Sorting Out Eliana
One family's journey to understand their daughter's mental illness
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Behind the symptoms
They went straight to Lakeside and Eliana began 14 weeks of treatment. “It was a time of upheaval and terror for our family as we struggled to sort out Eliana’s bewildering array of symptoms and get her the correct diagnosis,” says Silbermann. Eliana was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic manias and deep suicidal depressions. “It was devastating,” Silbermann remembers, “but in a strange way it also brought us some relief; a correct diagnosis meant we could deal with what we had been handed.”
At around the same time, Eliana was also diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy, which was causing her to have blackouts. She was hospitalized six times from the age of 16 to 19, including the week before her graduation from Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South. She started to panic about what lay ahead of her after high school. “I didn’t know how to handle it. I was scared about college, about being a grownup,” she explains.
She quickly learned that her fears were no different from most other high school graduates’ and that she would have to take life “one step at a time,” she says. She was discharged from the hospital on her graduation day and delivered a stirring speech that evening about her unique high school challenges and what she had learned from the experience.
Eliana learned as much about others as she did about herself in treatment. “The whole experience made me much more empathetic,” she says. “I’m more tolerant and less quick to judge others’ behavior. I met people who were so different. It opened my eyes to everything out there.”
In addition, her experience has helped her put “everything in perspective.” She wants teens currently being treated for behavioral disorders to know that life does get better. During high school she thought she was missing out on so much.
“Now I realize that’s just a small part of life.”
Eliana lives at home with three of her four siblings and says they get along well now that she is doing better and has overcome the guilt that she felt about the hardships they endured due to her illness.
“I am in a much better place now,” says the psychology honors program student. She has many friends, loves college and is enjoying her independence. She plays racquetball, reads, and is learning to cook. Eliana is especially fond of writing short, “absurd” stories that express her newfound ability to love life and not be so serious.
Eliana has worked as a tutor for the University of Memphis educational support program and as a volunteer in the psychology lab. She says the college environment has helped her “because it’s more focused on independent learning. There’s more freedom and less stress.” She expects to graduate in fall 2015 and is considering going for a master’s and possibly a Ph.D. in psychology. She would like to help others in need.
Eliana is grateful to the JC Runyon Foundation for helping her complete her college education. “Because of how my diagnosis affected me in my high school years, it was difficult to qualify for the usual [college] scholarships.
Furthermore, all the money needed for my care made it hard for my family to fund college, especially with four other siblings to consider,” she says.
Beyond the financial support, the scholarship has given Eliana a priceless emotional benefit, the validation that her illness “wasn’t my fault,” she explains.
“I realize that I didn’t plan for this. It’s not something I need to feel ashamed about.”