ASHTABULA — For years, Bella Mollick hid the truth of her trauma from her friends and classmates. Until recently, the Edgewood senior told people her mother had died of an accident, when in reality Mollick had discovered her mother’s body after she had intentionally overdosed.
Mollick has begun sharing her story with classmates in hopes her path of pain, denial and, eventually, recovery will help other students she knows are dealing with similar circumstances, or worse.
“I was ready to talk about it and I wanted a chance to help my community,” she said. “I wanted a chance to help kids out my age, and especially the younger kids. I was going through some of this stuff as a child, like divorce issues, and a lot of school districts really pay attention to seniors, but it starts when you’re kids. So I really wanted to try to get a program for the younger kids.”
The idea began when Mollick’s YOUth LEADERship class was looking for a project. Mollick came up with the “Love Life” campaign to implement a mental health program throughout elementary, middle and high school in Buckeye Local School District. As Edgewood is big on school speaking, the program started with Mollick sharing her story.
Mollick stresses she had a happy childhood and was loved by her dad, stepdad and mother. But her mom struggled with addiction all her life and, as Mollick became a teenager, her mom began losing the battle with alcohol and drugs.
In the year or two before her mother’s death, Mollick said she was with her almost constantly. Her mother’s sister had died and she had grown angry with the world and often took it out on Mollick, who said nothing she did was ever good enough. It grew to the point where Mollick said it felt like “she hates me.”
“She was very bitter. ... It was a very toxic environment,” she said.
In August 2015, as her stepdad was preparing to divorce her mother, Mollick returned home and discovered her mother had overdosed on purpose.
“I was the one that found her,” she said.
After that, Mollick described her life as something out of a movie as she tried not to think about her mother’s death and refused to go to a counselor.
“Well, this is cliche, but to to be perfectly honest, I didn’t deal with it for a long time,” she said.
Mollick lacked stability during this time and bounced between living with her biological father and stepfather.
She said her car was always a “complete mess” because she was barely stopping at home.
“I was just acting crazy. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. ... I didn’t keep it together very well,” she said.
One of the biggest things Mollick wasn’t dealing were her feelings of guilt, especially because on the day of her mom’s death she was supposed to be home earlier in the day.
“I went through a horrible, horrible guilt phase while I was grieving,” she said. “Finding her was like ‘wow, why weren’t you there sooner? This is all your fault. Your mom’s gone. Your sister’s mom is gone. Your stepdad’s wife.’ I felt all of that for everyone.”
On top of her grief and guilt, Mollick was dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and found it hard to be at her stepdad’s home, which meant the two weren’t seeing as much of each other.
Mollick was also struggling to deal with the fact he had a new girlfriend and new baby, all living in the house where her mother had lived. So she had a lot of anger as well.
This all came to a head when she was about 17 or 18, telling her stepdad it felt like he and her biological father didn’t want her around and she was considering moving in with her older sister in Perry.
“That’s not me, I’m a family person. I love being with them,” Mollick said.
Her stepdad told her they wanted her around and the issue was “really just how you’re seeing things.” That epiphany finally pushed Mollick to get counseling.
“I got closer to the root of long-standing issues, even before that happened with my mom. I was open about it, I was honest,” she said.
By dealing with her problems, her counselor helped her better explain how she was feeling.
“Getting my family back on track made me feel a lot better. My life got a lot better,” she said, later adding, “Talking about what I went through made it real. It made me so I could actually deal with it instead of just running from it.”
Mollick now uses calming breathing exercises, and when she is feeling depressed and unmotivated she works to take little steps at a time like helping around the house.
She is also taking medications for hereditary chemical imbalances. “It’s something I can’t help. I used to be embarrassed about it,” she said.
There is still work to do, particularly with her guilt. “Mentally, I always knew it wasn’t my fault,” she said. “But emotionally, sometimes that’s hard to get past and some days I still have to work at it because you know when you miss somebody it’s like ‘I feel like I could have done something.’ But it’s 100 percent better than it used to be.”
So far, Mollick has shared her story at Edgewood and three times during Resiliency training at the YMCA with Clinical Supervisor Joleen Sundquist.
Leadership Ashtabula County has been a part of a county-wide collaboration called “Building Resiliency Together,” spearheaded by Paul Bolino, CEO of Community Counseling Center, with a mission of providing education, recognizing and promoting resilience, fostering healing relationships and giving hope for recovery, according to Leadership.
“Bella’s story really helped drive the training and put a face to the material,” Sundquist said in a release through Leadership Ashtabula.
Laura Jones, Leadership executive director, said Mollick’s efforts have been fantastic.
“She is amazing. She inspires us all,” Jones said. “Working with students like Bella is the greatest gift of this job.”
Mollick called the reaction to her story, particularly from her senior classmates, “awesome.”
“Especially at my school, there were a lot of tears, a lot of shock, because I’ve never really been open about that stuff. And actually when my mom passed away I lied about it to everyone and said it was an accident, that type of thing, covering it up.”
The next step in the mental health program will be to meet with Buckeye Superintendent Patrick Colucci. Mollick said the program is important because studies show students do well in private, one-on-one counseling that provides a safe space for children “even if they don’t have one at home.”
After Mollick graduates next month she plans to attend the University of Tampa and major in marketing. In the meantime, she hopes the mental health program and “Love Life” speaking program both grow, because there is a need for such a message in the county.
“Bad stuff has happened to all of us, but the important thing is getting through it and growing. How many years do we have left, how many things do we have left to do. I want kids ... to be alive and be happy to see those years come,” Mollick said, adding, “As a county we’ve had some awful, awful things go on in the past couple years. As a big community I think we need to grow and come together and not get over it but get past it, get through it.”
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