Optimistic, goal-oriented, encouraging and positive – If you ever have the pleasure of speaking with Simone, these are just a few words that might come to mind. In spite of her mental health struggles, this vibrant young woman has big plans for a bright future.
Growing up, Simone was the youngest of three girls. She has many fond memories of her younger years and recalls laughter playing an important part in her life. “I was a bit of a class clown and liked to smile and make people laugh. I was always smiling. People complimented me on that.” Her smile serves her still today, as she faces her mental health struggles. “I try to remember that even when I have challenging days, people appreciate me because I have a smile on my face.”
Even though there was laughter, she also recalls difficulties. “I had friends, but I didn’t always fit in. I struggled with my anger and sometimes had outbursts. I didn’t know why I was angry, so that made it difficult to deal with,” she reflects. In addition to being confusing for Simone, the violent outbursts of her youth created a negative inner dialogue that took years to work through. “I started to believe all the bad things people said about me. They would tell me I was bad and ugly. It made it really difficult to love myself.”
In addition to anger issues, Simone’s grew up without a stable father figure. “My dad wasn’t really a good person when I was growing up. That was hard because I think women need a positive male role model to help us understand how to deal with others and know if we are being taken advantage of.”
While the early memories of her dad were not positive, Simone and her father reconnected at the beginning of 2020, and are now working to rebuild their relationship. “I can tell he wants to move forward. He has a certain wisdom now. Even though he did bad things, he learned from them and is wiser than he was before. I could tell he was sorry for the things he did in the past. He had his own personal demons, but it seems he has come out of it with some very valuable lived experience,” Simone notes.
The difficulties she faced growing up helped Simone to relate to her father on a more personal level as well. “I understand him better because I have learned from my past struggles too. It has made me a stronger person. It is an important part of my story. And, it is an important part of his story too.”
Simone also recalls a past that was riddled with hospitalizations as she struggled to understand her mental health challenges. Much of the time from age 27 to 30 was spent in and out of the hospital as medical professionals helped her learn to deal with her diagnosis of schizophrenia-effective disorder and bipolar disorder. But despite the trials, she doesn’t dwell too long on those difficult years, “the past makes me want to strive to be better…I want to change my story, be a better person,” she reflects.
Simone is someone who advocates for herself and others because she understands the stigma attached to mental health issues. “People are quick to throw mental health in my face, but they don’t take the time to understand it. I have to respect myself and not let others invalidate me, and who I am.” She also hopes her story inspires people who have mental health challenges to understand their value and find inner strength. “Keep going when things get tough and be willing to try new things. Just because you don’t fit in, you have talents. You need to use those interests to build your future,” she encourages.
And that is exactly what She plans to do. Currently enrolled at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Simone is working towards a bachelor’s degree in Architecture Technology. She also aspires to one day earn a PhD in Psychology. “Then people can call me Dr. Simone,” she jokes.
In the end, Simone wants people to know that “mental health is not something you should be ashamed of. We are strong, beautiful people with intelligence in our own unique way.”
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