kids one day. My
dream is to be stable and understand work/life balance. To not be
“shut out” because I don’t always have my stuff together. To be loved
and respected and”live my dream of getting my masters degree in social
work. To concentrate on mental health and then from there I want to be
able to study minorities in mental health as well as policy. I would
like to go on and get my masters in public health and eventually (Lord
willing) get my PhD. Even if my dream of my masters program doesn’t
work, I want to work in with minorities with mental health issues.
It’s what gets me up in the morning.

This is my calling. When I think about all the goals I have, I get
excited. Oh the possibilities of helping my community. My African
American culture is under-represented in the mental health community I
believe by choice. It is because of stigmas and stereotypes. My main
focus in my masters studies will be diving into the reasons why
certain minorities decide not to seek help for mental health.

I already know I will be fighting opposition. But I know in my heart
something is not right. I will not stop talking about mental health.
As scared as I ‘m to take this huge leap of faith and money to go to
graduate School and get my MSW, I’m ready. I can no longer hide behind
the shadows.

I will be going back to school in the Fall 2016 to get my Masters.

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Monica is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice. She loves uncomfortable conversations in race relations, sex, love, mental health, religion and politics. She is a fighter, lover, believer of love and a proud woman. She’s trying to figure out the ways of the world one step at a time.