Monday, June 30, 2008

100th Post is a good one - My Miss Roomie!

Miss [Roomie] has a story she wants to tell
By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writer

Look behind the tiara and the sash, behind the perfect blond hair, the megawatt smile and the trademark wave, and there's a story.

For Miss [Roomie], the story began at the age of 12 when her mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Being on the cusp of adolescence, she thought that would be the end of the story, that a diagnosis meant the same as a cure. She didn't understand it was only the start of a long struggle she and her mother would share.

"We went through the rollercoaster together," [Roomie] said. "My mom is now managing her illness. One of the hardest decisions a person can face is continuing treatment. ... My mother finally reached the point that she realized long-term treatment is important."

More than a decade later, [Roomie]'s story still is being written as she prepares to compete in the Miss Washington program in Tacoma on July 11 and 12. She hopes to go on to Miss America in 2009.

[Roomie]in turn has become a storyteller, using her position as Miss [Roomie] to raise awareness about the realities of mental illness.

"She's been extremely outgoing and she never turns down an opportunity to teach people mental health awareness," said Melody Otness, president of the National Alliance for Mental Illness [Local]. "She's bubbly, she's fun, but she gets her point across and people leave knowing more than when she came in."

[Roomie], 23, of [town], said she didn't enter Miss [Pageant] with stars in her eyes. She needed the scholarship money for college.

"My mom struggled to make ends meet for herself," she said. "She couldn't pay for school."

Winning Miss [Pageant] earned [Roomie] $10,000 for her college education. She plans to earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education and teach kindergarten.

"Education ties in with anything that's happening in society," she said. "I hope to be a positive impact on childrens' lives. ... I think it's interesting how you can impact young children. You can really affect a child's life for good."

Teachers were a strong influence on [Roomie]'s life through her challenging adolescence. She said music teachers in particular helped her find an outlet for her emotions through performing. She'll play alto saxophone as her talent in the Miss Washington program.

But it's talking about her platform that truly excites her.

"I learned that it needed to be spoken about," she said.

She's spent her year as Miss [Roomie] speaking to community groups and getting active with NAMI to teach the community about mental health resources, and to try to erase the stigma attached to people with mental illnesses.

They're no different than anyone else who suffers from a chronic disease, she said. They're the people we know -- our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones.

"Everybody has a personal story," she said. "Everybody can relate it to their lives."

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