Stigma Fighters: Stephanie Ortez

Know thyself?” is the title of an article I read a few months ago, and that title has become the paradox of my life.

My name is Stephanie, I was born in Honduras, mother of two beautiful boys, with a great job, and yet it’s hard for me to define myself as a survivor. Let’s put it this way: I’m a mass of contradictions. I was diagnosed with Bipolar I, PTSD, and Panic Disorder three years ago. I have lived under the shadow of depression my entire life due to child abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, divorce, drug addiction by two uncles, traumas, and many other episodes.

Life has never been easy for me. Being sexually molested at the age of 7 and witnessing my own mother’s rape at the hands of my father made me a quiet and insecure kid. It was hard for me to make friends at school. During recess, I would just stay in the classroom drawing or reading on the blackboard. I began to suffer from night terrors, but imagination and books kept me safe. I would often day dream about being a famous classical musician or a well-known writer. Music and Books were my best friends. My father was long gone; He came to the U.S.A and would end up re-marrying again.

Fate took a sharp turn once again in 2001. My father sponsored me and my youngest sister to come to U.S. and live permanently here. Growing up as a self-conscious kid who would cut herself and now moving to a different country so suddenly was hard on me. Like many others, I adapted the best way I could, by learning the language and working two jobs. My symptoms skyrocketed; I felt so lonely and thought no one could ever love me as I was. Those feelings can be so deceiving I decided to get married out of love and had my firstborn son.

Depression immediately took over, due to poor decisions and bad choices, I got arrested and ordered to attend anger management classes, and yet I thought I could do this on my own through prayer only. I had my second baby, by then things were out of control. I didn’t know how to be a mother, or a wife. I felt trapped, hating the person I became. The challenges of being a parent, I felt like a little girl, shy and screaming for protection because the world had played her badly. Now when I think about it, I beat myself up too much, I still do, but less often than before. How important it is to be aware of self-compassion, and forgiveness they are indeed very powerful tools. By then, my self-esteem was gone; my ex-husband thought I needed to be punished for not being the perfect wife and mother. In order to save our marriage, I agreed to send the boys for 6 months to Bolivia (where my ex-husband is from). Nether less to say the first 5 months were terrible. I did not know how to live without my babies. I experienced a full blown depression and many erratic behaviors that led to the hospital many times. The situation got so desperate that my family intervened and was able to bring the boys back to the U.S. By 2009 I was divorced.

I felt rejected. I felt like a failure. I began to isolate myself because the pain inside was too much to bear. I have always been the A straight student, the responsible one in the family, grounded and yet quiet. The divorce was painful for everyone. I managed to get a fantastic job, but being a single mom, it’s tough. My ex-husband went back to Bolivia after our divorce and since then it’s been only the three of us. I took care of everyone, my son’s ADHD medication and therapy, being promoted at work, yes, everyone but myself. All these years trying and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. My emotions felt so out of control and so intense, that wall I have built during so many years finally came down when I admitted myself at the hospital due to a suicide attempt. Although scared, I felt a tiny light of hope until I found out the place the doctor at the ER send me to. It was past midnight when I arrived to the psychiatric unit in a hospital located in Washington D.C. I arrived to my own “one flew over the cuckoo’s nest” nightmare. I didn’t sleep at all that night; there I was, sharing a room with the yellers and people who were mentally far gone than I was. Somehow I managed to get out the next day, but the episode turned into a pivotal point in my life. I checked in myself to Dominion Hospital 2 days later. Why? Because I finally became in terms with my own diagnosis. Working 16 hrs. A day is not normal, starving in order to lose weight is not normal, mixing alcohol with Clonazepam is not normal, suffering from extreme anemia and stress isn’t normal, lack of sleep, racing thoughts, cutting myself, crying, etc…Asking for help was my answer, and how hard it is to ask for help, me, being so independent. But I needed it. I spent an additional 2 weeks on the outpatient treatment and here I am, trying to pick up the pieces of my life.

This is only the beginning of my battles. There’s so much that hasn’t been said here. I now see my therapist every week; homes based counseling for my boys, and have a great support from my new found love. Sometimes I ask myself why life has been so hard on me; maybe it’s the quirky side of me who doesn’t give up. I might not be the cup cake- soccer mom, and this shouldn’t be a tale of woe, but of reflection and to never forget to advocate for ourselves no matter what. Hey, maybe I am a survivor!

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Stephanie works for K12 International Academy (Homeschool online), she enjoys photography stefanit.deviantart.com and spending time with her children.

  • Kitt O’Malley

    Indeed you are a survivor. I am so glad to hear that you are finally getting the help that you need and deserve. I know what it is like to try to be a superwoman, taking care of everyone but yourself. Now you are taking care of yourself. Doing so makes us better mothers, too.

    • Stephanie Ortez

      Indeed! It’s tough for the little ones and my family. My only resolution for this year is to continue with therapy and recovery. God bless!

  • Helen White

    One heck of a survivor. To get through all that indicates strength you probably didn’t know you had. I’m so very glad you are finally working this through, as the old saying goes you have to help yourself before you can help others, and what you are doing will make your whole life stronger and happier.

    • Stephanie Ortez

      Thank you so much for the kind words! I still struggle with traumas and episodes, but yes, I do want to get better to help others the same way a lot of people helped me towards recovery.

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