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Finding Purpose During the Storm

Denisse Padilla, JPS Health Network Peer Support Specialist, Behavioral Health

"Suicidal thoughts are so real and powerful that we lose sight of everything: our goals, our spouses, even our children because our mind is going against everything we believe in and love,” said Denisse Padilla, JPS Health Network Peer Support Specialist, Behavioral Health. “When I had my manic episode, I didn't know about mental disorders, and I thought, 'How can medicine help? These thoughts are invisible. They aren't real things that you can physically touch and fix.' So, I thought seeking treatment was unrealistic."

Suicidal ideation often stems from depression and changes in behavior. Several factors may trigger these thoughts, including trauma, relationship problems, substance abuse, or financial difficulties. These can lead to a sense of hopelessness and a feeling of being powerless. Padilla had a similar experience due to various circumstances but overcame it. Now, she uses her story to motivate and inspire others.

"I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and anxiety," Padilla said. "I'd say my journey began as an adolescent. I was 12 years old when my mom had a divorce from her second husband. She became a single mom of three, which forced her to get two jobs to support us. She was gone from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so she'd gone from having us at home under her watch every day to not knowing what we were doing."

As her mother transitioned from being married to single, Padilla shares that it took a toll on her. She had grown up in a traditional household where she was accustomed to having a mother and father in the home. Losing that stability caused her mother to feel frustrated. This frustration led to her becoming abusive towards Padilla.

"She blamed me for everything," Padilla said. "If there wasn't any food cooked, I'd get beaten. If the house wasn't clean, I'd get beaten. If the dishes were dirty, I'd get beaten. It was so bad that one day, she caused multiple traumatic injuries that almost left me blind. But I loved my mom regardless, and I empathized with her even though I didn't know what she was going through."

"I want to be here to support people like me and remind them not to give up because their story doesn't end here. Maybe it's just the beginning."

Padilla shared that this went on for about a year. By the end of that year, her mother had lost all control over her, and she began to rebel and engage in activities that weren't appropriate for a child her age. Her mother kicked her out, and she moved from Dallas, Texas, to Denver, Colorado, with a woman who promised her a better life. The woman, who was a substance abuser, wasn't truthful about her objective.

"I can't count how many times I thought I had reached my last day on earth. The year with her implanted worldly fear into my heart and mind. Still, I had not heard anything from any of my family members," Padilla said. "Eventually, CPS was called, and they flew me back to Dallas, where I lived with my grandmother."

During that period, Padilla became a mother at the age of 14. She wanted to obtain her GED, but the judge refused her request and challenged her to return to school and earn her diploma. Padilla took up the challenge and graduated a year early. Two years later, she obtained a certification as a Medical Assistant. She was pursuing her dream of becoming a registered nurse (RN) when life took an unexpected turn.

"I fell into a heavy pill addition that made me feel 'happy,' but little did I know it was speeding up the chemical imbalance happening in my mind," Padilla said. "It was taking a toll on my mind, and I snapped. There was no fixing it. At least not on my own."

Padilla had begun to experience suicidal ideation shortly after this. She said she stopped being motivated to do even small daily tasks, like getting out of bed, eating, or using the bathroom. She describes her experience as 'self vs. mind' because she only wanted to quiet the thoughts.

"I started to think, 'How am I going to do this, where and when?' The thoughts are very intense," Padilla said. "I would try to think of the perfect plan, and it was like I was battling myself mentally. It got to the point where I became physical with myself because it was the only way to calm my thoughts. It's like I went into alert mode, and my mind would focus on what's happening physically."

Throughout that year, Padilla's husband was the only one to witness her mental decline. He didn't know much about dealing with mental health issues, but he took the initiative to get Padilla out of the house so she could get help.

"I can honestly say that my husband's actions saved my life," Padilla said. "I was in full manic mode with no way to calm me down. We came to JPS, and I thought they would think, 'She's doing this for attention.' But they were so comforting, and I thought, 'They may believe me. So, maybe this is something I can get help with.' That shows how important it is for people in behavioral health to be mindful of how they respond to patients because they're the first faces people see when coming in with these feelings."

During her stay at JPS, Padilla was prescribed medication, which helped her organize her thoughts and gain control of her emotions. After being discharged, Padilla shifted her focus from becoming an RN to pursuing a degree in psychology. She is working towards her goal and has joined the JPS Behavioral Health team as a Peer Support Specialist.

"I want to become a psychologist because when I'm on the units, I like to let patients know that they can do this," Padilla said. “I share with them that I was in this facility not too long ago, and that's when they're like, 'Well, everyone, let's listen to how she got out of here, so we can.' It brings them hope. I like to share that I made it out of the storm. I'm not saying there won't be more storms, but they'll be better equipped next time."

Padilla explains that her faith played a significant role in leading her to JPS and that her experiences helped her discover her true purpose in life. She expresses gratitude for her past experiences because they gave her a story to share with patients, which she hopes will inspire and motivate them.

"No matter our beliefs, the final decision to choose life over death is ours to make," Padilla said. "I remember telling myself, 'Everything I went through in my life has finally brought me to my destination. I want to be here to support people like me and remind them not to give up because their story doesn't end here. Maybe it's just the beginning.'"

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of suicidal ideation or need behavioral health resources, someone to talk to, or help scheduling an appointment, visit the JPS Behavioral Health page.