As a child, my wellbeing was always at risk. I suspect that my mental health was compromised at an early age and that likely made those in my household very uncomfortable. Members of my family criticized me and so I grew up believing that there was something wrong with me. My mother was living with the condition as well and she was not accepting that as a reality. I did finally stand up to her, but as a young girl, I was the problem child and my mother and brother used that against me.
Determined to move forward, I graduated from high school and pursued an Associate’s degree in Youth Care at Pima College. I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 21, and during this time in school I started to cycle with my illness. I had spent several months working very hard on an internship. I loved the work, but it was stressful for me. I took a vacation in California and, while there, started hearing voices and talking to people who did not exist. I stopped sleeping.
One day, shortly after returning to Tucson, my boyfriend left for work and I went out for a walk in 100-degree weather. There was a bridge I had to cross to get to the mall. I remember looking down at the wash and wondering what it would be like to jump. A car’s horn beeped me back to my walk. I made it to the other side and laid down in the cool grass. A couple of guys stopped in a van and took me to Northwest Hospital. After three hours of grilling me, they finally found out who I was and called my boyfriend. He took me to Kino Hospital. I was there for a month, the youngest person in the ward.
What followed was another very difficult time in my life. A psychiatrist worked with me to determine medications, but I often felt drugged and groggy with no energy. I would find something that worked for a while, then I would become immune to the medication and would have to start on something else. Several phases later, we finally got the meds right and I began working toward again becoming a productive member of society.
Six years later, I decided to get a degree in Social Services. I struggled with mood swings and had difficulty concentrating, which worried me a great deal. I did not think I could overcome these obstacles, but with help from my support team, I was able to preserver and graduate. I decided it was time to use my experience to help others, so I completed a course to become certified as a Recovery Support Specialist. Soon after, I began participating in health fairs and conferences. I volunteered as a speaker for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), and shared my story with high school students and at conferences. I also contributed to a newsletter produced by RISE at the University of Arizona.
In the beginning of my journey with mental illness I experienced stigma; from family, friends and society. Sharing my story has helped me in my recovery, not only because I feel validated, but because I can see the difference it makes in the world. People will comment that they think my story is remarkable and that it helps them to feel that they too can withstand the journey. Talking about mental illness also works toward reducing stigma. I had to relearn how to talk about my illness. I am not my mental illness. I am Jill living with a mental health disorder.
Today I do what I need to do to stay on track. I am proactive in my treatment, bringing in the good and getting rid of the bad. I think it’s working, and that is a huge step for me. It shows that I am capable of moving forward like anyone else. We are resilient and we all deserve to be healthy. The key is to not give up. The journey is challenging but it is well worth it. I did it and so can you. Embrace the journey.