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Stigma Fighters : Stephanie Escamilla

He needs a father figure! You’re a bad mother! He needs more discipline!
Are a few phrases that became a huge part of my life in 2009. At that time, I was recently divorced and a single mother with two handsome boys. My youngest was 3 years old and my oldest was 10; when our lives were put on the bipolar roller-coaster ride.
It was something totally not expected and I must say it was very hard to swallow. My son was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 10 after he was admitted to a children’s mental health facility. It was his first manic episode accompanied by visual hallucinations and voices telling him to kill my youngest son. It wasn’t easy getting him assessed and admitted. It took almost 3 weeks before someone finally stepped in and helped me get him in to be evaluated. The problem was that he had a psychiatrist that was only interested in helping his ADHD symptoms and decided that his depression would be put on the back burner. After calling numerous times to inform her that he was having homicidal thoughts, I was told that as long as he had no plan or had not injured himself or someone else; she could not do anything about it. The criteria for assessments and admissions are absurd and sadly, a person in psychosis has to injure himself or someone else to get help. It’s unfortunate but, this is why shootings happen. Our mental health system is horrible.
After that; it was up and down from there. The ride continued and it was hard being alone and having your family judge you rather than support you. I had friends but, they understood very little and the conversation of mental health was something that was not common. Any time the conversation started, it quickly changed to something else.
The stigma was horrible and it was worse from my family.
Now things are different. I ended up moving from my hometown to San Antonio, Texas, to be closer to my son’s doctors and near the hospital. I educated myself as much as I could because, no one gives you the book, “What to expect. When you’re not expecting a Mental illness.”(the book doesn’t exist yet. 😉 They just hand you a prescription and an appointment to follow up. They don’t prepare you for what’s to come. We’ve been through so much no one tells you that cutting, verbal abuse, property damage, suicide, manipulation and other difficult things would accompany this life sentence. It took me 3 years to finally accept my son’s illness and even after I felt like I hated him. I couldn’t look at him and definitely couldn’t stand him. It was the worst feeling ever. How could I hate my son? I couldn’t get him to understand how difficult it was to handle or how difficult it was to go through everything and still be called horrible names and be blamed for everything. I couldn’t get him to understand that regardless of everything, I WAS STILL HERE!
It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t hate him. I was standing in front of a group of officers telling them my story; when I finally realized that my feelings of hate weren’t towards him but, towards his illness. I lost sight of who he was and only saw the bipolar disorder every time I looked at him.
My son is now 16 years old and has been doing better. He no longer has the hallucinations. He has managed to come up with his own coping mechanisms when he is starting to feel a cycle start. He is current on all his medications and recently went from seeing his therapist twice a week, to once a week and now going once a month. This is a huge step for us but, we have been able to manage things as they come along.
I would like to let parent’s who are currently in the beginning stages of the roller-coaster ride know.
1. You are definitely not alone
2. Never lose hope
3. Take care of yourself too.
We often forget about ourselves in the midst of all the stress and emotional pain. Take a time out and breathe. I promise you will be okay.

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424251_10151184353943140_407178125_nI am originally from Uvalde, Texas, have resided in San Antonio, Texas since 2010. In 2012, I began my journey with the NAMI organization and became a NAMI of San Antonio board member, NAMI Basics instructor, Crisis Intervention Family Perspective Presenter and a Mental Health Advocate. I am a mother to an adolescent with a mental illness, this fueled the fire in my pursuit to help families in need of help and guidance. In 2013, our story was published on CNN.com and featured on the Dr. Sanjay Gupta M.D. show; to give viewers an idea of what it’s like to live with a loved one struggling with a mental illness and bring light to a worldwide issue that many fear to speak of due to the stigma that follows.

Stephanie can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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