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Support For Those Living With A Mental Illness

Claire Griffiths

Claire gave this speech at our Behind the Mask Gala on May 7, 2016. 

I keep trying to remember the person I was two years ago, the way I spoke and behaved, the way I would have reacted to someone if they were displaying the same socially unacceptable behaviors that I took part in. I’d like to think I can recall my journey to this point with a memory that’s clear as day, yet it’s really just a lot of blurred vision. So now, I question why I’m the one speaking here tonight, when surrounded by such significant individuals, what could my significance really be? As an equal human being the same as anyone around me, but regarding the topic of bipolar disorder and mental illness in general, I have a deeper understanding than most 15 year olds because I have bipolar disorder. 

I’ve fought through crippling depression that took away my ability to participate in life, intense mania that sent every aspect of the world running through my head at once, it brought on suicide attempts, and self-harm that seemed to last forever, as well as loss of friends and for a while what felt like a loss of my life. Yet, there are also certain characteristics of bipolar disorder I have been able to embrace.

In a short period of 2 years I have been hospitalized 6 times. I was thrown on a plethora of medications that had many negative side effects, the most prominent one being weight gain. I was a 120 pound ex-gymnast and in less than 8 months after being diagnosed, I gained 90 pounds. Everyone deals with body image issues, especially teenage girls! But the negative emotions I felt were not only due to my weight gain but because I could not stop eating or sleeping which created other health problems. I couldn’t seem to comprehend how that lifestyle was negatively affecting my health both physically and emotionally.

During one of my hospitalizations I met an incredibly kind and helpful mental health associate named Ryan who later became a peer support for me. When I finally began my journey of losing weight, I was only half committed but was lucky enough to get help from Ryan. He would always plan an interactive activity even if it were only going on a short walk. There was never an absence of encouragement, while never once feeling the slightest bit of judgement, something I had become much too familiar with.

After getting home from a month long stay in the hospital for acute pancreatitis, I was finally in the right state of mind to make a change and Ryan was there to help me.

By working with a peer support specialist, I’ve received a unique and sometimes more beneficial form of help. I’ve been so lucky to have Ryan’s and my family’s support. From my experience, most people who I’ve met that have mental illness have little to no support at all. I attend a school for kids with mental health issues, and my math teacher, who has worked there for 9 years, said to me that out of the entire school she can count the kids with a support system on one hand. People struggling with mental illness need encouragement and support, which is just a basic human need that is not being met for many people.

Comments

You keep doing you baby girl! LOVE that you shared your story... So brave. Having lost my dad due to untreated Bipolar Disorder, and having battled my own postpartum mania and depression, I can empathise with your pain. Being so young, and so beautiful, and so brave, will only help deconstruct the stigma often associated with mental illness. Thank You!

Hi Noelle, I'm Claire's Mom. Thank you for your sweet, encouraging message. There is a deep knowing that connects all of us touched by mental illness. Thinking of you and your Dad and wishing you peace.

Beautifully written! I envy her for the early diagnosis. I suffered in silence in high school through college and my career until I was diagnosed when I was 43. Her message needs to be heard by all teens.

Hi Tom, thanks for your message. Claire is my daughter and I'm grateful she had an early diagnosis. There definitely needs to be more education for parents, children, teachers, etc. I'm sorry you had to endure so long. I hope things will be different in the future.

You are on your way, keep pressing forward and thank you for sharing this. Many more will be helped by it.

Hi Claire: I too am bipolar, diagnosed at 32. I was hospitalized more times that I'd like to admit. I tried to commit suicide four times. One when i was only 13. Two years ago I took an overdose and was hospitilised for two months. My two wonderful dogs were euthanised as there was no one to take care of them. I dont remember this but as I was fading out I managed to text my friend who lives in another state.
She called 911 and saved my life. As many bipolars are, I became a writer. I write blessing stories. I now have a ten year old blind dog I rescued.
Thank you for your courage in making your speech. You have no idea how many people who have helped.
I am one of them.

Claire ... so proud of you and your continued efforts to publicly erase the stigmas and show everyone, most importantly yourself and your family, how to live with gusto! Well done. I can't wait to see what your next accomplishment will be.

I'm 55 and had suffered my whole life without being helped until I was in my twenties when I sought help on my own then my mom and husband at the time kept telling me nothing's wrong with me stop taking those Meds and I did I continued to spiral downward I tried to commit suicide several times and one time I almost succeeded I'm still struggling even with Meds I was recently diagnosed with ADHD I wish u the best keep up the good work thanks for being an inspiration!!!!

Hi! Claire, I feel inspired by your message. It gives so much hope to people and I believe you are empowered and a strong woman today. You are a role model and an inspiration to all of us. Just believe in yourself that you can make a difference. Thank you! for inspiring me.

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