Now I know what you are thinking, how can one flourish when the world around them is loud and their spirit is vulnerable? It is a wise question to ask and one I hope to address in this piece. You see we not only live in a world that is becoming more chaotic and torn, but many are also in the throughs of their struggles with mental illness. In fact the rates for mental health disorders are increasing, especially among our youth. The noise coming from the outside world only enhances the noise coming from within a person’s mind. I am a huge Marvel X-Men fan, so I think of this noise being similar to the constant struggle Professor X dealt with. He would sit in his chair trying to focus on one voice, while also having to filter through the many other voices he heard. This is life with a mental health disorder, the constant struggle of battling your own negative thoughts while also hearing the chaos in the world around you.
As a rape survivor, who lived with years of debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression afterwards, I often get asked a lot of questions by those currently struggling and their families. It seems to be even more prevalent now, especially since people seem to be talking more about their journeys with sexual assault. One question I was asked recently was “how long did it take you to get to the point you are now”. I have been asked this many times and it is never easy to answer. I always say to those who ask me, “Do you want me to be honest or do you prefer I tell you a nice number?”. Honesty is best policy. So I tell them, it took me 16 years. Sixteen years of feeling lost, worthless, scared, alone, and uncertain. It was painful. Now I mention the word alone, but I was not actually alone. I think when you are in the depths of mental illness you feel alone though. No one around you quite understands you, even those who are prescribing your medications or performing your therapy. Many only understand what they read, but to walk in your shoes that is much different. The same could be said for many aspects of life. So you are not alone in theory, but you feel alone inside. That is one reason I write about my journey here, to give a flicker of hope and a warm hug to those who are currently wearing shoes I once did.
We now are seeing this open conversation take place about sexual assault. We are seeing things like #metoo. More people are talking. This is important. I will tell you one way I flourished among the chaos. You see for sixteen years I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, but then one day I entered a phase of post-traumatic enlightenment. All those years of pain and darkness opened at first to a small glimmer and then a bright light. This took place around the time my father passed at age 65 from Glioblastoma Multiforme. I lost one of my support system. A person who had been present when I had my first mental health admission after a suicide attempt at age 22. He always believed in me and always told me I was going to do bigger things. In that moment I realized that those people who had stood beside me all those years knew me better than I knew myself. I was not alone. I never was. So began my journey towards my biggest dream, becoming a nurse practitioner. Now I have the honor of working beside our nations Veterans every day. I am working towards my Doctor of Nursing Practice. My research is on educating healthcare professionals on how to care for people who are diagnosed with PTSD. I use my past to make a difference and help end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. All of that chaos is still there, outside in the world. I have learned how to focus on the voices that matter most though. The ones that were there all along telling me not to give up. The voice of my dad telling me that I had bigger things ahead.
I share this with all of you because I want you all to know I am here. I am present. I am listening. You are not alone. Through the chaos around you there are those of us who understand. We have worn shoes like you wear now and we are out there. You are never alone. Keep fighting.
Communities saturated with people marked by these kinds of character traits cannot help but flourish.