Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog, where I aim to lay bare 100 ugly truths about my mental health journey.
If you’ve read this far, then you know I live with Mixed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia on a consistent basis. Of these, the Bipolar Disorder appears to be the most pervasive and problematic lately. Bipolar Disorder is a progressive life-long illness. That is, it never goes away and in fact, the longer you go without treatment – the worse your episodes become over time.
Episodes of Bipolar Mania and Depression have the potential to cause lasting damage to the learning and memory systems found in the brain. For some of us, Bipolar Disorder also has the potential to become the source of PTSD as a secondary diagnosis, as the episodic nature of Bipolar Disorder can provoke traumatizing psychological experiences and catastrophic social consequences. For me personally, PTSD stems from multiple traumatizing events related to mental illness, abuse, abandonment, suicide, and medical trauma.
The stress of Bipolar Disorder often triggers my underlying anxiety into full blown Panic Disorder, a mental health condition characterized by reoccurring panic attacks. A Panic Attack is a surge of intense fear with severe physical symptoms resulting from perceived danger in the absence of an actual threat, and the fear of their imminent return. It is not uncommon to feel as though you are having a heart attack or dying, often resulting in a visit to the ER. The fear perpetuates the physical response, and the physical response feeds into the fear. I am fortunate to say I haven’t had a significant panic attack in sometime, although last week I could feel those old familiar pains bubbling underneath.
Paired with my deeply introverted nature, it suddenly became blatantly obvious how these things are connected, and why I feel no need to leave the house due to a general fear of people, the inability to escape, and/or wide open spaces that leave me susceptible to harm or humiliation, better known as Agoraphobia.
I could see the crash coming, but there was little I could do to stop it. I could see myself soaring high above my normal energy and productivity levels in the weeks prior. I found myself sleeping and eating less, talking, reading, and writing with frenetic energy, boasting long term goals in the grand scheme of things, and just generally acting outside my character. I was in a Mixed episode.
If you’ve ever been in a Mixed episode yourself, then you know how quickly euphoria can turn to dangerous agitation, motivation to listlessness, and paranoia to psychosis. In the worst case scenario, you may ultimately be faced with suicidal ideation while you try to exist in a psychological space that shares symptoms of both Mania and Depression simultaneously. Most people associate Bipolar Disorder with swinging between the two mood states, but the truth is everyone with this disorder is different, and patterns of mood and behavior tend to be more cyclic than previously thought.
In the aftermath of a Mixed Episode, it is not unusual for people with Bipolar Disorder to describe the sensation of a Depression crash. That is, the emotional fallout that takes place after an episode of Mixed Bipolar or Bipolar Mania. Indeed, what goes up must come down. You may see changes in you or your loved ones. This can last days or weeks, and generally consists of feelings of disconnection, stress, worthlessness, complete exhaustion, and changes in behavior or routines as you come to grips with what you may have just experienced. Suddenly, you may find yourself rooted back in a reality that doesn’t seem to glow as bright. Perhaps you’re even pushing through denial to understand that your mind works differently.
As I continued to soar, I knew the landing would be anything but gentle. Being that I am currently unmedicated, I had no choice but to ride the wave, and pray my insight would keep me as grounded as possible.
By the second week I found myself unable to breathe or sleep effectively, and was toppling into relentless crying spells. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. I was juggling mental health symptoms, chronic pain, work, school, motherhood, cold-like symptoms in the era of Covid, and had started my menstrual cycle (which is uniquely debilitating for me, but that’s a story for another day.) I felt increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of what it means to function, and soon the day came where I couldn’t get out of bed at all. With the support of my incredible girlfriend, I called into work and took a mental health day. Once the feelings of guilt and insecurity passed, I was instantly humbled by the notion that sometimes mental illness demands self-care take precedence over earthly obligation.
That evening, my sweet girl returned to me and poured into me the healing of good company, validation, and heartfelt conversation. She was so lovingly reassuring, always seeking to provide whatever it is I need, and the blessing was not lost on me. The next day, I began the task of pulling myself out of the clinical Depression that followed. Through it all, the most important thing to me will always be my family, and the due diligence I feel to spare them pain, treat them well, and lift them up – especially when I am drowning. One of my greatest challenges throughout my mental health treatment has been asking for help when I need it. Don’t let it be yours.
If you don’t make your mental health a priority – it has the potential to do it for you. You may feel deeply concerned about the repercussions of taking a mental health day. However, if you don’t listen to the limitations of your mind and body, you may find there is no ambition, family, or hobby to return to. In some cases, the risk may outweigh the benefit of pushing through.
My day of rest allowed me to relax and regroup, although it would be a few more days before I was able to fully regain my footing and move forward. I am slowly beginning to return to myself after the fallout, and putting things in place to return to my psychiatrist just as soon as I am able. Despite my uncertainty, the world went on spinning, and my job was there waiting for me the next day. The truth is, we must make time for our wellness free from shame and stigma, primarily when the consequences of not doing so become so much greater.
Discuss: Have you ever taken a mental health day? Did it help or hurt your circumstances? Did you receive support? Share what you learned in the comments below!
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
It is no secret we are living in unprecedented times.
Our nation’s capital would rather use their election platform to throw temper tantrums and popularity contests than serve those in need. A gruesome pandemic has swept across the globe, robbing us of our wellness, and leaving lasting dents in our populations. Our health care system (which was already atrocious) is now inundated as a result. Unemployment rates sky rocketed while our economy plummeted. Travel industries and non-essential workers were suddenly faced with unique challenges. Schools closed early – if not completely. Grocery stores struggled to supply our panicked demands, and it wasn’t long before meaningful assets were lost and family owned businesses were forced to shut down for good.
Furthermore, consider the cultural crisis of the Blake Lives Matter Movement, the ever pressing women’s rights and LGBTQ+ issues, a lack of access to spiritual services, and the civil war that seeks to divide us all within our already government issued isolation – and it begs the question: What will our mental health response consist of when faced with what it means to be alive in this specific time and place in history? Drawn in this light, we can easily see how dynamic our challenges are from a socio-economic psycho-social perspective.
In some weird way it is no longer special interest groups being targeted, but humanity as a whole. Indeed, it has become frighteningly easy to lose our bearings given the state of things. I do not envy our city leaders who are now tasked with equipping their populations to adapt or die. Is it any wonder why so few of us are sleeping at night? Perhaps the year of 2020 has the potential to be our great equalizer. Perhaps we can choose to come together to find solutions, or be driven further apart by the media and those in positions of power.
The truth is it’s too early to tell. Numbers for suicide rates typically run two years behind, but many clinicians suspect an increase as a direct result of the generational opposition we are currently facing. Interestingly enough, I haven’t done suicide prevention advocacy field work myself since 2018. As both a suicide attempt and suicide loss survivor, this work seems more important than ever. In an interesting article by Townhall, the CDC Control Director, Robert Redfield, attempts to compare the rate of suicide to Covid-19 deaths. In short, he suspects a rise in suicide rates, as well as deaths resulting from substance abuse in the coming reports. Likewise, he cites a disproportionate decline in the mental health of our youth specifically.
Even though things are very loud right now, we must not let the silent epidemic slip under our radar. The truth is our children are in trouble having made more attempts on their life than in years prior. Even more scary, we are seeing more successful completions of suicide by young people than ever before. At first it seems incomprehensible, but then we remember we’re living in an age of information with more platforms than ever before. While many count these as valuable resources to be utilized for good, they also make us more vulnerable to invasion. Let this be a gentle reminder to check in with your kids, especially if they appear to be unaffected.
Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog where I tackle the ugly truths of mental health as it relates to parenting and relationships – and what you can do about them. If you’ve been a reader for some time, then you know my writing style consists of pairing comprehensive mental health articles with personal insight and resources. Having held the spotlight for two years to find my own healing, I am now more eager then ever to offer up the Deskraven platform to hear your stories, as well as those of mental health providers. My hope is that we can continue to serve each other and our mental health community by sharing our stories and normalizing mental health language.
In this new series I will be sharing Reader Tales and Provider Tales on behalf of anyone who wants to participate. If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, or know someone who is, please email me at email@example.com to find out how it works! As we move forward together, you will notice an interview template with the intention of readability. These questions may change or evolve over time.
Without further adieu, I give you Randy Withers, LCMHC! Earlier this year my good friend and colleague reached out to tell me the Deskraven Blog wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. He gave me the opportunity to write for his project, Blunt-Therapy, a blog about mental health, addiction, counseling, and relationships – edited by a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. I could think of no greater advisor in the same vein of mental health writing so I jumped at the offer. You can check out our first collaboration, “5 Ways You Can Help the LGBTQ+ Community Fight Stigma”, available on Blunt-Therapy.com.
This time, the tables have turned and Mr. Withers has graced the Deskraven audience with his invaluable wisdom! In addition to being the Managing Editor for Blunt-Therapy.com, Randy boasts a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Education. He is recognized as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). Furthermore, he is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) who has done extensive work with LGBTQ+ clients and survivors of various types of abuse.
Provide a little backstory. Who are you? Where are you from? What inspired you to enter the mental health profession?
My name is Randy Withers, LCMHC. I’m a licensed therapist in North Carolina, where I work at a state psychiatric facility and see clients in private practice. I am also the managing editor of Blunt Therapy, a blog about mental health. I am originally from Florida, where I worked as an educator for over a decade. For most of that career, I was an academic advisor and counselor, which is where I learned that mental health counseling was my true passion. I went back to school in 2011 and have been in the field ever since. I went to Florida State and I have a dog named Daisy, who is smarter than I am.
Have you ever experienced mental health struggles in your personal life?
I have battled depression and anxiety for more than 25 years. If I’m honest, probably since I was a small child. I’ve never felt comfortable around other people. I’ve always felt different. The problem grew worse as I got older. It led to a severe case of depression about 12 years ago, which almost killed me. So yes, you could say that I have experienced mental health struggles.
As a provider, what do you consider to be the most important aspect of mental health treatment?
I’m a big advocate of a holistic approach to mental health. I don’t really believe that any one thing is most important. Having said that, for obvious reasons I’m a huge proponent of good therapy. Often, people have no idea where to start the process of managing their mental illness. A good therapist provides direction, accountability, and most importantly – hope.
Mental health treatment usually requires a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Most importantly, it requires that the client accept responsibility for their situation and for them to be willing to do whatever it takes to tackle it.
As a provider, what challenges have you faced?
Graduate school was intense. It was a three-year program and quite demanding. But I was well-trained, so it was worth it. My biggest challenge personally has been working at various agencies with people in charge who have no business making clinical decisions. In North Carolina, you don’t have to be a doctor or a therapist to own a mental health agency. Most of these places are profit-driven and run by incompetent fools. Thankfully, I work at a hospital now that is well-run and well-managed by talented clinicians. And so is my private practice. It is, quite simply, the difference between night and day.
Many therapists struggle with issues related to boundaries. They get too emotionally invested in their clients, or they work too much, or they get burnt out. Thankfully, I’ve never really struggled with that. At least, not for a while. Good boundaries are essential for mental health.
As a provider, what would you consider your greatest accomplishment?
This is a hard question. Often, you don’t really know how effective you are. Therapy is like pouring wet concrete. It takes a long time to dry, and often you’re not there to see the finished product. I suppose if I had to focus on specific accomplishments – I have prevented a handful of suicides and even homicides by talking some clients off the proverbial ledge. One time I even took a handgun from someone. I used to work at agencies that liaised with Child Protective Services, so I can also say that I was able to protect a number of children from abuse and neglect.
Have you ever experienced stigma as a direct result of being a mental health provider? How did you react?
I wouldn’t say stigma. It’s not exactly that. But being a therapist is an inherently isolating field. You are a keeper of secrets and a witness to extreme trauma. It’s hard to shut that off sometimes. Truthfully, the biggest problem I’ve faced is in the dating world. I’d say about half of the women I’ve dated simply could not separate my career from me as a person. In fact, several months ago while on a first date, my date spent the better part of 90 minutes telling me all about her childhood trauma and her awful mother. Not exactly first date material. I have a policy of politeness and compliance, so I listened and tried to be helpful. But you can’t really move forward after something like that.
Fortunately, my current girlfriend is a psychiatric nurse and couldn’t care less about what I do for a living. It’s really nice.
What piece of advice would give to those suffering from a dual diagnosis?
That you can’t treat one without the other. Does an alcoholic drink because they are depressed or are they depressed because they drink? Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to stop drinking and treat the depression. You have to conceptualize the problem as an actual medical illness, because it is. It is chronic, unforgiving, and requires a lifetime of support and management. But I’d also say that you can have hope. I’m dually diagnosed and my quality of life is pretty high.
What piece of advice would you give to friends and family who want to support someone with a mental health condition?
The problem with friends and family is that they want to fix things that they don’t understand. I remember, for example, my mom telling me to look on the bright side of things when I was clinically depressed. That’s just not helpful. My advice? If you want to be helpful, start by learning all you can about whatever disorder it is that your loved one struggles with.
What are your favorite mental health resources?
I’m a huge proponent of two seemingly different things. The first is CBT. The second is 12-Step programs. Both of which share the same goal, which is to help people change the way they think about things. So, for me, the recovery community is a huge resource. For the CBT, I really like worksheets. You can get these on sites like TherapistAid.com or you can order workbooks off Amazon. However, these really should be done under the supervision of a mental health professional.
I also believe in online counseling, but it depends on the issue. Severe mental illness? No. Relationships, self-esteem, goal setting, etc. Absolutely, yes.
I would encourage you all to visit Blunt Therapy, which is my blog. I and about two dozen other writers focus on topics related to mental health, therapy, addictions, and parenting. We’ve got some good stuff.
“I also believe that parents, if they love you, will hold you up safely, above their swirling waters, and sometimes that means you’ll never know what they endured, and you may treat them unkindly, in a way you otherwise wouldn’t.” ― Mitch Albom, For One More Day
I wrote about my parents in a previous post titled, Ugly Truth 45: Life Will Break You. In it, I unveil all of the heartfelt hurt and truth we share, and how I learned to move forward. I used to think parenting was simple. As I grew into my motherhood, however, I learned nothing is more complex than parenting and family dynamics. In general, most of us need to feel we’re loved, we’re accepted as we are, and our parents are proud of us to grow into resilient productive beings. We generalize our own sense of self worth as a result of the treatment we’re given. Furthermore, we are asked simultaneously to discover just who we are apart from that.
In my first year of college I learned about “tabula rasa,” better known as the “Blank Slate Theory” brought forth by an English philosopher named John Locke who expanded on an idea suggested by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.. Essentially, this theory suggests all children are born as white boards and their parents hold the markers. That is, we are shaped by our environment. While the Blank Slate Theory is half true, I take issue with the fact that it fails to take our autonomy into account. Certainly we are all born with predispositions and temperaments, regardless of our environment. Surly we inherit personality traits, our quickness to anger, and shared interests genetically. Therefore, the answer to the Nature versus Nurture debate is yes. With that being said, it stands to reason why some people cope better as adults while others fall into addiction. Likewise, it explains why some believe abuse and suicide are acceptable while others would never behave in such a manner.
As children, we hope to emulate our caregivers. In adolescence, we’re more likely to judge them when faced with the fact that our belief system may be different from theirs. As adults, we seek to understand and are quicker to offer up compassion, primarily when faced with our own independence and the humbling experience of our own parenthood.
How then does that translate when abuse takes place? Is there something to be gained other than mistrust and resentment by hearing them out? What happens when the confrontation fails to yield accountability or even acknowledgement on their part? Apology remains the most promising way to rebuild a damaged relationship, but more often than not that doesn’t happen. While immensely helpful, the truth is we don’t need an apology to heal because sincere forgiveness remains an equally powerful alternative.
*WARNING: This post makes mention of suicide, self injury, drug use, and abuse. If you find this type of content triggering, please do not continue reading. If you or someone you love is at risk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255*
As we the near the halfway point of my 100 Truths, I want to take a moment to thank those of you who have followed along this far. It has been a project in introspection, and an excellent conversation starter.
As many of you know, trauma-work has been at the forefront of my healing over the last few years. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been one of my more pervasive diagnoses, and so I find myself being continuously humbled by its rearing ugly head. The truth is sometimes I feel impenetrably strong. Other times I feel one more traumatic event away from losing my last marble. It doesn’t scare me as much as it used to because now I have the tools, but even a well equipped person can stumble backward.
While I spend a great deal of time advocating for others on all things mental health, I often feel unprepared and overwhelmed by what it feels like to be me. For all intents and purposes I should be dead and yet, I am still here. The truth is I still face sensations of disheartened dismay. The truth is I tried to take my own life three times. The truth is I have other family members who have tried and failed, still others who have tried and succeeded. The truth is suicide still crosses my mind as a function of mental illness, but these days I wont act on it. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, abuse is often generational. When I hear about the awful happenings in the world, I often imagine what the parents of those perpetrators must have been like. While nothing serves as an excuse for abuse, there are certainly explanations found all throughout human psychology. I have written about this before, however as I continue to process, I will go into greater detail in this post.
My mother is a survivor of abuse herself, and her lack of self-understanding was often reflected in her poor choice of partners. For as long as I can remember my parents were rarely in the same room, but my father was the only man who never hit her. My first step-father certainly doled out the worst of it. He was physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive toward my mother and I. The abuse consisted of name-calling, yelling, hair-pulling, hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, squeezing and biting. Domestic violence was an almost daily occurrence in our home, not to be deterred by the company of others. This man destroyed a handful of my birthdays, relationships, and self-esteem. Adding insult to injury, he went so far as to cheat on my mother with her best friend, and threatened to take my very life.
My mother would later share with me that this was her breaking point. This was the event that finally gave her the courage to leave. She still harbors a great deal of guilt from this time in our life, and while I can not fathom exposing my son to these things, I understand her hesitation. Domestic violence often escalates when the victim attempts to end or flee the relationship.
Fortunately, my mind has managed to block out a lot of what happened. Eventually though, the memories resurfaced and my mother helped me fill in the blanks. These things did happen. I was questioned by police, and from the ages of 3 to 10 I was subject to child abuse on a pretty consistent basis. There were other odd things that took place as a result of our economic status such as exposure to petty home invasions, a general lack of supervision, and abusive babysitters.
Later, my mother met another man who was equally dysfunctional, but slightly less violent. He promised to carry us out of our hell and give us a fresh start. During my teenage years he mostly targeted my mother and younger sister. My previous abuse had grown in me a spine that would not tolerate anymore assault, and I told him so, directly to his red spitting face.
During these years the affairs of my mother would exacerbate the violence, and expose us to more strange men. As far back as my memory allows, my home was filled with undertones of abuse, and the childhood conclusion that the world is an unreliable and unsafe place. In some form of strange validation, my medical records show the early stages of my mental illness during this time with consistent reports of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.
Abandonment and Sexual Abuse
When I was 12 my father experienced something of an existential crisis paired with a job offer that offered him a leg up, and he could no longer call Minnesota home. After spending the last decade of my life seeing my father every other weekend, which was often the only opportunity I had to escape my abuse and build positive memories, he moved to Texas. This experience caused me to cry more than I ever had before in my young life. It also prompted me to put my feelings on paper for the first time.
When I was 15, I was given the opportunity to drive cross-country with a family friend who would later add to my betrayal. He sexually abused me three times over the course of a month before I finally spoke up. While the abuse stopped, the repercussions of this event has had one of the worst ripple effects that still plagues my family today. You can read the details of what happened in a previous post titled, Trauma Confession Series: Overcoming Avoidance, where I speak about this publicly for the very first time.
Mental Illness and my First Suicide Attempt
The sexual abuse was my tipping point. Not surprisingly, I entered into similarly dysfunctional and abusive relationships and suffered those consequences as well. I began tolerating treatment I shouldn’t because it was what I had been exposed to. On some level, I felt I deserved it – which I would later learn could not be further from the truth. I endured false accusations, control dynamics, manipulation, and abuse for another five years. During this time my trauma aligned with my teenage turmoil and grew into a new kind of monster. Soon, my self preservation completely left me, and I began hurting myself. I started with kitchen knives and safety pins before graduating to razors. The scars were getting harder to hide and wearing hoodies in July was just impractical. So, I began piling on anything I could use to harm myself or alter my mood state including drugs, alcohol, and eating disorders. During this time my grades began to slip as my transcript clearly shows, the violence in my home continued, my mental illness worsened with increased episodes of hallucination and dissociation, and I grew increasingly detached from my surroundings.
One evening, I went across the street to spend the night with a friend. She could see that something was off with me. Looking back now, I can see how gentle and deliberate she was in her intervention and I am grateful, but at the time I was extremely pissed off. She left the room and I began dissociating from my environment once more as I searched for a sharp object. When she re-entered the room she could see me rummaging through her room and I mumbled something about walking into oncoming traffic. “I’ll be right back,” she said. When she returned she fed me some story about her mother driving to the bank and insisted I tag along. I shrugged my shoulders and got in the car. I stared out the window saying very little when I realized we were not at the bank at all. We were in the parking lot of our local emergency room. I snapped into a red hot anger I can still feel 15 years later. How dare she save me?
I sat in that emergency room for a long while refusing to give up my information as my friend pleaded with the nurse to admit me. Eventually I caved and gave my identifying information. During my stay I experienced sucide watch isolation, spiritual phenomena, the probing questions of a much younger child, and I was asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) which was ultimately used to improperly diagnose and improperly medicate me. Unfortunately this is fairly common in dealing with teenagers and complex mental illness. You can read more about self injury, what therapy taught me, and how I freed myself from this in a previous post titled, Trauma Confession Series: Self-Injury & Letting Go.
Suicide in the Family
In the years that followed I continued to fall into bad patterns of behavior. Finally at my wits end, I left home at the age of 17 and never looked back. I bounced around the Midwest for a couple of years before I totally lost my footing. Following an unhealthy relationship with a traumatic ending, I relocated to Texas eager to rebuild. Not long after a failed attempt to purchase a vehicle and enroll in college for the first time, I found myself the recipient of more bad news. Within 24 hours I lost a dear family friend and my maternal grandfather to suicide. You can read the full story in a previous post titled, A Suicide Survivor Story – Part Iand Part II.
Self Injury and Self Medicating
Not surprisingly, experiencing loss to suicide shook me to my core and sent me spiraling into an untreated dangerous mind set. At the age of 19 I had slim to no coping skills, and fell deeper into substance abuse and disordered eating to cope with the nightmares alone. Through it all I fought like hell to be better. I was writing feverishly, grasping at mindfulness exercises, and finally confessing to myself that I was attracted to women. The fight within was violent. Eventually the scales tipped against me and the surge of pain I experienced proved to be too great. At the height of it, I found myself waking up hungover in pools of blood and tepid bath water, still fully clothed from the night before. I knew if I didn’t change my circumstances I would die.
My closeness with my father, God help me I love him, was not enough to sustain me much longer. Perhaps he recognized this, and in his fine intuition urged me to make a suicide pact with him. In our shared desperation we promised each other that come hell or high water, and we had had plenty of both at that point, suicide was just simply not an option. So, I set out to make big changes in my life, once more chasing the breath the world seemed determined to squeeze out of me.
The Turning Point
I took a job away from home, traveled excessively, and learned to fall in love again. With the help of my incredible friends and mentors, I began to reconnect with others, with life, and with myself. At the age of 21 I learned I was pregnant, and my life was no longer about me. My body was no longer mine, and my mind no longer failed to blossom. I became an overnight sensation, instantly sober, and determined to practice motherhood with clarity and poise. I returned to Minnesota and the first couple of years were mostly delightful, albeit bouts of post-partum depression, and the sneaking suspicion that something just wasn’t right with me.
Medical Trauma and Chronic Pain
When my son was approaching his first birthday we decided to move to Colorado. It had been our teenage dream to inherit God’s good mountains and a nature mindset for our son. In true fashion, however, just two weeks in our light was once again snuffed out by something I still find myself unwilling and unable to write about. I fear the task is so great I will never be fully able to grasp or express the magnitude of our experience. (Perhaps the best thing to do would be to one day sit down with my journals from that time and tackle the re-telling from the heart.) In short, our 23 year old brother suffered end stage kidney failure and it traumatized us all.
Two years later I moved back to Texas as it always seemed to offer me a soft landing. Shortly after, I was involved in a car accident that left my body never quite the same. I now live with a spinal injury, S.I. joint dysfunction, nerve damage, and migraines on a daily basis.
It wasn’t until I left my decade of trauma behind that I realized just how severely PTSD had impacted my quality of life. I found myself in a strategic but unhappy marriage with the promise of familiarity and family ties. I was young, but I understood my son’s memory was beginning to form, and I had no choice but to take my mental health seriously. It was time to grow up and get honest because white-knuckling it wasn’t working anymore. So, I went back to school for Child Development and Psychology, entered the field of Behavioral Health, and sought mental health treatment. You can read more in depth about what drove me to find a psychiatrist in a previous post titled,Ugly Truth 34: Psychosis Sucks.
After a proper diagnosis, anti-psychotic medication, and a 7 day in-patient hospitalization that offered me crash course therapy as a professional courtesy, I found myself more stable. I knew there was only one thing left to do.
Identity Crisisand Recovery
Two more years passed until finally I was strong enough to come off my medication, end my marriage, and come out as a lesbian. After one more misstep and two more traumatic relationships, I finally embraced trauma work and self development once and for all. I started to confront the abuse, the abandonment, the trauma, and face my personal truth. I began to manage my symptoms differently and write more, which led to the publication of this blog. I got real with myself and my family about my sexuality. I found it flatly irresponsible to date in my current condition, so I began developing concrete coping skills, growing into my skin, and advocating for others to keep myself in perspective. It sounds strange, but in many ways I had to get to know myself again. Once you strip away all the damage and co-dependency, you’re left with nothing short of a raw sense of self. The truth is you have to process and mourn the loss of whatever pain you carry, let it go (really let it go), and replace it with gratitude for the present moment – which you, and only you, are solely responsible for. It sounds simple enough, however, most people are too busy practicing avoidance or denial to notice. I was one of them. Letting go of my pride and my pain taught me just how useful the vulnerable truth can be. It is a natural gateway to becoming a more loving and compassionate human being, which in turn lends itself well to building meaningful relationships.
Today I am blessed to have more peace in my life than ever before. I try to never lose sight of the fact that the life I live now is something I once could only dream of. There were times so unmatched with darkness I was convinced I would never get out alive. At some point though, you have to set boundaries and take responsibility for your own well being. If you consistently victimize yourself, you will remain in a state of helplessness which, interestingly enough, is a learned behavior. Lucky for us, behavior and thought processes alike are malleable in that they can be changed and modified. As I like to say, adapt or die. Put more gently, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. No amount of traumatic endurance ensures us that bad things won’t happen. Perhaps the most important thing then, is being prepared for when they do.
Today I have the love of an incredibly beautiful woman who spreads warmth and light everywhere she goes. I feel so lucky to have her, but I also know I deserve her. You can read more about her and how hard I fell in a previous post titled, Ugly Truth 37: Loving a Woman Changed my Worldview.
I have a decent outlook on life (with a healthy dose of cynicism), and most of my sanity intact because that is what I set out to build for myself. The truth is I still struggle from time to time with the chemical imbalances of Bipolar Disorder, the triggers of PTSD, and the irrational uncertainty of Panic Disorder. Some of this just never goes away, but you can certainly achieve some semblance of functioning, happiness even. If nothing else, may this post serve as a reminder that surviving and thriving are not mutually exclusive. Living through trauma is almost never linear. You are not alone, and I’m still here to tell about it.
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**