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    Passion Through Lived Experience: Krystal’s Journey to Her MSW

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    A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Krystal Reddick who is a blogger, a social work student, and overall someone with so much passion and drive. At the age of 23, Krystal was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder during her Master’s in Education grad program.

    Ten years later, through her own self-discovery and recovery towards mental wellness, Krystal has decided to pursue a career in social work. Having lived experience and the professional background gives her a unique outlook on the field, and she plans on continuing to share her story in order to help others along the way.

    Prevailing research states 1 in every 4 individuals suffer from a mental illness which equates to approximately 61.5 million people in the United States. Also, current research tells us that 50 percent of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent of all chronic mental illness will manifest by age 24. – Social Work Helper

    In the spirit of sharing her experiences, you can view our conversation below:

    SWH: Being someone with lived experience and a working professional, what perspective do you bring to the field that differs from your peers who do not have lived experience with a mental illness?

    Krystal:As someone with lived experience and an aspiring mental health professional, my perspective feels like a combination of an insider and an outsider. As an insider, I know what my personal experiences have been with my bipolar disorder; I’ve been manic, depressed, and stable. At the same time, once I finish graduate school and become a social worker, I’ll have to have a certain amount of distance and firm boundaries. I hope to be a social worker that can draw on my lived experience; I hope it makes me more understanding and compassionate and patient.

    SWH: You stated that you sought out help at your school but it wasn’t helpful. How was that process for you? Did you feel comfortable asking for help? What about it didn’t make it helpful?

    Krystal: While I was depressed in graduate school it took me weeks to get up the coverage to seek help from a college therapist. My energy levels were low, and I had practically no follow through. But I eventually made an appointment with a therapist on campus. The process wasn’t that helpful. And I understand why now, a few years removed from the experience.

    The therapist recommended I seek outside care through my mother’s health insurance as the grad school’s system was swamped with students. At the time I thought he did not take me or my depression seriously. But I understand now that it was a resource issue. However, his response wasn’t helpful at the time and I never sought help again. It took all I had to come and see him. The only reason I got help was because a subsequent manic episode ended the depression, and I landed in the hospital.

    At the time, I thought he did not take me or my depression seriously. But I understand now that it was a resource issue. However, his response wasn’t helpful at the time and I never sought help again. It took all I had to come and see him. The only reason I got help was because a subsequent manic episode ended the depression, and I landed in the hospital.

    SWH: What made you have a career change from education to social work?

    Krystal: I have been in the education field for 9 years. My own lived experience along with the experiences of a few of my family members coupled with my time as a high school English teacher, have all prompted me to switch careers from education to social work. As a teacher, I felt constrained in my attempts to work with the students. As a teacher, I had to focus on the academic side of things. But I found myself also concerned about my students as people, concerned about their social-emotional development and their development as human beings.

    SWH: Can you tell us about the process you took when you had to take a leave from school? What was that like for you?

    I experienced my first bout of depression while in my last year of graduate school for education. It was debilitating. I lost about 15 pounds. I didn’t sleep or eat or bathe. I barely left the house. And I avoided family and friends. However, a few months later I became manic. The mania was disruptive in ways that the depression was not. And resulted in a 3-week hospitalization during the spring semester of graduate school.

    There was no way I was going to graduate on time, so I withdrew from school to focus on my health and recovery. I felt like a failure for having to “drop out.” All of my college friends were either still in law school or medical school, or were already in the workforce making good money. I felt like a bum in comparison. However, I’ve since learned that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I try not to compare myself or my journey to others. Life is a lot less stressful that way.

    SWH: What would you say has been the most helpful in your recovery?

    Krystal: I can’t pinpoint just one factor that has been helpful for my recovery. In fact, it has been a combination of medicine, therapy, my support system, and a solid sleep schedule that have helped me most. The medicine, if I take it regularly, keeps me stable and even-keeled. Therapy has been great because my therapist keeps me accountable to myself and the goals I’ve set for my life. Goals that have nothing to do with being diagnosed. He has tried hard to get me to live as normally as possible and not to be debilitated by a mental health label. Next, is my support system: my fiance, my family, and my friends. They all let me know if they see signs that an episode might be looming. They visit me in the hospital, they pray for me, and they love me

    Next, is my support system: my fiance, my family, and my friends. They all let me know if they see signs that an episode might be looming. They visit me in the hospital, they pray for me, and they love me despite things I’ve done while manic that are not too nice. And lastly, a regular sleep schedule and good sleep hygiene are important to keep episodes at bay. I don’t sleep much during manic and depressive episodes. So trying to get as much sleep as possible, allows my brain to stay calm.

    SWH: What advice would you give to other college students who find themselves struggling with their mental health?

    Krystal: For other college students struggling with their mental health while in school, I’d encourage them to seek help. They do not have to go through this alone. I actually wrote an article for The Mighty about navigating mental health concerns while in college or grad school.

    Check it out here: https://themighty.com/2016/08/how-to-navigate-college-or-grad-school-and-mental-illness/

    Julia Cardoso is the Mental Health Staff Writer with a focus on Anxiety Disorders. She is a graduate of Emmanuel College with a BA in Sociology and is on her second year MSW program at Simmons College. Julia is passionate about Mental Health and eliminating the stigma.

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