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Michelle’s Story

“A mental illness diagnosis is not a death sentence.”

Share your stigma experience.

My nickname in high school was not cute. It’s not something I can laugh about even today, nearly 20 years later. It was a name that stung, what people called me when my back was turned. PSYCHO.

I would show up to school crying non-stop, having gone weeks without sleep. I was a top student in the class, yet I’d doodled on my final exams instead of answering any questions. I screamed at my best friend during class with a bunch of nonsense.

It hurts because the nickname was accurate. I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was having a psychotic episode.

I had not been diagnosed with anything. My family life was tough. I lived in a constant threat-state. And no one could help me. I went to my school counselor, teachers, and to my parents. No one in the late 90’s seemed to know what to do with a high-performing teenager who was miserable, couldn’t sleep and on occasion, completely lost her mind.

It all kept coming back to the fact that when I was well (which was most of the time), I was very successful. My grades were excellent and I was a star in many extracurricular activities. I worked my butt off at my parents’ restaurant. My future was bright. So how could there be anything wrong? I was a model student and daughter. No one wanted to see it and so no one could help me.
Because I was an immigrant with immigrant parents, it was easy for teachers and counselors to gloss over warning signs. They believed it was being “culturally sensitive.” We weren’t from here. We’re just different. Everything would be fine. Except it wasn’t.

I went to college on a prestigious scholarship. Finally in charge of my own medical care, I sought therapy and treatment. Again, because of my success, my troubles were dismissed as angst. I was prescribed a mild anxiety medication to use as needed for insomnia.

And then I went to study abroad. Toward the end of the semester, I had an epic psychotic episode. In classic cycle of my upbringing, my parents pushed me until I broke making unreasonable demands. Then, they were there to catch me and support me in my recovery and shame. It was a very confusing place to be.

This episode was so bad and because I was living in a dorm and part of a small program, there was no hiding it. I was finally taken to a psychiatrist who was forced to take me seriously.

How did you overcome this experience?

Back home at stateside, I began building a treatment plan. I found the right meds and make sure I get enough sleep.

I struggled and fought for many years to get to where I am today: happy, confident, and with an arsenal of coping skills to protect myself.

I can identify when something is bad for me. I believe in putting good out in the world to get good back.

I volunteer regularly for NAMI. I want to advocate for compassion and understanding, and take away the stigma. This is why I’m here. Why I want to share my story.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

A mental illness diagnosis is not a death sentence. With the right treatment, support, and hard work, a full, happy life is more than possible.

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