When you live with a life-changing disease like myasthenia gravis, or MG, it’s normal to feel down or have difficulty adjusting to the loss of control. For many, it’s easy to slip into depression.
But what happens when you’re diagnosed with MG and you’re already dealing with mental health issues?
How do you cope, and where do you turn for help?
That’s exactly the problem Jessica Gimeno faced. Growing up, Jessica had struggled with feelings of depression and outbursts of artistic creativity during hypomania—but because she excelled in school and because mental health was not openly discussed in her tight-knit family, she did not get the help she needed.
During her freshman year of college, a friend with bipolar disorder committed suicide—that’s when Jessica decided to take matters into her own hands. She began researching bipolar disorder, and realized the symptoms matched everything she’d been feeling.
A psychiatrist on campus diagnosed her with type 2 bipolar disorder.
With a diagnosis in hand, Jessica got the help she needed and began advocating for mental health; she even founded a student mental health organization. She graduated from Northwestern University with two majors, and was well on her way of studying law and writing a mental health resource book for students when she was diagnosed with MG in 2008 at the age of 24.
The diagnosis was a huge setback for Jessica. Once an active young woman who loved yoga, she lost control of her legs and her body, went through several surgeries, and at one point was bedridden for a year. Even now she has to walk with the assistance of a cane, which brings a whole new level of scrutiny for someone who was already fighting against the stereotypes of what bipolar disorder “looks” like.
When you’re on the outside looking in, it’s hard to imagine how we’d deal with either mental health issues or MG individually—never mind at the same time. (Me, I’d probably revert to the “fetal ball and sobbing” method of coping.)
With her background and advocacy and her strong drive to succeed, Jessica coped by throwing herself back into her job at The Balanced Mind Foundation—a mental health group—and working on her book.
But a change happened after she took a call from a young woman who was having suicidal thoughts because she was having problems coping with depression and the chronic pain of lupus.
Jessica realized there was a void to be filled for people like her struggling with depression and chronic pain.
So in 2012, Jessica created Fashionably Ill, a website and blog offering encouragement and resources for people juggling mental health problems and chronic pain. Jessica uses the website to offer the kind of advice she wishes had been available growing up.
She has also:
- created a “Depression Toolkit” newsletter to help people with depression accomplish their goals
- delivered a TED Talk on the topic
- been featured on MSNBC
- been working with Rutgers University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School on a resource to help young people with mental illness find jobs
And of course, she’s still planning to publish her book!
I wouldn’t rule out that book becoming a bestseller—and I wouldn’t rule out Jessica doing anything she puts her mind to!