“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.

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!

“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.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Rachel Eckert

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 Rachel Eckert:

Hope.

Hold on, pain ends.

Rachel Eckert holding a dry erase board saying 'Hold on, pain ends.'
Rachel Eckert

I hear this phrase over and over again. Whether it be by professionals or friends, everybody tells me that. I knew it was true. In theory, anyway. But I always had such a hard time seeing that and understanding that. I didn’t understand how the anguish I had felt for so many years could ever end. Even if I only temporarily felt better, it was better than where I was. I never expected to magically get better. Because that isn’t how it happens. You don’t wake up one day and tell yourself “I’m not depressed anymore” and go on your merry way. I know, however, that is how some people think. It doesn’t go away overnight, that sadness deep in your belly. I knew that much, but never thought about what came next. In the past few months, I have learned that when you are so sad and hurt all of the time, a slight improvement feels miles better than where you came from. Unfortunately, that slight improvement also feels like you crawled a mile to get there.

I was at rock bottom. No, I was lower than rock bottom. I was in rock bottoms basement. It’s a place I never realized existed until my rock bottom somehow turned even lower. The depression and anxiety were getting the best of me. I felt awful all of the time. But I am not asking for your pity. That’s not where I am anymore. When you’re in rock bottoms basement, you can’t get any lower. And for that I was thankful.

One morning, I decided to take recovery head on. I had plenty of setbacks and I didn’t feel better immediately. In fact, I almost felt worse because of the fact that I didn’t feel better. It took me months to get where I am now. To some, where I am is still so low. But for me, this is the best I have ever felt.

Hold on, pain ends. Maybe not right now. Maybe not in three months. The way you feel won’t be the same. I am still depressed and I am anxious, but it does not pain me to be alive. It does not pain me to get out of bed every morning. You may never feel 100%, but the way you feel now cannot stay this way forever. So when you are sad and want to give up, have hope. Hold on, pain ends.

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.

CCM: Exhibition Recognizes National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Honors the Life of the Late CCM Student Marisa Rincón

In conjunction with the Counseling and Student Success department at County College of Morris, the college’s Art and Design Gallery will host an exhibition to recognize National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September.

photo of Marisa Rincon

Marisa Rincon

The exhibition, titled “Marisa Rincón: An Impression of Life,” will feature the artwork of Marisa Rincón, a 2007 CCM Fine Arts graduate, who died by suicide in February.

The exhibit consists of more than 20 works by Rincón. Also featured in the show are painted portraits of Rincón created by prominent New Jersey artists Tim Maher, John B. Wolff and Lorraine deSmet. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, runs Aug. 21 to Oct. 13, in Gallery B, which is the outer portion of the gallery.

A Statement By Dee Rincón, Marisa’s Mother, September 2017

Often, people remarked about Marisa’s beautiful face and hair. “Oh, those green eyes and smile would melt anyone’s heart!” However, Marisa preferred being recognized for her intelligence and artistic talent. Few people knew that she was well read and an articulate writer.

photo of "Green Eyes'' by Marisa Rincon

“Green Eyes” by Marisa Rincon

She chose a liberal path. She believed in equality for women’s rights both personally and professionally. Marisa was a feminine, soft-spoken, kind and gentle soul who touched the hearts of many. Although private and reserved, people enjoyed her sense of humor. Marisa liked to read in solitude and play her ukulele. Pop Rock music, her pet hamster and cat, and nature brought her joy.

Marisa Victoria Rincón struggled with anxiety and depression. On February 21,2017, died by suicide in Randolph, NJ. Marisa’s life was as rich and colorful as her accomplished artwork. She was passionate about the art world and its creativity.
Marisa’s legacy: “We are born with innate talents, and those gifts MUST be expressed and shared in order to be happy.”

photo of "Untitled, or is this Truth,'' by Marisa Rincon

“Untitled, or is this Truth,” by Marisa Rincon

It is the hope of the Rincón family that this art exhibit helps those struggling with mental health to seek help from your physician, the County College of Morris, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We believe that is Marisa’s voice, too.

To read more about Marisa Rincón, written by her mother and family, go to www.ccm.edu/pdf/Marisa-Write-up-art-bio-2017.pdf.

A second art exhibit featuring the work of CCM professors from the Photography Program, titled “Photography Program Faculty Exhibition,” will be held in Gallery A, from Aug. 29 to Oct. 13.CCM logo

There will be two receptions for the exhibits:
The first reception, cosponsored by the Art and Design and Counseling and Student Success departments, will be held 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, September 12.
The second reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 14.

The CCM Art and Design Gallery is located in the Sherman H. Masten Learning Resource Center on CCM’s Randolph campus, 214 Center Grove Road. For gallery hours, visit http://www.ccm.edu/academics/divdep/department-of-art-and-design/art-and-design-gallery/.

To learn more about the Art and Design programs at CCM, go to www.ccm.edu/academics/divdep/liberalarts/artdesign/.

Surviving Mental Illness

This is a guest post by Valerie Fox of Morristown.

It has been years since my diagnosis of schizophrenia. At the time I was 21 years old.  Today I am considered old – not middle-aged but old.

Looking back over the years, mental illness in the beginning had played havoc with my life. In the middle of my mental illness journey, schizophrenia was again responsible for destroying the life I had built after the diagnosis. Eventually I healed, but I had deep scars, the signature of schizophrenia.

After healing yet again, I tried to go on with my “new” life. There were times it was very challenging, other times very lonely, but for want of any other way out, I fought schizophrenia. The harder I did not let it rule me, the better I started feeling. Stigma of course was rampant, but it didn’t matter because I had found my calling. While scarred, I did carve a good spot for myself in life.

Today it is approximately 55 years since the onset of schizophrenia in my life. It still occasionally challenges me, but I have learned and learned well it is definitely better to adhere to my treatment than to get caught up in the web of thinking I seem so well, therefore I am well. I have learned the hard way through homelessness that thoughts like that are very dangerous for me to entertain at all so I don’t.

So today after many, many years of living with this illness, I can comfortably say I have survived schizophrenia. I don’t know other persons’ journeys, whether they have been easier than mine or harder, but I hope they too are in a comfortable place in their lives.

Valerie Fox
(a person in recovery) 

Michael Phelps Says Asking for Help Saved Him From His Depression

Asking for help can be difficult, but life-saving. In this article, Michael Phelps talks about the importance of asking for help in fighting depression:

For the longest time, I was really good at compartmentalizing things and just pushing them deeper and deeper so I never had to deal with them. That brought me to a point in my life where I found myself at an all-time low. It was then that I finally decided that I needed help and that I could not do this alone.

Read the full article.

Why write about caregiving?

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward book coverAuthor Mark Lukach describes why he writes about caregiving and mental health:

But there is one feeling that’s unnecessary: the loneliness, and in my time supporting my wife, I’ve never felt more lonely. In times of crisis we tend to wall ourselves away from each other because we’re too afraid to talk about what we’re experiencing. In all of my internet searching, it felt like I was the first husband who had to take his wife to the psych ward, because no one out there was talking or writing about it.

Read Author Mark Lukach on Why He Writes About Caregiving.