12/23/2014 02:01 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Fighting Stigma One Story at a Time

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I had my first psychotic break in 1995 when I was 15 years old at a camp for highly intelligent kids who thought they might go to law school someday. I was having visual and auditory hallucinations. Apparently that isn't normal. I had a few misdiagnoses but was eventually diagnosed as bipolar I and have been treated for it now for several years.

In 1998, while a first-year student in college I was sexual assaulted. I was dealing with that and bipolar, had another psychotic break, and yet still successfully graduated. I went on to graduate school. While in grad school, I had my third psychotic break. I also realized I had been raped and began to face that reality.

When I went to get my first full-time job out of college, I was in a full-blown depression. And since people usually don't like sad people, I had a hard time getting hired. So I worked three part-time jobs to make ends meet. Somedays I didn't eat to save money.

Then I got my first full-time job and for the first time in my life I had health insurance. During that time, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I actually started to talk about my sexual assault. Not really with many friends or family, but at least with my therapist.

Holding a professional full-time job in a very stressful career wasn't easy. I often bawled my eyes out in the bathroom in between important meetings. But I survived it for a few years. During that time, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The main reason I was diagnosed was because of the obsessive thoughts. One thought about one insignificant thing would keep me awake all night and would seriously interrupt my life.

I had to leave my professional job for many reasons including that it regularly caused me to have flashbacks from my sexual assault. That's a long story, but my mental health was my priority for leaving. I was also starting to have physical health problems.

A year after leaving that job and being unemployed/underemployed I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The most annoying part about cancer was all of the sympathy I received. I never received much sympathy about mental health -- when all of it, in my experience, was much much worse than cancer.

Now I share my story online in hopes that I help to reduce the stigma that people have about mental illness. My mental illnesses are diseases, just like my cancer, and need to be treated in a similar way. If I, myself, can't share my story then it indicates that I also have stigma so I discuss my mental health issues openly just like I do anything else. I have found that when I share my story, I have an impact. Sometimes I don't know it immediately, but I have been applauded for my courage many times when later someone has a diagnosis in their family.

I know for sure through my blog,, that I have helped many people just by being myself. I've received several messages and support from my readers in all kinds of ways I never imagined. Some people have criticized my move to be transparent, but the pay off is totally worth it. In writing this post, I hope to encourage others to share their stories.

This article first appeared on the Mr. Ballsy Facebook Page as well as Stigma Fighters.

Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.