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.