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The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Living with mental illness: challenging the stigmas


It was junior year, and I was sitting in my second period class. At the time, I was missing a lot of school after paying a visit to the hospital. “If you don’t have cancer, you shouldn’t be missing that much school,” was not the “welcome back” greeting I wanted to hear. Physiological diseases, like cancer, are often looked at with greater importance than mental illnesses. That stigma continues to be attached to mental illnesses and affects many people, like me, that suffer from them.
It is not fun having bipolar disorder in a society that is, from my experience, mostly uninformed. “The weather is so bipolar today.” I cannot count on my own two hands how many times I have heard someone say that phrase. Is the weather really experiencing mania and depression? Maybe the weather needs to go to a psychiatrist. Luckily, there are people that are informed. Some of these people have formed alliances, like NAMI, on mental illnesses to help overcome the stigma. On Wednesday, October 9, the Active Minds organization sponsored a presentation to contribute to Mental Illness Awareness week.

Ryan Tkac and Thomas Scilipoti were the two speakers and suffer from bipolar disorder, too. People with bipolar disorder go from feeling on top of the world when they are manic and want that world to end when they are depressed. When we are manic, we feel “high as a kite,” according to Tkac. And when we are depressed, we sink into that “quick heavy quicksand,” as Scilipoti put it. In addition to hearing the speakers, we watched a video entitled In Our Own Voice. The topics were “Dark Days,” “Acceptance,” “Treatment,” Coping Skills” and “Successes/Hopes/Dreams.” The speakers touched on these topics, as well.

In “Dark Days,” for example, the people in the video and speakers talked about their symptoms and how difficult it is to live with these symptoms. One of the women in the video said she would rather deliver 15 babies without pain medicine than suffer from mental illness. It is, without a doubt, hard to live with bipolar. With bipolar, there are good days and there are bad days. In the depressed state, I nearly cling to my bed in the mornings and find difficulty in doing something simple, like taking a shower. “There was not a color on the spectrum to represent how dark those days really were,” Scilipoti said. As I battle those constant mood changes, I feel the same way.

Treatment is not easy. It costs a lot of money to have a psychologist and psychiatrist, and medications can cause terrible side effects. Tkac, for example, experienced weight gain and a lack of energy after taking a medication. One of my medications even caused a severe allergic reaction. Due to the negative side effects, it has taken me 10 different medications to find the right ones. It is all trial and error. If you have strep throat, the doctor can easily find a medication to take that away. That is not the same for psychological medications. Fortunately, there are ways people with mental illness can help themselves. Tkac, for instance, is interested in photography and writes. Scilipoti, too, writes and has published books, like Awake All Night. It must be common for people with bipolar to be writers because I write to cope, as well. Other times, I will draw, take a walk, or go to an acupuncture appointment. “There’s no way I could reject it [treatment]. The alternative is absolute hell, Tkac said. “Treatment makes you question who you truly are,” he added. When I found out I had bipolar, I asked myself: Do I have to be defined by my bipolar?

The answer is no. Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe and Ludwig Beethoven, for example, had bipolar disorder. We need to consider that and remember that mental illnesses do not necessarily have to hold people back. “I’m not letting this illnesses change the person I’ve always been,” said Tkac. “I’m a unique character and proud to say that,” he added. Scilipoti is, too, proud of his unique character. “It was a learning experience. I ended up embracing it,” he said. And here I am, writing about my disorder and embracing it.

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    Ryan TkacJun 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    There’s nothing more frustrating than having one’s unique thoughts reduced to cliches and put in quotes for the sake of digestible copy.

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Living with mental illness: challenging the stigmas