In my travels, both in real life and online, I meet a lot of people. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, opinions, and even the disagreements that crop up along the way. Just as often as people learn from me, I learn from them. I decided a couple months back to dedicate some blog space to some of the folks I have met. So, without further ado, ladies and gentleman, please meet Melissa.
Melissa is 21 years old and lives in New Jersey. She first started noticing symptoms of mental illness when she was 12 years old. It was then that she began hurting herself in various ways and having suicidal thoughts. In the summer of 2005, she made her first suicide attempt.
Despite many misdiagnoses over the years, she has now been correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and clinical depression, as well as some type of anxiety disorder and, potentially, a mild form of OCD. It was a long road to these diagnoses. Previously, she had been diagnosed with ADHD, which confused her because she says she didn’t display any symptoms of that disorder.
In the summer of 2010, Melissa went off to college, where she began starving herself. That summer, she was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric treatment facility for three days, where she was stabilized. After that, she described things as stable until they “fell apart” in 2012.
She took a leave of absence from school and entered an intensive outpatient program (IOP). She says the IOP completely changed her life. She explained, “In the nine weeks that I was in the program, I learned more about myself, my disorders, and coping skills than I had in my entire life. It was there I learned that I had been misdiagnosed.”
Using Her Experience to Fight The Stigma Of Mental Illness
In order to use her experience to fight the stigma of mental illness, Melissa organized the Wear White for Hope event in the fall of 2010. She explained that on September 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi took his own life, allegedly because of bullying by his roommate because of his sexual orientation. It was around that time that many of her peers were creating events such as “Wear Purple for Anti-Bullying” or “Wear Yellow for Gay Equality.”
She told me it became clear that there was no event that incorporated all groups of people. This was where Wear White for Hope began. It was just a way to show support for everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or any other attribute. It was a way to encourage people to have hope, no matter what situation they were in.
Melissa has organized this event every year since, with the exception of 2012, because of her involvement in the IOP. But she got right back to it in 2013. She said, “It was at the 2013 event that I received my largest audience and most positive feedback. I decided that I wanted to pursue the idea further, so I turned it into an organization of sorts. I figured that you can never have too much hope, so why not send that message all the time?”
In life, it is easy to see the bad, especially when you have been through many of the things Melissa has. She has an illness she has to fight, but she has a relentless, “never surrender” spirit to help her through the darker times. She didn’t choose to be sick (no one does), but she did choose to have hope. She also chose to share that hope with others and I find that to be very inspiring.
Melissa hopes someday to be a motivational speaker or possibly a zookeeper. She currently works with children and continues to grow Wear White for Hope every year. “We are still in the very early stages of development, but hopefully with the continued support of our followers, it will become something much bigger and will spread the message of hope even further.”
To learn more about Melissa and Wear White for Hope, connect with her on Facebook or follow her on twitter, @WhiteForHope