Faces of Loudoun: Time to Erase the Stigma of Mental Illness

If you met me at the coffee shop, the soccer field or the mall, you would never guess I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. I have had a high-powered, lucrative career that allows me to travel internationally and to lead large corporate teams to outstanding results. I am married. I have a son in college. I earned an MBA from George Washington University. My life is truly blessed.

But, it has not been an easy journey. In my 30s, I found myself in a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship. I underwent years of treatment for an eating disorder and depression. But, I wasn’t getting better—because I wasn’t depressed. I was, and am, and always will be, bipolar. The anti-depressants I was taking were actually making my symptoms worse—pushing me further into my manic cycles.

The Next Chapter

In 1985, I changed meds and started therapy. I learned how to cope with my illness and how to avoid addictive behaviors. For me, that meant no more uncontrolled binge shopping. More important, I found the strength to break up with my boyfriend.

1988 was a pivotal year for me. I met and married a wonderful man. Ten months later, we moved to Waterford. And we adopted a son from Russia, who is now going to school.

I do miss the highs of my manic cycles; they make you feel like you are the luckiest person on the face of the earth. But the downs are just too awful to risk. They can turn into gaping abysses. So, I take my medications. I see my doctors and therapists.

And yet, there are still times this disorder can get the best of me. I tried to commit suicide six years ago, and I have been hospitalized on several occasions. But, I will persevere. My faith, my church, and my community are important supports for me. They keep me working to stay on top.

As a member of this community, I am trying to help people see past the labels and embrace the totality of the individual. So many of these disorders are just another genetic variation—no different than brown eyes, pale skin, or red hair.

No one in Loudoun should face prejudice against mental illness.

We need to erase the stigma we still have about mental disorders. We need to make it easy for people to get the therapy and medications they need. That’s 80 percent of the battle. We need to prevent mental illness from ruining lives. Won’t you join us and help End the Need?

Over the next several months, as part of the Community Foundation’s Faces of Loudoun campaign, Loudoun Now will run monthly articles highlighting men, women and children who have found a helping hand when they needed it most. Learn more or donate to help End the Need at FacesofLoudoun.org.

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