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Surviving College with Mental Disability
I have always thought of myself as shy and introverted. However, it did not occur to me that my apparent shyness was in fact a psychiatric condition, until it got really intense and I became 'scared of people'. I did not really understand what was going on with me, until I was diagnosed with selective mutism, a psychological disorder characterized by an inability to speak in social settings.It affects about 0.5 to 0.75 percent of kids. Now I know someone out there is thinking about how absurd this is.....and it is absurd that someone can be 'afraid of people' when he himself is a human being. Well, that is one thing I find puzzling about mental disorders. The sufferer can clearly reason that a certain behavior is illogical, yet he/ she lacks total control from preventing the behavior from manifesting.
I began treatment for selective mutism as a teenager, when it had gotten way out of control. Often, my teachers concluded that I had a learning disability, possibly autism. At one time I was forced to repeat a grade in elementary school but my silent rebellion saved me the shame :)To date, I still exhibit characteristics of a person suffering from the disorder because I enrolled into treatment very late. I still tend to walk looking down, avoid most social situations, and at times not talk to anyone, even if I need help. This behavior comes as very shocking to the people around me and most immediately label me as 'the anti-social girl'. I must admit that it was very difficult coming to college, meeting new people and pretending that things were just okay, even though I knew I had this crippling disability that almost threatened to make a mini-hell out of my college experience. To some extent I started stigmatizing myself and concluding that I would never get better, despite receiving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy every week. However, I was forced to withdraw my discouraging conclusion when I met a group on campus, of people suffering from mental disorders and still living and enjoying life like all normal kids on campus.
At the beginning of the semester, my psychiatrist decided to enroll me into a group of eight students experiencing various mental disorders; some having multiple mental disorders that they have managed to control over the past few years. Many of them shared the stigma and the labels given to them as students with mental disorders. I mean, our fallible human nature always prompts us to conclude that anyone who mentions that he/ she is mentally disabled is not likely to be intelligent, or better yet, will never get to attend college and even graduate with honors. Indeed the stigma associated with mental illnesses is greater than that associated with most diseases.
From this group of people I learnt a fundamental principle that I will forever hold in my life, that is, 'other people's opinions are just opinions. They can never replace the truth'. Despite the criticism they've faced concerning their disability, they continue to believe in themselves simply because they know what they are capable of. They have learnt to accept themselves as they are, because it is not their fault that they were born that way, and their disability does not define them anyway.
To cope with my mental handicap, I have decided to make changes in my life. I have resolved to first of all accept that I am disabled and that I can get better (if not completely well). I have also resolved not to hide from the world because of the shame I have towards myself. Now, I have decided to believe in myself to overcome this previously insurmountable challenge, because people have done it, and I am no more or less human than they are.
My only wish is that people out there would understand better the challenges faced by mentally handicap children, rather than stigmatize them. The eight people I met this semester have proven that mental disability is not equivalent to inability to succeed and that given the opportunity, mentally handicap children can live a normal life and achieve dreams of their own. If you know someone with a mental handicap, I encourage you to show that you appreciate them. Quit treating them like handicap children because this only grounds the stigma associated with the disorder. It is okay to help them with a few things here and there, but treating them like normal people will enforce the fact that they can be normal and live normal lives.
I am mentally disabled....and I am not ashamed :)