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Commentary: Shedding the veil of mental illness, addiction

There have been times in my life when I could not decipher what was real and what was not. The world would be moving around me, and I would be suffering in silence while fighting my demons. As much as I would like to believe that world around me will act with care and kindness, knowing what my truth is, I know deep inside that is not entirely true.

I am the awkward junior high student sitting in the back of the class to avoid direct human contact, for fear that I might be exposed for who I am behind the veil that I wear. I am the loud emotions that don’t match the small situations.

My mind races so quickly that at times I find myself perspiring trying to keep up with my thoughts. The deepest and darkest parts of my mind are scary alleyways that I cannot seem to escape.

On a very good day, I might go on and on about every single detail, speaking quickly, as if I am racing to share myself with someone before they lose interest. I struggle every day with trying to stay above water and still maintain some dignity while doing so.


I am a case of dual-diagnoses.

As a young girl, I always felt awkward and out of place. I began to use drugs at a young age as an attempt to fit in. I have been institutionalized twice for self-inflicted wounds and have scars on my body that were never discovered.

After 10 years of a battle with drugs and alcohol, I was brought to my knees with desperation and forced to get clean and sober. Shortly after that, I discovered that the diagnoses of bipolar I had been given at the age of 16 is real.

Having to come out to a group of peers and proclaim that I need to take medication to slow down my thoughts enough to feel normal was a rather humiliating experience. Comments range from, “It’s not that big of a deal,” to “Are you sure? You don’t seem bipolar.”


The truth is that I am just a human being who struggles with some battles that not everyone understands.

What does dual-diagnoses even mean? It means that I suffer from the disease of addiction as well as a mental illness. It means that my two diseases feed off each other to create havoc in my life on a daily basis. It means that I need to take exceptional care of myself, which includes regular therapy sessions, psychiatric medications and 12-step meetings on a consistent basis.

By now, you might be asking what the purpose of this piece is. Simply put, awareness is key. Bipolar does not always look like the picture portrayed in movies and not all drug addicts are awful people. It is important to know that before we are a diagnoses, we are human beings who deserve the same opportunity and dignity as anyone else.

PATRICIA MARTINEZ is studying for a master’s in social work at USC’s Irvine campus. She lives in Lake Forest.