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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration


Last Updated: 6/6/2013

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)

 

Tiffany Dawson's Story

Hi everyone, my name is Tiffany Dawson. I was diagnosed bipolar at a young age. At the time I had no knowledge of mental illness and it was one of the scariest things I have ever dealt with. You see, when I was 15, I became severely depressed and started cutting myself to ease the pain. I pushed away my friends, family, teachers, siblings, everyone. Eventually I found myself spending as much time as I could alone, hating myself and the world around me.

I would cut often and I think it would be safe to say I was addicted. I started chatting with strangers online (my new "friends") at a young age, and at times found myself in some scary situations. Things progressively got worse as I grew older. I was moving through high school and I started doing drugs and I did find some friends but they weren't the kind that my mother approved of, although my mother and I were not on very good terms throughout this as it was. I had left her and my father both exhausted mentally and emotionally and I think it's safe to say now that they honestly had no idea what to do with me.

I will never forget the moment that my mother collapsed and ended up being admitted to the hospital due to stress-related chest pains and such. I knew it was my fault and I felt guiltier than I ever have. Unfortunately, I was nowhere near recovery and all it did was cause me to retreat back into my own little world, full of solitude and razor blades. I saw many doctors and experienced a couple of hospitalizations and various medications and throughout this time was when I was officially diagnosed: bipolar. At that point I was not interested whatsoever in treatment and failed to stick with anything that may have helped me.

Miraculously, I graduated high school, but all that did was give me more time and the next thing I know, I'm scrounging up every dime I could to get down to Detroit as often as possible to buy drugs and go to raves in abandoned warehouses with people I hardly knew. There are times that I still look back on these things and I still have a hard time believing that I persevered through everything that I did. If I were to sit here and discuss with you every little thing that I went through before I started my path to recovery, I would probably take up way too much of your time.

For me, personally, I was in the "Life is Limited" stage of change for a very long time. When I say a long time, I literally mean years. I knew that something was "wrong" with me, so to speak, but I had no interest in changing any of it. I'm not sure if I felt that it was hopeless, or if I just found comfort in the solitude and sadness. I was afraid of losing what small amount of control that I thought I had, and I think my mind frame was sort of like "People already think I am 'crazy.' What's the point in changing?" I think there were times that I knew that something had to be done, but I still really didn't see the point and I think I was so afraid to even try.

Instead, I was stuck wondering why no one understood me and why everyone was always "against" me. In a way, no one did understand. To anyone I came into contact with for a long time, cutting = suicidal. I think that now people may be a little more educated on the subject, but at that time and the small area I lived in, I had an extremely hard time convincing people otherwise.

How do you tell and then convince someone that dragging a razor blade across your skin is your form of self-medication? I remember one time, I cut myself really bad. I was scared, my mind was completely frazzled and I was alone. I decided to go to the local hospital. I did my best to convey that I needed help as I was bleeding all over their floor and hyperventilating to the point of passing out. They put me in a room, and once my breathing was under control, they said the doctor would be in to look at my cuts.

The doctor came in and looked, and he was obviously not pleased with what he saw. The next thing I know, there is a social worker in my room and I am being threatened with the police if I did not participate in this "suicide evaluation." Who said anything about suicide? Almost instantly I went from being scared and upset to defiant and pissed off, doing my best to defend myself. Long story short, I lost and complied to answer that social worker's ridiculous questions, just so she could tell the doctor that no, this girl is not suicidal.

Hmmm. That situation shook me up a little, and made me quite angry. I was finally ready to make some changes. After that I located assistance on my own. I got started on some medication and did my own research on my illness. Once I had the knowledge about what I was dealing with, I was able to teach myself coping skills to quit cutting and eventually, I was able to stop recreational drug use when I became pregnant with my daughter.

It sounds simple writing it down, but it took me about 5 years to reach a stage in my recovery where I was comfortable maintaining. My story may not have much shock value but I can hardly put into words some of the emotional trauma I went through. My mind was almost as if it was not my own at times, and I hope to never experience the bouts of hopelessness I felt ever again. There were times I felt suicidal, I had no friends, and I hated myself passionately. It was a long, rough road and I am lucky that some things I participated in did not have worse outcomes.

I am proud to report that I am now a Peer Support Specialist at St. Clair County Community Mental Health working with our division of Mental Health Court, I have a beautiful daughter, I am a college student, and I live a very fulfilling life. I still struggle with my illness every day and I will be on medication for the rest of my life, but I am thankful to be here and to be able to say that recovery IS possible and here I am, living proof. I am also extremely grateful to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with others in hopes that it could help someone on their own path to recovery and that I am in a position where I am able to offer support to those that need it.

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.