Contributed by: Lauren, mental health advocate and participant of MHC’s Write On! program, class of 2018

Before participating in the Write On! program, I never considered myself as a writer, and I definitely never considered myself as a mental health advocate. This program has changed my perspective, the way I move in this world, and therefore, my life.

But first, some background:
During my freshman year of college, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had my first major manic episode, and it was the single most terrifying experience of my life. It felt like my worst nightmare was coming true.

A few years prior, during my sophomore year of high school, I had witnessed my father experience his own manic episode. It was the first time I had seen him in a manic state, and the first time I had visited him in an inpatient facility. That experience was relatively traumatizing for my 16-year-old brain, and it marked the beginning of my fear of developing the same illness.

During my first manic episode, I could barely remember to feed myself, let alone keep up with my classes. So, after three weeks of breakdowns, I withdrew from school. I hid the whole experience from my father and didn’t speak to him on and off for years at a time. I hid my illness from the rest of the world too. My self confidence plummeted. I went to school at MCC for a few years, but my mental health struggles continued to interrupt my studies, and I eventually dropped out. I never talked about my disorder. Some of my friends had a vague sense about it, but I kept it very under-wraps. It was never something I shared or broadcasted publicly.

I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my uncontrollable behavior from that time. I was ashamed of not being able to take care of myself, or my basic needs. I was ashamed of not being able to finish school. But mostly, I was ashamed of what I put my mother through. The worry and pain of having to see me in that way. Multiple times, she had dropped everything, in the pitch black of night, to drive 2 and a half hours, across 2 states, just to sleep by my side when I felt that I would spin off of the world’s edge.

A few years went by, and during those years, I struggled to accept my diagnosis. I began writing about the time period of my first episode as a means to process the trauma from that time. My mother found an ad for the Write On! program and I was thrilled to be accepted. I was not prepared for the brilliant metamorphosis within me that was about to take place.

Being in a classroom setting again gave me immense excitement. Having peers with similar struggles relieved the pressure and anxiety I would have normally placed upon myself. Everyone was so kind and understanding. I formed tight bonds with my classmates and I loved sharing and hearing all of our unique experiences every week. I had felt very alone in my illness for years, and listening to my peers’ stories made me feel like I finally had a place.

I looked forward to class every week, and began writing more and more. Writing about my mental health experiences opened the flood gates. Everything I had been shoving down for the past 6 years came to the surface, but instead of overwhelming me, it gave me drive and momentum. It gave me a purpose. After years of keeping my illness behind closed doors, I began talking about it with my friends, who turned out to be wildly (and sometimes obnoxiously) supportive of me and my disorder. And then the conversation grew larger and larger. I ended up sharing that I have Bipolar Disorder on Facebook! I never would have thought to or have been able to be so public about my mental health without this program. I slowly became more comfortable talking about my experiences, and miraculously, the stigma I had long placed upon myself began to lift the more I talked about it. Write On! taught me how to speak up. It taught me how to advocate for myself, and others like me.

The final poem that I wrote in this program was about my father, his illness, and in turn, me finding out that I had the same disorder. But that poem is just the beginning. Since writing and performing that final poem, my father and I have reconnected. Come to find out, he has been writing poetry himself, and we make it a point to meet up every few weeks to share our writing with each other. Being so open about my mental health experience has also helped to heal the wounds created during that first manic episode. Talking about that time has created an open dialogue between my mother and myself. This coming summer, she and I plan to visit my old college, where it first happened, to say goodbye to that part of our lives, once and for all, and to find peace.

I continue to write regularly, and am in the middle of creating a spoken word album about my mental health experiences. I perform at open mics as often as I can. Write On! gave me the confidence to write without judgement. It taught me how to be a better public speaker and performer. It gave me a beautiful support system, and helped me heal old wounds. After years of putting myself down, Write On! helped me reconnect with my love for writing. It has helped me to find my voice, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Thank you for this beautiful program. I am a better writer, and a better human, because of it.

Listen to Lauren’s piece below: