After graduating high school, I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to study architecture. I had dreams of becoming an architect/preacher like the pastor at my church. I wanted to be a missionary in the Dominican Republic, where my mom was born, and have the ability to design low income housing for the people there. I was told by my peers that architecture was one of the toughest degrees at UNLV.
“StrengthofUs.org has become a safe place for me and many others, where we can make our voices heard.
Although I had started to show signs of mania in high school, I was not diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder until three months after I had started college. In those first few months of college, I began to have manic phases with visual and auditory hallucinations, and I would spend lots of money on architecture supplies that I didn’t really need. Everything came crashing down on Oct. 16, 2002, when I had my first psychotic episode. The details are too painful to share here, but what I can tell you is that I was immediately put into psychiatric care.
I withdrew from all my classes and left school for the remainder of the semester. But the following semester I was back and had chosen a new major: Special Education. I decided to take one class at a time because that was all I thought I could handle. I also started going to a NAMI support group. What I gained from the group is that I learned there were a lot of people, young and old, that have had “crashes” in their life, and that I wasn’t alone in living with a mental illness.
A few years later, I was contacted by some people at NAMI about helping start a website for young adults with mental illness to connect with one another and share messages of hope. NAMI contacted me because I had filled out an online questionnaire about what I thought of NAMI having a young adult website. The site became known as StrengthofUS.org. I am a regular contributor to the site and try to encourage others when I can. The site features blogs and groups, which are important as young people like to have their voices heard. Any member can create a blog or group on whatever subject they see fit.
What I have shared on StrengthofUs.org includes things that have helped me, like setting an alarm for medication reminders, starting a weight management group, sharing my own personal story and being able to be a positive voice of encouragement when people want to vent on the group called “Vent This.”
StrengthofUs.org has become a safe place for me and many others, where we can make our voices heard, tell each other how we’re feeling and share ideas on how to manage the stresses of life such as college, relationships and our diagnoses. One in four people will experience a mental illness each year, so it is great to have a community like StrengthofUs.org and NAMI that can support and help one another.
I am grateful to NAMI for their pursuit of advocating for those of us that are affected by mental illnesses, and their fight to end the stigma of mental illness. Mental illness is not going to miraculously vanish overnight but it is great to know that NAMI is there for us and will remain strong for generations to come.
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