My Mission

Welcome to Mind Over Matter Rhode Island!

My name is Lara Koelliker and I am a eighteen-year-old from Rhode Island with a mission: to end the stigma that surrounds mental health and illnesses. Before I go into detail about this exciting mission, I'd like to share my personal mental health struggles, progress, and victories.

 

At just eight-years-old, I began my lifelong battle against mental illness. The severity and symptoms of most mental illnesses gradually progress and impact an individual's abilities until they can no longer function. My mental illness, on the other hand, was both caused and fully developed within just one day. Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, or PANS, is a rare form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that is caused by an infectious trigger that creates a misdirected immune response, resulting in brain inflammation and symptoms of OCD. Due to the inflammation in a particular part of my brain, I demonstrated drastic behavioral and functional changes, which prevented me from completing everyday tasks in the way that I had before, like simply writing the letters of the alphabet. While the exact cause of my PANS/OCD may never be completely understood, many doctors believe it was likely related to a reaction to H1N1 flu shot that I had gotten the day of my initial breakdown. At the time, PANS was poorly understood, which drastically delayed my treatment plan. Today, nearly ten years after my diagnosis, PANS and related illnesses are being widely researched and studied so that kids who are impacted do not have to miss out on important years of their childhood. After taking antibiotics and getting a proper diagnosis, the physical symptoms of my illness faded away, but the OCD-related aspects worsened.

 

After several months of being left in the dark by doctors who turned me down for having a case that was too severe, complicated, and misunderstood, my family and I finally began to get answers. Despite the hundreds of appointments, tests, and hospital visits, only a small portion of my problem was solved. I had a diagnosis, but the treatment portion of my journey awaited. By the time I was in fifth grade, my OCD reached its peak severity. Weekly therapy appointments made me even more anxious and finding the right medication to take became a nightmare. Many of my struggles were visible to those around me: my hands were raw and cracked from being over-washed, my clear obsessions of perfection and neatness showed through, my outgoing and energetic personality fell to the shadows, and my ability to focus and learn began to fade. Worst of all, I was constantly struggling on the inside from the debilitating thoughts and compulsive behaviors that terrorized my brain, and the fact that nobody around me could understand what I was going through, I was left feeling lonely and frustrated.

 

It was during my fifth grade year that I began my lengthy, but life-changing treatment journey in Bradley Hospital's intensive OCD program. Every single day, I would leave school an hour early to meet with a team of doctors and work on Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) therapy with fellow patients and social workers. The program took up each evening, so I had to eat my afternoon snack and dinner there. While most kids in my class were at sports practices, doing schoolwork, playing, or sleeping, I was putting my childhood on hold to combat the thoughts that had begun to take over my life. A few times a week, a social worker from the program would come to my house to do home therapy, which eventually helped me transition into working on skills on my own. By giving me the necessary skills to learn how to manage my OCD and pushing me to realize the importance of embracing my differences, this program truly transformed my mental health for the better.

 

I am forever grateful for the help that I have been able to receive and know that I wouldn't be in the place I am today if it weren't for my supportive family, friends, and team of doctors who never stopped believing in me.

 

In hopes of giving back to a community that has given so much to me, I have made it my mission to connect with and educate others about mental illness and health. I want to use my experience and voice to work towards ending the stigma that surrounds mental health and illness, both in my own community and around the world. I hope to show others who are struggling with mental illness that they are never alone and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but that it is a sign of strength and bravery.

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