I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of nineteen. At that point in my life a diagnosis was like being given a life sentence. I felt terrified, ashamed, and most of all, utterly alone. I felt that suddenly everything was wrong with me and that I was the only one going through this. Though I had wonderfully supportive family and friends, I thought that the only person I would be able to discuss this with was myself. Just me, scared and alone, in my own head.
Since then life has changed drastically. Five years later, having been stable for the last three, I was invited to attend the Fountain House Symposium and Luncheon: Visions and Voices, Understanding and Treating Psychosis; New Research, New Hope at New York City’s Pierre Hotel. On Monday May 3rd, almost four years to the day of my first hospitalization, I was sitting with the Close family (Glenn and Jessie Close and Calen Pick), Nancy Evans, Executive Director of BringChange2Mind, Rosalynn Carter, author, activist, and former first lady, and Kenneth Dudek, President of Fountain House. Having spent many years hiding my illness I was suddenly at a table full of friends and people who “get me”, who “get it”. I was sitting at a table full of people with much larger resumes, bigger titles, and more impressive histories, and yet because of our shared understanding of mental illness we were all equal. We all understood one another. These are people who understand what it means to be psychotic, depressed, bipolar, etc. without even asking.
The event addressed never-ending hope through education, research, and personal stories. It provided infinite hope through community, courage, and love. The event began with the Symposium in which a panel of psychiatrists discussed psychosis. On the panel were Beth Baxter, MD, Donald C. Goff, MD and Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD. Each panelist shared their own thoughts on psychosis before the Master of Ceremonies, Consuelo Mack, asked more individualized questions. We heard about the newest discoveries in research and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. We heard Dr. Baxter’s personal story as a psychiatrist who also has schizo-affective disorder. And we heard the importance of sharing stories and the importance of research in the battle against stigma and discrimination.
After the panel the BringChange2Mind PSA and accompanying videos were played and Glenn Close was given the 2010 Humanitarian Award. Glenn’s speech was extremely powerful as she reminded us of the importance of saying the stigmatized words in order to take away their power. For example, it is important for me to say, “I have bipolar disorder” not simply “I have a mental illness”. After a short speech Glenn asked Jessie and Calen to come to the stage to share the award. Their speeches were moving and powerful and once again reminded me that I am not alone. They reminded me that 1 in 6 people have a mental illness, yet few are willing to talk about it.
Attending the Fountain House Luncheon renewed my drive and once again inspired me to share hope for all those afraid to share their own stories. I never want another person to go through the pain of feeling alone in their illness. Things are changing and I am so lucky to have been able to see it first hand at this wonderful event. We are going to change the world.