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Whitney’s Story

“The more we share with each other, the more compassion and empathy we offer, the better it is for all of us.”

Share your stigma experience.

I grew up in a tumultuous household. My mother, I would later find out was un-diagnosed and un-medicated with massive rage issues and my father was an alcoholic with depression and anxiety. My father was gone a lot, as his job would take him out of town, so it was just my mother and me in our tiny apartment. A deadly combination for a mother and daughter. Nothing I did was good enough to keep the rage at bay. It was an all or nothing household in which I couldn’t win.

I developed encopresis, which is voluntary or involuntary fecal soiling (talk about stigma) which landed me in therapy at the age of 7. Except no one told me what was wrong or that there was a name for it, so I just thought I was disgusting and weak. Which led to low self-esteem and depression, which I was formally diagnosed with at 16 and put on medication. My high school was a high pressure environment where people competed for over a decimal point for GPA. Still not talking to any of my friends of which there were few, I continued to spiral.

I was diagnosed Bipolar 2 at 25 after I stayed awake for 4 days and then slept for 3 and lost my job. I had taken myself off medication after having been convinced at acting conservatory that I couldn’t be good actor and be on meds. I also stigmatized myself. I kept thinking, why can’t you just be better. Why aren’t you stronger? I had a friend who I had confided in, but she would get very impatient with me, which made me feel worse. She would listen for a time, but my story and my sadness would get old for her because it was the same thing over and over.

I took myself off meds again because I couldn’t afford them. And yet again my own brain telling myself I could do it on my own. I also think in a sick way I was addicted to the pain. It was the only consistent thing in my life. The only thing that had been there for me.

That was ten years ago. I am 35 now going to be 36 in a month. I’ve been on my current drug regimen for a year. And I feel great. And I think the most important thing I learned was talking more. The more open I got with other people, the more toxic shame I released and the less harsh I was on myself. It gave me the strength, THE REAL STRENGTH, to call a psychiatrist for the first time in 10 years.

Sometimes I look back and it seems like I wasted a lot of time, but then I think I wouldn’t be where I am now. And I like who I am now. And it’s taken me a long time to say that.

How did you overcome this experience?

I counsel actors in training as part of my job. And I spend time talking about how they can be good actors and be on medication. And I allow my life to be an open book, to help educate and to help erase any stigma they might have.

And I’ve picked my battles. I am constantly teaching people about it. But I think education is key. That friend who lost patience with me. She recently came to me and apologized. She’s learned a little more of late and she told me she understands a little better now.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

The more we share with each other, the more compassion and empathy we offer, the better it is for all of us.

“And you find some way to survive

And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all,

To be happy you’re alive”

– Next to Normal (The Musical)

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