BEING NOMINATED: Jackie Kali, student
Dr. Barbara Burns, faculty
(Life Sciences 111 852-5947)
CATEGORY: Disabled Student
of the Year AND
Achievement & Personal Growth
REASON FOR NOMINATION: Like
Kay Jamison Redfield, I have a severe mood disorder called
manic depression (also referred to as bipolar disorder). I
spent a majority of 2001 in the psychiatric ward of both U of
L and VA Hospital; in fact, my psychiatrist and therapist are
amazed that I’ve bounced back so well and actually managed to
maintain a “B” average carrying a full load of classes.
I’ve wanted to come back to
school since I was first diagnosed in 1997; it’s been a
constant struggle getting just the right mix of medicine to
stabilize my moods and accepting that I even have a mental
More than that, though, I
was afraid to come back to school—afraid I may have a manic
outburst or go into such a severe depression that I could not
talk, walk or eat, much less do class work and attend class.
Mostly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted.
So I hid from the world,
embarrassed that I was not able to control my own emotions and
afraid how people may discriminate against me if they knew. I
still feel afraid.
“And the day came when the
risk to remain tight in a
bud was more painful than
the risk it took to
· Anais Nin
Like Kay Jamison Redfield
responded when asked about how she found the courage to
announce her mental disorder knowing that she may lose her
license, I simply got “tired of being scared”.
Unlike many disabilities, I
could hide. And it’d be easier for me in many ways to do just
that! I made an intentional effort to “come out of the closet”
about my mental disorder since I first arrived on campus so
that my fellow psychology students could get a first-hand
chance to see that when treated, people with mental disorders
can be as “normal” as anyone AND that my mental disorder has
only made me stronger in many ways ... for I now have the
strength to reveal what the world sees as a “weakness”.
Indeed, I have found the
strength to “blossom”.
I have one instructor, Dr.
Barbara Burns, who has really gone out of her way to help me
feel that I am accepted in her class! After I told her about
my disorder, she made a serious joke that she’d be watching
for my red hair and make sure I’m ok. And she does just that!
Even in a class over 200 large, like the mother of a VERY
large brood, she manages to throw a maternal glance my way
each day to make sure I’m doing ok. More than that, in her
class more than any other, I feel like I’m taken seriously!
This may sound like a given
considering she is a psychology instructor and one would think
she’d be more accepting and encouraging just by virtue of her
experience and knowledge of mental disorders. Ironically,
however, I have another psychology instructor explicitly state
in her syllabus:
“If you wish to make
personal disclosures, you may do so, BUT please do so only
after careful consideration of the possible consequences to
you and others. Louisville is a small community and this is a
After announcing to the
class that I have manic depressive disorder the first day of
class, I read over her syllabus that night. Imagine my
embarassment! I started feeling ashamed of what I did, then I
realized that the shame was not mine!
I approached this particular
instructor after reading the syllabus and assured her that I
would limit any personal experiences and input in the future
as she requests in her syllabus. AND I also made it clear I
had NO regrets about “exposing” myself.
Like a mother watching her
child learn to ride a bike, I’m sure this instructor simply
wanted to “save me” from hurting myself. However, it is
precisely falling from the bike that is necessary for the
child, or all the students in her class in this case, to
Silence = Death
“Anything that I may have
lost from being open about who I am was not meant to be mine
to begin with”, I told her. I wanted to make it clear that I
was perfectly willing to accept any perceived “personal
consequences” to myself. As far as any “personal consequences”
I have caused anyone else, I have no idea what they could be
other than to have opened a mind or two. Considering a mind
works best when open, I am willing to live with that, too!
In fact, when I first called
U of L looking for information on the different psychology
programs, a professor (who shall remain nameless) asked me if
he could give me some “personal advice” when I told him I have
been diagnosed with manic depression. Considering the tone in
his voice, I reluctantly said “yes”.
He went on to say that he’d
never seen anyone with a mental illness be “successful” in
psychology. To which I responded, “Maybe you’ve heard of a
little lady named Kay Jamison Redfield?” He said, “Well, she’s
exceptional.” To which I quickly replied, “Well, I am, too!”
and hung up.
Silence may be safer but it
never can and never will raise awareness! It’s precisely
because Louisville is a small community that I will wave—and
refuse to “waive” -- my banner of pride to let those who will
listen see first-hand how healthy a person with a mental
illness can be when she takes responsibility for it.
I feel the only reason
people have pre-judice is that they make assumptions based on
what they know (and in this case it is very little, even in
the case of the “experts”). For although many mental health
professionals study those with psychiatric illnesses
intensely, most have not “walked the walk”. More importantly,
no one can truly predict what another person is capable of—the
human spirit is boundless!
Teaching people from a
textbook what mental illness is all about is one way to
educate people about mental disorders; teaching students from
first-hand experience interacting with another student who has
a psychiatric disorder is another, possibly more effective
way—or at the very least a very necessary enhancement to it!
Through education and
exposure to people with the courage to let the world know
about their disabilities, not only will “normal” peoples’
prejudices slowly subside into acceptance, people who have
mental disabilities who are not yet diagnosed will start
having the courage to come out of their closets, too, and get
the help they so desperately need!
The sheer catharsism of
shouting to the world about this disorder will heal me whether
I win an award or not! My therapist says depressions is simply
“anger turned inside out”. I know that’s true! Since I’ve
“found my voice”, I’ve managed to stay out of the hospitals.
So no syllabus or even award will ever make me be silent
again! For this illness can literally be a matter of life and
death for people like me!
Both diagnosed and
undiagnosed, many people with severe mental disorders die
every year. I personally know a man who was diagnosed with
severe manic depression who died the end of 2001 because he
stopped taking his medicine. The stigma attached to taking
medicine for a mental illness and the weakness that our
society attaches to it was more than he could accept.
His family would be willing
to come to campus and share their story. It is through their
telling his story that he may go on living and that they may
give his death meaning! Alas, I have not yet found a proper
forum (If you know of one, please let me know).
The doctors and “experts”
claim the reason people with mental illness have a hard time
accepting it is the “stigma” attached to mental illness. For
me and many friends from my bipolar group, it is that it is so
terminal. From first diagnosis, we are told that we will have
to take this medicine for the rest of our lives.
Acceptance is the key.
I know there’s a good chance
I will always have to take this medicine in order to live with
this illness. I finally accept that and even though it’s
perfectly ok if i do always have to take the medicine, I now
know through expanding my education to Eastern Philosophies
that there is a chance that I will eventually learn to balance
my own brain chemistry drug-free or at least reduce the amount
of medicine I currently take.
People with disabilities of
any sort must learn self-acceptance before we can expect
anyone else to accept us. As Mother Theresa said, “One saves
the world one person at a time—starting with one’s self.”
I also attend yoga and
meditation groups on a weekly basis. My yoga teacher at Yoga
East was also diagnosed with manic depression and through her
diligent yoga practice and many diet and lifestyle changes,
she has been able to actually stop taking medication
So, not only has she helped
me learn to accept myself through the yoga practice, she has
given me hope on a more personal level that when I am “sharing
my love and peace”, as she reminds us at the end of each yoga
session that the great Dr Wayne Dyer encourages, I really can
In addition to diligently
researching web sources of information on manic depression
such as “bipolarworld.net” and attending weekly meetings on
manic depression, I have read most every book imaginable on
Bipolar disorder in an effort to educate myself.
I have a book-on-tape called
“Living with Depression and Manic Depression” and another
called “You Can Heal Yourself” that I listen to on a regular
basis in addition to many other self-help books-on-tape.
In March 2001, I
participated in a published study with Dr. El-Mallakh at
University of Louisville Hospital. Currently, I am
participating in an outpatient study with him. I am totally
willing to expose myself to the hazards of being a human
“guinea pig” in order to help further medical understanding of
this elusive disease!
Now, I intend to translate
my personal experiences, self-education and heart-felt empathy
into a masters in art therapy where I will help others help
Kay Jamison Redfield also
said that after surviving this long with manic depression,
there’s nothing she felt she could not do! As the saying goes,
what didn’t kill her only made her grow stronger! Her
“weakness” has become her greatest “strength”! And has started
to empower others like me! Like her, I will prove that people
with mental illnesses can AND do “succeed” in psychiatric
She has started a ripple
effect. I am but one ripple in this pool of life.
My main goal is to always
let my clients feel totally accepted—NOT pitied—and to raise
general awareness that mental disabilities are NOT weaknesses
anymore than any other “dis - ability”— rather, they our
greatest strengths with the right attitude and lots of
Thank you for your time and