“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Features Editor Michelle Walsh

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 CCM Features Editor Michelle Walsh:

Michelle WalshAs a child, I yanked my shoelaces until the aglets broke, and couldn’t tolerate wearing anything with buttons, zippers, etc. Doctors were clueless that I was struggling with anxiety.

OCD has accompanied me for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would look at road signs and add the digits to make an even number. Early on, I learned I could find control in the law abiding, unwavering solidity that is math.

After starting middle school, I quickly inherited different forms of eating disorders and self-harm, ultimately leading me to spiral. Whatever I tried, these different vices only gave the illusion of control.

One of the most disastrous coping skills I inherited was dissociation. Dissociation was a coping skill brought on by the introduction of the heaviest antidepressant I was on. Being on a near toxic dose made me feel as if I was a voyeur to my own life. Alongside this, I was involved in several car accidents, one including the totaling of 2 cars and several visits to court.

Cycling out of centers and hospitals, a vast array of labels and corresponding medications were given to me like candy. From Attention Deficit, Borderline Personality, Generalized Anxiety, Unipolar and Bipolar, I was medicated with anything they thought could give me relief.

It wasn’t until I reached Princeton House wherein they correctly diagnosed me with CPTSD and OCD, and therefore placed me into a trauma-based program. I quickly learned that trauma was the root of all my suffering.

I was also placed on medication that saved my life. Currently, I am still searching for the ideal combination of therapy and medication.

Struggling with mental illness has led to me becoming an advocate for others and myself. I found myself recently within a group that hushed me when I spoke of my traumas. From this, I unearthed that silence begets silence and that we are losing if we choose to stay silent in the face of egregious action. I continued following my passion, and have cultivated a life I am proud is mine.

Irregardless of my achievements, my OCD is never satiated. I still struggle with an achievement equals worth mindset, despite countless therapies and medications. I’ve made peace that my mental illness and I must coexist for me to exist.

The scars left behind are representative of a battle I choose to fight every day, and show that relentless hope overpowers relentless mental illness.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Coordinator Eric Pedersen

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 CCM Engineering Lab Coordinator Eric Pedersen:

Eric Pedersen

My name is Eric Pedersen. I am a CCM graduate and have worked in CCM’s Engineering Department since 2012. I am the Lab Coordinator for Mechanical Engineering Technology and Physics, and I teach a couple of sections of our Manufacturing Process course. My official diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Personally, anyone with ADD can attest, it makes life interesting and often impulsive. ADD is blessing in disguise, and with it usually comes a fountain of creativity and unlimited drive when it is channeled in the right way.

Major Depressive Disorder and OCD have been incredibly difficult for me literally, as long as I can remember. Until seeking more help for those in 2013, I had really hit rock bottom emotionally. Months of insomnia, crippling depression, and social anxiety, that made work and life in general, difficult to navigate.

However, looking back, that low point was the best thing that ever happened to me. I met amazing counselors and doctors, and opened up in ways I never thought I would. My wife has somehow always seen the best in me and has supported me since the day we met, through those breakdowns…. I would not be where I am in life without her. We now have two beautiful children and I am blessed to have learned the lessons, patience, and trust of others during those tough times.

Anyone who knows me knows that what drives me is helping others. I always try to do that at CCM and at the end of the day, helping others through their struggles is all that actually matters in life. Our life’s purpose is to help others. I won’t say Despite My Diagnosis, but thanks to my diagnosis and the supportive people I have met along the way, I am hopefully able to be a positive presence in others’ lives every day.

We meet many people in life who espouse negativity, but there are many more positive souls than we realize. They don’t seek attention or accolades and tend to blend in. But when others need help, there are so many willing to help.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Contributor Tatiana Bonner

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 Tatiana Bonner:

Tatiana Bonner

I was only 16 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar I. Something my mother’s family never saw coming, something I feared would shame them for the rest of eternity. I come from a long line of Italians. People who were taught to suck it up after World War II had ended. People who pushed their problems to the side, and acted as if nothing was wrong.

I never once thought that I should seek help for my prolonged sadness. For the longest time, I thought it was normal to feel that way. I’d let the little demons in my mind toy with my head. I’d let them get the best of me each and every time. I pushed my friends out, and built my walls up. I didn’t want anyone to know just how vulnerable I was. I wanted to suffer alone. My mother never saw the signs, as she didn’t even know what to look for. She never worried because I’d act like the world’s happiest person around her. I didn’t need her to worry. I also certainly didn’t want anyone’s pity. I’d felt that enough after the death of my brother, and pity was one thing that bothered me. It was one thing that I could not stand. Some days, getting out of bed was a process. I’d have to drag myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Every word spoken to me was like a poison to my ears, in the aspect of the fact that I did not want to hear it. It was a miserable existence.

My sadness would turn into Mania, into happiness, into irritability, and actions I could not control. The even sadder bit, was that I often would not remember the days I spent Manic. I would lose time from the story of my life. People would ask what I did yesterday, and I could not answer them. I knew I wasn’t myself anymore when I went home and asked to be signed up for a gym membership, when my depression was dragging me down into my sorrows, and I had absolutely no energy to even think about going to the gym. I knew something was wrong when my mother would be angered at me for having a fit that I could not even remember. I knew something was wrong when I went to the doctor, and they handed me a depression screening, and every single blurb on the little white paper made me feel as if someone from the office had been monitoring me. I grew paranoid. My mind played even worse tricks with me. I knew the government was watching me. I knew all about their plan to harvest my organs, and sell them on the black market. My mania went as far as me spending nearly three hundred dollars alone at Hot-Topic, just because I was convinced that the world was ending, and that I wouldn’t get the chance to spend that money tomorrow.

My mother thought nothing of it. She was never taught anything about mental illness. She didn’t think anything was wrong with me until I woke up at three o’clock in the morning, and ran into my grandmother’s room, screaming and crying about the man in my closet, who ate my dog who was clearly okay and sleeping in his bed in the next room over. I didn’t remember this at all the next day. That’s when my mother and grandmother had decided that I needed to seek help, and took me to the doctor, who agreed that something was wrong.

They made me pour my thoughts out on the table. They made me expose each and every one of my problems and fears. I was given medication, and the number to a therapist. My first few therapists told me I was exaggerating, and always put down my problems. I’d get to the second or third therapy session, and never go back. That was until I met my current therapist, who sat with me, and listened to me, and understood me when I spoke to her. She told me and my family that I had Bipolar I and Anxiety, and that I needed to see a psychiatrist, for my medications to be managed. My first psychiatrist was a complete idiot. She continuously put me on SSRIs, medications that I would learn are not always helpful to someone with Bipolar, as they basically make you more upbeat, often activating mania. Each time I went back to her with a new complaint, she’d threaten me with inpatient, something I certainly didn’t want to go into. My family saw that I was miserable, and decided to pull me from her care. We spent a long while looking for a decent doctor, until I met my current one, who listens to me, and actually does something when I say that my medication doesn’t make me feel too good.

It was 2 years prior to my diagnosis that I spent suffering in silence. Then, it took me two whole years after my diagnosis to get settled into it all. At first I was ashamed to say that I have Bipolar Disorder. I feared what people would think of me. I worried that they would think I was crazy or disturbed. I would scribble the words “Manic Depression” across forms at doctor’s offices, out of shame to say the word “Bipolar”. Even to this day, I still feel my heart racing in my chest every time someone asks me, “So, you have Bipolar?”.

Three years after my diagnosis, and I am doing wonderful. I’ve come to terms with my mental illness. My medications are managed well, and I’m seeing an awesome therapist. I still have my dog, my fish, and my plant collection, which all keeps me going. Keeping things alive helps me to feel alive. I am so, so happy that someone finally saw that something was wrong, and helped me to seek help. I don’t know that I ever would have on my own. Despite my diagnosis, I wake up in the morning. Despite my diagnosis, I get out of bed. I brush my teeth. I care for my body. I push myself to succeed. I keep feeling, I keep dreaming.

Despite my diagnosis, I keep living.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Contributor Meghan King

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 Meghan King:

Meghan King

My name is Meghan and I have lived with anxiety and depression for over a decade now. I was diagnosed eight years ago in the fall semester of my junior year at William Paterson University (WPUNJ).

Looking back, I believe symptoms began to display themselves when I was about 15-16 years old. My mother left when I was a small child of 11 due to addiction, alcoholism, and living with bipolar disorder untreated. I know my battle with abandonment, trauma, and anxiety and depression have some roots in this loss. Anxiety shows itself as irritability, lack of focus, panic attacks. My depression has many faces from not wanting to get out of bed to accomplish daily tasks, questioning my value, not believing in my self worth, etc.

It took me years to realize that despite my diagnosis, I am a survivor and I thrive in the face of adversity. Seeing therapists since I was a teenager and taking the time to find the right medication to help me have a better quality of life has taught me this. I chose to stop attending school after missing school for 3 weeks due to psychosomatic symptoms I was having. I needed to take care of myself. That decision was frowned upon, to say the least. I couldn’t handle what I was going through and making my academic success a priority. My doctor started me on medication following my diagnosis. After trial and error, I have found the combination that works for me.

From August 2018 to June of this year I moved four times. I slept on couches, transferred jobs between North and South Jersey to living under a liquor store in Paterson because I did not have stable housing. I was basically homeless. If it weren’t for my loving boyfriend, his family, my brother, and my friends for emotional support, I don’t know how I would’ve traveled this road.

I have always had a spirit of surviving despite my diagnosis. I was having panic attacks while driving, things around me would slow down and I would have to practice grounding skills. I had to focus on my breathing and things around me to stop my racing thoughts. Nothing has scared me more than experiencing a panic attack while driving. Having to kick those ugly, dark thoughts out of my head, and convince myself that yes, I am worthy of love and my life is worth living.

As a side note, my boyfriend’s mother would have me over for dinner most of the week. Their home was too small to accommodate living there, but that woman fed me and let me stay on occasion. Simply providing meals for me and showing her care has made all the difference. She has shown me so much love and has been one of my greatest blessings. I signed a lease with my boyfriend in June for an apartment and I truly feel at peace where I am. I started a job that allows me to more than scrape by.

I can live comfortably and safe. I’m paying things off and paying for classes to continue my education. I have learned to live one day at a time and appreciate my blessings. I choose not to be defined by my mental health challenges.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Alexa Wyszkowski

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 Alexa Wyszkowski:

Alexa holds up a sign that says Despite my diagnosis, I am enough.
Alexa Wyszkowski is more than her diagnosis.

I have allergies. I have asthma. I have anxiety.

These were all the reasons why I used to tell myself that I could not do things, was undeserving of things and could not achieve things. These were the reasons I told myself I was not capable of having great friendships and relationships. The reasons why I felt I could never be enough even when I gave my all.

In high school, something changed as I became more and more involved in my school community. I became someone who was not as defined by their allergies, asthma, and anxiety. Instead, I was defined by how much I cared and dedicated my time to the school clubs and activities.

By my senior year, I had joined as many clubs and organizations as I could and balanced all my time so I could actively participate in as many activities as possible. I loved meeting new people and finding those special people who attended the club meetings and events not just for their resume, but because they wanted to be part of something greater than themselves. Being a part of a club, a team, an organization, an event, an activity involves this feeling of belonging and having the ability to make a difference. I loved being able to help people and show them how they too could help others.

I had good grades, was involved in everything I could be in, was accepted to every college I applied to and even received some awards and recognition for all my work in these clubs and activities. Except all of this was not enough.

I had an opportunity to go to college for free. And yet I couldn’t go to college for free. I had missed the class rank requirement that I needed by less than one percent. I was not enough.

I went into college as a hospitality major because I thought that was the only way to continue on my journey to help others. I thought that the place I started working at in high school was going to be my forever job. And this was all so closed minded of me. If only I had an open mind then maybe I would have made different and better choices, but then I would probably not be where I am today.

Early into the start of college I entered my first relationship and told myself it was okay if they never were able to understand me. I thought that even if they weren’t understanding of my allergies, asthma, and anxiety it would still be okay. I didn’t think I should expect them to understand or want to learn to understand. For some reason, I thought when I gave everything and it wasn’t enough for them that I should just keep giving.

I did this with the first job that I thought was my dream job. I did this with my first relationship.

Until the winter came and I remember for the first time feeling completely alone and empty. I ignored it and continued giving as much as I could. I dived into this mindset to show my relationship and my job that I could be more than my allergies, asthma, anxiety and try to prove to them that I could be enough until there was no room for anything else in my life. I didn’t have time for myself, I didn’t have time for my other friends, I didn’t have time to breathe. I thought I had to change the perspective of my workplace and my partner. That the role I was given was to change both of them, to make them understand.

I cannot change people. I cannot change places. I cannot change things. I cannot change the past. I cannot change fate. I cannot change the fact that I have allergies, asthma, and anxiety. All I can do is work on changing myself, becoming a part of something greater than myself and offering my light even in the darkest moments. Even as a leader I cannot say that I have ever been the only person that contributed to something changing. For something to change it takes many people working together who share the desire to create something more. I can share this passion and give it to others, but I cannot force it. I cannot change people. People can only change themselves and to do that, they have to want to change.

I want to change myself. I started high school as this person who was shy and insecure and did not believe in herself. By the end of high school, I started to become more confident in who I was and what I was meant to do. However in addition to my allergies, asthma, and anxiety, I let not getting free college, the job I had and the relationship I was in continue to tell me that I was not enough. That I could never be enough.

It took me a year and a half into college to realize that what I thought I was supposed to do with my life was not at all what I should have been doing. And this time it was not because I thought I was not enough. It was because I realized I was more than enough all along.

For as long as I can remember I have loved four things: reading, writing, teaching, and giving. And I left high school and entered college thinking that I was not enough to be able to study and have a career in something that involved all of those things. So to start I chose to study hospitality and plan my career around it because I thought I would just help and give in that way.

What I didn’t realize was that there are so many other ways of being able to help and give by also teaching and involving reading and writing. That I am capable to do things that I thought I wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t be able to do.

There will always be people and places who will tell me that I’m never enough. That I should give up what I have and who I am because it is not enough for them. As much as I used to give importance to making everyone and everything better and happy, I no longer feel the constant need to do so. I just want to be myself with my allergies, asthma, anxiety and all my past people, places and experiences, and still be able to make positive connections with others without feeling that I am not enough. I am enough and thinking that I was never enough is something I am trying to leave in the past.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Faculty Advisor Russ Crespolini

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 CCM Faculty Advisor Russ Crespolini:

Russ CrespoliniTwo decades ago I underwent surgery to repair two ruptured discs at the base of my spine that had robbed me of motor control in my left leg and caused me considerable pain for almost six  months.

At the time I was a junior and an undergraduate and ended up missing a large portion of the academic year. I had just started seriously dating someone and I did not know whether this new relationship could weather the ups and downs of this serious physical infirmity. Epidural and steroid injections, limited mobility and chronic pain had become a steady part of my life. I wish I could tell you that the surgery fixed everything and twenty years later as adjunct professor and faculty advisor to the Youngtown Edition I face each day pain-free.

But I would be lying.

Because it was after my surgery I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The doctor’s told me that this narrowing of my spinal canal was something I was born with and eventually it the passage would narrow enough to constrain the nerves and put me in a wheelchair.

This was going to be exacerbated by the scar tissue left over by my surgery. Less space in the canal for the nerves to move freely, after all. I was also going to deal with varying levels of pain for the rest of my life. I wish I could tell you that I began exercising and dieting in earnest and did everything I could better my odds.

That would also be a lie.

After surgery, I went back to campus, cane in hand and got special permission to take 25 credits a semester to graduate on time and continue on my path to graduate school. I also ate my way to 400 pounds and dealt with the grinding of chronic pain with prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medication.

Dealing with chronic pain is something that so many people experience but never talk about. The way it may take you ten minutes to get out of bed in the morning when others take ten seconds.  The way it gnaws at your attention span when you are trying to focus on work or school. The way the pain activates your adrenal gland and wears you out. Chronic pain makes you so very very tired. It also makes you jealous. You are jealous of the people around you who aren’t suffering as you do. Not because you would wish this on them, but because they take for granted what they have. That physical normalcy you have been denied.

I wrote this, not because this is a pity party for me, but because I was so inspired and humbled by the previous Despite My Diagnosis columns written by brave authors who shared their stories with Youngtown.

And because I know that so many people deal with varying levels of chronic pain and choose to suffer in silence or be isolated because they are afraid they might snap or be quick-tempered with someone. But chronic pain can also do something unexpectedly beautiful.

It can make you appreciate what you do have.

On the days when your pain is more manageable, you appreciate being able to walk freely, to transition from a seated position to standing without wincing. You appreciate being able to mow your lawn, or walk through a store or take a day trip to the beach. You appreciate the friends and family who love you and care about you and support you. And that builds a reserve of strength you can draw on in your darker days.

But you have to do your part. I did change my lifestyle. I exercise daily to keep myself mobile (it takes a lot of work to look this mediocre) and I did lose over 100 pounds I needed to lose. I no longer take prescription medication for pain management. I take the occasional Aleve.

And I also sought counseling and help.

So for those of you out there with chronic pain, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do not suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to explain to people what is happening with you and ask for their patience and support. It is ok to have bad days. It is ok to feel depressed and to feel your lot in life is unfair. It is not ok to let those feelings overwhelm you. Lean on those relationships that provide you comfort.

I made it because I had people who believed in me. I had an undergraduate advisor who put herself out there for me and supported me and guided me and set the template for how I treat my own students. I still text her daily. I had family and friends who were there when I woke up in the hospital and continued to be a presence in my daily life. Those relationships that are meant to be will strengthen. That girl I was in the new relationship with 20 years ago when I had my surgery is my wife of 13 years.

For those of you who know someone with chronic pain, do your best to be patient. Celebrate the days they feel well and listen to them when they are feeling down. I still have my bad days, when the pain and weakness creeps down my leg. Usually when the weather changes.

So despite my diagnosis, I am a journalist, father, husband, educator, advisor, improv-artist, video-game enthusiast, Union President, and adjunct professor. But because of my diagnosis, I appreciate, and enjoy, those opportunities more than I will ever be able to express.

Editor’s note: Russ Crespolini is a working journalist and adjunct professor at County College of Morris and The College of Saint Elizabeth where he advises both campus newspapers. He wrote this column in the hopes other faculty, staff and administrators would share their story.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Andres Ortiz

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 Andres Ortiz:

Andres Ortiz holds a sign that says, Despite my Diagnosis, autism success.
Andres Ortiz

My name is Andres Ortiz and I have high functioning autism, which means I think differently and often have trouble understanding social cues and knowing how to communicate with others. My autism hasn’t stopped me from being a talented drummer and I’ve been playing in bands for about 14 years. Sometimes it’s been easiest to make friends through my love of music.

I started going to different schools when I was three. When I was younger, I felt that nobody understood me and that caused me to act out sometimes. Once I went to the Newmark School in Scotch Plains, NJ and then Montgomery Academy in Basking Ridge, NJ everything got easier because people there understood how I thought and learn.

In high school, I had ups and downs because I was also diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I have trouble staying awake and my memory is bad sometimes but I continue to try my very best. It’s interesting that my brain always remembers how to play music and facts about it, but I can’t read it. People with autism often know a whole lot about one topic and mine is music.

I came to CCM through the College Steps Program because I wanted to be more independent and I am proud to say I am doing well in all my classes. However, sometimes I still struggle with sleeping, remembering important due dates and details, asking for help at the right time, and communicating with others. Now I have peer mentors, who are also CCM students through College Steps, who help me with these problems as well as note-taking, studying, independent living and social skills, and budgeting. All College Steps students, mentors, and our Program Coordinator, Nancy Tichenor, meet to work on life, employment and community skills to help us with college and life after we leave.

I have made friends in my classes and through my mentors through College Steps and of course, I enjoy the other students in the program. We can often be found laughing together a lot. On May 6, we’re having a big charity event for The Seeing Eye and we’re trying to raise approximately $90.00 because The Seeing Eye is celebrating its 90 birthday. We hope it will be a great success. Come have a piece of pizza and support our fundraiser. And say, “Hi.” Maybe you’ll want to be a mentor next year. College Steps has on campus, flexible, paid positions for second-semester students interested in becoming a mentor. If you are interested in applying to become a mentor, email nancy@collegesteps.org!

“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.

“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.