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
I didn’t think there were any dots to connect until recently. I never realized that some of what I was experiencing throughout childhood and adolescence was linked to my anxiety and depression. It’s interesting now to look back at my experiences with a different lens- a lens that allows me to view my symptoms with a deeper understanding and a whole lot of empathy.
From a young age, around 8 or 9, I would wake up for school and be hit with unbearable nausea and lightheadedness. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, crying, and telling my mom that I was going to be sick forever. This happened almost every morning for a while- I don’t remember for how long exactly. I do remember that when I would go to school, I would almost always go the nurse’s office complaining of the same symptoms. I remember it getting so excessive that the nurse called my dad and asked him what I was eating every morning for breakfast and if I was getting enough sleep. Obviously, with time, the symptoms either went away or changed form. I never thought much about it until now.
As an adult whose anxiety and panic attacks trigger intense somatic symptoms, I’m now able to put the pieces together. That unbearable nausea and lightheadedness as a child was my anxiety manifesting in a very physical way, just as it does now. I remember the intense fear that would come over me while on the bathroom floor. I remember the embarrassment and shame that I felt in my classroom every time I got sent to the nurse’s office. It’s identical to the shame I felt every time I had to leave class while in college because of my panic attacks. I remember the intrusive thoughts that would replay over and over again in my head. It’s all so clear to me now because over the last year and a half, I’ve been experiencing it all over again.
I also remember being really afraid of nighttime. I hated sleeping alone, so I slept with my sister on and off until I was around 13 years old (whoops, sorry bout it). I remember waking up in the middle of the night sweating and gasping for air on numerous occasions. I wanted to have someone close to me so that I didn’t have to experience it alone. Now, I know what it’s like to wake up having a panic attack and I’m able to see that I started experiencing them much earlier than I originally thought.
I could go on and on about how my symptoms have manifested throughout my life, but I think it’s important to mention how I felt as an adolescent. Granted, some of my behavior during this time stemmed from the fact that I was a teenager filled with angst, curiosity, and a sense of invincibility. Honestly though, I was sad. I was really sad and I didn’t know how to effectively express myself at the time (I still struggle with that sometimes). So, instead of being sad, I became an overall angry and negative person. I wasn’t always that way, I had tons of fun and so many good times. I just remember listening to The Used (still love them oh so much) and feeling like they were the only people that understood me. They understood what it was like to feel everything so deeply- love, heartbreak, pain, frustration, happiness, excitement, and uncertainty. During my teenage years, I faced depression more than anything. I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious, but I do remember feeling like sometimes, life wasn’t worth living. (In order to do this time in my life justice, I’ll need to write about it in a whole other blog post. I’ll get to it at some point).
It’s confusing to have those thoughts at such a turbulent age. I often wondered, “Is it just my age or is something wrong with me?”
Little did I know I would end up asking myself that same question over and over again.
Acknowledging and writing about these patterns that I’ve noticed throughout my life gives me hope. It gives me hope because no matter the symptom, feeling, or thought—I SURVIVED.
I’ve survived it all. I’ve come so far. Just as my symptoms have changed, so have my coping skills and support systems. I’m stronger than ever, but most of all I have a deep appreciation for my new and improved baseline.
I’ve come to realize that my life is worth living. Now, let me share something with you—IT GETS BETTER. Your life is worth living. If it doesn’t feel like it’s worth living right now, don’t forget that things change. Our thoughts, feelings, and situations change. Our capacity to grow and transform is endless. This isn’t it for you, just like all the shitty moments in my life weren’t it for me.
With so much love and gratitude,
Mommy is dead.
I’m inside of my pink and purple Lion King sleeping bag during naptime, and the all the lights are off in the classroom. The inside of my sleeping bag is a velvety pink, and repeatedly traced with my right index finger over and over and over are the words Mommy is dead. Mommy is dead. Mommy is dead. I’m five years old. And my mother wasn’t dead, nor was she in danger of dying.
This is the first memory I have of abnormal anxiety. I say “abnormal” because everyone experiences anxiety to some degree in life; it’s a normal emotion. What’s past “normal” is when it’s felt in situations that don’t have any inherent threat, to the point that the anxiety is not based in any current, here-and-now reality. But it is definitely based on something real: sometimes it’s purely the hereditary chemical imbalance, sometimes it’s a trigger for past trauma, even if it’s purely generational or historical.
I was always a shy kid growing up, and I had severe social anxiety. I found it utterly impossible to socialize with other children my age, so much so that I remember staying in the adult service at church with my mom because the thought of going to Sunday school with the other kids was absolute torture to me. I often felt ostracized and bullied and just...not “like” them. In the adult service, all I had to do was face forward, sometimes stand, and be quiet. And that felt safer to me.
I remember being very very young, no more than nine I’d say, and staring fixatedly at my hand while I forgot what and who I was. My mom said she would find me just staring at it while sitting, looking both captivated and lost. I don’t know how long I would sit like this, but I distinctly remember that, if done correctly, I could forgot all earthly affiliations, most noticeably the word human. I didn’t know what species, or even substance, I was, and what the name and/or sound was for that. I swear I’m not making this up, and there were definitely no psychedelics involved; I can tell you that. Was it Enlightenment? Worldly plane-splitting? Dissociation? I don’t know. I know what my Western education would want me to say. But I refuse to hold such an assumptive ego-centric notion. It just wouldn’t be me. I’ll stick to not knowing.
I don’t remember very much of my childhood because of a very unfortunate, very poor decision I made which consisted of me suddenly stopping my anti-depressants in college. I’ll save that story for another time, but, bottom line: do not mess with your meds. Memory loss is real.
I don’t remember when being shy and being anxious overlapped, or if there really was one over the other. I’m starting to wonder if there is even such a thing as being “shy”. I understand being bashful. It’s my belief that “shy” is the socially acceptable, alternative term for “anxious”.
I also don’t remember when my cold, cruel, lashing mood swings came crashing down, and I don’t know what was a normal “teenage” phase and what wasn’t. I don’t know. I remember having moments of genuinely believing no one understood me and viciously scribbling horrible things in my composition book, things that I can’t even utter because they are so shameful.
On the other hand, I remember feeling things so deeply. I remember drawing depictions of animals crying and running free when I was in elementary school, with words written in the corners like When will I be free, I don’t want to hurt anymore...and so on. I remember seeing a picture of a bunny crying as it was having makeup tested on it in my Zoobooks magazine and crying for all of animalkind, for what we had done to them. I remember, flash forward to seventh grade, lying on my bed with Linkin Park’s Opening track from their Reanimation album playing on repeat while I cried for an hour; there were no words, only music.
I remember feeling left out and unimportant in high school, even though I had a very rare, very special close-knit group of friends whom I considered my tribe, not to mention a family who loved me fiercely and steadfastly. It mattered. But it didn’t stop feelings of worthlessness, nor dysmorphic thoughts from entering and living in my mind. I remember crying on my top bunk freshman year of college in my dorm room in between classes. If someone had asked me why, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them. I remember feeling SO MUCH. I didn’t know what to do with it. Enter self-loathing, shame, and generational Catholic Guilt. College was when I had my first panic attacks (that I can remember at least- who knows?). These were influenced by feelings of isolation, paranoia, and bullying by my peers (who, coincidentally, were also in my MSW program..."disappointed" doesn't even begin to cover it).
The mania was productive in high school and college. Without even knowing what “it” was, I channeled it through visual art and musical endeavors. I took up flute, guitar, drumming, painting, sculpture, you name it. It fueled some of my greatest creations. And that’s the thing about mania: when it’s a “good” high, there’s nothing else like it. And, once again, is it mania? Or is it the Great Spirit working themself through me? Is great, obsessive, crazed preoccupation of thought toward a central idea or theme normal? Is there such a thing as normal? You guessed it. I don’t know either.
I have so many "I don't knows".
The “bad” highs and dangerous behavior came out starting in grad school. When feelings of severe social anxiety, worthlessness, isolation, and self-disgust came at me hard, I drank. I drank to focus because it calmed me down. I drank because it made me feel like I could function at what others may have called a “normal” level. And I drank to be able to attend social events with my peers and feel like I could know how to socialize. Everything worked except for the dangerous parts. Thank god I’m alive. Really. I'll explain more another time.
The overspending and impulsive behavior came out at or after that time. Spending binges that would wipe out my savings, and thank god I lived with my parents, otherwise I would 100% be homeless. And the last time I wiped out my savings on meaningless shit? About two months ago.
It’s an ongoing thing.
That’s the thing about mental health recovery. Re-covery. It’s constantly re-defining, re-formulating, re-turning, re-cycling, and re-evaluating. It’s never really gone. So that’s when I decided to use it to re-late. To be honest about my fight. Not to waive it like a trophy or a brag or a pity party, but as a message of, “You’re not alone.”
So, to you, dear reader, you who reads these lines, you are not alone. I genuinely understand what it feels like to be a ghost, to believe you’re a worthless piece of shit, to be ashamed. I’ve been there. And I’m not going to lie and pretend I’m this put-together, “I’m so wise” bullshit person; I still fight these feelings every day. Albeit, they’ve gotten a hell of a lot better. And a lot of that has had to do with finding the right people, allowing the people who love me into my head, and living through experiences that have taught me what I never want to feel ever again.
Connecting the dots has been scary, mortifying, saddening, interesting, and freeing, all at the same time. And what I’ve found to be the most helpful? Having people to talk to about it with. And that’s where you come in.
To you, me, us, and all of our dots, connected and unconnected, here’s to us.
My relationship with you isn’t easy. We have such a tumultuous past. No matter how much you do for me, I don’t love you the way that I should. Instead of thanking you and treating you with the respect that you deserve, I often find myself criticizing you and wishing you were different. I find myself staring at you and wondering what it’ll take to ensure that you transform into something that’ll make me happier.
I’ve spent too much timing hating you. I’ve spent countless hours bitching about the ways that you’ve disappointed me.
This dangerous thought process started to spiral out of control throughout the years. I began to view other parts of me as less than because of you. That made me hate you even more.
I swear I’ve judged every single part of you- every mark, every bump, every scar.
I bought creams and serums because I thought they would change you. I wore baggy shirts to disguise you. I tried so hard to prove to myself that you could be quickly altered in some way.
Needless to say, I was let down over and over again.
I know it sounds like there isn’t much hope for our relationship- but that’s actually not the case anymore. We’ve come so far.
I may not love you all the time, but I appreciate you so much more now than I ever did.
Even at my lowest, you stuck with it. You didn’t give up on me. When my anxiety-ridden mind triggered heart palpitations and desperation, you never gave up.
When I needed to get out of my bed in order to function- you were my vessel. You are my vessel. You allow me to get from point A to point B. You stand by my side, even when I don’t respect you in the slightest.
I don’t blame you for everything anymore. Instead, I now understand that you’re a small part of a larger issue that goes much deeper than the surface. Now that I’m uncovering just how deep these wounds are, I realize that it was so much easier putting the blame on you. Unfair, but much easier.
I’m realizing that I take better care of you when I respect you. I get better results when I approach you with love and admiration.
So now, I promise you this- I promise to be fair to you. I promise to treat you with the respect that you deserve because your beauty is more than skin deep. I can’t promise to always like you, but I can promise to work on making you healthier instead of wishing you were perfect.
My body is a temple and so is yours. Let’s embrace what makes us unique. Let’s work on strengthening the connection between our mind, body, and soul. We’re on this journey of self-love together, one foot in front of the other.
I wrote these poems (more appropriately, I should say, proclamations) during highs and lows of my relationship with my body. Aside from the oh-so-obvious patriarchal, phallic societal lens that aims to destroy womxn with heads full of sense (can I get an amen?), the rest is
As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’ve been at war in my head for...well 29 years now. And my poor body has the most physical remnants of it. I put her down so much I could cry if I truly thought about it deeply enough. Which is now.
And I’m so ashamed.
I could go through the list of “medical” conditions that I have, but I know deep down in my soul of souls that these are all the physical manifestation of a girl with somatizations that stem from the hatred of
And lord, anyone, someone up there...do I want to love her.
But I’ve been doing it wrong.
I try to love her through spending hundred of dollars, if not thousands (which I don’t even have now) of shoes, clothes, accessories, skin products, make-up, you name it! And the only time I actually nourish and care for her directly is when I (ha...it’s so sad, guess what)
have a guy.
Not a girl! Cuz believe it or not, I’ve never been as worried about the girls in my life. The ladies and I have never had it out with my body. And neither have the dudes, but somehow it’s always been about them.
Not about me.
And I’m sure (code for I know, okay? Leave me alone) there’s some psycho-crap that I have yet to explore with my therapist with respect to where this stems from...(again, my belief is a combination of the social context and personal experience *go social work baby*). But, whatever it is, I’m sick of it.
I’m SICK of it.
I spoke with a powerful woman this past weekend about our personal journeys with relationships, with our selves, and she shared a great insight that I want to share with you:
Treat yourself right, and you won’t even have time to check your phone for the dudes out there.
And you know what? She’s right.
So dear body, dearest, most irreplaceable, loyal, and precious body, please forgive me. You are perfect. You are enough. I’m so grateful for you. For your strength, your beauty, your colors, your curves, your smell, your safety. Thank you for keeping me safe and not leaving me when I’ve left myself. I never want to leave you again. I love you, and I’m sorry. You are the only body I will ever know, and I thank god for you. You tell my story. And now it’s up to me to start the next chapter.
It won’t be perfect.
But I think you’ll like it.
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,
There’s a chance you may have stumbled upon our website. If so, there’s a really good chance that you read our first blog. So, now you know. Maybe you struggle with your own mental health. Do you feel/find yourself thinking/saying “me too” when you read our blog? Maybe we fight for our happiness alongside each other without even being aware of it. That’s the point of all of this- to spread awareness, to sit with our vulnerability, to focus on our connectedness. To call upon what makes us human in order to find comfort in our shared experiences.
There may be a part of you that is unsure of how to interact with me given the knowledge that you have. Maybe a part of you is curious. Maybe a part of you is worried or afraid. Even though we’re in the mental health field, that doesn’t mean that we’re all comfortable with transparency, especially among co-workers. Whatever you’re thinking and feeling about me is okay. As you get to know me, your thoughts and feelings may or may not change. You may even want to engage in a dialogue about my experiences or about your own. I’m fine with whatever you’re comfortable with and I support you.
I want you to know that I hid for long enough. I said I was “fine” and that I was “just tired” over and over again to the point where I started to believe it. Isolation became my specialty along with counting down the minutes until I could rush home and lay in bed. I was driven by fear and uncertainty. Will I lose my job? Will people shy away from engaging with me? Will they understand? The more I engaged with my thoughts, the deeper and deeper I sank.
I now realize that my anguish was anxiety-driven and fueled by insecurities. At this point in my life, my need for transparency and connection outweighs my fear of being ostracized. I’ve come up with a few points that I want to remind you of:
Lastly, I urge you to pay attention. Notice what’s going on within you and around you. If you are struggling, it doesn’t mean your professional career is over. At a certain point, you can harness your experiences in a way that allows you to be a more thorough and empathetic clinician/supervisor/etc. You can use your experiences, thoughts and feelings to guide your practice in a way that inspires not only you but the people around you. You are not alone.
I feel you fighting. When you come out to eat your lunch, you talk about what happened in the news and what this idiot said and how ignorant and wrong it is and how much the world has gone to shit. You talk of fighters and proclaimers and justice-makers. I see you. But I also see pain under your anger. Pain that was never cared for or acknowledged, not in a good way. And although sometimes what you say feels like a blade, I know this is just how you’ve survived in the only way you know how: to fight.
I used to be like you.
I used to think, if I don’t know who to fight, then I don’t know who I am. But fighting takes a toll, and there are only so many battles you can take on before you actually become the thing you hate: hate. And I know you are so much more than that.
I hear you minimizing what you witness in the room. I hear your clients crying during your sessions, breaking their bones so they can re-set them again. And yet, when you’re in our meetings, I hear you talk about cognitive distortions and PCL scores and re-direction. But where is your humanity under your intellectualization? I know it’s there. I want to believe that you are present and kind with your clients, that you honor them and grieve with them. And, above all else, sit in the room unafraid, with their pain palpable in your chest and not try to “fix” it. I hope you know that it’s not weak to care. That it does not make you a bad therapist to weep or feel an ache; it makes you a better one.
I hope you know that empathy is the most powerful intervention you will ever use.
And all the other stuff, the theories, the science, the evidence-based practices- that’s merely a filtering system to ensure that your heart is strong enough to go through all those hoops and make it to the other side just as strong, if not stronger. That way, you will have earned the privilege of even being considered to bare witness to someone’s story. It’s your heart that’s your strongest tool.
I see you struggling. You try to brush it off, but I know it’s there. The way your eyes dart from side to side to keep from crying, the way you have to pause to take an intake of breath between sentences to ease the anxiety, the way you crack a joke so the topic is changed. I know you have a story. I do too. You got into this field either because you’re trying to correct what you didn’t get, to compensate for your lack of power by quantifying symptomology, to save the world with your own two hands and make it right, or, in some cases, simply because you are answering a call that you’ve felt since you were young, to serve those who need love above all else. Whatever your reason is, I see you trying to hold everything together when, inside, everything is falling apart and being held together by a thread.
But you can’t hold on alone. And now you don't have to anymore.
And to all of the people who work around you who don’t ask how you are, with the genuine intent of being present with you, I want to say shame on them, but what it really comes down to is have compassion for them. They can’t see beyond their own world. And that comes from somewhere, but it certainly does not mean you are invisible. I see you. And I’m always here for you. I won’t be scared. And, eventually, you won’t be scared too.
I taste your discomfort on my tongue when someone has the courage in a meeting to disclose their emotions and countertransference with their clients. I know that taste, because it’s the same iron flavor as cortisol. You’re scared. It’s too close to home, and you need to keep things professional, so you respond with you should do some self-care. But is that really what your colleague was asking for? Or was it support? Sit with me, sit with this with me. Tell me you’ve experienced this too and that I’m not alone, and that it’s normal.
Don’t disregard their vulnerability or your feelings with some bullshit band-aid answer that aims to dismiss.
Your soul is something to share. If you’ve forgotten that we ask people to share their deepest fears and darkest secrets with us everyday, let me remind you of something very important: if you aren’t willing to break the barrier between how you view your client and how you view your colleagues or yourself, then you aren’t ready to bare witness at all. We are no different from them. And maybe that’s what unsettles you: sameness.
I smell the waft of microwaved food you’ve heated up that’s sitting in front of you in your closed office. I recognize it because it smells like mine. It’s lunch time, and you only have 27 minutes because you went over with one client and are praying to God the next one doesn’t show up, so that you can go home to numb out on Netflix. The panicked rush that you devour your food with runs at the same frequency of your heart that’s pounding in your chest, doing its best to fight off the panic attack that’s threatening to take over your body. I know you’re hiding, and it’s okay to need space.
Isolation can seem like the lesser of two evils when you fear they will judge you outside your door.
But I can guarantee you that there is at least one person who gets it. Or who is at least willing to admit that they get it. I can now say that I will be one of those people for you, and I know you would be one of those people for me. Because one of the most powerful responses someone can have to our struggle is "me too".
So Dear Co-Workers,
I write this letter to you to beg you to remember to touch, hear, see, taste, and smell the energies around you and acknowledge who they are coming from. If you feel someone’s anger, tell them something kind. If you hear someone trying to speak robotically, point out how powerful it must have been to sit in the room with their client. If you see someone struggling, sit down on the same level with them, look them in the eyes, and ask gently How’re you really doing? If you taste someone’s discomfort in response to someone’s vulnerability, say aloud how much courage it took to admit something we all struggle to do. If you smell a lonely meal in the next room, send that person a text with a simple Wanna come get coffee with me? :) It will change their Entire. Day.
And finally, dear co-workers, please don’t be afraid of people being real. Which includes me, us, this blog. I know what we say here sounds risky, but I also know that you feel it’s brave. So, if that’s true, then that makes you brave too, for even getting to this sentence. For reading something that might go against what you were taught in school. Please be your raw, fallible, beautiful self. Your heartbreak, your traumas, your mental health battles, your mistakes, your undiluted emotions that you’ve packed deeply away- they ALL have a place. You have a place. Here. With us. All those things are what make you have a soul.
And I hope one day you’ll take the risk of sharing it. Because at the end of the day, you have nothing to prove, only to share. Lean into it.
My mission to live transparently wasn’t always a part of my journey. For most of my life, I was stuck inside of my head, experiencing my depression and anxiety silently. My lack of support was in part due to my inability to formulate a cohesive explanation that I felt could adequately describe just how lost, overwhelmed and low I felt. I was so scared of what people would think and say about me. I was caught up in the “what ifs” and every time I tried to open my mouth, I felt consumed by self-doubt and shame.
As the years went on, I began to struggle in school, especially throughout my years in junior college (yay OCC). I could never pinpoint why I felt the way that I did, why I would sometimes feel everything, and then other times feel utterly numb. Luckily, now I have some answers that make a whole lot of sense to me, but that certainly wasn’t always the case. For years, on and off, I felt less than, unimportant and unsure of myself. My negative thinking patterns and less than ideal self-image caused me to seek out temporary fixes for what seemed like permanent pain.
It wasn’t until I entered graduate school that I realized the power that rested within my mind, heart and soul. I felt seen, heard and understood. I can attribute this change to a few significant things, but the one that stands out the most is my second-year placement where I worked as a trauma therapist. My experiences as a therapist helped shape me into who I am today. Particularly, the moment I asked my supervisor if I could talk to her alone for a few minutes during my first week of training. This moment was huge for me in so many ways.
I want to share a little bit of backstory before I continue on with what was said during our talk. Around the time that I started graduate school in 2016, my depression and anxiety were getting out of control. I made it through my first-year placement but by the time I started at the trauma center, I was falling apart. I was experiencing multiple panic attacks per day, each one more debilitating than the last. I was isolating myself because I was living in fear of facing another one of my triggers. Crying myself to sleep became the norm because I wasn’t able to overcome the heaviness that plagued my chest. From the outside looking in, my life seemed pretty awesome, and it really was. I was halfway done with my dream graduate program, I had just married my best friend, I had wonderful people in my life, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, none of that really mattered at the time and whenever someone brought all of that up in response to my symptoms, all I was left feeling was guilt.
Eventually, I decided to get help. There is a lot that went into that, but I’ll save that for another time. I scheduled an appointment with a therapist and a psychiatrist and started down the path that I’m currently on. As a trauma therapist, I had the honor of sitting with my clients in whatever they were experiencing. I had the pleasure of witnessing the pure resiliency, strength and courage within their hearts. Every person I came into contact with inspired me to take back some control over my life. I decided that I didn’t just want to “make it” through my day. I didn’t want to continue counting the hours until I could go home and go to sleep. I wasn’t sure what I wanted or what my ideal life would look like, but I knew that this wasn’t it.
After many discussions with my husband, I decided that I would pull my supervisor aside and let her know what I was facing and working through. I wanted to speak my truth because living in secrecy was only exacerbating my symptoms and perpetuating the fear that I had carried around for so long. My hope was that she would give me tips on how to ensure that I have a healthy work life balance, especially during this turbulent time. I wanted to soak up as many tips as I could regarding how to best care for myself after each session. I figured, we’re both mental health professionals, how scary could this be? I found out very quickly just how scary it was while walking into her office. Needless to say, grounding skills came in really handy before our chat. I wasn’t afraid of her reaction because I could tell how genuine and kind she was. I was afraid of letting even a small part of my chaotic mind express itself. I was afraid I would lose control and spiral into a panic attack right in her office. Guess what? That didn’t happen at all. Instead, an awesome bond was formed based on honesty and respect.
Instead of the doom and gloom I was imagining, we had a great conversation about ways to de-stress after each session and general self-care tips. This ten-minute meeting is what ignited my journey of unadulterated honesty. It was the start of something beautiful. I began to believe that I could struggle with my mental health while being a successful mental health professional.
To be honest, I don’t really remember what I said because I was so nervous. I do remember telling her that I was experiencing panic attacks daily and that I was currently getting professional help. We talked about spacing out clients and taking time to practice mindfulness throughout the day. We discussed the power of deep breathing and spending as much time outside as possible. She thanked me for my honesty and in that moment, I felt like I got some of my power back.
I’m aware that not everyone is able to discuss their mental health with their supervisors, coworkers or peers for one reason or another. It’s not an easy task and it requires being vulnerable and open to whatever reaction may arise. I will say, life changed for the better after that moment. I feel empowered and loved. I wish the same for all of the warriors out there who are facing their own battles.
I had just come out of a session with a client. It was maybe two or three months into my MSW internship at a rape crisis center as a trauma therapist (nevermind that I had zero experience of doing psychotherapy before). I walked into the office that I shared with my co-intern (we’ll call her Sadie, who was an MFT trainee) and sat down at my desk, finding it hard to breathe. I looked over at Sadie who looked up from her SOAP notes and asked excitedly, “How’d it go??” We were still in the early stages of our internship where after each session with clients, we would ask this question; it was sweet really. I just looked at her with a nervous smile on my face, already knowing that blotchy red patches were crawling up my chest to my neck.
I said, “Do you ever feel like you can’t move, like there’s a thick vine that’s wrapping itself around your whole body and you feel like you’re wired shut?”
She looked at me and said, with simultaneously kind and shocked eyes, “Oh my god, ME TOO.”
The vulnerability that must have showed on both our faces marked the first time I can remember taking the risk of sounding like I didn't know what the hell I was doing and just come out and be honest about what I was feeling. Sadie and I went on to talk about our somatic experiences that came up when in the room with our clients and the “morbid” relief we felt that each of us felt the same way. And I have to say, that was probably the moment when I was first honest with someone else about what I was feeling. I’ll save vicarious trauma for another time, but this moment in time really sticks out to me as I began thinking about what to write.
The next moment I recall was much later, and VERY recent, only this time, the honesty would be toward my supervisees. One of my supervisees, whom you know as my lovely co-blogger Natasha, had been open about her mental health with me from the get-go; a brave, inspiring act that will always hold so much awe and warmth for me as a supervisor. Each of my supervisees, like people in general, were all at varying stages of their own self-discovery, something that had grown to be such a beautiful, open discussion in our supervision, both in individual and group sessions.
I can’t for the life of me recall what the topic was during this particular group supervision, but I remember it was toward the end of their placement. We were probably reflecting on each person’s personal and professional growth during the past nine months, and I’d always made it a point to include myself in these kinds of conversations- not as a focal point, but more so as a means to demonstrating an equal power structure and relatability instead of the “I vs. Thou” style of supervision.
Everyone was becoming emotional, as we had all grown so close and felt so at home with each other. When it came time for me to speak, with an internal shaking and raw fear of what they would think of me, I uttered:
“About two months ago, I was finally diagnosed as Bipolar.”
I went on to tell them how, without their knowledge, they- in addition to my clients- had been the main reason I came to work each day. And that my relationship with them had gotten me through some of the hardest, darkest moments of my life- including a long manic episode that left me with close to no savings left in the bank, ongoing depressive episodes that brought me down to barely showering or physically moving at all, calling off sick to work because of debilitating anxiety, a horrific breakup with someone who actually exploited and used my mental health battles against me and eventually led me to having the first panic attacks I’d had in over a year, and ending with going back on psychotropic medication that actually worked.
The response I received was overwhelming. There were tears and looks of such raw, undiluted empathy, that it almost brought me to tears myself; I was so touched. And no one- not even a little- thought any less of me.
In fact, it made our relationship even stronger.
This taught me, as I am constantly learning, that embracing the parallel process of practitioner to client, supervisor to supervisee, is so important. It could not be more vital to my growth or my practice or my soul. It reminds me that if something is a combination of brutal and beautiful that I need to do it. And maybe sometimes I get too scared and don’t, but that’s okay. I’ve never been more nervous, but I’ve also never felt more freer or connected.
It’s okay to be honest. And yeah, the reality is that some people just aren’t ready for it, and sometimes you do have to customize your delivery, or even consider delivering your truth at all. And that’s okay too. The bottom line is that it’s a choice. And I’ve been honest in situations that felt safe and situations that felt unsafe. I’m not gonna lie- I’d definitely recommend the former over the latter. But that is 100% our choice.
What’s made a difference for me is knowing where my desire to be honest is coming from. If it’s coming from wanting someone to have pity for me or gain someone’s approval or attention, then I’ve learned that it’s not in my best interest. However, if it’s coming from a place of me just being real, helping someone feel less alone, relating to someone, or just because being fake is simply too damn hard, then I’m honest. And I’m far from perfect in my delivery, but I’ve got to say- when I’m honest for the right reasons, I have never once regretted it. Ever.
Thank you for checking out our blog! My name is Natasha and I am one of the two bloggers that you'll hear from consistently.
This first post is going to be about something really important in order for this to remain a place of healing and love- R E S P E C T. Throughout this blog, there will be opportunities for dialogue and for individuals to write about their own journey. Whether someone is sharing anonymously or not, it is imperative that we share our comments and experiences in a meaningful and respectful manner. You'll be able to comment on our posts and add your own posts under the tab Your Voices. Additionally, you'll be able to comment on each others posts. We value belonging to a supportive community, so let's show each other what it means to be heard and respected. Let's be real- talking about mental health can be hard and painful, so nobody got time for bullies and negativity. Remember, this is a safe space.
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