Stigma Stops Here

I was having a smoothie with a good friend from high school. She found me on facebook. I have not seen her since I graduated in 1998. We decided to get together at a coffee shop to have smoothies. Her name is Janet and she works at Shurr High school in Montebello. She used to work at our former high school as well Montebello High. She was telling me that there are a lot of kids that are hurting and have attempted suicide. She also told me that a lot of kids abuse alcohol and drugs. She told me that there is a Suicide Prevention Team on the campus site. She also told me that there was a group of teenagers that called themselves emos and they cut themselves.

We sat at the Daily Brew enjoying our smoothies. We were having a nice conversation about everything that has happened since high school. We were catching up. I was telling her about my mental illness and psychosis. I told her that I’m a graduate student, striving to become a Social Worker so I can help others like myself. I told Janet about the psychosis I have experienced all the embarrassing delusions, such as the time I thought the world was ending and tore off my clothes in the parking lot of superior warehouse because we had to be like Adam and Eve before they discovered sin. Janet was very compassionate and listened to me as a good friend with a beautiful heart.

Suddenly, a short and chubby middle aged Latino man came to talk to us. He said, “Oh hello I was listening in on your conversation, don’t mean to listen but I did. I overheard that you are an author. I’m always looking for writers.” Then he tried to impress us. He said he was an independent producer for Chicano films. He tried to impress me with his Ipad showing me a clip of a Native American choking a Latina woman at the river. It was horrific. He said, “This is one of my films.” He proceeded to tell me he did work at a church. “So, what is you book about?” I said, “Oh my book is about a Latina and her journey through mental health recovery.” He stated, “What is the name of your book?” I told him it was titled Bipolar Girl: My Psychotic Self. He became very energetic about the issue and said “Oh that book is about locos! You know crazy! He even spun his finger by his ear. It’s about somebody crazy. I can tell by the title.” I kept my cool and stated, “Crazy is not a clinical term.” He hypocritically shook my hand and said, “Well, good luck.” He also shock Janet’s hand and we said that the man is so ignorant.

My rage was about to erupt like a volcano. Janet said, “This is really bothering you. I can tell. He is just ignorant. Do you want to go?” And so we left. We gave each other a hug and said that we would meet up again soon. I will pray for that man.

Ignorant people stigmatize us all the time. I used to work at a Board and Care. I was a Peer Bridger that offered hope to the residents that were living with a mental illness. We would take the mentally ill residents for walks. The mentally ill residents would say hello to all the neighbors. Especially one of my dearest residents, he was very flamboyant, bleached hair, and nice sweet smile. He always had me laughing. He said that he was going to go hang out in Hollywood with all the famous girls with their chiguagas in their purses. One day during one of my group walks. My dear mentally ill resident told some neighbors, “Hello! I love your little dogs! They are so cute.” The neighbors looked afraid. Not one neighbor said hello our mentally ill residents as we walked in a group down the streets. Instead the neighbors gave the mentally ill Board and Care residents dirty looks. What is the world coming too? That is why it’s our people to educate people like them. We need to advocate for our cause! I will tell you one thing I will use my words and testimony to help the people who read my story. I always prayed to God when I wrote my book. I prayed that if I could save one person from suicide, touch one heart, just one person, then all my suffering has been worthwhile. I would go through that pain all over again. It’s my job to be an advocate for the people living and surviving mental illnesses! I need to demonstrate to the world that ignorant people need some serious education! My mission in my community started when Blanca de Leon asked me if I could share my recovery story in the Northeast Wellness Retreat. I shared my story in front of about fifty people, mental health professionals, mental health consumers, and dedicated volunteers. I sat there enjoying the retreat and celebration of “hope, wellness, and recovery.” This is the LA County- Department of mental health’s model. I realized it was a huge honor. When I completed my speech everyone started clapping and asking questions, there were handshakes, hugs and pictures. There were even people that asked me for my autograph. They told me how inspirational I was to them. It was really awesome.

Upon my speech at the Northeast Wellness Retreat, I got an email from Kathleen Piche, the Public Information Officer at LA County DMH. She said that she heard about me through Northeast and she wanted to know if I could write my recovery story for the Department of Mental Health’s E-News. I wrote the story and Kathleen loved it. She said it was a beautiful story. She published my story online for our DMH E-news, along with a picture of my book and a link to where it can be purchased.

A couple of months later, I got an email from Kathleen and she wanted to know if I would be interested in getting interviewed for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Public Information Office for a weekly radio show with The Free Your Mind Projects. They have organization to that share stories of inspiration and hope. I went to the radio interview and was interviewed by two wonderful people Brian Canning and Wendy Almasy. I had a wonderful time at the interview. It was such a fun experience. I was able to share with them my inspirational mental health recovery story and also share laughter about my delusions and quest to want to meet Britney Spears in the psychiatric hospital. Wendy motivates me and says things like, “You go girlie! You are an advocate and a total kick ass girl!” The interview aired on a Sunday morning and my family, friends, and co-workers listened to it. They were so proud of me.

January 12, 2012:
Through the Free Your Mind Projects radio interview, I was contacted by the Ashley, Program Manager, of the International Bipolar Foundation. She worked with the founder of the International Bipolar Foundation, Muffy Walker. Ashley was a total sweetheart and asked me if I would be interested in giving a lecture in San Diego for the International Bipolar Foundation. I said yes and even started blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation. 
My lecture for the International Bipolar Foundation was titled My Recovery: A Story of Hope and Inspiration. Junior and my niece Caroline attended to support me. About forty people attended and I received a lot of positive feedback. There were a lot of questions and I had a book signing. Truly it was a wonderful experience. My lecture was filmed and is available online.

Upon my lecture, I had an amazing opportunity. Kathleen Piche asked me if I would be interested in being interviewed for the LA County DMH television magazine, Meeting of the Minds. It was such an honor. It was so super fun! I posted it on facebook and twitter. Kathleen told me that it got a lot of views on youtube. I emailed it to all my friends! You can watch it on youtube. My dear peers, it is through sharing our stories of courage and survival that we build massive public awareness. We need to advocate and educate the public. We need to continue to share our stories of mental health recovery to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. I’m on a mission to send a message of hope and survival all over the world. I have a mental illness and you better believe I’m proud of it.

I am proud to M.E, Maricela Estrada.

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