I may or may not have mentioned that one of the myriad of things I’m doing, for myself and for my employment readiness, is NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer class. On Saturday mornings for several weeks, I get together with a group of other people also experiencing mental health issues and we learn with and from each other about what our mental health conditions are and do and how to live with them. Yesterday was the day to share our stories.
I’ve shared bits and pieces, summaries and rants, and some full out essays on my history in various other posts in the past. I’m not doing any of that, this time. I’m going to transcribe what I shared in the group. Then, I’ll let you know what makes it different.
Sentinel Event – what was the spark that you believe led to your mental decline? (Ex: job loss, housing loss, win the lottery, broken relationship, life gain, etc.)
I’ve known for decades that I experienced depression. I’d begun to suspect PTSD and Bipolar 2 for a couple of years. On 12/06/13 there was an explosive breakdown of my family.
Behavior/Symptoms? Progressive onset?
Hyper-reactivity; rapid and disorganized speech; getting “stuck” or “lost” in the stories of my trauma experiences.
Difficulty accepting or asking for help:
Decades of denial of manic/hypomanic episodes and “manipulating” psych service providers to only see and treat the depression. Ignoring symptoms of anxiety. Initial refusal of meds for Bipolar, Anxiety, and Depression.
Wellness strategies (Ex: Self-care, medications, sleep, self-talk, spiritual)
Medications, DBT, Therapy, Engaging with my faith community, Writing/Blogging. Need to increase physical activity and nutrition.
Improved and restored relationships with my adult children. Increased self-awareness. Hope for the future.
Successes: Continuing to work towards employment – doing the PSS/PWSS Training and volunteering; continue therapy and do possible med adjustments.
Hopes: Financial independence and self-sufficiency
Dreams for the future: Write/publish a book.
The assignment was to write this outline to tell our story in a way that would be five minutes or less in order to allow others time to tell their stories. That’s not something I could have done five years ago. Probably not even a year ago.
Remember how I identified getting stuck or lost in my trauma stories as a symptom or behavior? It’s a manifestation of PTSD. I didn’t know that five and a half years ago when my life imploded. Turns out that PTSD flashbacks don’t necessarily manifest themselves in vivid reliving or re-experiencing the moments of trauma. PTSD manifests differently according to the variations of the trauma and the individual. My trauma was successive and chronic. I dissociated as my coping mechanism – didn’t even realize I was doing it. So, I could share my story, but, I couldn’t just summarize it, keep it brief, or access the mental shut off valve to my mouth even as I wanted to stop.
This is probably the thing that’s driving my fearfulness around doing job interviews. Not being able to briefly describe what happened, without going into excruciating detail from the beginning of time, and turning into a sobbing mess.
My adult daughter thinks I’m too honest for my own good. Wait. What? How can you be too honest? Well, by telling more than was asked and spiraling into details they don’t need to know. So, some of the most common interview questions are psychological landmines for me.
I know that if I “finesse” my answers to avoid mentioning the mental illness, that I will be lying by omission. Lying, misleading, and manipulating people to get what I want is something I absolutely cannot bring myself to do, 99% of the time. (The truth is we all lie a little, even if it’s just to ourselves. So, no one is 100% truthful, 100% of the time.) There’s a trauma story there. That story rises to the surface and can be seen in my facial expressions and body language if I attempt to verbally manipulate someone. That’s kind of disastrous in an interview. So, I’m going to have to tell my truth when I’m in the interview room.
The fact of the matter is that the mental illnesses of Bipolar 2, PTSD, and Depression live in my brain and sometimes come out to play, without invitation and at inopportune times. Most of the time, they’re well behaved because of the meds and the retraining of my thinking processes through therapy. But, once in awhile, they like to party like Beetlejuice and wreak a little havoc.
So, I have to learn how to be brief, concise, and honest and keep the story reined in. I didn’t think that was something I could do. But, after sharing my story, like that, in a room of my peers, I am slightly more confident I can do it in an interview.