Women are more likely than men to have their symptoms dismissed or downplayed by medical professionals. When they get a diagnosis, they often face stigma and judgment. In light of this, WH created the “Owning It” package—which spotlights various women with complicated and often difficult-to-diagnose conditions who decided to take a stand for their health. Our hope is that their stories help empower women everywhere to advocate for themselves and get the care and attention they deserve.
Toward the end of high school, I discovered something called a pulsar—a type of neutron star—with another student. I also helped represent the United States in the International Space Olympics in Russia and attended a program at NASA. At the same time, symptoms I’d had for a while—like hearing and feeling things that weren’t there, such as voices and shadowy figures—became more pronounced.
I felt as if I were losing my mind—and my future. I worried that if my symptoms continued to get worse, I wouldn’t be able to succeed in college or even just function. I didn’t want a mental health diagnosis to embarrass my family, either, so I decided not to talk to a doctor about it. It was all too much to deal with, so I attempted suicide my freshman year at Penn State. It was a difficult time for me, but I got through it.
Eight months later, I was having dark thoughts again. At that point, though, I had started opening up to some friends about what I was going through. They supported me, believed I had a medical condition that could be treated, and gave me the courage to finally seek help. That’s how I got a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
I didn’t know at the time if treatment would help, but now I know that it definitely does. My college was beyond supportive too; I was allowed to reduce my class load and take some courses that were a little less stressful.
I feel so lucky to have met people who’ve been positive and understanding about my diagnosis—so I founded the organization Students With Psychosis around a year ago to help ensure that others experiencing these kinds of mental health issues have a similarly supportive community. Last fall was our first semester expanding outside of Penn State, and we now have more than 60 student leaders across the world who are interested in getting involved at their schools.
Among my favorite outreach events are our silent discos, where everyone dances but has headphones on and is listening to their own music. It’s really fun, and it also helps spread awareness about audio hallucinations, which can occur with schizophrenia. What I’ve finally realized is that hiding my condition doesn’t help anyone—but speaking out does.
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Women’s Health.
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