“Empowerment is knowing I’m doing progress, acknowledging it, and keeping myself in check with things I should do to feel much better about myself.”
Fabiola del Valle
More often than not, heroes walk amongst us carrying invisible capes and fighting internal battles in their minds that we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Just as often, these same heroes are welcomed with stigma and prejudice instead of open arms. Even then, many still decide to be brave and share their story in hopes of creating a more understanding world. That’s why today I want to highlight one of Her Campus heroines, Fabiola del Valle.
Fabiola is a 22-year-old English Literature undergraduate student from the UPRM. She is currently one of the two Campus Correspondents for our Her Campus chapter. She is a fierce advocate for mental disorders especially her own, bipolarity. Mental illness has been a long standing taboo in society. People who suffer them have been isolated and marginated due to the lack of understanding of their conditions. As society advances, more and more treatments have been created to help people deal with their conditions and lead normal lives. But we still need to walk towards a world were mental illness, just like any other condition, is normalized and understood. That’s why people who are brave enough to be open about what they go through are a vital part of our communities.
Fabiola’s journey towards knowing about her disorder and treating it wasn’t a straight road. At first, she was misdiagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) while culminating her first semester of senior year in high school. She remembers that after the diagnosis she “went to a park near [her] house, cried, and listened to all of The Smiths’ discography, because that’s how depressed [she] wanted to feel over it.” It was a very difficult moment in her life; she was feeling very light and suddenly very uncertain as to what she was supposed to do. In the end, the doctors were able to diagnose her with Bipolar II disorder, but this didn’t make her situation any easier. At the time, she felt that she was “too high up in a cloud to properly respond to the situation.”
Bipolar disorder is described by the national institute of mental health as a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It affects approximately 5.7 million American adults. Patients swing from periods of depression and mania. Fabiola describes mania as a “thrilling roller coaster, let it be one of creativity, impulsivity, or self-destruction.” For her, mania is chaotic and even though she is at her most creative when suffering from it, it has also ruined relationships and part of her reputation. Dealing with her disorder hasn’t been easy. She remembers being a “slap in the face before starting treatment, emotionally, at least.” Feelings that she couldn’t control would wallow inside her and she could do very little to control them. She recognizes that for a long time she “self-loathed and harmed [herself] so much and others” that there’s still people she doesn’t talk to but would like to make amends with for all the mess that she left. I find it admirable that after all this time and growth she does recognize the damage she might have once caused.
Fabiola hopes to continue getting better, gradually with therapy. She also wants to focus on her studies and future. With time, she wants to receive more natural treatments hoping to stop being a slave to pills. This is because she has a difficult relationship with her medication. She confesses that “medication routines embarrass [her] at times.” But, she finds comfort in the fact that someday she might stop taking pills altogether. With time, she’s “made amends with the hatred [she] has for medication” and approaches each pill with optimism.
One day Fabiola took a what the hell is there to lose attitude and decided to be open about her disorder. She believes that she could serve as an example and comfort for a person going through a similar situation. The first time she was open about her mental illness she felt at ease. But it’s actually never been a secret for her. Fabiola has always been vocal about it and has had the bravery to explain what she goes through when the correct conversation is being held. Not to receive attention but instead to help society normalize the idea of mental illnesses in general. The idea of normalizing this, just as any other illness, is that everyone can be aware of their existence and what they implicate. She does mention that one of the people she has always admired due to her transparency while suffering through this condition was Carrie Fisher. And Fabiola is certainly living up to her today and everyday as she opens up to us and others.
Part of normalizing mental illness is realizing that people who suffer them are not defined by their conditions. As Fabiola intelligently puts it, she’s “learned to dissociate the fact that [she is] human and [she has] other qualities than just being Bipolar.” She does acknowledge it as a personality trait that is very present but it’s not one that should outshine the others. Thankfully, Fabiola’s experiences when approaching others about her condition has always been positive. Hopefully, more people out there can have the same experience as the veil of stigma and prejudice falls to the floor. Some common misconceptions about bipolarity and many other mental diseases is that people who suffer them are toxic or simply crazy. Fabiola wants to point out that even when she recognizes that even though at some point she was a toxic person, she got help, and understanding this is part of what we would like to accomplish normalizing mental illness. People who suffer mental illnesses have real life symptoms that are just as tangible as those of an infection. In the same line, she assures doubters that she is surely not crazy. Fabiola describes herself as “a human being who just happens to run on medication for the time being, and that’s okay.”
Today, she is “proud of how [she’s] gotten back on [her] feet and how [she’s] managed to go through hell and back.” Not only does she do an amazing job writing and editing in Her Campus UPRM, but she also works along wonderful people for Sábanas Literary Magazine. In both, she inspires and helps people from different majors and backgrounds find and embrace their voice. Personally I’m very thankful of her support as we newbies embark on the Her Campus journey. We definitely couldn’t do it without her.
For Fabiola “empowerment is knowing [she is] doing progress, acknowledging it, and keeping [herself] in check with things [she] should do to feel much better about [herself].” And for us, empowerment is seeing a woman like her deciding to be an inspiration and mentor to so many others out there with her experience. Let this “juana” be an example to us all of the importance of not being ashamed by the situations or illnesses we face. It is time stigma is replaced by acceptance so more people out there can start feeling more comfortable in their own skin.
“It’s important that we, as members of society, break the stigma on mental health and empathize with the feelings of others.”
Fabiola del Valle
To learn more about Fabiola and what she goes through check out her article: From a Manic Woman to You: Ending the Stigma on Mental Health Day.