I was born to a substance-addicted mother in a rough section of North Philadelphia, and was raised by my grandmother and step-grandfather. I was sent to a private school outside of my neighborhood because my grandmother didn’t want me to be influenced by the local kids, who were getting into any and everything that you could possibly imagine. Things were normal even though the household was in dysfunction. I was doing well in private school. But then, as I was getting closer to my middle school exit—I got sad one day and it never went away.

High school hit, and I didn’t shake this feeling. I didn’t fit in and my peers made sure to let me know it. I went from being an honor roll student to failing. I noticed that I was sad one minute, then happy the next. I went from having a normal sleep schedule to not sleeping at all, sometimes for days on end.

I told my family what I was experiencing. We tried mobile therapy; that didn’t work. With these feelings, coupled with the almost daily bullying and fighting, I was beginning to fall apart. I couldn’t grasp a thought let alone muster the words to explain everything that was going on. One day I wrote a suicide letter because I wanted out. I knew I needed help. No one believed me.

After high school, and deciding to skip my graduation, I was finally able to take myself to the doctor. I was hit with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. What did this mean? I never got an explanation. I just got a prescription and was sent on my merry way. A year into my treatment, as I was slowly getting better, tragedy struck. My grandmother had a heart attack right in front of my eyes. During the time that she was in hospice, my mother, brother and I were told that we were no longer welcome to stay in the house. Just like that, everything was packed, and the night of the funeral we had to go.

I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle. After a few months, I was sent back to live in my hometown. Just like that, I became homeless and transient. I found myself on constant euphoric highs, and extreme depressive lows. I tried to support myself by working multiple jobs at once while continuing my education. I soon found myself bouncing from house to house. I felt like a burden and like no one cared. It wasn’t until I met the person who is now my best friend that things changed. She wanted to help me, so she took me in as if I was one of her own. She has been a constant in my life, and has helped me to move forward.

I am set to graduate in May of 2015 with my Associate of Applied Science Degree in Behavioral Health and Human Services, and, in June, exactly ten years after skipping high school graduation, I will receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Behavioral Health Counseling. I am a member of an international honor society and an academic honor society, and currently hold a 4.0 GPA. I found my passion; I currently work as a Recovery Coach, providing peer support and hope to transition-aged youth and adults. I learned what has worked for me, what hasn’t. I have learned my triggers and how to counteract them. I have the best system that a woman can ask for, surrounded by the love of friends and classmates who root for me every step of the way.

I’ve come to realize that even though these things may have happened to me … it’s ok. Although these things may be fact—I am not these things. I’m more than just another face, another statistic, or person living with a disorder. I’ve been given a gift and have been selected to now sit on the other of the table to share my experiences. I’ve been through a lot; more than I would have liked to at a young age, but, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am a survivor.

I want to say I lived each day, until I died, and know that I meant something in, somebody’s life
The hearts I have touched, will be the proof that I leave. That I made a difference, and this world will see
—Beyonce, I Was Here