Dr. Barbara Burns, faculty (Life Sciences 111 852-5947)

CATEGORY: Disabled Student of the Year AND

Outstanding Academic Achievement & Personal Growth


REASON FOR NOMINATION: Like Kay Jamison Redfield, I have a severe mood disorder called manic depression (also referred to as bipolar disorder). I spent a majority of 2001 in the psychiatric ward of both U of L and VA Hospital; in fact, my psychiatrist and therapist are amazed that I’ve bounced back so well and actually managed to maintain a “B” average carrying a full load of classes.

I’ve wanted to come back to school since I was first diagnosed in 1997; it’s been a constant struggle getting just the right mix of medicine to stabilize my moods and accepting that I even have a mental disorder.

More than that, though, I was afraid to come back to school—afraid I may have a manic outburst or go into such a severe depression that I could not talk, walk or eat, much less do class work and attend class. Mostly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted.

So I hid from the world, embarrassed that I was not able to control my own emotions and afraid how people may discriminate against me if they knew. I still feel afraid.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a

bud was more painful than the risk it took to


· Anais Nin

Like Kay Jamison Redfield responded when asked about how she found the courage to announce her mental disorder knowing that she may lose her license, I simply got “tired of being scared”.

Unlike many disabilities, I could hide. And it’d be easier for me in many ways to do just that! I made an intentional effort to “come out of the closet” about my mental disorder since I first arrived on campus so that my fellow psychology students could get a first-hand chance to see that when treated, people with mental disorders can be as “normal” as anyone AND that my mental disorder has only made me stronger in many ways ... for I now have the strength to reveal what the world sees as a “weakness”.

Indeed, I have found the strength to “blossom”.

I have one instructor, Dr. Barbara Burns, who has really gone out of her way to help me feel that I am accepted in her class! After I told her about my disorder, she made a serious joke that she’d be watching for my red hair and make sure I’m ok. And she does just that! Even in a class over 200 large, like the mother of a VERY large brood, she manages to throw a maternal glance my way each day to make sure I’m doing ok. More than that, in her class more than any other, I feel like I’m taken seriously!

This may sound like a given considering she is a psychology instructor and one would think she’d be more accepting and encouraging just by virtue of her experience and knowledge of mental disorders. Ironically, however, I have another psychology instructor explicitly state in her syllabus:

“If you wish to make personal disclosures, you may do so, BUT please do so only after careful consideration of the possible consequences to you and others. Louisville is a small community and this is a large class.”

After announcing to the class that I have manic depressive disorder the first day of class, I read over her syllabus that night. Imagine my embarassment! I started feeling ashamed of what I did, then I realized that the shame was not mine!

I approached this particular instructor after reading the syllabus and assured her that I would limit any personal experiences and input in the future as she requests in her syllabus. AND I also made it clear I had NO regrets about “exposing” myself.

Like a mother watching her child learn to ride a bike, I’m sure this instructor simply wanted to “save me” from hurting myself. However, it is precisely falling from the bike that is necessary for the child, or all the students in her class in this case, to really learn.

Silence = Death

“Anything that I may have lost from being open about who I am was not meant to be mine to begin with”, I told her. I wanted to make it clear that I was perfectly willing to accept any perceived “personal consequences” to myself. As far as any “personal consequences” I have caused anyone else, I have no idea what they could be other than to have opened a mind or two. Considering a mind works best when open, I am willing to live with that, too!

In fact, when I first called U of L looking for information on the different psychology programs, a professor (who shall remain nameless) asked me if he could give me some “personal advice” when I told him I have been diagnosed with manic depression. Considering the tone in his voice, I reluctantly said “yes”.

He went on to say that he’d never seen anyone with a mental illness be “successful” in psychology. To which I responded, “Maybe you’ve heard of a little lady named Kay Jamison Redfield?” He said, “Well, she’s exceptional.” To which I quickly replied, “Well, I am, too!” and hung up.

Silence may be safer but it never can and never will raise awareness! It’s precisely because Louisville is a small community that I will wave—and refuse to “waive” -- my banner of pride to let those who will listen see first-hand how healthy a person with a mental illness can be when she takes responsibility for it.

I feel the only reason people have pre-judice is that they make assumptions based on what they know (and in this case it is very little, even in the case of the “experts”). For although many mental health professionals study those with psychiatric illnesses intensely, most have not “walked the walk”. More importantly, no one can truly predict what another person is capable of—the human spirit is boundless!

Teaching people from a textbook what mental illness is all about is one way to educate people about mental disorders; teaching students from first-hand experience interacting with another student who has a psychiatric disorder is another, possibly more effective way—or at the very least a very necessary enhancement to it!

Through education and exposure to people with the courage to let the world know about their disabilities, not only will “normal” peoples’ prejudices slowly subside into acceptance, people who have mental disabilities who are not yet diagnosed will start having the courage to come out of their closets, too, and get the help they so desperately need!

The sheer catharsism of shouting to the world about this disorder will heal me whether I win an award or not! My therapist says depressions is simply “anger turned inside out”. I know that’s true! Since I’ve “found my voice”, I’ve managed to stay out of the hospitals. So no syllabus or even award will ever make me be silent again! For this illness can literally be a matter of life and death for people like me!

Both diagnosed and undiagnosed, many people with severe mental disorders die every year. I personally know a man who was diagnosed with severe manic depression who died the end of 2001 because he stopped taking his medicine. The stigma attached to taking medicine for a mental illness and the weakness that our society attaches to it was more than he could accept.

His family would be willing to come to campus and share their story. It is through their telling his story that he may go on living and that they may give his death meaning! Alas, I have not yet found a proper forum (If you know of one, please let me know).

The doctors and “experts” claim the reason people with mental illness have a hard time accepting it is the “stigma” attached to mental illness. For me and many friends from my bipolar group, it is that it is so terminal. From first diagnosis, we are told that we will have to take this medicine for the rest of our lives.

Acceptance is the key.

I know there’s a good chance I will always have to take this medicine in order to live with this illness. I finally accept that and even though it’s perfectly ok if i do always have to take the medicine, I now know through expanding my education to Eastern Philosophies that there is a chance that I will eventually learn to balance my own brain chemistry drug-free or at least reduce the amount of medicine I currently take.

People with disabilities of any sort must learn self-acceptance before we can expect anyone else to accept us. As Mother Theresa said, “One saves the world one person at a time—starting with one’s self.”

I also attend yoga and meditation groups on a weekly basis. My yoga teacher at Yoga East was also diagnosed with manic depression and through her diligent yoga practice and many diet and lifestyle changes, she has been able to actually stop taking medication altogether!

So, not only has she helped me learn to accept myself through the yoga practice, she has given me hope on a more personal level that when I am “sharing my love and peace”, as she reminds us at the end of each yoga session that the great Dr Wayne Dyer encourages, I really can heal myself.

In addition to diligently researching web sources of information on manic depression such as “” and attending weekly meetings on manic depression, I have read most every book imaginable on Bipolar disorder in an effort to educate myself.

I have a book-on-tape called “Living with Depression and Manic Depression” and another called “You Can Heal Yourself” that I listen to on a regular basis in addition to many other self-help books-on-tape.

In March 2001, I participated in a published study with Dr. El-Mallakh at University of Louisville Hospital. Currently, I am participating in an outpatient study with him. I am totally willing to expose myself to the hazards of being a human “guinea pig” in order to help further medical understanding of this elusive disease!

Now, I intend to translate my personal experiences, self-education and heart-felt empathy into a masters in art therapy where I will help others help themselves.

Kay Jamison Redfield also said that after surviving this long with manic depression, there’s nothing she felt she could not do! As the saying goes, what didn’t kill her only made her grow stronger! Her “weakness” has become her greatest “strength”! And has started to empower others like me! Like her, I will prove that people with mental illnesses can AND do “succeed” in psychiatric profession!

She has started a ripple effect. I am but one ripple in this pool of life.

My main goal is to always let my clients feel totally accepted—NOT pitied—and to raise general awareness that mental disabilities are NOT weaknesses anymore than any other “dis - ability”— rather, they our greatest strengths with the right attitude and lots of education!

Thank you for your time and consideration!





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