The Center for Reintegration

Back to Work, Back to Life

New Series! A Scholar's Story...

We are kicking off our new scholarship application season on #WORLDMENTALHEALTHDAY! We are very excited to accept applications from our wonderful community of students living with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. For inspiration and motivation to anyone interested in applying, read below to hear a firsthand account from one our current scholars!

Nothing is more inspiring to us at Center for Reintegration than a scholar discussing their journey of recovery and education. Read on as one of our 2019-2020 Scholars shares her amazing story. 

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Center for Reintegration (CFR): What are you attending school for now and how long have you been in school?
Dina (D): I started school in the summer of 2017 and I will be graduating this spring, very exciting! I am a Communications major at Boston College. I will be receiving a liberal arts education. My personal focus is television production.

CFR: Can you tell us a little bit about your story of living with a mental illness, for instance how and when you were diagnosed, and how that impacted your life as a whole?

D: I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder when I was nineteen and I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder in my early thirties. I am currently thirty-seven years old and I have struggled with some form of mental illness (anxiety, depression) my whole life. At the age of nineteen, I was forced to drop out of college and be institutionalized. I struggled to face my problems and ended up going to several different facilities until things finally came together for me in New York. I was enrolled in a program where I was slowly re-integrated back into mainstream society. I also began to face my issues. This period of time lasted for 10 years! I truly thought that my life was over. However, my ability to dream about the future and my determination not to be another statistic in the world of mental health catapulted me forward. I have made great strides in overcoming the obstacles that were set before me.

CFR: What effect has your mental illness had on your educational path? Did it interrupt it? Did it shift your course of focus and/or study?

D: My illness affected my education in a big way and put me a decade behind my friends. As mentioned previously, I was forced to drop out of college in upstate New York after just one semester. I could no longer deal with the stresses of life. The extreme anxiety and depression that I had endured my whole life had now manifested itself in physical pain, I was experiencing excruciating headaches. Now, in 2020, fifteen years after the year that I was supposed to graduate college, I will finally be receiving my Bachelor’s Degree. However, though my path to my higher education was severely disrupted, I am still going after my life-long dream of working in the entertainment industry. I believe it was this dream that kept me going through the years when I felt despair and hopelessness.

CFR: What has helped you most with your recovery and reintegration back to school, work, and life in your communities?

D: Re-integrating society after a ten year hiatus has certainly had it difficulties. As we all know, mental illness and a proclivity to it, is never truly cured. It follows you everywhere and you live and struggle with it every day. My Borderline Personality disorder rears its ugly head every time I get overwhelmed with the critic in my mind. “You are not good enough.” You are not pretty enough.” “You will never amount to anything.” “You will never find true love because you don’t deserve it.” These are the kinds of thoughts that I deal with on a regular basis and, to be honest, they are exhausting. I attribute my success to the many supports I have in my life and to the acknowledgement that I will never be totally free from the inner critic. I think once you can face that then you recognize that you will struggle every day but you learn to push through it to have real success.

CFR:  How did you hear about the Baer Reintegration Scholarship Program, and what motivated you to apply?

D: I heard about the Baer Reintegration Scholarship through my psychiatrist. He told me that I would be a great candidate because of the obstacles I have overcome. He told me that people who take the medication that I take usually do not live the life that I lead. He told me that I was different. It is because of my personal experience that I have wanted to be an advocate for mental health for a long time. I wanted to apply for this scholarship because, if I were to win it, I would prove to myself and others that it is possible to live a successful life with a mental illness.

CFR: How has being a Baer Reintegration Scholar impacted your education and your life? 

D: Now that I am a Baer Reintegration Scholar, I have been able to use the scholarship money to pay for my education. This means that I will not have any loans to pay back and I am extremely grateful for that. Through receiving this scholarship I have gained confidence in myself and my abilities.

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CFR: What career goals and life goals do you have once you have graduated from your program?

D: My career goal would be to get into television production when I graduate this spring. However, my main life goal is to be happy and to learn to love myself. The illnesses that I have dealt with have made this nearly impossible. I look forward to the day when I can look in the mirror and love the person on the other side. I want to feel independent and capable of handling my own life. Graduating this spring leaves a lot of unknowns and this causes me anxiety. However, as I look to the obstacles that I have already overcome it allows me to see that I am not the same person I was at nineteen. I am concerned about the future but also very excited to see how the story of my life plays out.

CFR:  What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with a mental illness? 

D: I would tell someone who has just been diagnosed with a mental illness to not let the illness define who they are or what they can achieve in life. It is just a title and with the right medication and counseling, living a normal life is completely within their reach. Try not to feel sorry for yourself and think about erasing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Embrace everything that you are and everything that you want to be and, just go for it! Do not let a mental illness be the reason that you fail to achieve your dreams.

CFR:  What advice would you give to someone applying for the Baer Reintegration Scholarship Program?

D: I would tell someone who was applying for the Baer Reintegration Scholarship that you need to remain positive about the process. There will be many applicants and you will want to make yourself stand out. If you are chosen for this scholarship you become a voice for those suffering with mental illness and this is a huge honor and responsibility. Therefore, you should make sure that the people that you reach out to for recommendations know all the work that you have done to reintegrate to society and how difficult this process can be. You should also be painfully honest in your essay. However, if after all this, you do not win the scholarship it does not mean that your story is not worthy of being told. Remember that, in order to erase the stigma around mental illness, we all need to share our stories.

CFR: Is there anything else that is important for you to share with the Center for Reintegration community?

D: I want the Baer Reintegration community to know how grateful I am for the opportunities that have been awarded to me because of your generosity. I am so glad that this Scholarship exists and I think that its mission to help people to reintegrate to society is wonderful! I sincerely hope that opportunities like this will help to eliminate the negativity and shame that surrounds those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Thank you!!

If you are a past or current Baer Reintegration Scholar and you would also like to share your story with our online community, please email Bevin at baerscholarships@reintegration.com! Thank you Dina!

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