A Journey through Mental Health and a Desire to Fight the Stigma

Imagine.  You are eleven years old.  You live with a mother who is a diagnosed schizophrenic and you are sexually abused.  You feel scared, shy and awkward.  You have constant anxiety.  And you decide that your only option is to leave home.  Just imagine.  You are eleven years old. 

Caused by clashes with her mother, this life split her from her family, including twelve siblings. Born in Illinois, Marquitta bounced from foster home to foster home in Wisconsin, then moved throughout Florida and Louisiana.  

Imagine.  Your life of sexual abuse continues through sex trafficking – it is about survival.  For the next seventeen years, it continues.  You begin to take medicine to help manage your anxiety.  You have no desire to leave the situation, because you are over-medicated; in essence, you are drugged to have no ambition – no feelings.  You are numb.  You simply go through the required motions.  Just imagine.

At age 28, “It [my anxiety] got really bad.  I wouldn’t leave the house.  I felt like people stared at me. Involuntarily, I was committed for three months,” shares Marquitta.

Marquitta was sent to All Care for a physical and AIDS Test and has been continually cared for by Erin Merrell, a family nurse practitioner who has been with All Care Health Center since October 2017.  “I was so afraid and All Care just made me feel like it was completely normal to be that old with no medical history.  I never felt judged and it meant so much to me.”  Marquitta is off all medication, which has helped her to establish her career and daily life.  “Erin stuck with me.” 

All Care works with partnering organizations, including the nonprofit Heartland Family Services.  Through this help and partnership, Marquitta has received hypnotherapy, learned to meditate and consistently uses the 5 senses techniques of grounding as a mechanism to draw herself back in.  She has learned to avoid her triggers, which may include crowded places, loud noises, holidays and even family members.  Instead, she knows how to start her day in a positive way.  She knows that self-care is important.  She lights a candle and her incense, meditates, and prepares mentally for her day at work.  Marquitta loves that her current job helps to make a difference at All Care Health Center, as a part of the Test Iowa testing team.  Because of the assistance she received from All Care and Heartland Family Services, she is able to manage her anxiety and come to work each day.  She also loves that her job duties require her to be outside, so she can get that extra dose of sunlight.  “I’m glad to come work here.  All Care really helps the community.”

“As an adult, I’ve struggled in my careers trying to balance medication side effects with working,” says Marquitta.  There was a two-year period that Marquitta was declared legally disabled.  She wasn’t able to go to school or work.  Re-entering the workforce took efforts of meditation and a renewed sense of her surroundings.

All Care has helped Marquitta beyond caring for her physical and mental health.  All Care has assisted with the relationships between Marquitta and her past employers.  “Not everyone understands mental health and sometimes there’s a stigma attached, so there was [sic] times I was drug tested because of my anxiety meds, or times I couldn’t communicate an issue with an employer in a way they would understand.  [All Care’s] nurses would bridge that gap of communication.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has put an extra heaviness on most people, Marquitta enjoys that when she chooses to go places, there are fewer people; she would never had gone out to eat, before the pandemic, or gotten her nails done. The zoo is her favorite place to go on the weekends.  She loves to take her dogs for walks.  She sees the positive and smiles when she refers to the pandemic as an “introvert dream” that is actually pushing her in healthy ways. 

Reflecting on what Marquitta has shared about her personal life, anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million or 18.1% of the adult population, every year.  Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering actually reach out for help. (Data from the National Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

Imagine.  You are thirty-three years old.  You will always deal with the anxiety built up through the life you have been dealt, but through flowing tears it’s time to tell your story.  Why?  Because this beautiful woman named Marquitta feels strongly that her community needs to know that help is available.  Just imagine receiving that help.  She found it at All Care.  She found it at Heartland.  Our community has the resources necessary to help women like Marquitta.  Marquitta has learned that her reality is her normal, although we each compare our reality to others.  Marquitta shares that “No matter what happened in your reality, it’s fixable.  You can wake up tomorrow and be a different person.”  She continues, “If you hear negative things in your head, re-direct focus.  Talk to yourself out loud.  What you hear is what you believe.”  If you see Marquitta, she is likely to give you a compliment.  She believes in the power of those positive, uplifting words. 

Marquitta is telling her story to help fight the stigma while working to improve her life.  She has received her CNA and is scheduled to begin CMA classes, as well as Pharmacy Tech classes.  These positions allow her to help people through the medical field that has helped her.  She says, “Something that seems small to you [as a CNA or other medical professional] may seem big to them [a patient].” 

All Care Health Center currently has four mental health providers offering their services to the community.  Mental health therapy is offered on an outpatient basis.  All Care’s counselors respect the unique needs of each individual through services that include mental health assessment and diagnosis; family, child, and marital therapy; individual psychotherapy; medication management, including Medication Assistance Treatment (MAT) therapy; and chemical dependency evaluations and treatment.  All Care providers practice the coordination of integrated care between your mental and physical health in the comfort of your health care clinic.  All Care is proud to offer mental health services as a part of our commitment to affordable healthcare for all. 

Marquitta wants to start volunteering.  She loves helping people.  She saves spare change in baggies to give to homeless.  As a part of this desire to help, she wants to share this message, “I wish I knew then [in my 20’s] what I know, now,” states Marquitta, “I would have told myself there is more to life – made different choices – looked elsewhere for help.  I wish would have known it was okay to ask for help.  It [my life] would have changed.”