In 2011, after becoming severely ill and entering recovery, I asked a therapist, "Will I be able to return to school and finish my bachelors?" She looked at me with pity and said, "I think you should focus on therapy right now.” I insisted, "Yes, but what about down the line?” She continued to look at me with pity and this time she said, "Look, your condition just won't allow it. You need to focus on getting SSI. You may never work again nor go to school and that is okay.”

I felt so horrible. I then was assigned another therapist and a psychiatrist and I asked them the same question, "Would I ever be able to go back to school?" They both told me “no” and the psychiatrist went as far as telling me, "You are going to have to mourn this loss. Eventually, you will have to let go of this idea. Of this dream. It just isn't for you given your condition.”

I felt so little, so worthless, and I began to process the loss of my dream to go back to school. Therapy offices closed, some therapists moved, and for various reasons I switched therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists and every single time I asked the same question because there was this longing in my heart to go back to school. Each time I was told to forget about it and settle for less.

Against all odds, I entered school again. The first semester was my worst. I had a breakdown and no therapy. When I asked my advisor for help she looked me in the eye and said, "Fill out this form.” I asked, "What is this?" She said, "It's a form to drop out of school. People like you, people with your condition, just can't make it in a highly academic school like this one.” I was so offended but I believed her. I believed all the professionals and I felt like a total failure at that moment.

Crying, I went to my professor and asked him to sign my paper so that I could drop out. That professor saved my life. He chose to believe in me. He said, "Get that paper out of my face. You are going to go to a counselor on campus. You will get accommodations via the disability department and the dean of students. You are one of my best students. I am telling you, you are not allowed to quit.”

It took one person to change my life forever in a positive way. From there on, I learned my rights on disability, I sought help and found an amazing therapist who I’ve been with for almost four years. I found how to study and work with my condition and today, wow! Today (May 24), I accomplished this. Today, I graduated with a Bachelor's in Psychology, Magna Cum Laude, from Stony Brook University. 

My hat represents the struggle with psychosis. The many times I was told I couldn't pursue my dream because of it. The many times I heard voices during an important test. The many times I had a crisis but I had understanding professors who worked with me. It was not easy, but it also was not impossible, as some professionals made it seem.

About my photo: The radio represents the voices I usually hear. I usually hear radio voices rather than one solid voice. I love sharks. Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with sharks and their conservation. I love them. On my graduation cap, the background has sharks in white and grey swimming in blue water. There are gold letters that read, "I did it with psychosis.” There are two colorful boomboxes around it. In the bottom it reads "#endthestigma.”



MY BRAIN IS ON FIRE by Lynne Warberg

Since my son's birth, I lovingly photographed him every day to create family memories.  Looking back, these images have become an extensive archive representing a mother and son's unique view of over 15 years of heartbreak, hope, sadness and terror and reveal how a family deals with their child's rapid cycling mood episodes. By sharing my story I hope parents who may be experiencing similar incidents, can detect the symptoms and get help, so that an early diagnosis can be achieved. 

"My Brain is on Fire" is a fifteen year personal project about my son, who was diagnosed with Pediatric Bipolar Disorder or Juvenile Onset Bipolar Disorder, a form of bipolar disorder that occurs in children. Although, he exhibited symptoms at a very young age, he was not properly diagnosed until the age of eleven. My son showed symptoms of extreme behavior and mood changes for many years prior to being diagnosed. As a parent I sought every possible cause; parenting, nutrition, seizures, vision problems? Consistently I was told by almost every mental health practitioner, "We know very little about the brain," and no one was willing or able to diagnose him sooner because childhood mental illness is a very controversial issue.

The controversy lies in the "official" diagnosis and how a child psychiatrist interprets the child's symptoms and behaviors. Even though, my son developed rages lasting over an hour within any given day, and at the young age of 5 told us that he wanted to die, he was diagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and agitated depression. These are the disorders listed for children in the DSM and doctors prescribe adult psychiatric medication according to the diagnosis. My son's first psychiatric medication was an antidepressant. His mania worsened. Next amphetamines were prescribed. I refused. His brain was on fire. Six years was spent in this vicious circle of try another drug with severe side effects never tested on children to see if it works. When he was finally diagnosed with Pediatric Bipolar Disorder by a psychiatrist we trusted he followed a treatment plan; medication and therapy, and was mainstreamed back into classes with "normal" kids. His life opened up for him, school was easier, he made friends, we had hope.

My son lost his childhood to mental illness. Now Sam is 25 and two years ago was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. He lives at home with me. My heart aches for all of us dealing with severe brain disease and especially for those who have lost their child. 

To read more of Lynne's and Sam's story and to see her photos.
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Photo Credit: Lynne Warberg

Photo Credit: Lynne Warberg