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Stigma Fighters : Tina Burgess

The Mental Health System Has Failed Me…ALMOST!!!
This essay is about the six million times I have been failed by the mental health system. If you have read my essay in the first Stigma Fighters Anthology, you know I have been in an out of psychiatric hospitals and have seen countless providers for medication management. This is the story of just a few of those encounters that SERIOUSLY contributed to shaping my life. Today I live with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depression, PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and episodic panic attacks.
I knew as a child there was something wrong with me. I was an extrovert. As a child I didn’t know what that meant; I just know I loved being around people and I loved making them happy and laugh in anyway I could. People noticed this and commented about my outgoing personality. They said things like, she is going to be an actress, or there is no limit to her imagination, looking back, my favorite was, it would take a very strong eraser to wipe that smile off her face. I was even given the nick name smiley at a very young age. This name followed me all the way through high school. People even signed my yearbook and address me as smiley. It was because of this why I didn’t understand why the dark days would come. These were the days I didn’t want to get out of bed. I did not feel like smiling. It was so bad that I had to put great effort into trying to figure out if I was smiling or crying because inside I was being eaten away by some dark force but outside I had to put on the normal Tina face. I began making everything into a joke. I found humor in EVERYTHING during these times!!!
My depression and anxiety began when I was molested by two of my cousins beginning when I was seven years old and ending only when we moved at 12 years old. I got the courage to tell my mother when we finally moved, because after all, they could not hurt me now. I didn’t know that the worse pain and betrayal I would ever feel in my life would come after telling her. Her first words were to brush it off like it never happened. She attributed it to my imagination and need to be the center of attention. (See I told you there was something wrong with me, being an extrovert was bad.) She then decided that I must have done something at 7 years old to bring it on myself. She asked what I was wearing when it would happen, did I go sit on their laps and any other question that took the responsibility off them and put it solely on me.
This is tough for a 12 year old to hear, but in my mind, she could have been right because why else would I be overcome with fear, ghost pains, immense anger and hate, but especially guilt, if I did not do something to deserve this or bring it on? I started displaying my feelings outwardly; I would not care if I had to be home, I would stay outside late even if it was just a few stoops away because it gave me some control in my life. I also started talking back to my mother and being mean to my siblings. I was still outgoing and happy, but only to my friends who did not know about my demons. This led my mother to do the unthinkable, take us to see a family therapist. This is unheard of because 1. She was and still is an old fashioned Jamaican woman, 2. She is a Strong Christian woman (in case it is not general knowledge, Most Jamaicans, and many Jamaican based Christian religions do not believe in mental illness, instead it is a demon that has possessed you, or the devil is trying to mess with your head.), and 3. She would be embarrassed in front of her friends and family because of my “condition.” We were scheduled to have multiple sessions with my mother, sister, and brother, and individual sessions with just the doc and I. In the family sessions, we would sit there for the entire time listening to my mother cry about how we hated her, why we would do this to her, and what she could have ever done for her children to turn on her like this. We all left angry and she left with the sympathy of the therapist. In my individual session, I talked in a cheerful voice; I told the therapist that I had dreams and plans for the future. I explained all the things I enjoyed. When I tried to tell about the abuse, I would freeze up. I couldn’t talk about it. This, I think, made him side with my mother and write me off as making this up. That was the first time I was painfully let down by the mental health system.
I did it, I made it through school, I graduated high school with honors, and I was accepted into all 5 colleges and universities I applied for. My mother moved down south and I was free, so I did what every smart, logical girl with her head securely on her shoulders would do, I joined the Air Force. After only a short time in service I began having hyperthyroid issues, this led to a medical leave and a serious downhill spiral. I missed the Air Force so much I was attending a community college in Philadelphia and taking ROTC at Temple University so I could eventually go back. At 20 years old, I was admitted for the first time on the psychiatric ward of a hospital in NY because one day I was overcome by such darkness and depression I couldn’t breathe, see, think, anything. This, I came to realize later was a major panic attack. This hospitalization ended my military career for good. I was in the hospital for a month. I was not living in a stable environment, basically I was homeless and I did not have any support on the outside (remember, my mother has a strong disbelief in mental illness.) If I were to leave the facility something had to be done. The activity therapist at the hospital saw something in me and decided to advocate for me. He convinced them to allow me to leave if it were to go straight to college to live on campus. We contacted all the colleges I had been accepted into and decided on Old Westbury in Long Island because it was the first one to get back to me and school was starting in 3 weeks. The day came when I moved onto campus. This therapist gave me his email address and said contact him if I had any questions or needed anything. I had such a great experience. Although I left with the labels of depressed, anxiety, and PTSD, I felt good because at least I knew I hadn’t been making up all these feelings. They were legit.
I finished a year at Old Westbury and got scholarships to pay off the first two years and attend a summer program there. The second year I was roomed with an amazing person, who to this day still remains one of my greatest friends. Unfortunately this almost was not to be. A few weeks into the first semester of my second year, I was raped by a friend of her then boyfriend. This tore our friendship apart for some time and almost took my life for a second time. Instead of allowing this situation to pull me back into a deep depression, I reached out to my resources that came in the form of an activity therapist who believed in me. He suggested he come pick me up that night so I wouldn’t have to stay there. He took me to a cheap hotel and we talked, no, he talked. He told me how I owed him for all he did for me when I was in the hospital and the only reason I was able to get out was because he pulled strings and he had been working there so long, he basically got whatever he wanted. Did I forget to mention he was 24 ½ years my senior! He talked about how much he loved me and how we could be together. He wanted me to meet his two sons and he was in the process of divorcing his wife. HE had sex that night, I died! The next day I emailed him and said I did not share his feelings, but he was persistent with the reasons why I owed him and I needed him. Things were at a standstill for a while until my body decided to be its regular self and warn me that there was a problem with a missed period. Yep, I was pregnant. I was not on birth control because I had been abstinent for over a year! I felt like I had no choice, I reached out to the only person I thought could help me. Side note, my BPD isn’t a great judge of character. If I am given any kind of positive attention I run with it. So I ended up moving into a tiny apartment he rented and would come to when he had a desire to fulfill his needs. I even had to opportunity to meet his wife as she peeked into the bedroom window one day then knocked on the front door just to tell me that I was just a distraction for him, a midlife crisis he had to indulge in. I was told I had to have an abortion because having a rapist child would be harmful to my fragile mental health. On December 21, 2001, I went into the clinic with a baby inside me. When I left, I left the baby, part of my sanity, and a major part of my soul which to this day I am still trying to replace. On March 9, 2002, I told him I was leaving. We had a big fight, I grabbed a knife and told him that either I would die that night or he would die. We had had many of these kinds of fights before, but I think he knew I would really kill myself this time. Instead of allowing me to take away my pain and misery by dying, he said if I wanted a baby so badly, he would give me one. He had sex that night, I died a little more. That was the second time I was not only let down, but completely dumped on and literally raped of all that I had by the mental health system.
Years passed, I transferred to 2 different colleges and finally earned my Bachelors in 2006. This was the same year I reconnected with a friend from high school, whom I had always loved without knowing. I graduated December 16, 2006 and was married December 31, 2006. In attendance to the wedding was my absolutely perfect little boy, the love of my life, someone who gave me to motivation to live when I felt I had no reason, Peter. Peter and I moved to Maryland to be with Rey. However, my demons followed me. I was managing my depression and anxiety well enough. I would make myself so busy I didn’t even have time to think about it. I went from going to school full time while being a mother and juggling 3 part time jobs, to being a full time mother to a four year old who thought I was his world and while looking for employment, trying to be a good wife to someone who loved me for me, despite what I thought of myself. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well this triggered my depression because of course, he had to be lying. How could he love me when I was so damaged? I began having nightmares and freezing whenever he wanted to become intimate with me. I also had an overwhelming desire to give him a child of his own, even though now I know he already thought of Peter as his own from day one. It took us 4 years 1 ectopic pregnancy with a ruptured tube, 3 rounds of IVF which led to a pregnancy with on the 3rd cycle, losing a twin and finally delivering a healthy baby girl for me to begin thinking there was hope for my life. I had four hospital stays before finally finding the perfect combination of therapist and medication management.
The final betrayal was just a few weeks ago. After finding the dream team, I was out of the hospital for a while. When I had a pretty severe episode, I called my therapist and she basically said I should go get evaluated and check myself in or she would petition for me to go in. Either way I was on my way for yet another stay. This stay saved my life and my marriage. I was put on horrible meds by the doctor in the hospital, but my regular practitioner came to my rescue and changed it to meds he knew would help me. I got out of the hospital attended a 6 week intensive outpatient program and was back with my dream team. Everything was great until the time came when we made the decision to move to GA to be closer to my family because my wonderful mother in law lost her battle to cancer. I began displaying serious signs of BPD. I became so afraid of how I would cope without my therapist. I panicked when I couldn’t get my regular appointment and when it was almost time to leave; she even opened up her schedule to allow me to have 2 weekly sessions instead of one. The last session with her was sad. I left her office and although it wasn’t her policy to hug, she gave me a big hug and said don’t worry, we will talk soon. I fearing the worst, said I didn’t think so and she said, oh we will. This gave me some hope and gave me the courage to go through with the move and not die from panic. I also had my last session with my practitioner 5 days before moving. It was a typical session which he ended services and prescribed meds with 3 months refill. As I left the office, he said take care and shook my hand. I wanted to turn around and cling to his leg like a small child screaming for him to come with me, but I said thank you and left. When we arrived in GA, I realized I would not have health insurance right away and was able to have my refills changed to one 90 day supply which by order of my practitioner would be managed by my husband as all medication had been since trying to overdose.
Things were going to be difficult, but my dream team had come through for me. I tried to contact my therapist multiple times with no response, I resorted to texting her to find out if I had done something wrong. She responded to the text saying it was not that at all, she had just been busy but we would catch up really soon. Soon never came. She ABANDONED me. No reason no explanation. She has not returned any calls to the office or any communication at all. I knew I was getting out of control, but things in my life seemed like hell at the moment. As I am typing this, I feel like walking in front of a train. I was let down by the mental health system again!
The story does not end there. I am about to tell you about the almost. Just when I was failed and abandoned by my beloved therapist, I reached out to my practitioner telling him that I wanted to get off the meds. He advised me that he did not believe it was wise to do that. Knowing I was probably going to do it anyway, he suggested the slowest, safest, way to do it all while advising me that he really didn’t believe it was wise. He even gave me suggestions on how to get more medication through the state resources. I chose not to follow his advice and got off my meds. The effects came quickly and were harsh. I experienced a depression like no other. The suicidal thoughts and actions came back. I started becoming increasingly anxious. I experienced slight moments of relieve through my ever engulfing depression. I hid it all from my family under the cover of physical pain. Having just been diagnosed with arthritis and having hot my head and suffered a concussion not too long before, the headaches and body aches that kept me in bed all day seemed natural. It was not until a family member found my journal and contacted my practitioner that things started to change. My practitioner Brian, the only one I will give a name because he is to only one who treated me like a person, and not just an illness. Brain contacted mobile crisis here in GA and had someone call me. He had them help me set up a plan. He made me believe that I could come out of this and that someone did care, although he didn’t have to because I was no longer his responsibility.
I am sharing my story with you, because if you are reading this, you are probably searching for something…even if it is just a glimmer of hope. My hope for the mental health system is named Brian, but I just know there are Brians out there for everyone. I pray that you will be able to find yours.

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5I’m Tina, Not Christina, Valentina, Martina, or any other diminutive of the name. I am just TINA. With that being said, I am a 35 year old extrovert. I just relocated to the state of Georgia at the end of June 2015. I live here with my ever patient and understanding husband of 8 1/2 years, Rey, our two quite interesting children, Peter, 12 years and Nadya, 4 years, and our two cats who we sometimes forget are not our children, Zelda, almost 7 years and Sandy almost 1. Before moving here, I was an educator in a special needs school. I loved it. I have my bachelors of arts in English/Secondary Education and a Masters of Arts in Human Services/Marriage and Family Counseling. I love to pretend I,m a photographer like in American Dreams, (you know, where they photograph literal garbage and plastic bags.) My ultimate peace is found when I am not obligated to do anything for the day, but choose to get up and do something simple yet equally spectacular with my family. I am so proud and honored to be a part of this Stigma Fighters movement. It is due to the people like you, who can come out and state how mental illness has touched you, or engulfed you in some way, yet still are able to live and tell about it, why I can go on each day.

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