In 2012, I left my job as an academic advisor at a college. As a college administrator for the past five years. I loved working with students and hearing their hopes and dreams. My favorite question, “What do you want to be?” helped me to live vicariously, sharing their excitement and limitless opportunities.
Yet I was hiding in my own life. In 2000, I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although I had studied psychology at Harvard College and graduated with honors, received dual Masters degrees in psychological counseling from Columbia University, worked as a counselor and now as a college academic advisor for more than five years, I still had not come to terms with my struggle and journey with mental illness. I did not tell my closest friends or family about my disorder. I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite who talked a good game despite my internal chaos.
In 2012, I joined my local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and was trained to be an In Our Own Voice Speaker. I started sharing my journey with mental illness in hospitals, mental health treatment programs and support groups. In 2013, I started talking to students about how to fight the stigma of mental illness and get help, and to let them know they are not alone.
My struggle with bipolar disorder left me with deeply painful, mental and physical scars. Yet sharing my most painful moments and life-defining experiences was now helping others.
This past January, I felt validated by the path I had chosen when, after a series of school presentations, a student selected me as their African-American hero for black history month. There I was on the sixth grade hallway social studies bulletin board right next to Jesse Owens, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama. My deepest pain had become my highest platform to help myself by reaching out and helping others.