When reading Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, “My Beloved World”, I was struck by an array of similarities in her description of growing-up in the Bronx, NY, and my own. I am Latina; I grew-up in a middle-class family; a quality education for my siblings and I was the first American Dream my mother and father both set out to achieve. However, apart from desire to emulate Justice Sotomayor’s ability to seize life’s opportunities in spite of her racial and economic position, after reading Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography I came to admire the Supreme Court Justice’s ability to overcome yet another life obstacle: an early diagnosis with a potentially debilitating medical condition.
In my case, rather than receiving a diabetes diagnosis as a 10 year old in 1961, I received a Manic Depressive diagnosis as a 21 year old in 2007.
Six months before my diagnosis I had packed my dorm room into a storage closet at the Uhaul on 225th Street in the Bronx, and left to study the Spanish language, socialist history and contemporary culture as a visiting student in La Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain. Hoping to truly test my ability to live independently I chose to forgo enrolling in an American program in Madrid, and study as any other Latin American foreign exchange student would have in one of the most popular public universities in Spain.
Although I had been to the country the summer prior on an idyllic Boston University Summer Study Abroad Program, during the considerably more challenging second go-around at a study abroad experience, I became overwhelmed by the task of building my own temporary social network from nothing and completing intellectually arduous courses on Latin American Political Parties, Marxist Theory, and International Law of War, from the Spanish Perspective. Unable to connect to my student body, the confluence of homesickness and limited support system in a distant European city in which I had no family, I slipped into an unexpected depression.
A lack of early medical attention allowed my depression to complicate, and an unwillingness to throw in the towel return home—fearing a return home with a metaphoric tail between my legs—I turned to what I hoped would be a silver bullet: psychological treatment. However, still poorly functioning a month to European final exams with no real capacity to retain new academic concepts, I returned to New York City at the beginning of June without completing any of my required coursework.
A novice to the treatment of a mental health condition, I improperly followed my medication regiment and as a result had to seek in-patient treatment on three separate occasions the summer of 2007. After reacted poorly to the first two instances of hospitalization I was saddled with a Manic Depressive diagnosis, and obliged to take a medical leave the Fall semester of 2007—the beginning of my Senior Year in college.
As the first US born, early gunner, my family expected I would be the first to crack through the inner-city barriers I inherited from childhood spent in the Bronx during the 80s and 90s (approximately two decades before it became a bohemian lifestyle choice for some). Thus, similar to the reaction Sonia Sotomayor’s family displayed after her diagnosis with Childhood Type I Diabetes, which in the 1950s was considered to reduce one’s life expectancy considerably, mine took my surprising BiPolar diagnosis as a catastrophic event —fearing the similar reduction in my lifespan as well as professional accomplishments.
I however anticipating the struggles to accompany the diagnosis held fast to the identity I had build for myself as an ambitious, committed and successful young woman. Refusing to let my health condition define me any further than “triumphant”, I used a form of abject denial to continue to execute my personal goals of gaining exposure to the work in the US government and prepare my credentials for admission into a high caliber law school.
My approach to using abject denial to continue graduate an elite college and set off on a rewarding legal career initially produced great results. During the medical leave I took the Fall of 2007, I: studied for my GREs, began researching and writing my Senior Thesis on Bolivia’s indigenous-marxist political movement, (via an independent study arranged I arranged with my college), and completed an internship with the NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which served to round out my resume so I could transition from work on public health in academic settings to working on public health policy and later political development policy from within government agencies.
However, since my crisis six years ago, I have had one relapse (two years following) and have learned that sheer defiant denial would not be enough for me to correct for the natural or nurtured weaknesses of my body. I have learned instead to complement my unyielding belief in my intellectual ability to develop an indefatigable discipline. (As such for the time being I no longer allow myself to indulge in alcohol, caffeine, sleep depravation, and also gradually replacing my free time with increasingly rigorous physical activity).
Although in the five years since my diagnosis, I have concentrated on living a full life there have been moments when I have doubted myself capable of handling the academic demands entailed in obtaining juris doctor.
To temper my doubts, however, I have decided to truly embrace a sense of optimism and appreciation for all of my accomplishments throughout this most recent period in my life: graduating only a semester late from college (after missing two), applying and graduating from an elite university in Washington, D.C., gaining exposure to the work of foreign policy agencies such as the US Department of State and the US Export-Import Bank, and gaining increasing responsibility as a nascent leader within the public servant community in the North-West Bronx. Consequently, with my newfound maturity, renewed sense of optimism, and moral compass at hand, I am confident I have character traits necessary to allow me to excel in law school and in a lifetime serving as lawyer upon graduation.