“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Matthew Bristol

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Matthew Bristol:

Matthew Bristol holding a sign saying Despite my diagnosis, I still find ways to laugh.
Matthew Bristol

I’ve spent my entire life using humor as my go-to way of dealing with adversity. It’s given me a pretty good sense of humor, at least in my opinion, although some of my professors may disagree. No matter how bad things get I still find ways to laugh. My family often says, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can always laugh at your enemies!” From my earliest years, I’ve done comedy writing with my family, and one of my greatest passions in life is not just cheering myself up but getting others to smile and laugh.

Even at my lowest points during my time in the hospital I still remember drawing cat faces on medical masks because it gave me a laugh and made others smile. Later in life, this would include such things as wearing a full suit ensemble and a box cut to be a knight’s helmet on my head, to deliver the newspapers.

I sometimes like to joke that my life started at its lowest point, so it’s only up from there. At times that can be debated, but despite all of this, it’s still an upward climb. I was born unable to breathe and extremely ill, and my doctor found that I had encephalitis, swelling of the brain due to infection. Seizures soon followed that has lasted my entire life. Now begins the debate if that was the lowest point of my life. When I was three, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer that affects both blood cells and bone marrow. While I went into remission after many years of chemotherapy, I was left with mental and physical scars that haunt my life to this day. Some of them, such as those on my chest, is more literal than figurative. I dealt with this along with some general problems that arose as I grew up. Because of the chemotherapy, I developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis which caused depression and weight gain. I haven’t always been this impressively sleek and aerodynamic.

One of my earliest memories of my mothers sometimes alternative sense of humor was at Disneyland when I was on vacation thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation. A very rude woman approached my mother at the pool where I was swimming and pointed at the hole in my chest and bellowed out “What happened to him!” My dear mother, never at a loss for words simply said back “He was shot.” She didn’t have a response to that.

As I grew older anxiety and depression ruled my life and dictated much of my decisions. One of my biggest struggles in life has always been my Neuropathy that impairs my ability to write or work with my hands. Neuropathy leads to intermittent pain all throughout my body. This on top of one of the other symptoms that are often reported in those in remission from chemotherapy, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, memory loss, and memory loss. Cancer does not only impact you as you go through it but continues afterward, leaving lasting impacts on your body, varying differently from cancers and treatments. The side effects or “late effects” are especially prominent in young children. Lucky me.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled through my classes, and I’ve struggled through my writing. Whether for fun or for classes, I’ve always struggled to keep myself on task. I can’t count the number of times in my life I’ve stopped and simply said to myself “It may not be perfect. But I’m doing it. I will do my best.” I just keep on as a mantra, and no matter how it turns out. I will do it. Even as I write this now, my anxiety hinders me. I stop to rethink every word I say. I think and rethink everything I do.

During my time at CCM, I’ve joined in on many different clubs and taken many different roles. Despite all my troubles, I’ve found myself at home here. I’ve been the vice-president of the SGA and worked for and I run many other clubs and organizations on campus. Despite all my troubles in life, I’ve come to a point where I can get out of bed each morning and know there are people out there, I can’t wait to see and do stuff with.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Catrina Bennett

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Catrina Bennett:

Catrina Bennett holds up a sign saying Despite my diagnosis, I refuse to be a statistic
Catrina Bennett

Despite my diagnosis, I refuse to be a statistic. I refuse to be just a warning story about depression, a vague message on an anti-anxiety poster, or part of a number on a graph. I know that, despite my flaws, I am strong enough to change not just my life but also the lives of those around me. My story isn’t perfect or pretty, but it certainly isn’t over.

Even as a child, my fears ran rampant in my mind and were nearly debilitating. When I brushed death in a near drowning, I was more afraid of non-existent sharks in the water than the waves suffocating me. I had few friends and everyone else made fun of the awkward, chubby girl who cried when she failed a math question. No one, not even myself, saw it, but I was crumbling under the pressure of self-invented expectations. Everything was too much, too overwhelming, and too scary.

Then, my parents got a divorce. I was glad to be rid of the late nights listening to screaming matches through thin walls while attempting to stifle my sobs with a pillow. Now, I was terrified that everything I had worked for was now restricted to a simple statistic. More likely to do poorly in school, more likely to be depressed, more likely to commit suicide, more likely (I thought) to fail. I denied my sexuality and nearly lost my best friend in the process. I stopped going to school and dropped from an AP student to a near drop-out. I stopped seeing the point in living. I was becoming a number to everyone around me: number of absences, number of panic attacks, number of medications.

The people in my life were fighting just as hard as I was to keep me afloat. My friends, family, and even teachers banded together and forced me to begin to focus on where I had succeeded in life rather than where I had failed. I began to participate in classes again. The moments when I would answer a question wrong were still devastating, but each joke and nudge in the right direction from my friends increased my determination that tomorrow I would do better. And I did. I graduated in the top 15% of my class. I started talking to my father again. I took up drawing and other hobbies to fill the time between school and work.

Most importantly, I decided that it was my duty to help others who were struggling as well. Before leaving my high school, I made sure that the GSA (gay-straight alliance) was well supported and able to provide a safe space for struggling kids. I started reading more about mental illnesses and coping mechanisms in an effort to make myself better suited to give advice or resources to others. Upon arriving at CCM, I immediately joined our Active Minds chapter. Its members both helped to restore my faith in myself and allowed me to direct others towards the help that they needed.

Today, I am no longer just a number on a chart in a therapist’s office. I may still struggle with and fall prey to the effects of my depression and anxiety. But now, I refuse to let those facts be the only ones which define me. I know that I have the ability to help myself and others. I know that I can change the statistics.

If you are struggling, please know there is help. Some resources you can utilize are the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255, the Crisis Text Line if you text HOME to 741741, and the Counseling Center in the Student Community Center, Room 118.

Actor and Comedian John Morello Talks Bullying, Drugs, Diversity on April 4

Speaker Shows Parents and Caregivers How to Empower Teens to Make Good Choices

Actor, comedian, speaker and author John Morello will present his one-man show on substance abuse and choices at Whippany Park High School theater on April 4 from 7-9 p.m.

Morello’s show, entitled “D.I.R.T.,” is a humorous and touching story that creates and honest conversation about tough issues like drugs, bullying, depression and diversity.  The show explores the challenges and decisions that young people face every day. DIRT gets to the heart of issues related to self-esteem in a manner that resonates with audiences in a real and meaningful way.

The purpose of the program is to assist parents and caregivers to empower children in making healthy and responsible choices. through the show, young people will understand the impact they have on every person they meet.

The show is presented by the Hanover township Substance Awareness Council in cooperation with Whippany Park High School.

Morris Stigma-Free Film Event: “Suicide, the Ripple Effect” in Jefferson, April 2

Wharton Talk on April 18 Focuses on Social Media and Teen Suicide Awareness

The difficult topic of suicide will be the focus of two special events scheduled for April in Stigma-Free Morris County, where a countywide initiative is underway to foster treatment and recovery for persons dealing with very difficult issues that could lead someone to consider taking his or her own life.

Jefferson: On Tuesday, April 2, at Jefferson Township High School (10 Weldon Road), there will be a special showing of the documentary film, “Suicide, the Ripple Effect,” which focuses on the devastating effects of suicide and the tremendous positive ripple that effects of advocacy, inspiration and hope that are helping millions heal and stay alive. It will be followed by a question and answer session and discussion.

The feature length film chronicles the story of Kevin Hines, who at age 19 attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Since then, Kevin has been on a mission to use his story to help others stay alive and find recovery.

Wharton: On Thursday, April 18, at the Marie V. Duffy Elementary School, there will be a special forum, “Social Media and Teen Suicide Awareness …. What Every Parent Should Know.”

Speaker Heather DiDomenico, LPC, from Bridges Counseling, will talk to participants about the warning signs of children in crisis and solutions for prevention.

Teenagers are using a language all their own to talk and keep secrets that includes emojis, acronyms and their own terms. During the discussion, DiDomenico will discuss social media apps and explain how kids use them, and how they can be appropriate, misused or even dangerous.  A Q&A will follow the talk.

Hosts of this FREE event are Wharton Police Department and the Wharton Municipal Alliance. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Marie V. Duffy Elementary School, 137 E. Central Ave., Wharton.

Whippany: Thursday, April 4, actor and comedian John Morello will present a one-man show on bullying, drugs and diversity on April 4 at Whippany Park High School. For other Stigma-Free events, visit the calendar of events.

The Jefferson event, sponsored by JT Connect, is the work of Jefferson Girl Scout, Brittany Boetticher. It is part of Project Speak Out, which is Brittany’s Girl Scout Gold Award activity.

In 2009, after Jefferson Township suffered the loss of several individuals by suicide, it became clear that there was an immediate need to raise awareness about mental illness, provide education to the community andmost importantly, connect people through support and resources.

JT CONNECT was founded by Debi Merz, who is the current Council Vice President; Ellen Bechtold, the pastor of Jefferson’s Milton United Methodist Church; and Kristine Wilsusen, Jefferson’s Community Health Educator. The framework for the group was started in 2010 when the founders met with Celina Gray, Executive Director of the Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma to help define a mission statement and direction for the group.

Originally named Jefferson Township Mental Health Project, the group was re-branded in 2012 as JT CONNECT, signifying the need to “connect” the community by raising awareness about mental health, erasing stigma and providing acceptance and support so people would be willing to reach out for help.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Marco Mirlas

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Marco Mirlas:

Marco Mirlas holding up a whiteboard which says, Despite my diagnosis, I have the will to focus.
Marco Mirlas

My diagnosis of ADD, which… which president oversaw the end of the Korean War? Sorry, back on topic. If you couldn’t guess, ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, a fairly common disorder that can be well summarized like this: all of those studies about the shrinking attention span of the modern man don’t come close to what it can be like for us. Sometimes. In fact, as demonstrated in the opening, I am constantly feeling the effects of the disorder, so I can hardly help but let my mind wander. To be clear to anyone who doesn’t recognize the term, it’s actually somewhat dated, at least to the 2000s, and has since been replaced by an equivalent classification of ADHD Inattentive Type.

It can be quite remarkable when I can handle it. If you’re afflicted by it, you may know what I’ll say next. You can be thinking effectively on several things at once, without compromising the task at hand, on a good day. Play a song in your head, think on your agenda for the day, and continue in a conversation without breaking a sweat. On the contrary, during a bad day, it can be difficult to accomplish much of value.

To further elaborate, for the longest time, it was difficult for me to concentrate well enough to do well in classes. But with age comes maturity (sometimes) and more importantly: willpower. It is true that it is difficult to defy one’s nature, but in this instance, it is necessary to try, if you’d rather not resort to medication. You should not see yourself as an irredeemable failure if you miss the mark sometimes, but instead, harden your resolve and learn from your mistakes. To that end, I’m leaving a shout out to the Learning Resource Center, and to the Tutoring Center.

Remember to focus, and above all, to not give up.

The CCM counseling center is located in the downstairs of the student community center in SCC 118 and is available to you as a student. The National Suicide Prevention Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Editor’s Note: If you are in the process of recovery we encourage you to join the members of Active Minds, Writers Club and the Youngtown Edition to become more than your diagnosis and to share your story, contact youngtownedition@gmail.com to find out how.

Chester School District Joins Morris County Stigma-Free Initiative

JOINS COUNTYWIDE EFFORT TO END STIGMA RELATED TO MENTAL ILLNESS AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS

The Board of Education of the Chester School District has passed a Stigma-Free resolution, becoming the latest school district in the county to do so, joining the majority of Morris County towns participating in the countywide effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Both Chester Borough and Chester Township are members of the Stigma-Free initiative, as are 34 of Morris County’s 39 towns.

“We are extremely proud to be part of such a compassionate community and I think that is reflected in our desire to support all of our students, parents and community members by being a part of Stigma Free,’’ said Chester School District Superintendent Christina Van Woert.

The Chester School District is the newest member of a less-than-three-year-old grass roots movement that recognizes the high prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders in our communities.

The Stigma-Free initiative promotes re-education and understanding that can lead to treatment and recovery – minus the stigma associated with these illnesses.

Leaders of this movement from across the county are now working with school districts and faith-based groups to become active participants.

As part of the countywide initiative, residents are urged to take the Stigma Free Pledge: https://morriscountystigmafree.org/take-the-pledge/

“We are pleased that the Chester School District is supporting this Stigma-Free initiative,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Director Doug Cabana. “We look forward to the energy and support that students in Chester Borough and Chester Township  can bring to this initiative in helping affected people seek recovery, without fear of stigma or reprisal.’’

The Morris County Board of Freeholders in 2016 passed a resolution designating Morris County as a Stigma-Free County and asked all of the county’s towns to consider enrolling.

County College of Morris and the Morris County School of Technology have supported the effort, with Montville joining in 2017 as the first school district in the county to pass a resolution to join the initiative. County Sheriff James M. Gannon also has been a leading partner in the effort.

The Stigma-Free initiative encourages participating towns, communities, school districts and organizations to participate in an active way through educational programs, events and/or active discussion.

Morris County has created a Stigma Free website www.morriscountystigmafree.orgto call attention to the initiative, provide information and resources, and a calendar of upcoming events related to mental illness and substance abuse. A Stigma Free Toolkitalso is available for towns, schools, colleges and universities, and faith-based organizations.

The Chester School District is an elementary district responsible for the education of students in Kindergarten through eighth grades.  It serves two municipalities, Chester Borough and Chester Township.

The district is composed of Dickerson Elementary School (K-2), Bragg Intermediate School (3-5), and Black River Middle School (6-8).  Students in grades nine through twelve go to the West Morris Regional High School District.

Here are just a few of many voices in Morris County supporting the Stigma-Free Initiative:

Chester Borough Mayor Janet Hoven: “Mental illness and drug abuse touch the lives of many, not only in Chester Borough, but in all of society. No one should feel less of a person regardless of an illness or addiction.  We support the initiative and hope that through this program, all residents will feel accepted and supported by all.’’

 Chester Township Mayor Marcia Asdal: “We understand that mental illness and addiction affect every community, and we know that no family or school or business is immune. So Chester Township is proud to join the Stigma-Free initiative in Morris County, to help encourage people in our community their friends or family members or colleagues in trouble to seek treatment that could help lead them to recovery.’’

 Montville School Superintendent Rene Rovtar: We feel it is important that students feel that if they are struggling with any mental health issues that they know that it is okay not to be okay, and that many resources are available to help them. We want all of our students and staff to know that the district stands ready to support them with no stigma attached.”

 For information on the disease of mental illness, visit www.nami.org and for information on NAMI’s national Stigma Free effort, visit: https://www.nami.org/stigmafree

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace which results from the judgment by others. When individuals are labeled by their illness, they experience judgment and prejudice. Stigma brings experiences and feelings of shame, embarrassment, distress, hopelessness and reluctance to seek or accept help.

Award-Winning Stigma-Free Essays Shared

Boonton, Long Hill, and Montville Students Honored at March 8 Event

Students from Boonton, Long Hill, and Montville were honored for their winning essays in the countywide Stigma-Free essay contest run by the Montville and Boonton United Methodist Churches, which are members of the countywide Stigma-Free Initiative.

Stigma-Free Essay Winners
Samia Shivon of Boonton; Melody Hart of Gillette, Pastor Donald Kirschner, Skylar Loper of Boonton, and Esme Lockwood from Montville. Photo courtesy of TAPinto Montville

Winners of the contest are:

  • Junior High Winner: Melody Hart, Homeschooled, Long Hill (Gillette), Grade 8;
  • High School Winner for Primary Essay: Samia Shivon, Boonton High School, Grade 11;
  • High School Winner: Esme Lockwood, Montville High School, Grade 11.

The contest was an initiative of Donald Kirschner, pastor of both the Montville United Methodist Church and Boonton United Methodist Church, and whose congregations sponsored the prize awards.

Junior High Winner: Melody Hart

The word ‘stigma’ is a Latin word meaning “a mark made on skin by burning with a hot iron.” In our society, it refers to the prejudice that results from the labels we put on people who have some undesirable condition, such as mental illness. More often than not, it becomes a building block for a jail cell that eventually imprisons the one who is inflicted. I will focus on my experience with my grandfather, the effects of stigma in his life, and how awareness can cause a positive change.

High School Essay Winner: Samia Shivon

Stigma is the disapproval and discrimination against a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other embers of a society. When it involves mental illness, someone views a person in a negative way because they have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as a feeling of shame or judgment from others. It can even come from an internal place, where people feel embarrassed or ashamed for the illness they possess. It is very important to be stigma-free.

High School Project Winner: Esme Lockwood

I would like to create a drug-free initiative in schools, primarily in New Jersey, called the ‘No More’ project, rather than “say no to drugs” which ignites the ignorance of choice versus illness. Fundamentally, ‘No More’ represents the gradual abolishment of specifically, heroin, and the perpetrators who make money off of their victims. In this project, I would like to recruit members who are or know someone battling heroin addiction.

Read all of the winning essays and project proposals. Congratulations to all who entered!

Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit on the State and Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic

From New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative:

Knock Out Opioid AbuseMore than 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2018, a majority of which were opioid-related. Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017. There has been progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic, but far too many lives are being lost every day to this crisis.

At the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit on the State and Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic, state and federal officials will discuss resources available to local communities to address the opioid epidemic at the community level. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 at The Newark Museum, 49 Washington St. Newark, NJ.

The statewide conference will serve as the first event of the continuation of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, a two-year initiative focusing on addressing the opioid epidemic through town halls, prescriber education, parent education and a statewide media campaign to increase awareness of the crisis.

Speakers will include representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Attorney’s Office, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and other agencies.

To learn more about the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit on the State and Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic and to register to attend, visit knockoutopioidabuse.drugfreenj.org/summit. Seating is limited and registration is required. Please share this message with individuals or organizations interested in attending.

Read more on the KOOA website.

Get the Latest News from MHA of Essex and Morris

Want to learn more about mental health and stigma-free outreach in your area? Turn to the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris!

MHA logo

Sign up for their newsletter (scroll to the footer of their website to find the signup form) to get monthly updates. Their latest newsletter includes stories about county-owned residences for women at risk of homelessness, a grant awarded by the Healthcare Foundation of NJ for a new medical-legal partnership with MHA, and Project Homeless Connect.

For more immediate updates, check out the MHA news page, featuring information from the MHA community.

For more information about the MHA, call MHA Morris at 973-334-3496.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Raven Resch

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Raven Resch:

Raven Resch holding up a sign that says "Despite my diagnosis, today I am happy."
Raven Resch

Despite my diagnosis, today I am happy, but I couldn’t always say that. I’ve had days of darkness where my own mind was destroying me from the inside out.

I had learned that there was no place more frightening than the places my own mind can take me. I felt hopeless and helpless; there was a monster inside of me, torturing me. I felt guilt and shame. How could someone with a 2-year-old son and a rather normal life feel this way? But my life was not always normal, I ran from my past, but it finally caught up to me.

You can’t run from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and OCD. You can’t run, it will always catch up with you. I could no longer run from the thoughts that were destroying me, my mind was so loud that even my own screams couldn’t block out the noise. I wanted nothing more than to die, but I know personally how suicide can affect a family. My only way of giving up, was giving in.

I took myself to the emergency room and gave into whatever they wanted me to do. At this point I did not want recovery for me, I still wanted to die, but for my family I knew I had to do something. I was transported to the psychiatric hospital and from there to an acute partial hospitalization program, and it was there in that program where I got my life back.

I was no longer just living, I felt like I was actually alive, a feeling I hadn’t felt for years. At the exact point where I felt I was giving up on life, I was actually accepting recovery.

Today, because I accepted help I can say that I am happy. There is no doubt that some days are still hard but there are no days that are not worth all the lessons I am learning. I am turning my days of torture into days of success. I finally know what I want in life and that is to help people who are feeling exactly the way I felt. To let them know that there is hope even when you can’t see it, to speak out against the mental health stigma, and to end the silence that is slowing killing us inside.

If you are struggling, please know there is help. Some resources you can utilize are the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255, the Crisis Text Line if you text HOME to 741741, and the Counseling Center in the Student Community Center, Room 118.

Editor’s Note: If you are in the process of recovery we encourage you to join the members of Active Minds, Writers Club and the Youngtown Edition to become more than your diagnosis and to share your story, contact youngtownedition@gmail.com to find out how.