The social stigma attached to being mentally ill makes talking
about mental health on campus a difficult task. But I want to fight back and
let people know that it’s OK to ask for help, and that it’s OK to tell your
story to encourage others suffering with mental illness to find hope
and help. So here is my story about how I’ve dealt with mental illness and how, in
the end, I got help.
In the last nine years since I was first diagnosed with clinical
depression at age 12, I’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles that are too
long to list here. I was raised by immigrant parents from Mexico, who instilled
Mexican customs and values and a system of strict Catholic morals in our
household. They were, to say the least, not very open-minded about many things, let alone mental illness. They did not believe I had mental illness—they
thought I just wanted attention.
Because of that lack of acceptance and education at home, I was
afraid to share the fact that I had mental illness with anyone at my high
school. In my senior year, when I started applying to colleges, I focused a lot
of my personal statements on my mental illness, my family dynamics, and how I wanted
to be accepted. I wanted to go far away for college, to the East Coast, to get
away from my family members, who were unwilling to educate themselves about mental
illness. But to my surprise, I was admitted to Pomona College on a generous
scholarship, which I was happy to accept—despite my parents being a 10-minute drive away.
As I was the first one in my family
to go to college, I found the transition to Pomona daunting. When I started school,
I stopped taking my medication and going to therapy. My insurance had changed
and I could not see my normal therapist anymore. But I know, looking back, that I
used insurance as an excuse because I was tired of the daily medication and weekly therapy. I wanted to live my life without them for a while to
feel a little more “normal.”
However, I think stopping
treatment was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I started to
self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, parties, and hook-ups. I was being reckless. I was completely not myself. But I did not have a support system at Pomona or at
home, so I did what I could to make friends.
When I was sexually assaulted at a
party in May my first year, I hit rock bottom and realized that I needed to re-evaluate my
choices. That summer after my freshman year was one of the hardest periods of
deep depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that I have ever experienced.
Returning to school for my sophomore year, I began treatment again, at Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services. A month into the semester, I went through a mutual breakup with my boyfriend, who was a big part of my already small support system. I was
emotionally distraught, not only from losing a relationship on which I was dependent,
but also from an accumulation of other events in my life that caused me to go into a suicidal episode. Although many doctors whom I saw blamed my severe episode on the side effects of antidepressants, I
knew that there was a lot more going on than they and others had realized. I lost
my grasp on sanity because I had not been getting the help I needed.
That semester, I went to the
psychiatric hospital twice. The first time was the day after my breakup, and I
was transported by Monsour voluntarily. I was lucky to have the comfort of the
dean-on-call at the time, Ellie Ash-Balá, and Dr. Craig Beeson, the on-call
psychologist, the night that I wanted to end it all. I am so thankful to have had Craig
and Ellie’s complete support and to have been under the care of my best friend (and
best sponsor ever) Melisa Rojas that year. I do not know where I would be
Ellie was the only
one there with me as I was getting evaluated and checked into the hospital. I was otherwise on my own; no one knew where I was. My fear that I would die from
this illness was far greater than my fear of being in a psychiatric hospital. I
thank Ellie for being there when I entered an unknown place on my own with only
the shirt on my back.
I stayed in the hospital for a week,
returned to campus, and caught up on everything I needed to—it was the most
productive week I have ever had in my academic career. Although the Dean of
Students Office was very helpful and understanding, I had to reject their
suggestion to take a medical leave. I wanted to continue to try to graduate on
time. I wanted my family to hear my name called at commencement in May 2015. I
was determined to accomplish something no one in my family has done before.
But, only a month or so later, when I was seeking help from a
hospital close to campus, I was evaluated and hospitalized without my consent
under the reasoning that I was a danger to myself. I did not feel that to be true, and I was
miserable in that hospital, but I finally got the medication I needed. After
being discharged, I could not consider a medical leave, so I began to commute
from home as a compromise with my parents. Although losing my independence was
difficult, I needed the constant support of my family, for whom my
hospitalization had been a wakeup call telling them they had to learn more about
mental illness. I received so much support from Monsour, Dean Miriam Feldblum, and the
interim dean at that time, Dr. Dan Tzuang, as they helped me accomplish the goals
I set for the semester.
With the tremendous help from Monsour’s group therapy program and free access to a psychologist and a psychiatrist, I began to come out about my
mental illness and treatment to friends—even to classmates in a presentation on
my research of college students with mental illness. I was empowered to
continue to share my story. As cliche as it sounds: Things do get better, but
the first step is to ask for help. With the encouragement and help of Pomona’s
wonderful professors; my academic adviser, professor Pierre Englebert; and all the on-campus
resources, I became healthy again with the biggest support system I have ever
had in my life.
I don’t know if I could
have had this type of support if I went to any other college, and I am so
grateful to be here. I believe now is the time to speak up about mental illness because I feel that my silence encourages the stigma that keeps so many people
from finding help. With this new state of mind, I speak up where I can, in
hope that others will listen.
Dulce Cabrales-Cid PO ’15 is an anthropology major and media studies minor from Ontario, Calif. She is a Pomona College Quest Scholar.