A QUICK NOTE:
Welcome back everyone! Sorry for the radio-silence- there has been a lot of transition going on in our lives. Natasha will be taking a break from the blog to do some much-needed self-care. In the meantime, I'll still be posting and hope you will continue to share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas. We love you. -Kristen
I love being a supervisor. If serving clients is an honor, then serving people who serve clients is an even greater honor. Not only because of having the role as an advisor, but also that of a mentor in what it means to be human with people who have experienced inhumanity.
I had a rare jumpstart into this role, in that my first “social work job” was as a supervisor/field instructor for Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) students in their field practicum. It was at an agency that served as my own undergraduate field practicum, and my former supervisor was the one who offered me the job. I was scared shitless and had the hugest case of “imposter syndrome”, but I did it anyway and ended up falling in love with it.
The thing about supervising is that it challenges you to look at your own stuff in a different way than it does directly working with clients (and even more-so if you also see clients and supervise). Because you can’t hide behind statements like, “Well I’m really not able to disclose that.”
Instead, your real self is more likely to be used, and your reservation of it is less likely to be effective.
We’ve all had those “bad” supervisors. You know, the ones that are either leaking their own shit or sob story all over you so that you are taking care of them, the stiff ones who are squared up so tight that nothing can get in except productivity reports, the burnt out ones who are more disorganized and exhausted than your clients, the ones that are never there and always absent (hello attachment trauma, there you are) and, last but not least, the ones whose own lack of self-work prevent them from going into the deep with you or allowing you to disclose the depth of human experience that comes up in this field. Maybe you’ve even experienced sprinklings of all of these. And if you haven’t had any of this, then you’re a lucky dog (that, or just give it time!).
But what about the helpful supervisors? The ones who motivate and inspire us to be bigger versions of ourselves, who challenge us in the ways we’re resistant to, but still provide the safety net for when we fall and the safe space to process it afterward? Like most people, I’ve had helpful and not-helpful supervisors. And even then, I can still say that every supervisor I’ve had has taught me something incredibly important, even if that has been teaching me what I absolutely do NOT want to ever do.
As someone with Bipolar Disorder, anxiety, and borderline personality elements, I have learned more about my own attachment styles and why they are the way they are because of my own supervision. I’ve had supervisors with every kind of attachment style, and it has been fascinating. The good, the not-great, and the ugly have all come out and taught me so much about myself. For example, I’ve learned that I absolutely HATE disagreeing with someone I admire and respect (and don’t know what to do with it, other than go into despair, feelings of betrayal, loathing, and rumination!), and I have absolutely no qualms about bad-mouthing someone I absolutely 100% disagree with on their own turf. All or nothing much? Yeah. Never said I was perfect!
My current supervisor told me something that impacted me a lot. It was on a day when she had made a decision about a client that I really disagreed with. I was awkward, ambivalent and bright red in supervision. In response to me saying that I felt really uncomfortable disagreeing with her, she said, “But that’s okay. I’m going to disappoint you sometimes. And that’s okay.” And BOOM, came my realization for why I’ve cut out so many people from my life. Like my brain, I have difficulty integrating positive and unpleasant feelings, idealization and derealization.
A healthy attachment style is all about knowing that someone is there for you, even when they’re not physically there or you don’t see eye-to-eye.
This has influenced so much of how I’ve come to find my own supervisory style. I incorporate what I know with what I’ve learned. What I know about myself is that I am fiercely protective. I’m an alfa wolf at heart, and I protect my pack. What I’ve learned is how to empower my pack and trust that they are more resilient than I know, without fearing that they will not feel like they are enough.
I’ve integrated trauma-informed care into how I supervise both staff and students, and I’ve taught this model to other supervisors. In trainings I’ve conducted, I have learned that many other supervisors are scared of “crossing the line” between professional and personal. The thing is, there is an ethical line, but it’s not what you think it is.
The line isn’t talking about personal stuff or crying in supervision, nor expressing how something made you feel. THOSE are the pillars of REAL supervision. What the LINE is, is when the relationship could become exploitive and being wary of when your power and influence could take advantage of someone. It sounds so obvious (and hopefully it is to most people), but I really don’t think it’s more complicated than that.
In terms of finding a supervisor you “vibe” with, know that this may not always happen and that this is okay. If you have a supervisor who doesn’t hold space for processing your emotions or experiences (both within and outside of your work), then find someone else who can. Every supervisor has something to teach us, even if it’s literally just to indirectly remind us of what NOT to do. If this is a situation you are finding yourself in, then find someone like a colleague or friend who can relate with you and give you space to process and pick your brain. In the helping professions, we all need someone to consult with. It’s one of the things that prevents us from burning out and keeping our desire to learn alive.
I can tell you that I’ve learned so much from my supervisees over the years, and it’s only been six years. I’ve found my joy in teaching. I’ve experienced the honor of people disclosing that they are survivors themselves and how this actually influenced them to get into this field. I’ve found the beauty of saying, “Me too,” when someone is talking about something hard and how this response softens the look on their face and shifts into one of relief. I’ve been given the privilege of being with someone who learned that their client was assaulted and deceased. I’ve had the immense pleasure of witnessing someone discovering that they are capable of more than what they think they were and that they have a place and a purpose in serving others who are just trying to find the same sense of meaning.
Supervision is an opportunity for a parallel process.
This is why I love it so much. I am to my supervisee what my supervisee is to their client. We’re all just trying to guide and support each other through life and the fields we’re in. And there’s something very beautiful to me about that. If you ever get the opportunity to supervise someone, whether they be a staff or student, I really recommend it. You don’t have to be perfect or an “expert” in order to be a good supervisor. I sure as hell have learned that, and I’m so grateful for my supervision experiences. I’ve learned just as much from my supervisees as I’ve taught them. Which is just so cool- because that’s what the human experience is all about: equality.
Thank you to all the supervisors reading this. You are so valued and needed. And thank you to everyone who has been a supervisee and dared to open up. We need you.
I had some trouble starting this post. I found myself wanting to analyze my friendships and how each of them have been impacted by my work. I’m sensing some avoidance…? I guess I’ve never allowed myself to fully consider how much being in the trauma field has impacted my relationship with my husband.
My husband and I have been together since we were 18 years old (we’re 28 now, just to put things into perspective). Our marriage and my work as a therapist in the trauma field began a little over a year ago. The timing of everything was trippy. I was in grad school, interning as a trauma clinician, getting married, and experiencing one of my first severe bouts of depression and anxiety as an adult. I don’t attribute my mental health struggle to any one event during that time. I really believe it was a mixture of things being fueled by avoidance and a lack of self-care/self-love/self-respect.
I remember facilitating practices such as prolonged exposure (google it, it’s the shit) and how I felt at the end of each day after hearing hours of trauma accounts. I noticed myself driving home from my internship in silence (it’s not like me to not immediately open Spotify when I start my car). I remember feeling angry, frustrated, sad, and helpless. My thoughts and feelings were too loud and couldn’t be drowned out by music or anything else for that matter. How can some people be so resilient, amazing, kind, and strong while others are filthy, hateful, and just all around crappy? How can one person go through so much and still remain standing? Why do some people experience chronic trauma while others don’t? All of the whys, all of the time.
If I said I didn’t take some of that home with me, I’d be lying. I’d come home and begin to question EVERYTHING. Honestly, I found myself feeling guilty. I felt really guilty about my relationship. Believe me, my relationship is far from perfect and we’ve faced our fair share of obstacles, but even in our darkest moments, I’ve always felt loved. Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected and the stories that I was hearing were full of the exact opposite. Many of my clients were terrified to go home and that was something I wasn’t able to comprehend.
I realize now that this really did impact my relationship. I pushed away. I didn’t walk in the door, kiss him, and ask about his day like I usually did. Instead, I came inside, went straight to the shower, and then sat on the couch and zoned out. In addition to being plagued by guilt (thank you, depression), I kept thinking about all of the unhealthy relationships that I had with men prior to the age of 18. How much I needed affection, no matter what came before or after it. Any attention was good attention. That part of my life sucked and I’d never want to go back. I felt like I was being forced back there to relive my past traumas and it was easier for me to just shut down.
Looking back, I think my reaction had a lot to do with how I was treated in previous relationships. How things always seemed fine until BAM- absolute chaos. Respect always flew out the window and I was left feeling insecure and alone. Maybe a part of me was feeling insecure all over again. I can admit at this point in my life that I was afraid. Even though this fear was warranted, I was still holding on to my own traumatic experiences. I was being triggered by my interactions with my clients.
Obviously, when I first entered this field, I was stuck in a negative headspace that forced me to question everything about myself and the world around me. People became either good or bad. My exes became either good or bad. My husband became either good or bad.
Some people might think that they’d hold onto their loved ones extra tight if they were exposed to the same thing day after day. Fair enough. I didn’t react that way. I was just turned off from intimacy and was focused on doing what I could to push the memories, guilt, and fear down.
This is really tough to admit. It actually really sucks because I notice myself feeling guilty again. Guilty that I felt the way that I did. But, I’m here to be open and honest- so that’s what I’m doing.
Time went on, I got more comfortable with my job and I sought help. I’m human, so I’m definitely still impacted by my work, but it just looks different now. I’m communicating my fears and needs in a way that is clear and well-received.
I will say that being immersed in the trauma field has taught me that healing is possible. Survivors have taught me that I deserve respect, love, openness, and appreciation. I’m constantly learning how to utilize my experiences in a way that makes me a better, more empathetic clinician. For me, it’s not about avoiding triggering situations, it’s about giving myself the space to process them with people that I respect and love and who feel the same way about me.
I hope this post made sense, I kind of feel like I was all over the place. It was hard to start and then it all just came rushing out. I made a lot of solid realizations and I’m feeling extra vulnerable/excited to share them with all of you.
As always, I’m wishing you love and light.
Ah, relationships. I think I need a glass of red for this one, lord help me. I have been in three major relationships in my life. One okay, one hard, and one devastating. Safe to say that when it comes to the work I’ve done with my clients, I’ve always been skewed (but aren’t we all?). *enter nervous laughter*
Even before getting into the trauma field almost nine years ago, I was still pretty awkward with the whole relationship thing. My first relationship that lasted more than a month was when I was in high school, and it was the first time I thought about my relationship with my body. Because prior to exactly one year ago today, I was completely transparent about my feelings, but definitely had a very disconnected, unhealthy relationship with my body.
It’s really interesting to me that I chose to go into the very specific field of sexual violence, since I grew up being taught to deny and shame my own body and sexual desires, as well as to shame and cast judgment on those whose “lifestyles” were “wrong” or “sinful”. Doesn’t take a genius to see a connection there.
Because as different as violence and brainwashing are from one another, they also have many similarities. They can both be insidious. And also extremely conflicting. Especially when the people perpetuating it genuinely believe they are right and have good, pure, and loving intentions. Because when this is the case, it doesn’t feel like “brainwashing” in the moment, and you become defensive of anyone not in your world who disses it. And by you, I mean me.
I’ll be straight with you. What I’m getting at is that I grew up being thrown into every abstinence-only class that existed within a 10-mile radius. I grew up going to Sunday school every weekend and bible camp every summer. I even went to an evangelical university! Terms like righteous, homosexual, sin, adultery, sacrament, virgin, and temple were very commonplace, and I grew up saying them too. So when it came to intimacy within relationships, I already came into the trauma field with some pretty heavy baggage.
It wasn’t until I interned at a rape crisis center that I began to reflect on women’s experiences with their bodies, sex, intimacy, choice, and consent. The center was (and still is) a feminist, multicultural agency that took pride in actively advocating for consent and empowering women to explore their sexuality. As someone who experienced internalized shame, I know now that this placement was “meant to be”.
Ultimately, what I’m noticing as I’m writing this (and you may be too) is that when I sit down and think about relationships, my mind automatically goes to sex. After doing much self-work and processing on this, I’ve come to discover that my knowledge and awareness of sexual health, sexual empowerment, and exploration were never things that I was allowed to talk about growing up; and so now, in my late 20s, I’m really discovering them for the first time.
Same with love.
Combine that with being a trauma therapist and advocate for freedom of choice, this can’t not impact my romantic relationships. And my internalized shame is certainly something that I still struggle with occasionally, because that’s just something that takes a long-ass time to detox from. Can I get an amen?
I would say that shame has impacted my mentality of sex. My professional experience with domestic violence, combined with my last relationship, has impacted my mentality of relational dynamics and TRUST, above all else. The moment I begin talking to someone I’m interested in, I’m already assessing them:
Do they seem entitled? Are they lying? Is this just a ploy to get me into bed? Are they married or already in a relationship? Are they asking me enough questions or are they just talking about themselves? Did that text seem sketchy? Was that time they got irritated the beginning of the cycle of violence? Are you going to get tired of me and cheat on me with someone else? Are you secretly a sex trafficker? Are you covertly part of a gang that’s going to traffick me? Is this for real? What are you really trying to get at? Am I feeling too much? Is it healthy to be this in love with someone? Are you going to hurt me?
Fwew. You catch my drift. Paranoid much?
I’m a trauma clinician. Of course I’m paranoid.
I’m exposed to sexual trauma every single damn day. And yes, I choose to, because it’s in people’s recovery and the power of bearing witness that I love. And yes, this has consequences. Like occasional intrusive thoughts of rape, of sensory experiences that my synthesia holds onto (did I mention I have that?). It’s all part of the job. That’s me processing. And as normal as it is considering what I do, OF COURSE it’s annoying AS FUCK sometimes. Especially when you’re...you know.
Thank god for therapy.
And now that I think about it, my last two relationships have been with people who have experienced trauma (and in very different ways). My last partner’s family was heavily in the gang life, and they had a past history of physical aggression as a youth. My partner before that was an active veteran, and they were deployed while we were together; although this was approximately their third deployment. And they had seen it all, especially torture.
So, with these individuals, all of our quirks, our trauma-induced habits, were very normal. Backs to the wall in restaurants, dislike of crowded spaces, unable to focus on a conversation with other people around due to taking in every. single. detail. Totally “normal”.
And you know what? I’m not gonna lie. There is a thrill in it for me. Always has been. Of being with someone “with a past”. Because let’s face it- MOST people in the helping professions like to “save” or “rescue” people, to take care of others, to correct what was done to them.
And let’s not forget that the media (and novels, in my case) ROMANTICIZES this. Dark past, tough exterior? Hot. Hot. Hot. Stable past, kind exterior? Not. Not. Not. And bor-ing. How sad is that? And if you’ve experienced any kind of relational trauma, the person who is kind automatically brings up the suspicion of them hiding something or playing you.
So, yeah, my dating and relationship experience is sort of tinged and complex, to say the least. And I’ve been burned, unfortunately. Like many people have, even more unfortunately. To be frank, it’s hard for me not to be paranoid and/or suspicious. And I’m much more cautious with my emotions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And my body shame? Much better, though still a long way to go. It’s easier to get in touch with my sexuality and not be as paranoid or suspicious when drinking of course, but as my previous therapist said, “Once you get in touch with your sexual self while you’re sober, you won’t need to only bring her out when you’re drinking.” And she’s right! I’d like to think that I’m growing in that area. Ovaries to the wall.
Being in the trauma field has been harrowing at times, but it’s been more empowering than I thought possible. I’m not afraid “to go there” in conversations. I’m not afraid of talking about death, about rape, about domestic violence, about institutional abuse and systemic oppression. No, these aren’t bubbly topics to bring up on first dates, but the conviction and confidence I’ve derived from owning them is invaluable. I’ve needed it my whole life.
And you know what? I’ve discovered that people are secretly thirsty to have REAL conversations. I’ve seen it.
Being in this field has also connected me with people who are powerful, courageous, and equally deep in their emotions and experiences of the world. And just as deep in their ability to love fiercely. It’s in their company that I have really found myself. And my tribe. I’m allowed to be 100% unapologetically me, and more importantly, I’ve allowed MYSELF to do that.
I reject right and wrong. I embrace life as it is: grey, complex, and deep.
I’m proud of who I’ve become, because I’ve fought so hard to get here. And each year I feel like I’m getting closer to digging through my internal muck and rescuing that artist child inside who just wants to play, to love, and to experience joy.
It’s the trauma field that’s helped me do that. And I don’t think any other field could.
Because without darkness, there is no light. The darkness has helped me to see what I want. What I value. What I cherish. And that I refuse to settle for anything less.
Maybe that’s why I’m not really a dater. I don’t do casual. I do depth. I’m a bottom-up kind of person, and that’s okay. It’s okay. Cause once I connect with you at the bottom, I have trust in you to be vulnerable and free at the top. Some people may say that’s “too intense” or to “lighten up”, but I don’t really care anymore. I accept my desires and how I connect.
I accept me.
And whoever I choose to be with next will not only understand that, but will love it too. R-E-S-P-E-C-T baby.
Here’s to being our undeniable, beautiful, fallible selves,
A little over a year ago, while my world seemed to be crashing down, I wasn’t thinking about much else other than staying alive- putting one foot in front of the other and making it through each day. It wasn’t until I began taking care of myself that I started to question how my mental health had impacted the people in my life. What is it like for my husband? My friends? My family? What is it like to witness their loved one be stripped of the personality that they love and respect? What is it like for them to be human and struggle while simultaneously trying to be there for me?
This post gave me a chance to ask the above questions and more. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my entire life. I asked each person to be as open and honest as possible. It wasn’t a trick. I wasn’t going to get insulted or defensive. I just wanted to hear their perspective. I wanted to listen, something that they had done for me time and time again.
I ended up asking a few of my closest friends for their thoughts, this is some of what I received (in no particular order):
“I often felt like I was less of a friend for not having the “right” words to say to help”
“Although it’s difficult, loving your best friend is effortless. It’s unconditional. It’s learning to understand their mental health and sitting with them in it. It’s communicating how you feel and having faith they’ll understand you”
“I feel like when you were experiencing some of your lowest points, in the last two years, so was I”
“I missed you. I feel like a part of you disappeared”
“It was really hard to pour from an empty cup and it taught me a lot about self-care”
“What’s it like to love you at your lowest, most anxious state? Let’s see…well I can relate in multiple aspects, so I feel like I understand you, yet it’s so incredibly painful to know how deep your struggles get at times”
“I feel when you’re struggling and can see when part of your brain is rationally walking you through crippling anxiety while the other part is emotionally withering- that shit is absolutely brutal”
“You’re hands down one of the strongest people I know, but strength is NOT easy”
“Through your unapologetic honesty and truth, you have inspired me to reflect on my own mental health in a way I never have before- a million times, thank you”
Thoughts from my husband:
“I felt frustrated because I couldn’t do anything”
“I wanted you to be happy and to feel loved”
I asked him what it was like when I couldn’t even handle being at the grocery store anymore (that shit is rough when you’re anxious and experiencing panic attacks). I’d quickly say, “I gotta get out of here” and bolt.
“It’s fine. I can handle that stuff. You looked scared. I’d just try and get out of there as fast as I could”
“It sucks not knowing what to say or how to act. I just wanted to help”
I asked him if he started to notice anything different about me around the time that my mental health took a turn for the worse.
…long, awkward pause…”I mean, I dunno. I don’t think I noticed just one thing. I think it was a lot of things”
“The look on your face. Your overall presence in the room changed. You started isolating yourself”
“It was hard when you’d go in the room and sit alone. That was hard to watch. I didn’t know if you wanted me to come in or give you space”
“I knew it wasn’t your fault. I didn’t want you to ever think that”
There was more to each conversation, but I wanted to keep some of it close to my heart, for my eyes only.
What struck me the most was the uncertainty that everyone felt around the time that I started to really struggle. I felt the same uncertainty. I felt utterly hopeless and I was scared out of my mind. I felt like everyone else was fine and I wasn’t. I was wrong.
Not only were people worried about me, but they had their own humanness to deal with.
I felt so isolated when in reality, I was trudging through the mud alongside my loved ones. Sure, our experiences were unique and differed in duration and intensity, but I most certainly wasn’t alone in my discomfort. Talk about a humbling realization.
Honestly, I wish I would have had these honest conversations sooner. Better late than never, but I have a new appreciation and respect for the incredible people in my life. Thank you. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, each of you played an important role in saving my life. I’m not just talking about the people who shared their thoughts above. Each and every single person that I’ve connected with while on this journey has shown me compassion and understanding. I’ve never felt so connected and heard. I’m learning so much about myself and the world around me by simply asking questions, remaining open, and accepting my experiences for exactly what they are.
My beautiful friend/co-blogger and I decided to write about each other for this post, so here goes…
There aren’t enough words to express what an honor it is to know you, to love you, and to experience all of this alongside you. Our relationship has transformed from a supervisor/supervisee bond to a full-blown, insanely connected friendship. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Week 1 of my internship: I was terrified. I was having multiple panic attacks a day. I was having to pull over on my way in so that I could put my seat back and practice deep breathing. I was so close to dropping out of school and running from myself and what my body was trying to tell me. I came to you. I took a chance and told you, my supervisor, about what was going on. I told you that I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression and that if I disappear throughout the day, I’m just doing so to get some air. As logically and rationally as I could, I explained a bit about my journey. I needed guidance and somehow, I knew you’d understand. I was so right, you totally understood.
You have a way of inviting people in. You allow people to be unapologetically human in your presence. I remember the way you were looking at me when I told you about what I was battling- SO much empathy.
You’re so kind and so warm. You have so much love to give. You treat people with the utmost respect, whether they deserve it or not. I admire that about you. You care. You give a shit.
We’ve connected on so many levels. I too know what it’s like to feel everything and wonder if anyone else is feeling the heaviness too. The highs? I feel you, friend. The lows? Right there with you.
We’ve all done things we aren’t 100% proud of. That doesn’t make us any less human, if anything, that makes us more human. Even when we’re being self-destructive, impulsive, and careless we’re still worthy of love and acceptance. You are worthy of all the beauty that life has to offer.
I respect you more than you know and I’m with you, always.
I have to say, this is the scariest post for me to publish. This has, by far, been the most terrifying process because it’s forced me to take the risk of initiating a conversation about my mental health, solely and directly about my struggles, one on one, to the people whose opinions I care about the most, who are also not in the mental health field. It’s been both brutal and beautiful.
I asked my parent and longest friend to both share their experiences and interactions with my mental health. You will see that they are...entirely different. And I wonder if that’s because, with my friend, I have socially let my guard down, and, with my parent, I have emotionally let my guard down. And, for me, those are two very different things.
Just to be clear, here’s what we’re working with: I have three major mental health conditions. They are called Bipolar II Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Some might say I’m also on the spectrum of Borderline Personality Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. But we can go more into that another time.
With my friend, she has seen more of the behavioral aspects of my hypomanic episodes. Unfortunately, this means that she has been exposed to my impulsivity, recklessness, and poor decision-making. This has included binging on alcohol and engaging in risky behavior, among other things.
As much as I’m learning to accept my mental health conditions and be kind to myself, I sometimes still experience shame and guilt about what she has seen.
It’s interesting- I’m not ashamed, nor feel guilty, about what I have DONE. It’s that she saw it. That I was caught.
That’s the honest truth. Because as hard as it is to go through something by yourself, it’s even harder when you have an audience (side note: I could never be a celebrity).
My friend and I have been through many years together and, truth be told, I didn’t think she noticed the changes in me that she mentions in her response. Simply because, as she will say, mental health hasn’t been something we ever talked about until recently. It’s still new for us. And I know it’s hard for her. Because as difficult as it was for me to read her response, it was also very real and honest. Which was very brave of her. And for her to have been that vulnerable in her feelings, I have to give her that.
She has stood by me when no other friend would have. For many years, I felt that I owed her an amount that I would never be able to pay back, because of my shame. But now I know, that’s not what friendship is about. It wasn’t until literally four days ago- while having a panic attack at her apartment- that I finally understood that I have nothing to prove, only to share. Thank you dear friend, for your honesty and for never leaving my side, even when you were most disappointed.
Kristen and I became friends in first grade during a game of hopscotch at recess. We became close with our vivid imaginations and love of cats. I wish I could say growing up we were popular kids with lots of friends, but that really wasn’t the case. A majority of our elementary school years were spent isolated playing with each other at recess on the tetherball court located on the far end of the playground.
Looking back, I feel like we found solace in each other as a way to elude our own social anxiety. For myself, I always looked to Kristen for support and comfort because truthfully back then she was my only true friend. I was very dependent on her during elementary school and if she was out sick or separate from me, I felt very anxious and awkward. I can only suspect that she felt the same way.
As we grew up through middle school and high school, we remained friends, but as the years progressed we lost touch. After rarely speaking through the end of high school to the beginning of college, we finally reconnected in our second year of college. We ended up finding a mutual bond through our shared troubles with our roommates and feelings of being caste out. Probably around this time is when Kristen first mentioned having anxiety issues and taking medication to me.
During this period, I had noticed a change in Kristen’s personality from the person I knew since elementary school. She seemed more reserved from the Kristen I knew in high school; who seemed to have found confidence and belonging with her group of band friends. The most drastic change I noticed was the change in her laugh. Her laugh almost seemed forced and simulated. Thankfully as time progressed, I heard the laugh that I had remembered as a child.
I can’t say that I always know when Kristen is struggling with her mental health, but there have been several instances where I have witnessed her unease in certain social situations. Like all relationships, our friendship has seen many ups and downs. I admit I don’t always know what to say or I feel like I say the wrong thing all the time when it comes to matters regarding her mental health. I have also experienced frustration and disappointment with her from events that she said stemmed from her mental health struggles.
To be honest, it hasn’t always been easy for me to totally comprehend, especially since I was raised to suppress and deny my own mental health issues as a child. During a particular upsetting and hurtful incident, I found it hard to remain sensitive. For me, it felt as if she was using her mental health diagnoses as an excuse for hurtful and at-risk behavior.
I sympathize with her struggle and know that we all battle our own demons. I also admire her dedicated passion to mental health awareness and helping of others. In the end, I can’t say our friendship has always been easy when it comes to matters regarding her mental health, but I will continue to support her as best as I can. I just want her to know that she is loved for who she is and that I am always here for her.
With my parent, they have seen the emotional components of my anxiety and manic-depressive cycling. Unlike the more “dangerous” qualities that my friend has experienced from my hypomania, my parent has seen the irritability, cruelty, obsession, panic attacks, anxiety surges, and complete emotional shut-downs.
It’s different for someone who lives with someone who has mental health conditions. You see a whole other side of them. And my parent lived with me for 27 years and is my best friend, so it’s safe to say that they have pretty much seen it all (or at least most of it).
The biggest thing has been that they have bared witness to the impacts of my depression and anxiety, which are normally the qualities of myself that I try to keep most hidden from the world. Which is why hearing their experience with me was so interesting because of how obvious I thought my anxiety and hypomania were to them; when really, compared to their spouse (my other parent) who has mental health conditions even more severe than mine, it was so different. It was truly humbling to hear and understand how my parent’s perception of my mental health was so influenced by their spouse.
I understand now why it wasn’t a topic of conversation. I really do.
Aside from the fact that talking about mental health is only now STARTING to become accepted and encouraged, my parent was dealing with their spouse’s own mental health wars. And doing their best to keep me out of it so that I could live a full life. Without a doubt, I would not be all of the good things I love about myself without this parent. Nor would I be alive.
I will forever be grateful to them. No one has ever loved me the way they have.
I had a leg up on [the bipolar] because I dealt with your [other parent] for years. So, compared to [them], you were MINOR. You were truly minor...it’s true, you know. I already went through the whole process with [them]. I went to therapy because I thought, you know, [they were] freaking out, I didn’t know what I was doing, what can I do to help it, I had no idea. I did not know until YOU told me what it was. I thought it was just depression and guilt. But I had no idea it could possibly be bipolar. So, by the time I figured it out, you helped me, but I kind of wondered anyway.
It’s been years, but I kind of came to the place where I figured [they’re] doing the best with what [they’ve] got, and thank god [they] got medication. Because that made a big difference. So, when it came to you, I didn’t even recognize it as bipolar. I just thought you had minor mood swings because it was so, so small compared to [theirs]- I’m not demeaning it- but compared to what [theirs was].
I just thought every once in a while you would get quiet, stay to yourself, sometimes you were a little grumpy and sometimes you weren’t, but most of the time you seemed okay to me, so you hid it very well. You hid a lot of things really well. But, that was it. So, when it came to you, I just thought it was little mood swings, no big deal, and I didn’t take them personal. I just figured you were going through stuff that kids go through, and we all do. And, you know, you were always my girl. You never lost that.
[Regarding anxiety] you appeared to be just shy sometimes, you didn’t like to be the center of attention, you were quiet around strangers, which I was too. So, to me, it was like, okay, I get this, you know. And then in high school, I finally busted through it kind of, but you never really change that much, you do a little bit. So I just thought you were shy, which was fine with me. I figured you’d find your rhythm at some point.
[The hardest part has been] to see you get down on yourself. To see you when you have anxiety, to see you scared. That just kills me. ‘Cause...I wanna protect you, but I can’t protect you from that. I can let you know you’re loved, but I know you had to go through that yourself, and that was the hardest thing for me. ‘Cause I’m a fix-it person. I wanna fix things. I don’t want you to hurt, and yet, sometimes we have to hurt to be strong. Sometimes hurting’s the only way to find out what we’re made of. So, sometimes we have no right to fix something. We take that opportunity away from someone to find out for themselves. I still always wanted to fix it anyway though.
The hardest thing was when you moved [out] and you had that anxiety. And I was like oh my god, I just wanna drag you home, put you in your room, make you feel safe, but that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. It was horrible seeing you go through that. I felt so bad for you. And I know you felt guilt because you thought you should’ve been independent, and yet you had two homes, and you were fighting all this stuff. But there was never any judgment. You’re gonna find yourself in your own time. We all do, hopefully. Some of us never do.
[Regarding anxiety and bipolar disorder] I believe in the reality of it. I know that you suffer from that, you told me, and you don’t lie. But I also think that going though anything like that not only makes you stronger- it makes you more empathetic, less judgmental, more open to people. You know, with every curse comes blessings, and I think, in your case, there’s been a lot of blessings. Just look what you’re doing. Seriously, look what you’re doing. And I think a lot of it is directly related to what you know about yourself, what you’ve been through. So, you know, why would I wish that away when I see all the good you’re doing because of it?
You’re my diamond, you’ve been through the fire. That’s the only way diamonds are forged. Or metals. Gold has to go through fire. You’ve been through fire, you come out gold.
As I said, reading and listening to these testimonies has been incredibly humbling for me. I’m so eternally grateful to have people in my life who love me unconditionally and choose to remain with me. Through the bad, the good, and the in-between. And it’s because of this that I understand where the suicide rates come from: not having support and love, especially within adversity, can be a cause of death. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be here right now, in this place, in this body, without these people. I’m beyond honored that I can use this platform to let you know that you’re not alone, there are others like you, and you can use this for something more meaningful than you ever imagined.
Living proof :-)
And last, but most certainly not least, to my very dear friend and co-blogger, Natasha:
Where do I even start? From the beginning of our relationship, Natasha has been honest with me, even if it has gone against what her anxiety wants her to do. What I first noticed about Natasha was how comfortable she looked in her own skin coming in for her interview. Leaning her head in her hand and smiling at the receptionist, it seemed as if she had already felt, and made our receptionist feel, at home.
Natasha is very good at doing this. Making people feel at home.
She’s even better at masking the chaos and pain that has often been writhing inside of her throughout her life. When she later told me of the lethal struggles she endured during the first months of her internship as my supervisee, I was shocked because she covered it so well. And I know she’s had to cover it so well because of the trauma and hardships she has endured. She is so bravely learning how to uncover this and nurture herself as she has nurtured others, a courageous act for anyone who has played the role of caretaker.
When I think of Natasha, I think of someone who is strong and capable. I think of someone who never gives up, even when she has wanted to. I think of a profound warrior spirit, dagger-sharp intellect and wit, fierce beauty, and love, above all else: love.
I have disclosed more to Natasha than I have to most people, most noticeably with one particular disclosure that I had never actually said out loud, not even to myself. I may have taught her how to be a trauma clinician, but it was in that moment that she taught me what it meant to be validated, what it meant to be a SURVIVOR.
And that is the ultimate value and transformative life lesson she has taught me: how to be a survivor and still love wholeheartedly. Even with pain. Even with uncertainty. This was a life-changing moment for me, and she has forever changed my life for that alone.
Natasha’s journey elicits awe in me each time I think about it. And I am constantly in a state of gratitude around her, for being a part of her growth when she was my supervisee, for that relationship transforming into a friendship, and, most especially, for that friendship forging into a rare type of bond that most people don’t experience. Never have I been so able to be unabashedly honest, nor unjudged; in fact, quite the opposite: UNDERSTOOD.
For Natasha to embrace vulnerability and transparency, ESPECIALLY with her mental health, is just a testament to the kind of bravery and courage that I so love about her. And I love just as equally in her terror, her uncertainty, her shame, her state of nothingness, and, always, her pain. Even in her pain, the beauty of her spirit shines through by the way she feels her pain. Its fullness, it’s opacity.
That’s the thing- her fearlessness in feeling it.
Natasha is the kind of human each person should strive to live up to because she has known such pain. And isn’t afraid to bare it anymore. I love Natasha for her humanness and her courage. For being real in a world where that doesn’t sell as much as fake does. I strive to encompass her spirit and be deserving of her presence in my life. I didn’t think other insane, passionate, complex weirdos were out there, but thank my lucky stars, I found one.
Love you, K
To The People Who Love Me,
This is a tough one to write. This one stirs up a lot for me as the writer and I’m sure for you as the reader. But that’s okay, I’m here to be honest, to speak my truth even when it’s hard to do so.
To the people who love me, I love you too. I’m grateful for you. Sometimes, I’m unable to love you like you need me to. Other times, you fall short, or at least I perceive you to be falling short. Sometimes I’m left feeling disappointed/confused/angry. I’m sure you’ve felt the same way. I hope we are able to find some peace, together.
So, who is to blame? That’s the question I’ve found myself circling for far too long. Who is at fault for how I feel? Am I at fault for how you feel? Are you enough for me? Am I enough for you? Am I doing enough? Are all of my bases covered? More importantly, have I covered all of your bases for you?
If I feel like I’m drowning with no relief in sight, should I tell you that I can’t be what you need me to be because I’m not even meeting my own expectations?
So much of my identity is wrapped up in being the “strong” one. The one who keeps her shit together in the face of adversity. It’s funny because I work in the mental health field and for so long my idea of strength meant just “pushing through”. I was rudely awakened a few years ago when “pushing through” wasn’t an option anymore. After dad passed away, I should have allowed myself to be HUMAN. I should have put myself and my needs first. Instead, I ran. I booked it. Then when I stopped running, I decided to take care of everyone else, which is still running, by the way.
Lots more happened after that, but ultimately, the loss of dad is what broke me into a million pieces. I’m not sure I’ve ever told any of you that so bluntly, but it destroyed me. My identity, my vision for the future, my goals- all of it came crashing down and I found myself in the midst of a storm that I couldn’t just “push through”.
A part of me felt like I had to take on the role that he left behind. The role of the lover, the caretaker, the friend, the one who does what is asked. I felt a huge void in my life and I didn’t want people to feel that same, unbearable loss. But again, we are HUMAN. We needed to feel that. I needed to acknowledge the pain. I wish I would have told you then what I’m telling you now.
I wish I would have told myself, and you, that it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel broken, lost, scared, alone, hopeless, whatever. I wish I would have given myself, and you, some grace. Part of me thought that if I’m handling it all, why is everyone and everything falling apart around me?
This was a HUGE turning point for me. I’m not in control of anything or anyone but myself. Before this realization, I started to look at being there for people as a chore, which made me question who I was even more. I started to feel like I had some sort of duty to be everything to everyone and it became unbearable. I felt this way for a long time and it did nothing but deplete every last bit of “strength” that I had. This caused me to lash out and push people away. The words “I’m fine”, “It’s not that bad”, “I can do it, no problem” became part of my everyday vocabulary. Down and down I fell.
Fast forward, I’m finding my balance (if anyone figures out a perfect way to balance the everyday demands of life, hit me up). Taking time to work on what I can control helped me realize that I can still be present for others while keeping my sanity. I can still make my dad and myself proud even if I establish boundaries and acknowledge my limitations. I can tell people that I’m hurting, that I’m depressed, anxious, and wanting to crawl into a hole.
So, to the people who love me, I love being here for you. I admire your ability to reach out for guidance- I really wish I would have done that sooner. Maybe I wouldn’t have spiraled like I did, but that’s a conversation for another day. If I seem different or less interested, I’m not. I’m just putting myself first. I’m learning to love myself just as I am. I’m giving myself pep talks in the morning and reframing my thoughts as often as possible. I’m putting on my own oxygen mask first. I suggest you all do the same.
Lastly, THANK YOU. Thank you to the ones who have been my rock through the shit show that is my life. Thank you a million times over to those who have shown me what true patience and love is. I hope we can continue to share in this journey together. I hope we can continue to build each other up by nurturing healthy, balanced relationships. I deserve it and so do you.
All my love and appreciation,
To the People Who Love Me,
There’s no way to not make this sound totally “emo”, but, truth be told, I don’t quite know what you think of me or how many of you truly know me except for maybe five of you. And for the five of you, I am so incredibly grateful for you- there are no words that will ever be able to express how thankful I am for your existence, nor can I imagine what I would do without you. You SEE me, and, for that, I will be forever changed for the better.
To be fair to the rest of you, I haven’t exactly been completely honest or let you in. And to be fair to me, I’ve only just recently begun understanding the larger pieces of myself. It’s been quite a journey.
I either feel everything or nothing. I either fear you will betray/leave me or that we were meant for eachother. I either want nothing to do with you or everything to do with you. It’s not always like this, but sometimes it is. And I know it’s a lot to handle.
To my family, I think you see me as an artist, creative, kind, and (hopefully) dedicated to our family. I think you see me as both shy and daring at the same time. I think you see me as educated, even a little intimidating. I think sometimes you don’t quite know what to do with me. And who can blame you? I have a masters degree and an upper management position, yet also have half my head shaved, the other half dyed bright red, a tattoo, blue eye make-up, and punk-goth garb. I can’t blame you if you’re a little confused.
It’s been a long learning experience trying to understand how I came to be me through you. On one side, silence and stuffing things down and punishing by talking behind each other’s backs is all you know. Maybe even a perceived sign of strength, especially through the hard winters and wilderness. And yet, this strength resulted in so many undiagnosed family members whose lack of knowledge trickled down and down until it found me. On the other side, the immigrant-mentality of hard-work and self-sacrifice is all you know. It’s a cherished value and how you show love for our family. And yet, this also breeds with it repressed trauma and deeply-seated anxiety that went against our cultural values.
I’ve been understanding more and more about us lately and seeing how your behaviors and your beliefs were molded into you and trickled down over the generations. It’s the double-edged sword of being a social worker- we can’t unknow what we know, even when we just want to be ignorant humans who know nothing about generational trauma and familial mental health trends.
To my friends, you see a whole other side of me. You see both grit and gore. Grit in what I do and maybe some of the risks I’ve taken, gore in my constant cursing and chaotic, clumsy boats of “insanity”. I think you see a world of insecurity and neediness. I think you sometimes see selfishness or flakiness. I think you also see beauty that I often don’t.
I know I’ve gone from one extreme to another with you. You see my whiplash shifts, just usually in text form. I’ve gone through many friends in my life, usually freezing out people who bring up even the smallest degree of conflict. I don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t want to deal with it- I get so anxious that panic attacks often ensue.
So I let go.
And I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I’m learning how to-- NOPE, that’s a lie-- I want to learn how to better tolerate disagreement or conflict. And that it does NOT always mean that someone will leave me. There, I said it.
I don’t have the same neurological chemical ratio that some of you do. I can’t go into my head with happy thoughts and make them all go away. I’ve learned that mixing alcohol messes with my meds and makes me go into a psychotic delirium, and that’s why I’ve blacked out in the past. I know I’ve concerned, if not scared- or even frustrated- you for it. I scare and frustrate myself too sometimes. Know that I don’t choose to put myself in danger or choose to get hurt. It’s called mania, and what you’re seeing is a manic episode.
Look it up. Really. It’s real. It’s not made-up.
I encourage you to also look up the reactions of trauma. Look up why survivors remain silent. And why they might act in ways that appear risky or “promiscuous”. While you’re at it, look up the impact of witnessing violence among children and the long-term effects, specifically in relationships. Please think about what you say before you say it.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a “professional”. I am human first. And I never claimed to be perfect, nor excused myself from having problems like everyone else.
I am a social worker, yes. But more often than not, I use my fallibilities as a way to connect with my clients on a different level. Not by using self-disclosure, but by being empathetic and internally connecting to my own pain. I honestly couldn’t do the work I do without that source of pain. If I didn’t have that, I would have no depth.
To my loved ones, I love you. And I’m working on loving me. I want to be honest with you, like right now, but I don’t want to scare or offend you. And that says it all- that I believe my mental state contains scary things that are scary and offensive. But most of all, even more than being scared of your fear, I’m absolutely terrified of the thing that petrifies me the most:
Not knowing what to say or what to do. Not knowing what “it” is or only knowing the false myths about it. Because at the end of the day, I can be an experienced mental health professional with years of psychotherapy experience under my belt, but still be entirely oh-so-human when my social worker hat is off.
To the people who love me who DO understand, I hope you know how much I love you back. That I couldn’t have made it this far without you. That I will occasionally cry after a session with a client because they didn’t have any versions of you in their life and what that has done to them. You are a blessing, and we are forever. I love you all, more than words, printed or spoken, could ever fully express.
To those who love me, forgive me for my fallibilities. For my silence. And, all too often, for my words. I want you to understand who I am, and I want to understand you better too. And when you think you’re seeing a side of me that isn’t “who you thought I was”, please please please know this:
I am me. It’s just that sometimes I can’t get to you from behind the war in my head. But I swear I’m there. And I need you. Even though I don’t want to need anyone.
Can I be a hypocrite? Yes.
Can I be needy? Yes.
Can I be too risky sometimes? Yes.
Because besides the fact that this makes me (and you) so human, that’s also my brain operating from the levels it has. And it’s doing the best it can to function. And sometimes it’s not pretty, but it’s not on purpose. I will ALWAYS feel worse than you when I do something that puts you off. And I hope you can come from a place of loving, nonjudgmental concern and curiosity, rather than a place of judgment. I know I’m asking a lot of you. Know that I hold myself to the same standard.
One last thing. Know that I’m coming to understand that my war is also a gift. Know that I also see beauty and inspiration in most everything. Know that I am a deeply spiritual, passionate, introspective, and protective person. I see my mood swings as what fuel my artistic visions, my obsessive nature as what enables me to do impeccable work, my dissociative qualities as what keep my imagination alive when the world becomes too dark, my anxiety as my protector when things are actually unsafe, and, finally, my traumas as what nurture my ongoing empathy and ability to truly connect with the survivors whom I serve.
I am in recovery, and I am doing my best to deserve the life I have been given. I am a warrior. A goofball. A lover. And a dreamer. Of these identities, I am sure.
So to those who love me, thank you for being my solid ground.
I love you back,
We would love it if you left us a line in the comments :)
Feel free to use your name, a pseudonym, or "Anonymous" in the name requirement field.
If you choose to contribute anonymously as a commenter on our blog or upload your own post under Your Voices, we want you to know that we do NOT have access to any of your personal identification. The only exception is if you subscribe to our newsletter- in this case, we will only have the e-mail that you provide us with.