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Autobiographical Essay
(written for college applications 2002)

Ashley Plotnick

Debbie Plotnick, Ashley's mother, wrote an essay several years ago about her family experience with Ashley's manic-depressive syndrome. The essay here , made available with Ashley's permission, provides a valuable new chapter of the story.


Today, I am a strong, healthy, woman who, quite frankly, did not expect to live to see adulthood. My strife was not against poverty or hunger, nor family or society; it was against myself. I am the manic-depressive daughter of a mother who did everything right, except for passing on the one-in-ten-chance that her children might inherit the gene or genes that cause this disorder. It has affected my mother’s father, uncles, and several other family members. Some of them have lived "normal" productive lives (mostly as artists of one kind or another) and some, like my grandfather, have refused treatment, and lived their whole lives in turmoil, inflicting nothing but pain and chaos on those around them. But I know my grandfather, and I have chosen never to be like him.

Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, my life as I knew it was put on hiatus. My battle with manic-depression, consumed what is, typically, the time in a young woman’s life when she begins to discover who she is. It took me many long, hard years to see that my life could be anything but painfully unstable. Despite, or arguably because of a colorful array of medications, I cycled wildly between depressive lows and manic highs for three years. Finally, at the suggestion of a specialist in adolescent psychology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I agreed to be admitted to the hospital to withdraw from the medication cocktail that was not improving my moods, and was also hindering my cognitive abilities. Recovery came slowly, but after I left the hospital, and began to work with a new psychiatrist, we began to rebuild what had been lost over the previous years.

My parents were unmistakably an enormous factor in my recovery. I was raised in a very open and inclusive household, and when I became sick, there was no judgment, just support. My mother has always taken the alternative route in life; she birthed her children at home, home schooled us, and provided a vegetarian household. She taught her children to live outside of the constraints of social norms, and not to blindly follow what is accepted as "right." My parents gave me a firm foundation on which to stand. So even when my life was uprooted by a genetic force too strong to deny, that foundation remained.

I have always had a profound love of nature and animals, and this too played a key role in my recovery. As a child, most of my days were spent exploring the forests surrounding my house and community. As I grew older, my interest in the natural world did not leave me, but was pushed aside by my emerging illness. It was not until I started high school at Wyncote Academy, and learned about its unique outdoor program that my interest in nature was renewed. I was an active participant in the program for three years. During that time, I went on many weeklong backpacking/camping/canoeing/climbing trips along the East coast, as well as two month long camping/backpacking trips on the West coast–the Olympic National Park in Washington, and the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. Having demonstrated outstanding ability and competence in the field, during my senior year I was appointed the position of "outdoor assistant," which is bestowed upon one member of each senior class. In the summer of 2000, after graduating from Wyncote Academy, I served as a volunteer member of the Student Conservation Association. I spent six weeks in Yosemite National Park working on backcountry campsite restoration. I enjoyed the work, and the knowledge that I was doing something to help protect the earth, but most of all, I enjoyed being with like-minded people; people who care about their environment, and don’t mind a little hard work.

Manic-depression is part of my life. I cannot deny that. It is encoded in my genes. But that does not mean it has to rule my life–and I haven’t let it. For the past several years I have been working hard to make up for lost time. Academically, I have built a strong foundation at the Bucks County Community College. I have an excellent academic standing, and am a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the International Honor Society. My love of nature has influenced my avocation as an outdoor enthusiast, and has led me to pursue a career in environmental studies, and my experience with bi-polar disorder has sparked a great interest in the field of psychology. I have taken a wide range of classes at the Community College, and while I have enjoyed them all, I find those two areas to be the most compelling. I am eager to continue my education, and Evergreen College is my first choice because of its interdisciplinary focus. I am very excited about the programs offered at Evergreen, and I hope that through them I can further develop my interests in the social and natural sciences.

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