Stigma Fighters: Olivia de Jimenez

I would like to preface this recount of my experiences since being diagnosed Bipolar I by stating that my intent is NOT to blame or in any way shame anyone or any organization for what was done to me, but mostly to shed light on the realities of our society and our (mis) handling of mental illnesses.

I was diagnosed Bipolar I in 2006 after having a manic episode that culminated at the Atlanta airport. No, I don’t live in Georgia, now or ever; I am actually born and raised in California. Well then, how did I end up in Georgia? And more importantly, why was I arrested at the Atlanta airport and charged (but later dismissed) with aggravating an officer? I will tell you.

Manic episodes don’t spark up overnight, nor are they products of one event or another. Rather, they build up progressively, and many can mistake your behavior, or mine in this case, for someone who’s using illicit drugs.

That’s what happened with me. I was 20 years old at the time and home for the summer during my summer break from college. I was living my life and feeling literally on top of the world. I was not sleeping adequately, I was starting several projects like volunteering in various summer events, but not following through, I had constant mood swings; and on top of it all, I was shopping furiously and racking up credit card bills. My parents thought the new love interest in my life was feeding me drugs, but my behavior had changed way before I had met my then-boyfriend, now-husband.

During this manic episode, I had bought a plane ticket for Atlanta to visit a good friend that I had met the year before during a summer internship. Everything was set, and at the end of August, I would be visiting her for five days. Little did I know that I would not be returning to California for a good 5 weeks because I would be placed in a rehabilitation center in Jonesboro, GA.

I arrived at Atlanta in perfect condition, that is no bruises or arrests, but after only one night at my friend’s home, I adamantly demanded to be taken back to the airport. I needed to go back to San Francisco. Why? Because I wanted to be with my boyfriend and at that moment in time, nothing else mattered but being with him.

I was finally able to convince my friend to take me to the Atlanta airport close to 11pm on the second day that I was there. Of course, there were no outgoing flights at that hour back to San Francisco. So what did I do? I stayed up all night with fellow passengers waiting for their red eye flights. Let me point out that since it was close to 11pm, I was not able to buy a plane ticket either because the ticketing booths were closed, duh!

I met a soldier who was going back home after a tour in Iraq, I met a woman from the US Virgin Isles, and I met a man who I can only assume was also going through mental health issues, and with whom I sparred outside of the airport because I have a Brown Belt in Tae Kwon Do.

In the morning when the ticketing booths opened up I was able to procure a flight back to San Francisco. I hadn’t slept a wink.

I was in the security line waiting to pass through when I overheard a man on his cellphone using foul language. I was outraged! How could he use such language and offend me? Well, I asked him, not so kindly, to end his conversation. And, he ignored me. When I realized that he was not going to end his phone call I got out of the security line only to be grabbed by the wrist by a TSA officer at the airport. Why? Because according to her, I could not get out of line once I was in it. I grabbed my wrist out of her hold and that is when she called a much larger male officer to her aid. The events that ensued culminated in me trying to escape their holds, because now 2 large male TSA officers were holding onto me, and me being dragged through the airport after they shoved my face into a nearby wall. I was bleeding, I was crying, I was sweating, but most importantly, I was NOT in my right mind. Yet, these TSA officers never once questioned my sanity nor my actions.

I was placed in a holding cell inside the airport before being transferred to the Clayton County jail where again I was mistreated, to say the least, harassed, humiliated, and not seen by a psychiatric professional until my 4th day in the jail. I did not have a place to sleep on during my entire stay at the jail. I was obviously in their psychiatric unit or something because I was in a room with nothing but a toilet and sink, and a great big window with a view of the officers poking fun at my insanity.

I was finally released on the 5th day to my mom’s custody, who was with me during my entire ordeal, but the madness did not stop there. I was not on any sort of medication so of course, while my mom was trying to escort out of the jail, I assaulted her, calling her “the devil,” and I was put in custody once again. That was when the light came on I suppose for the Clayton County officers that perhaps I had a psychiatric problem.

So there I was, once again in custody until they could get transportation for me from the jail to their Behavioral center in Jonesboro where I stayed another 4-5 weeks, if I remember correctly. It is there that I received compassion, and most importantly Risperdal. Thank God for that.

Since being diagnosed Bipolar I, Olivia has taken strides to control her diagnosis, and not the other way around. She is an advocate for mental health, and specifically, how to train people to interact appropriately with those who suffer from a mental illness. She is a mother of 2 amazing little girls, and currently resides in Oakland. You can follow her @TheBipolarDiary

  • Tony Spagnoli

    Assumptions are not generally correct. I’m glad you have a diagnosis and are being treated properly.