Trauma

Not Alone

I seem to be straying from my original intent to focus on my job readiness journey this month. But, perhaps not. Today, I’m talking about mental health.

Here’s why: If you’re struggling with mental illness or emotional instability OR you have a loved one who is OR you have experienced trauma OR any combination of the aforementioned, you need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I want you to know that, despite however weak, fragile, overwhelmed, and incapable you may feel right now, you are one of the strongest, most courageous people you know.

Feeling the way you feel, experiencing anxiety, depression, hyper-reactivity, mania, having compulsive self-harming behaviors, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or any other “wrong” thing does not mean you are “less than,” unworthy, insignificant, or “damaged beyond repair.”

You see, I’ve been there. Some days I’m still there. I have friends and family who have been or are there. I’ve known those who didn’t make it and know those who make it one day at a time, if not moment by moment.

Last night I had the privilege to speak with another mom, who is facing and navigating challenges similar to those I have experienced – some of which I’ve come out on the other side of and some that will ever be with me. A history of physical and mental trauma, mental illness, and parenting a child with mental health and behavioral challenges through childhood and into adulthood.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair, and thoughts of permanently packing it in are all things I’m more than familiar with and gave me the empathy she needed. I was able to listen with understanding. I had knowledge of resources and professionals better equipped to help her than I am to offer her. I was able to share some of my stories, giving her hope and shoring up her faith.

By the end of the call, we had established a rapport and a bond borne of shared experience and the knowledge that neither of us is alone in our struggle. She seemed genuinely hopeful, a 180 degree turnaround from where she was when we first began talking.

My lived experience of surviving trauma and mental illness has equipped me to be of service to others who are living through similar things. Even though I still have my struggles and even though I’ll never be “fully” healed and recovered, I’m far enough along that I have something good to offer.

I have a friend who says, “God doesn’t waste a wound.”

While I am not of the belief that God punishes and wounds us by causing trauma and devastation in our lives, I do believe he is present in and with us throughout these things. Furthermore, I believe that, if we are able to participate in the healing process, he redeems our personal tragedies in ways that can bring good.

This is what I want to do with my life. I want to walk alongside others on this healing and recovery journey, bolstering them up when they’re walk is shaky and help them stand back up, dust off, and get going again.

That’s what it’s about, right?

We all stumble. We all fall. We all get exhausted, worn down, and overwhelmed. We all need a little help getting by.

Now, due to several factors, prior student debt to a private institution being chief among them, going back to college isn’t a feasible option. Especially if I want to start working ASAP.

What I CAN do is get a certification to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist.

I didn’t get into the certification training I wanted to, this go around. But, I’m only getting started and there are other things I can do while I figure out how to access the training I need.

Today I start a Peer to Peer class put on by NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It will help me be less isolated on my own journey and add to my toolbox of coping skills.

Wish me luck!

Role Models and Changing Perceptions

Having grown up, essentially growing myself up, dissociated and disconnected emotionally from my mother, peers, and experiencing no sense of family or community, having role models has always been a bit of a hit or miss challenge for me.

My earliest role models were found in the books I read. I remember knowing that I was reading on fifth grade level in third grade because I was reading through The Waltons series of books. Now, I only recall what those books were about because of the television series, which can still be seen in syndication on feel good, vintage cable/satellite television channels. This series and others in the same genre, like the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, where the authors were fictionalizing real life and telling stories of kids who were experiencing life in a slower paced, less industrialized, time of community, family, and positive character, taught me life and people were not always what my experiences seemed to be teaching me.

As I grew older and my reality got more and more difficult to cope with, I got into the childhood mystery series starting with Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. I loved the Bobbsey Twins stories. Child characters who were mostly left to their own devices, using their intellect to solve problems, figure out how to overcome threats, reveal truth, and bring justice to unjust circumstances became my obsessions.

As an adolescent girl in the 1980’s I fell under the influence and sway of pulp romance books. Dreaming of exotic locales by women who were caught in traditional roles and traditional thinking, but trying to discover who they were and wanted to be, swept up in the worlds and actions of the men whose lives, passions, and wills seemed to overpower their own. Often, these books became physical weight to carry in my little white wicker purse and use as a weapon to lash out and punish the haters, teasers, and bullies who enjoyed getting me discombobulated and emotionally off balance.

I escaped to the library and discovered the fantasy worlds of Xanth and Pern as created and described by Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffery. I immersed myself in Arthurian legend and alternative worlds melding magic and science, spiritual and secular philosophies. The characters I was drawn to and learning from were those who were coping with the displacement and confusion of not fitting into worlds they were thrust into but didn’t feel part of and/or living in worlds suddenly full of danger and conflict from things previously unknown or relegated to myth and make believe.

By the time I was a young adult, parenting my son from mid-late adolescence, I started identifying and connecting with people who had what I wanted and appeared to have overcome dire and drastic life circumstances, trauma, and drama of their own. Seeking people who I could meet and interact with in person, within my community through church, college, and community services.

Twenty years later, I’m still learning from everyday role models I meet and interact with, here online in the blogging community: writers, mothers, fathers, mental health professionals, persons experiencing mental health challenges, victims, survivors, and thrivers. Pastors, teachers, coaches, trainers. People who are in recovery and those seeking recovery.

Yesterday, I met a woman I am seeking a mentoring relationship with, because she is doing what I want to do. She is functioning and operating as an advocate and guide for people who have experienced abuse to help them move through the lifelong impacts and consequences of having experienced those things, to find their voice and move into growing intentional and authentic lives based in their own value and identity. She is doing this after having gone through her own experiences of trauma and brokenness, from a life of childhood trauma to professional success, to personal breakdown. She has what I want and she is freely and willingly giving of herself to help me, and others, build and grow into that place inside of myself and for my life.

Her name is Davonna Livingston. She is the founder of Changing Perceptions and author of Voices Behind The Razorwire: From Victims to Survivors, Stories of Healing & Hope.

In the meeting she and I had yesterday, she shared something with me I didn’t know about myself. She had spoken of how she had connected with the various subjects in her book, through seeing herself reflected in their eyes and recognizing the shared connections between her and them. She shared how these women who were convicted criminals, often serving life sentences, had become her lifeline and support network while she was working through her healing and recovery process. I noted what an empowering thing that had to have been for them considering the “class” differences between her professional and educational status and upper/middle-class standing being connected and relating to these women as personal peers. Toward the end of the meeting, I asked what she had seen in my eyes.

She told me that she had seen sadness and a sense of being lost, during the moments  when I was sharing my origins story. Then, she told me that changed and shifted to excitement and hope, that my entire demeanor had shifted and changed when I began talking about what I’ve already been doing, including starting and writing this blog.

This is the role model who is building into my life now, in the midst of many other role models who are showing and sharing their lives, their stories, and their courage every day in the forums we are connected with each other in online and in social media, as well as in the seats around me at weekly church meetings, group discussions, public transit, and walking down the street.

For more discussion on Role Models and the Molding of Personality, check out The Seekers Dungeon.