Bella is an ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and a vocal advocate for mental health treatment, especially for young people. Around age seven, she began experiencing stomach aches that, to the unattentive, may have seemed normal or a product of diet. In second grade, however, she learned that those very stomach aches were symptoms of an anxiety disorder she was unaware she had. Additionally, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, separation anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (a diagnosis hard to receive earlier than your twenties). As you can imagine, this made being a kid very complicated and difficult for her.
School was difficult to work through, especially as she aged and transitioned from elementary school to junior high school. During the sixth-eighth grade years, Bella was admitted for inpatient hospital stays three times to seek mental health treatment. It was in the final stay of seventh grade that Bella was admitted to the Youth Psychiatric Wing at Shodair Hospital in Helena, MT, where she began receiving the necessary care for her own mental wellness. But, as time went on, she made another difficult transition from junior high school to high school, during which she went in for another stay at Shodair hospital, this time for two months.
The treatment at Shodair was lifesaving for Bella and she was finally able to get the help she needed to live her everyday life. The facility even worked with her to find an educational program that worked for her. Bella now attends an alternative school in Helena called the Project for Alternative Learning, or PAL for short, which Bella says is “night and day” to how she was handling the previous schools she attended. In PAL, there is a tight-knit and familial culture, which is fairly easy to foster and manage when there are less than seventy students in the facility. PAL offers block schedules and no homework in the efforts of creating a low-stress and learning-eager environment for the students, an environment that Bella has confirmed is with the very best care for their students in mind.
When asked what, or who, inspires her to continue seeking treatment and advocating for others to seek treatment, her answer was simple: Lady Gaga.
“I remember being probably eight years old and sitting in my living room listening to Lady Gaga and thinking ‘She’s so cool, she’s just amazing.’ As I got older and started coming to terms with what I was going through, I saw that not many people were sharing their stories except for Gaga. She didn’t show fear about sharing her story. She’s taught me that we share our stories to help others feel less alone, and her goal of helping people and letting them know they’re not alone is amazing. She’s just this strong, powerful woman.
When I was still watching her share her story and figuring out how I could do the same, my grandma told me that if she could do it, I could do it too. That I ‘could make it happen as well.’
I learned from her, watching her interviews and speeches. She’s setting a real example of how to have honest conversations about mental health and mental illness.
Now seventeen years old, Bella is speaking in front of 7,000 people about practicing compassion and working to understand and care for others, a testament of major personal growth that would not have been possible without Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The services Bella has received have given her a stocked library of coping mechanisms that she uses on a daily basis, namely the tactic in talking to people.
“If I didn’t talk to people and tell them what was going on, things would have turned out very different for me. So please, talk about it. Without those conversations nothing gets done, nobody gets better.”
Bella is also a strong advocate for journaling (even in the notes app on a phone) as a way to handle emotions and ideas that need to get out of the mind. It would be wrong to not mention therapy, the treatment section that has made the most difference for Bella. The biggest lesson learned, she shared, was working intentionally to “not get stuck” in the trenches of mental illness and to persevere through treatment.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to encourage you to take a page from Bella’s book and journal out your thoughts today, good and bad. Maybe you’ll craft a narrative of your day to revisit later or maybe you’ll release emotion you hadn’t realized built up throughout the day.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to seeking treatment. Wanting to be well is nothing to be embarrassed about. A basic human emotion is to want to be happy, and you should pursue that any way you have to.”
For more information about Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the services they offer, please visit childrensmiraclenetworkhospitals.org.