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Old 12-18-04, 08:15 PM
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Determined Davie woman beats bipolar disorder


After losing custody of her three children, Kathryn Monier lived on the streets for about two years. She walked away from her home, her job, her life.

During those years of hopelessness and homelessness, Monier didn't know there was anything wrong with her. Eventually she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Monier's life has completely turned around. She and her second husband Harry rent a home in Davie, and two of her children live with her.

''I'm not angry anymore inside,'' Monier said.

On Friday she was one of about 450 people who received degrees from Broward Community College's north campus in Coconut Creek.

''She is a college student,'' said her 13-year-old son, Michael Steeves. ``She is a brainiac.''

Monier, 40, was decked out in a blue cap and gown with an honors mantle at the graduation ceremony. Next stop: Nova Southeastern University in January, where she plans to major in psychology and minor in criminal law. After she earns a bachelor's degree at NSU, she wants a master's degree in psychology.

She has a $4,500 annual scholarship and will receive $4,000 in financial aid, but the cost is $15,000 a year.

''Where am I getting the rest? I don't know,'' Monier said. ``It will work.''

Monier wants to eventually work with parents who lose their children due to mental illness. She wants them to learn from her mistakes.

More than two decades ago, Monier dropped out of Plantation High School less than a month before graduation. She got married, had three children and worked as a manager at the International House of Pancakes.

After she and her husband split up, Monier bought a $140,000 home with an income of only $200 a week. She described that time as her manic stage.

''Things started getting bad because I couldn't afford the house,'' she recalled.

She missed work and couldn't drag herself out of bed.

''My son found me curled up crying in the middle of the hallway,'' Monier said. ``He didn't know what to do. He was 11.''

She lost custody of her children after her oldest son overheard her threatening to harm herself.

''I came home and picked up my stuff, a couple of pairs of shirts and shorts, and walked out,'' Monier said. ``I never returned to the house.''

Back then if she didn't have her kids, she didn't need a house, she said as her voice broke and her eyes welled with tears.

She decided to change her life on the second Christmas without her children. She wanted them back. She had previously refused to get counseling, but now she was ready.

''Nobody wants something to be wrong with them,'' Monier said.

She admits the years spent on the street and getting well were the worst of her life -- but probably the best for her.

In February 2000 she ended up in a treatment center and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She found inspiration in her case manager, Migdalia Perez.

She set her goals: Get her kids back and earn her GED.

She wrote to her children daily in a book she later gave them. The cover, decorated with pink and purple flowers, reads ``With Love From Mommy.''

A judge soon granted her visitation rights.

And in the spring of 2002, she began taking classes at BCC. She was vice president of fellowship for Phi Theta Kappa honor society for two semesters.

''I love to study,'' she said. ``Each time I get a good grade, it brings up my ego.''

She also wanted to volunteer. She and her husband teach a nine-week course at the treatment center. She sits on the Consumer Advisory Board for the North Broward Hospital District.

Her children are obviously proud of her.

''She stayed with it even though it was hard for her,'' said daughter Melina Steeves, 16, a sophomore at McArthur High School in Hollywood.

Son Graham Steeves, 18, a senior at Northeast High school in Oakland Park, said his mom taught him a serious lesson: Don't give up.

Her children say their mother's nose is always in a book. She studies six to 10 hours a day, even doing homework at son Michael's football games.

Migdalia Perez, now a Miami-Dade assistant state attorney, praised Monier's work ethic.

''She did all the hard work,'' Perez said. ``What I did was guide her through the door.''

Perez attended Monier's graduation Friday.

''When I saw her today, I was just so emotional,'' Perez said. ``It is just so incredible to know you had an impact.''

Husband Harry Monier, 44, will graduate from BCC next December. He described his wife's efforts as miraculous.

''She is the poster child of perseverance, vigilance, hope and faith that comes from within,'' he said.

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