The following video is one I created using an older blog post and stock images from Storyblocks.com. I am new to this process, but decided to go ahead and share. I am hoping to develop my skills in creating videos and then post them to YouTube, as well as my blog.
This post is about letting go and forgiving both the self and others after surviving trauma. I have lived through the childhood trauma of being molested at the tender age of 4 by a next-door neighbor. In my adult life, I have lived through two abusive relationships, one with someone I had planned to marry and another with my nuclear family. The video below takes a post that I wrote a few years back, and uses the imagery of a snowstorm as a metaphor of letting go and forgiving, thus becoming “lighter in life”. Snow always covers up the rougher edges of life and instills calm and peace. I hope you enjoy!
I had an interesting therapy session recently. I’m not sure if it was the delivery of the message or if I was just more ready to receive it, but my viewpoint of “Self-Care” was transformed in this short space of time. The concept of “Self-Care” had suddenly become more defined, palpable, and even attainable. I had always approached taking care of myself as somewhat of a chore, as if these are the things that I need to do over time that might someday, in the far off distant future, have some elusive benefit. I saw self care as the mundane activities of life: like exercising, brushing my teeth/flossing, maintaining adequate sleep, etc. Many more times than not, I failed to practice self care consistently because the benefit wasn’t immediately available to me. Routines and consistency are difficult for me as I am wired a bit differently. I was diagnosed as ADHD in 1976, years ago, and have always struggled to maintain order in my life.
However, this time, what I heard, prompted me to pause and rethink the concept of Self Care. My therapist noticed that I am often “burning the candle at both ends”. I don’t give my system the space and time to be still and at rest. Yet, it was what he said next that transformed this concept further for me. He said in short, do what makes you feel good and relaxed. It was a simple message. One I had probably heard in variations a million times before, but this time, when it hit my ears, it registered and it stirred my imagination. It actually hit me rather deeply.
I knew instinctually that the reasons for being constantly keyed up and unable to relax was the result of the hardwired hyper-vigilance that resulted from years of trauma in my childhood. Although, I have completely forgiven the adults in my life and acknowledge that there was no real intention of doing harm in their behavior, I was still left with the task of healing from it. Letting go and relaxing initially has always felt scary and even dangerous. What if I let down my guard and something happens to me? As an adult, I realize these are irrational fears. They still come.
I have spent years “running” and essentially distracting myself from relaxing because it never felt safe to do so.
What immediately washes over me is sadness. Grief.
Relaxing and being still always initially brings up the loss of time that I spent avoiding the feeling that I wasn’t worthy enough to be protected from some of the things I endured growing up.
I was only a little girl and what I needed was to be held more, encouraged to express a wide arrange of emotions, and given the opportunity as a child to master difficult emotions with support. Instead, I was forbidden the expression of anger for fear of retaliation. I didn’t get the space to assert myself. Instead, my emotions were suppressed and turned inward. Speaking up and showing any defiance would have resulted in consequences that I was unwilling and too fearful to endure. And so, I remained hyper-vigilant and on guard, always trying to win love with my good behavior. Even so, there were times I said things wrong or sighed too loudly, which was misinterpreted as defiance. My older sister was the complete opposite of me and would rebel often, and thus, my parents became harder on me as an attempt to avoid a repeat the turbulence.
And so, when my therapist mentioned that I needed to slow down and exercise self care, it brought up a lot of emotions. But, what stirred me the most were his words: “do things that felt good to me”. He acknowledged my grief and pain and encouraged me to slow down, relax, and do the things that elicited feelings of well being. Examples he provided were meditation, taking a relaxing bath, singing, writing, etc.
I thought a lot about this simple advice. He had mentioned in doing these exercises of self care, your brain and body will be rewired to a calmer state and that will in time allow for more motivation for the “self care” that perhaps I considered more “chore related”.
I honestly never thought of self care as having an immediate benefit. I always felt I had to do things consistently and over time and then one day I might reap the rewards of doing so. Reframing this concept in this way has helped me to let go and relax a little more. My focus is now on doing the things that bring me joy, peace, and comfort. I am not seeing self care as a chore and as a result I am starting to feel more excited about practicing self care. This doesn’t mean that I should “leave out” the essentials of self care, like flossing/brushing teeth, bathing, exercise, adequate sleep. It instead places the focus of self care on the things that are immediately gratifying and feel good. Doing so actually makes me more motivated to do the others.
Sometimes, it is the simple concepts that become over-complicated in our minds. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed. Doing any activity that brings a sense of peace and stillness to the self is going to free up energy for the more laborious tasks that are sometimes put off.
Yes, for some of us who are hyper-vigilant and on guard due to past trauma, relaxing can seem scary and daunting at first. I feel it’s best to be realistic, go slow, and do what truly brings comfort and ease. This will allow the adrenal glands to recover and practicing self care in this way, over time, can make a huge difference.
I am actually excited about trying different things now and am a bit more hopeful. I feel it is all about connecting back to the self, acknowledging that I am safe now, and cultivating compassion and love for the self.
I hope this is helpful to someone struggling. It has helped me to shift a little bit and not be so overwhelmed. I am just taking it one step at a time. I know one day in the future I am going to feel a lot better. From this point forward, I will embrace self care as a way to reconnect and commune with myself and do the activities that bring me peace.
I know it’s heaviness. I know how it stings, like the bitter coldness in winter, wondering if you’ll ever feel warmth again.
I know how it drains you physically, lulling you into a deep slumber, leaving you numb, vacuous, empty.
I know the kind of loss that leaves you disillusioned, humbled, and meek.
No, I haven’t “inherited the earth”.
But, perhaps there is something in loss that frees you.
I am no longer distracted or preoccupied with the needless worry of pleasing someone or obtaining something. I am no longer clinging to hope or fortune. I no longer look to others to measure my success or lack there of.
I have acquired my own “space”. The endless space surrounding me that is all mine, with no disruptions, no demands, or “chatter”. There is silence and stillness in this space that I call mine.
My long laundry list of losses redefined me. As my world crumbled around me, I had no other choice but to let go and rebuild.
Like so many others who have experienced loss, I hung on for years, not wanting to leave the ruin and rubble that surrounded me. I desperately avoided the impact of the losses in my life by leaning on old coping mechanisms. This inevitably created more loss and ultimately left me both physically and mentally sick.
It rained. It poured. For years, I sought shelter in fragile spaces with others who were also desperately fleeing. We were running to and from each other, but never truly connecting. It was lonely.
I began to loathe myself and became more entrenched in endeavors that only served to alienate me further from myself and others.
I was hurting so bad that the desire to end the pain became greater than the desire to keep running away from it.
I decided it was time to sit with my pain, to feel it.
I processed a lot. In the space that was mine, I cultivated compassion for myself.
I outgrew my ineffective and old coping mechanisms.
Instead of finding ways to disconnect and distract myself, I found myself intentionally and purposely connecting to myself while sitting in the stillness. My desire to let go of what I could not control and become fully present in my own life began to grow.
And now, I only want peace. I want to feel more alive and connected in the moment.
I have very little as I lost so much: financial security, employment, relationships, health, etc.
And yet, the vulnerability I was left with has lead to personal growth, gratitude, and self love.
Years ago, I prayed for two things, humility and healing. I can honestly say that I got exactly what I prayed for.
In losing so much, I can clearly see what is mine to hold. I can look back and see what I released and “let go” of.
I honestly haven’t written in a long while. I’ve missed doing so, but my energy was being taken up by the consuming process of shedding my cocoon. I was releasing a lot and, and, at times, I was shrouded in darkness.
I am ready to reclaim my life, spread my wings, and take flight. I want to add color and light back into my life.
I accept all things that have made me whole. As hard as it was to lose so much for so long, I have gained invaluable life lessons and love.
Love and light everyone! I know for so many, these are difficult days. Please hang on through them. Cultivate your own garden and spend time lingering there to feel the warmth on your skin and breathe in the scent of honeysuckle. You alone are enough and you alone are love.
The world is collectively grieving. All of us, over the past year, have lost time and a sense of control in our own lives due to the ongoing global pandemic caused by Covid-19. Some of us have experienced the loss of loved ones and/or the loss of personal health and well-being. Many are struggling with anxiety and depression for the first time. The global community is collectively grieving and many are coping with these challenges in the best way that they can.
Grief presents itself in a variety of ways from anger and denial to bargaining and depression. The world is hurting and the loss of control is leading some to lash out, while others retreat in isolation. These are difficult days for many of us.
The on-going uncertainty relating to recent surges, as well as the mandating of vaccines, are ramping up division and driving some to rage and/or fear. The media is filling our feeds with stories that paint bleak and dire scenarios, while experts warn of the next variant that may be worse than the present one we are dealing with now. Medical providers on the front lines, exhausted from fatigue, are pleading with people to vaccinate while sharing terrifying stories of patients who have succumbed to Covid-19. Many providers are suffering with PTSD from working in settings that have been understaffed and completely overwhelmed.
Certain people remain hesitant and are holding out for what they feel is a safer and more effective vaccine, Novavax, while some at the end of the other spectrum are flat out denying the seriousness of the pandemic. Billions have already been fully vaccinated. These differences between people, which are often dismissed to political affiliations, are also outcomes of how individuals assess personal risk in their lives and how they cope with the collective trauma and grief resulting from a global pandemic. People are often turning away from one another, and as a result, animosity and arguments ensue and compromise on any level is thwarted.
Things are a bit messy. Honestly, the pandemic has resulted in an epic disaster that has left most feeling vulnerable and even downright angry or scared. There is a lot of distrust and fear. We are all grieving the loss of something we would have never imagined in the past: the loss of connecting to others in a physical space without any thought of it being a hazard to our health. We used to gather unmasked with no real worries about contracting an illness that could potentially cause serious disability or death. We were able to move about freely with little to no concerns about how these interactions with the public might effect one’s health. Those days are potentially over and to be frank, IT SUCKS. Anger and the desperate desire to regain control is a real symptom of grief and often the on-line interactions that become fraught with rage are signs of this deep grief of losing control.
This is hard stuff. And it is affecting us all. No matter someone’s vaccination status or beliefs surrounding Covid-19, we have collectively lost our sense of public safety and the ability to congregate with others without the thought of Covid-19. All of us have lost in some way and no one asked for this global tragedy.
I’ve seen so much tension and anger on-line that I felt I needed to write this, even if its only purpose is to serve to help me process some of the grief and loss of control I am feeling in my own personal life.
I often find myself on-line defending my beliefs or choices only to later erase what I wrote. I acknowledge that I won’t change anyone’s mind. The information truly is out there (in excess, really) and I feel individual choices, during a time of trauma and grief, should be respected.
Here are a few things that I am telling myself that is helping me process the grief of feeling “out of control” as well as the sadness over the losses of loved ones, the loss of freedom, and the loss of personal safety.
I am only responsible for my own choices. And that is enough for me to manage alone.
I cannot control what other people feel, say, or do. I can only control my response.
I acknowledge the limited information and knowledge we have concerning Covid-19 and I accept that the situation is fluid, and evolving.
I don’t have to comment or offer my opinion.
I don’t have to agree with someone in order to empathize and honor how they are processing grief and the uncertainty they might be feeling.
Sometimes the best medicine is time away from social media.
I will choose to do the best I can with my mental and physical health by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and engaging in the leisure pursuits that help me cope and feel better.
I accept this is a hard time. Everyone is coping in their own way.
Everything is temporary. Change will occur. One day we will look back and this pandemic will be behind us.
I will make the choice daily to honor my feelings as well as learn from the challenges this pandemic is bringing to me personally, and the global community, collectively.
Every day is different. I have had some truly “bad days” related to the global pandemic which, to be honest, seems to never end.
But, it will one day. Everything passes and is temporary.
Until it does, just know that whatever you are feeling, it’s normal. We are all grieving.
Extending kindness to others is never an wrong approach as we all could use some kindness thrown our way.
I see you.
I honor your grief.
And I pray there comes a day in the near future where we can meet again, feeling completely safe and free from the constraints and confinement that Covid-19 has caused.
We can do this. Humanity, kindness and love prevails.
I am a passing ship, floating on calm waters, slowly disappearing into the horizon. Perhaps, I’ve carried you a time or two, held your hand, smiled gently, filling the spaces inside of you that are often vacuous.
I am a mystery and riddle that remains eternally unsolved and the layers of cyclic history that is often left unresolved, left here to unravel over time, slowly.
I’m the life that has slipped into skin, endlessly discovering where I begin and end, using my senses to make sense of this space and sojourn.
I’d like to stay, but it was never designed that way.
I am merely mortal.
I’m nearly 49 and feel the sands of time, slipping, effortlessly, steadily, through the neck of the hourglass. It will pass.
It will pass.
I will as well.
I long to taste more, devouring earthly delights, more slowly than before, mindfully with intention. The produce, freshly picked and gently rinsed. My tastebuds awakened to exquisite meals, tasting the rich culture of each culinary endeavor, acknowledging the effort and care granted to each experience.
I would love to fall in love with people again, seeing others captured in a still life photograph, in great detail, picking up the subtleties that make us human. I would like to find my childhood innocence and view people and situations in earnest curiosity and wonderment.
I’d like to lose myself in laughter, titling my head back, twirling under the stars by moonlight. While other times I’d like to sit quietly, listening to the cicadas effortlessly sing their song.
I want to feel the humidity of the Southland engulfing me, beckoning me to take a swim at dusk in a nearby lake, accompanied by crackling campfire.
I’d would love to drive down long stretches of endless backroads at night with someone special by my side, windows rolled down, warm breeze, and blaring music.
And yet, I am merely mortal.
And time doesn’t stop.
I unfortunately fell asleep, as many of us do.
I became wrapped up in what I expected, instead of what actually is.
I don’t regret what I have learned.
I long to live more, and think less, let go, and release.
I am merely mortal.
This will all pass.
And so will I.
It is time to live with more intention and less fear, forgetting the layers that once entrapped and defined me.
I feel an edge of freedom and mystery within me.
I won’t limit myself anymore.
Endless discovery awaits.
I am merely mortal.
And when I fly away, free from my final day, I will do so in fullness.
Soaring endless skies, completely unattached, at one with all I have known.
I’ll slip out of my skin and perhaps I’ll begin again.
I surrender to the disease that has taken so much from me and my family. Although I have not personally been affected by using a substance, your dominion and control over those I love has caused me immense pain, suffering, and grief.
I do, at times, question if it was you alone who caused this level of epic annihilation of family relationships and bonds. I now wonder if ASPD (anti-social personality disorder) also played a role in the ultimate deterioration of my loved ones’ health, causing some to be permanently disabled. This diagnosis has formed in my mouth, many times, as I became more disillusioned at the complete disregard for human life displayed, coupled with the unwillingness to seek help, even when at “rock bottom”.
I realize that manipulation and dishonesty are a part of your control and hold on someone. Their world becomes very small with you in their presence. Access to you consumes their daily thought processes, and you are prioritized above a child’s welfare, a safe home environment, and the health of all involved.
Your power and hold is so strong that you nearly killed my loved one. Yet, they still went crawling back to you. You’ve stripped away their dignity. I have felt completely bewildered by the orchestrated chaos during times of active use, and have been enraged at the willful denial of those unable or unwilling to step into full awareness of the devastation caused by this disease. I have struggled to accept the lies that continue to disempower the young adults who have been given so little and have lost so much as a result of their chaotic and neglectful upbringing.
The dysfunction caused by you, and possibly a personality disorder, has left me isolated and without a family. I no longer feel safe around those I love. I feel my sense of “home” has been stripped of me.
I am ready to let go now and no longer breathe any more oxygen into a space that only leaves me winded, exhausted, and in despair. I know it is time. There is a growing part of me that is excited to walk through the open door and enter into a world that I have built for myself. One that is peaceful and full of people who value me. One where the sand isn’t constantly shifting.
Addiction, you may have taken my family from me, but I am restoring my peace and creating stronger boundaries. You have helped me in ways, in your display of epic dysfunction, realize that I was and am not to blame for the lack of love and commitment denied to me. This loss had very little to do with me in the end. You have reigned supreme for decades, wreaking havoc in the lives of those I loved. I chose to believe that I was to blame. Shouldering the blame made me feel more in control, giving me the false impression that I could behave in ways that would help facilitate change.
I stand corrected. I lay down my sword and walk away from the war that has left me drained and exhausted. I now am fully aware that I can only change myself.
I hate you, addiction.
But, even more than that, I hate the unresolved shame and pain that enables one to use. It’s hard work to heal from the trauma of the past. So many self-soothe in a variety of ways that not only is harmful to themselves, but prevents them from the true intimacy they deserve.
Addiction, You are a tricky bastard, robbing people from the gem that exists within, a lie that alienates them from themselves and others.
Oh, how I have raged at you. I have lost my dignity in your uncontrolled fire. I have stood at the edge, as you engulfed my family in flames, helpless and embittered. I have lost myself trying to save them from your merciless and murderous ways. I have fought tirelessly, watching loved ones lose their freedom, their potential, and even, their minds. I have wept and winced in pain from the despair and desperation of watching those I love become no longer recognizable. They have become shells of their former selves.
Yes, you are a unrelenting and tortuous disease that continually steals the lives and joy of your victims…And you did so with my family. And it made me very sick… for many years.
But, you will not have a victory over my life. I surrender and admit defeat for this chapter. Two decades of being part of your circus is enough. I will miss the dream of having a closer family. Yet, I am ready to accept the reality of “what is” and protect the budding peace and contentment I am finding within myself as a result of practicing self compassion and forgiveness.
Addiction, you have claimed many lives. But, you will not claim mine. I am moving beyond your grasp.
I will always talk honestly about how incredibly sick this disease has made me over the years. I endured chronic pain, anxiety, depression, angry outbursts, suicidal ideation, an exacerbation of my mood disorder, nightmares, etc. I reactively abused those I loved. I became manipulative, at times, in desperation to be visible and get my own needs met. I lost my dignity and was ashamed of how I responded. I lost employment opportunities. My health greatly deteriorated. I was even diagnosed with PTSD. I SUFFERED, IMMENSELY.
Addiction, our relationship is over. I broke up with you in the past, but this time I am going “no contact”. I am redirecting all my time and energy that has been used up “spinning” with you, and investing it in myself.
I look forward to what the future holds. It might be a bit lonely at first, but it won’t be chaotic or devaluing. I won’t be raging or losing my dignity while screaming alone in the dark.
I hope my writing helps others who are struggling in similar ways to not feel so alone. Those in the family who do not use, also need care and support. Many times addiction can seem like an impossible situation. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t handled it perfectly. I honestly will tell you I have been a mess the past few years. I was consumed by it and was taking on a responsibility that was not mine. I now have realized the complete lack of control I have and am finally releasing the reign it had on my life. It’s a slow process. But, it is possible.
I choose to “hate” addiction, the disease, NOT the addict. My hope will always be that members of my family who are struggling, fully heal. I am trying to do the same.
I know I am getting there. I know how hard it is and how much time it takes. But, I will continue waling towards freedom and peace. And as a result, I will have more of it in my life. It will continue to grow exponentially, until one day, I will look back and the pain of the past will be a distant memory. The present moment will be full of joy, laughter, and connection to healthy people in my life and to peaceful experiences. Quality of life over quantity is my goal going forward. Peace to all. I’m going to keep walking forward!
The statistics concerning mental illness and employment can appear bleak, at times. A 2019 research brief found on the ADA National Network (adata.org) website called: Mental Health, Employment, and the ADA, discusses the prevalence of those living with a mental illness who work full-time as follows:
“Over 46 million adults in the United States have some kind of mental health condition, and 11.2 million adults have a significant psychiatric disability1. Mental health conditions are the most common disability in the U.S., yet there are significant disparities in employment. Only 38.1% of adults with significant psychiatric disabilities are employed full-time compared to 61.7% of adults without disabilities2. These disparities exist despite policy protections for people with disabilities, as seen in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)”. (Parker Harris, S., Gould, R., and Mullin, C., 2019)
This information as well as other helpful guidance regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be found on the website: ADA National Network (adata.org).
Employers are required under the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations to an individual with a qualified disability absent “undue hardship”. Undue hardship, as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC.gov), “means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer’s size, financial resources, and the needs of the business”. The laws, however, surrounding these issues can be sometimes vague, leaving room for interpretation and ultimately causing some individuals seeking accommodations to feel vulnerable after disclosure. Imagine getting up the courage to disclose a highly stigmatized illness to an employer, only to feel less supported and valued by them! Although, each workplace and individual will approach the accommodations process uniquely, it can be helpful to share experiences in hopes that people can support one another in navigating the world of employment while living with a psychiatric disability.
My personal experiences of requesting accommodations for both Bipolar 1 and ADHD in the workplace resulted in increased stress and anxiety, causing an exacerbation of symptoms, and in some cases, a constructive discharge or wrongful termination. Many workplaces are not equipped currently, due to both attitudinal and structural barriers, to appropriately accommodate those struggling with a mental illness in the workplace. There is a lot of education and awareness that needs to occur for employers to be truly inclusive and embrace diversity in the workforce, enabling opportunities for those with psychiatric disabilities who wish to work and remain competitive.
As an individual who has worked for many years while struggling with a psychiatric disorder, I am intimately aware of the pervasive stigma attached to my disability. I have faced, what I believe to be, discrimination, while working. The last several work attempts I decided to disclose my disability in hopes to receive accommodations during times when I was symptomatic. I had hoped that by doing so, it would allow for increased awareness and support. Workplace stress can trigger symptoms and the disclosure of my disability and request for accommodations was a sincere attempt at helping my employer understand how my illness affects me at work and what approaches could be used to benefit both my employer and myself. I wanted this to be a mutually beneficial endeavor, a “win-win” for everyone involved. I had the support of my medical provider and he agreed that the request was reasonable and would not be considered as causing “undue hardship”. Even so, my request for accommodations left me feeling more vulnerable and less supported.
Although there are many workplaces providing accommodations in a supportive manner, I wanted to give a voice to those experiencing vulnerability, or even discrimination, after disclosure. I have seen many people on-line with stories very similar to mine. Unless we give a voice to those being disenfranchised, we miss a true opportunity to help others understand why it is so very important to handle accommodations requests with a genuine desire to retain employees who live with a psychiatric disorder. The stigma surrounding mental illness doesn’t just disappear during a disclosure at work and many times the myths perpetuated about mental illness are reiterated and even perpetuated by those in the workplace. The ADA is written with inclusivity in mind, and yet, employers are often comprised of people subject to biases and prejudices with a mindset that is difficult to change. It’s up to us as a community to speak out and bring awareness to the harm and damage that stigma in the workplace can cause.
Here are the 4 things I wish employers understood about accommodating those living with a psychiatric disorder in the workplace:
When I request accommodations, I genuinely want to be a successful employee of your organization and want the same opportunities to compete. The US Department of Labor website (dol.gov) defines a job accommodation as “an adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform their job duties. Accommodations may include specialized equipment, modifications to the work environment or adjustments to work schedules or responsibilities”. Although, I might do the job a bit differently from others, my goal will always be to do so in a way that benefits and adds to the success of the organization. We have the same goals in mind. I might need, at times, to approach the way the work is completed differently in order to enable success. I’ve always been told I am creative and an “out of the box thinker”. I would love to be seen as an asset and continue to contribute competitively. Often, when I have disclosed a disability, the attitude that is displayed from the employer is that I am asking for a “favor” or that perhaps I am even requesting accommodations to be excused from an unpleasant duty, etc. This could not be further from the truth. No one would risk disclosing a disability and being vulnerable, just to get out of an assigned duty. It is a stressful process that requires medical documentation and support. I want to continue being seen for my strengths and do not want the disclosure of my disability to change your view of my capabilities and strengths.
Please remember that the accommodation process is a flexible one that is guided by interactive dialogue and even trial and error. The Job Accommodations Network described this process on their website (askjan.org) as follows: “When an accommodation is not obvious, an appropriateaccommodation is best determined through a flexible, interactive process. As part of this process, the EEOC recommends that employers: (1) Analyze the particular job involved and determine its purpose and essential functions; (2) Consult with the individual with a disability to ascertain the precise job-related limitations imposed by the individual’s disability and how those limitations could be overcome with a reasonable accommodation; (3) In consultation with the individual to be accommodated, identify potential accommodations and assess the effectiveness each would have in enabling the individual toperform the essential functions of the position; and (4) Consider the preference of the individual to be accommodated and select and implement the accommodation that is most appropriate for both the employee and employer”. There have been times after I disclosed my disability, that the process became very rigid and even punitive. For instance, I wanted to temporarily change my schedule for a few weeks to 32 hours a week instead of 40 hours weekly. They provided the accommodation, but permanently cut the hours, meaning I was now taking a significant pay cut and they would not allow me to return to full-time once my symptoms abated. In another workplace, I requested to revisit accommodations and was denied the opportunity to do so. When this occurred, it was accompanied by other actions and comments that leads to a constructive discharge as the employer wasn’t demonstrating a willingness to accommodate. I won my unemployment claim on this issue alone as the judge ruled it was a constructive discharge due to being denied accommodations.
Denying accommodations in the workplace, wrongfully terminating an employee with a disability, or engaging in any other discriminatory practices is truly harmful on a variety of levels. Loss of employment for someone living with a psychiatric disability can be particularly devastating. Not only does this come with loss of income and potentially housing, it also can disrupt one’s medical care. Medical insurance in the US is usually tied to one’s job and losing employment can result in an individual not being able to afford to continue treatment and thus have a lapse in treatment. Often times, one has to move for employment or even to secure housing due to loss of income and an inability to pay rent, and this means starting over with new providers unfamiliar with the treatment regimen. It can potentially cause relapse. Also, moving and starting a new job are stressful for any individual and can be particularly distressing for those who live with a psychiatric disorder. A few of these “bad experiences” can be really devastating. In my own experience, two back to back experiences where I was wrongfully terminated and denied accommodations resulted in a relapse where the continuity of care was disrupted, housing and savings were lost, and a relapse occurred. I ended up applying for SSDI and was later approved. I applied for vocational rehabilitation while waiting for approval and was waitlisted for nearly three years. Employers should truly consider the full scope of damages that can occur when the ADA is violated in any way. Those who feel they have experienced discrimination can file a claim with the EEOC (EEOC.gov). In my experiences, however, they have been extremely slow to act and it took a year or more for the process of mediation to begin.
Employees who face discrimination of are left powerless and this can lead to exacerbation of their symptoms, disability, and even death. The cost of disability discrimination in the workplace can have real consequences, not only for the individual, but the greater community as well. While no one single employer could be said to definitely cause disability or death, multiple incidents over time, can certainly lead to those realities for some. Mental illness is deadly, for some, and experiencing periods where treatment is inaccessible can increase the risk for tragic outcomes for those struggling. For certain people, they get caught in the cycle of having to continually “start over” due to losing employment during their probationary period when workplaces often discourage taking time off and may even deny access to vacation/paid time off (PTO) time. PTO is accrued over time and in many instances this leaves those with disabilities, who need time off for medical appointments, more vulnerable. They may put off needed appointments for fear of consequences with their employer and as a result their health may suffer. When this occurs, accommodations might be requested, but by this time the employee is already feeling fearful and uneasy about doing so. The workplace, not having a longer history with the employee, might be wary about the request. The employee might lose the position and thus has to start over again, only to be right back in the same predicament. The stress of losing a job, starting over, and potentially moving, all while not getting one’s healthcare needs met can be extremely overwhelming and triggering to someone struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Often, people in these positions are left having to justify and explain gaps in employment, and with the concern of stigma, most are hesitant to divulge their diagnosis in an interview setting for fear of not landing the job. Those in this position are stripped of any real power. If they left a place where they were performing well, but were denied accommodations or experienced discrimination, the employer holds the power of providing a reference or not. Due to stigma, those experiencing a psychiatric disorder may not be viewed as credible by some. The burden of living with such a highly stigmatized illness becomes oppressive in and of itself. This ultimately leads some to despair and hopelessness which can cause continual relapse.
In my case, after experiencing discrimination, I not only relapsed, but received the additional diagnosis of fibromyalgia from the continual stress and tension working caused. I do believe I could have been successful and wanted to work, but I needed the workplace to follow the spirit of the ADA and be sensitive towards the issues I was facing. Instead, I faced discrimination on a few occasions. The final straw that broke the camel’s back for me was being terminated by a state agency after an approved medical leave! They actually fired me my first day back from the medical leave at a meeting set up to address my accommodations request. This caused a relapse and I ended up on disability, losing everything, and was severely depressed for a few years.
My goal in writing this post is to inform others and bring awareness to the issues surrounding employment and mental illness. I hope to work in advocacy one day, helping others to navigate the system and perhaps even help employers see the value in employing those who live with a psychiatric disability. Diversity in our workforce is always a benefit! Learning to approach the workplace in a different way in order to make it more inclusive, is well worth the endeavor, both for the individual and the community.
*Parker Harris, S., Gould, R., and Mullin, C. (2019). ADA research brief: Mental health, employment and the ADA (pp. 1-6). Chicago, IL: ADA National Network Knowledge Translation Center.
More often than not, I feel irrelevant. I feel very isolated, alone. Not necessarily lonely, just aware that I have very few people in my life right now….. very few. Some of my closest friends have left this realm, leaving me to walk this journey without them beside me, often in disillusionment and bereavement.
I’m a little numb, but I press forward despite feeling depressed on certain days. Central to the core tenet of my life is the overarching belief that there is always enough light left in this world to “delight in” and discover. The light on the path forward might be a little dimmed, at times, but even the darkness is never without light. The light is what I refer to as “love” and it is what moves my legs through the muddy waters, even when I’m exhausted and ready to resign.
I think about the path I have taken thus far and how painful it has been and I wonder is this the end? Will I ever live again, slip into some skin, and become innocent, alive with wonderment?
Like the sands of a time table, I feel so much of my life slipping through my fingers. I’m chasing after each moment, grasping them as they fade away, while consciously drumming up and clinging to the remnants of my past. Even in this very brief and fleeting time that is all mine, the memories I am able to recall are vast and varied. I return to the spaces in time when I was too young and tender to realize that these moments would one day be recollections of my past. I see so many versions of myself. I spend time consciously searching my memory for all that was once familiar and for the many cherished times where life was innocent and immature.
In this dizzying fall back into my past I can see….
The little girl who loved her grandfather and who would run barefoot on the outside patio to greet him when he returned from a long week working on the Florida power lines.
Swimming effortlessly in my grandparent’s pool, skimming along the bottom, watching the sun dance off the water, making shadows on the floor of the pool. I was at peace and felt masterful and unafraid.
Waking up excited on Christmas morning, rousing my sister to share what Santa brought.
That first awkward kiss at my friends house. Him leaning in and me nearly talking all the way through it because I wasn’t ready yet. I was terrified. What if I did this wrong?
Falling in love for the first time, looking into his eyes and laughing innocently.
My mind rests on so many memories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The painful ones where I felt devalued, dismissed, or invisible. The hopeful ones where I was working towards a goal that I had finally achieved. And the times full of angst, where I sometimes compared my journey to the presumed successes of others, feeling discouraged and dismayed.
The past decade, I got sucked into the black hole of depression and my vision was nearly blinded. I was involved in an abusive relationship and as soon as that ended, I was sucked into my family’s epic drama. I do not regret it as I did learn a lot during this difficult time and I am healing. I also feel it was purposeful in that I was able to help a child who was at risk, be removed from the home. I lost loved ones in the process, but I gained more of myself in the end.
For several years, because of this distraction, I didn’t drum up the memories of my past. My mind was often fixated on the pain of the present and I wasn’t able to release myself from the forest fire that had consumed me. The burns I endured fighting the fire has forever scarred me, and yet I survived it. And now, I am walking away and doing my best to wake up and feel alive again. I want to bask in the warmth and open my senses up to the endless possibilities of what lies ahead.
I notice that I am awakened, again and again, only to fall back into a deep slumber, lulled to sleep by the endless noise and chatter of life. I get swept up with worry and spend time consumed in the angst that accompanies the banal existence of humanity. Life is hard.
So much time wasted on “what should be”, instead of embracing “what is”. I fear it is slipping away from me, the sand, always sliding through the neck of life that seems strangulating and suffocating.
After reaching certain summits in my life, I am able to see the vast valleys below of which I traversed. The valleys, which were perilous, dark, and difficult, take on an entire different purpose and place in my life now that time has passed. The distance provides more definition and clarity. I linger there momentarily, before suddenly losing myself again in the dense forest, caught up in the thick brush that captures me again and again. Yet, love pushes me forward.
I do feel that I am seeing more of the forest. On those rare glimpses, where I am present and mindful, I see so much more. My mind has been cleared and memories flood back in reminding me of the epic journey that is ALL MINE. I’d rather it not end, but one day it surely will.
And so, I wish and even long for another opportunity. I’d like another shot at this. I don’t feel I got it quite right this time around.
I get anxious that I am nearly 50. I wonder if I will fall in love again and feel alive and youthful. I’m getting older, even my dog is aging.
I see life swallowing me whole. So much has slipped away. I fall back remembering my grandmother’s last embrace, her hugging me tightly as if she knew it would be our last time hugging.
I think back to the vivid dream I had when my grandfather passed away nearly 6 months after my grandmother died: A violent storm was brewing and my parents and I were rushing to get the animals and everyone into the barn. I was holding on to a rope tied to a pole as a violent tornado ripped through, the sound of a freight train hurting my ears, as I hung on, clinging for dear life. And then, there was complete silence. I recall walking out of the barn and in the distant green pasture there were children singing, all wearing white. It was peaceful, serene. I turned around abruptly and my grandmother was nearly 2 inches from my face. I saw every wrinkle in her smiling face. Her eyes bright and full of life. I told her sadly: “Grandma, I want to come home”. And she responded, very matter of fact: “One day, when you are old, like me, you will”. And then I awoke. The dream was over. Just like that. Just like life will be one day.
I try to remind myself that although we all are on a separate journey for now, that we ultimately return to a source of love that is an endless well. I’d like to believe this and so I will. That there really is no separation at all, only our skin. And collectively: We are “love”. We are slipping in and out of “skin” continually, over and over again. This brings me a level of peace. Ultimately, I feel God is larger than any organized religion and love is the energy that connects all of us. We are only separate for a brief time. Perhaps, we only “think” we are separate.
I feel that “being” and “embodying” love is more transformative than the act of loving. And so today I will again remind myself that I AM LOVE. We all are. And it is that love that keeps us trying and going when LIFE becomes hard.
Just my thoughts tonight. I realize before long I’ll be entangled in the trees of the forest again. I just hope I can find my way out more quickly. The horizon sure is heavenly from this viewpoint.
Intuitively, yet somewhat stubbornly, I acknowledge that forgiveness is the final step in letting go. Begrudgingly, I go there, unwilling to embrace it just yet. I believe freedom is on the other side, however, grief has me paralyzed, a few feet away from the finish line.
Intellectually, I acknowledge that what I feel that I have “lost”, I never truly had. What I am missing, was never mine to begin with, and I’ve been alone all this time. I’ve stood in this space for far too long, it’s what I’ve grown accustomed to, and yet, I’m determined to “let go”. I am shedding the layers of disillusionment, that has kept me entangled in the darkness for so long. I’m seeing more of myself and the definition of my soul is taking shape.
I fought for so long and I demanded so much because I did not want to leave you, nor the hope of reconciliation. I knew it was getting closer to the end, because it has become harder to hang on than to just “let go”. Staying would mean losing more of myself and for what? There is no one standing on the other side, reaching out in compromise to “meet me”.
The difficulty, for me, has been deciding when and how to “sever ties”. I feel torn between cutting ties completely OR providing greater distance, exercising more discipline and restraint when connecting with those who are causing me pain. I’ve tried letting go and I do so for a few weeks to a month only to find myself returning, not completely willing or ready yet to say “goodbye”. This is the space, I feel, that is most agonizing. Looking ahead, I see a clear path with those I love not beside me. There is freedom, but in this first step, I am choking back the tears. There is immense grief in finally laying down the sword, admitting defeat, and acknowledging that the people you have spent so much time “spinning” over, do not “see” you.
I do feel that this battle was never going to be “won”, but surrendering is a victory of self renewal, love, and discovery.
The decision to “go back” and fight, alone, will only lead to greater heartache and loss.
My voice is becoming stronger and I am becoming more resolute towards forging ahead. A part of me knows that it is time to forgive and “let go”.
I might still remain in limited contact with my Mother as I do feel she genuinely loves me. And yet, she has been unwilling to seek help in ways that I feel would demonstrate a true willingness to see the patterns in her behavior that are causing pain for both of us. I will work to forgive all of my family as I do feel it will release me from the pain of remaining engaged. And, I will continue swimming towards separateness, knowing that one day I will find freedom from the trauma that has kept me in captivity for so long.
Today is a new day. Every moment is pregnant with possibility. It is time to separate and invest my time and energy into the projects and people that bring me peace and contentment. This choice will be presented to me over and over again. When I choose to return and get “stuck”, I won’t berate myself as I am learning that doing so only serves to distract me from becoming “unstuck”. I will instead bring my self awareness to why I am returning, honor my grief, and sit in the stillness embracing the feelings I often wish to fight. I will allow myself the space to “break” and cry or get angry. I will then cultivate compassion for myself and I will choose to do differently. Over time, old habits will be replaced with new ones and the feelings generated from these new habits will usher in self awareness and compassion.
I feel it is time to forgive. This doesn’t mean I will allow certain people that have harmed me back into my life. It means I will no longer allow them to occupy the space in my head and heart that keeps me spinning. I will work to acknowledge that these individuals are also hurting in their own ways. I will do my best to honor their struggle by allowing them the space to heal and not getting entangled in their hurt. I will “Let go and Let Be”.
The space I am freeing up will allow me to step more fully into my life and into the present moment. No longer being tied to or even aware of the ongoing drama that is occurring, will free my being from the constant worry and concern of things that are outside of my control.
Today, I lay down the sword.
I sit in the stillness and embrace any emotions of grief that will surely come, letting them pass and wash over me. I will not cling to these thoughts or ride these emotions, abandoning the wisdom that lies in the present moment. I will bring my full attention to the present, engaging with what IS instead of longing for what will never be.
And it will be OK. And in time, it will be better than ok. And this is the long circuitous road of healing, I will keep returning to the present moment.
The birds are chirping outside, my wind is open, and I feel a light, cool breeze. There is newness and life around me always. Today, in this moment, I will choose my peace.
I would like to say that learning to love myself was an easy feat for me. It hasn’t been.
The idea of loving oneself sounds easy, but it’s so much more than a thought or feeling. To love oneself, is to embody love and to act accordingly.
The last decade or so has been an onslaught of heartache, disillusionment, and loss. Those I expected love from often fell short of reciprocating it in the way I needed. I gave an immense amount of time, energy, and attention to these individuals and consequently they occupied much of the “space” in my life.
I guess I thought if they loved me and showed their love through action and words, it would be proof that I was lovable and worthy of receiving love. Perhaps, there was a time when I even felt that in order for me to love myself, I must be loved by others. This belief has been shattered, along with many of the dreams that I had for my life. But, that’s ok because this needed to occur for growth and maturity, despite how painful it was at the time.
The absence of love was actually an opportunity, an unexpected open door. In the first few years of this time of growth, grief, and pain; I grew despondent, depressed, and even angry. I expected more from my family, my lover, and even some of my friends. I expected my workplace to be fair and for the world to be softer, gentler, and kind. I was naive and young and my innocence was beginning to fade. I was learning that life was hard and I often felt very alone.
I’ve written pages processing certain losses in my life. Many times, I became stuck on these losses and refused to go near the open door that seemed so warm and inviting, bursting with life. Instead, I stayed, staring at the wreckage. Time stood still. I grew sad, embittered, and fretful. I remained paralyzed in this place of constant fear, worry, and doubt for years. I was anxious, exhausted, and even bewildered, at times. People disappointed me. Most in my life that I knew intimately, had even been dishonest to me in one way or another, perhaps to protect themselves, or even, they felt, to protect me.
The last 4-5 years I set my intention of healing. I had been so sick from the lack of connection in my life, that I was in chronic pain and my anxiety level was through the roof. I had continual stomach issues and my neck and jaw often hurt due to the tension. I was holding a lot of pain inside. Perhaps, I felt I was protecting myself from “breaking”. There were times I felt that if I allowed myself to “feel” the pain, it would certainly overcome me, perhaps I wouldn’t survive it. I was terrified of sitting still and so I was moving constantly, becoming increasingly exhausted and alienated.
I eventually lost employment. Time marched on and out of a desire to feel physically better, I began to do certain things to connect to myself: meditation, singing, being in nature, etc. It was becoming increasingly evident that the greatest loss I had endured was the loss of myself. The years of struggle when I wasn’t loving myself, had left me feeling desperate and often in physical distress. I knew I had to change, but was clueless as to how.
I do feel now that I am resurfacing. Yet, I know that in order for healing to continue to occur, I have to continue to love myself by taking the actions that reinforce and strengthen the growing relationship with myself.
I feel that the things I have craved from others are actually reflections, often times exaggerated even, of what is missing within myself. I get angry and upset at others who are also “sick” and unable to connect and experience intimacy. Some of these people are family members, now permanently disabled from chronic and severe substance abuse. Stepping back, I realize that placing my energy and time in the emotional investment of people where a return is impossible (especially at the moment) is my own way of denying myself the intimacy I deserve. Oh snap! I thought to myself. Could I be engaging in the same actions they are, just in a different way? It is hard to let go of the “dream” of having a family that I can connect to, and yet, at the same time this world is full of people. Aren’t I worthy of finding my “tribe”?
It’s time to salvage what I can with those who at least try with me and invest in those who are in my life. I’ve decided to focus on the goals listed below moving forward. It’s funny that I’ve said some of these before, but I guess it takes time for things to sink in and be truly motivated to change. I am reminded again that I have asked others to change their behavior, but haven’t been consistent in changing mine. I know I’ve been impatient at times and in my grief regarding losing my family, even raged, becoming ugly. This isn’t who I truly am. Perhaps, I can extend compassion and forgiveness to others as I am learning to do so for myself. Old habits are easy and comfortable, and change takes time. I do feel it is coming and am encouraged despite relapsing into old “ways”. I believe in the old adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again”. I need to keep trying.
Here are some of my goals:
Meditate at least once daily.
Connect to my higher power, asking for help to “let go” of what I cannot control.
Be mindful, practice mindfulness when taking my dog for walks and while eating a meal.
Reframe the past, including many of the good memories.
When upset, self soothe, use grounding techniques.
Be intentional with how I spend my time and energy.
Ask these questions when a difficult situations arise: Is it mine to handle? Can I realistically do anything to solve this problem? If not, disengage quickly and get involved in an endeavor that is either self soothing or one that redirects my mind.
When negative thoughts surface, challenge them. Don’t believe every thought that comes into my head!
Use my acupuncture mat daily.
So, these are the things I hope to focus on in the coming weeks. Love more, forgive more, and be “lighter”.
On an even more personal note, our family experienced the death of a dear loved one, my sister-n-law, Lisa. She was truly a kind, caring, empathetic, and generous soul. She was a main support to me and was always there to lend an ear during troubled times or give sound advice. I can hear her telling me to “let go”, life is short, and to love from a distance. She knew of my struggles and was always supportive. I will miss her greatly and it is my desire to honor her life by becoming a better person. She will be greatly missed.
Life is often about perspective. I’d like to change mine, one day at a time. Love and light to everyone. Thanks for reading!
The following is my story for the Digital Storytelling Series with the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities National Training Center (https://www.mhddcenter.org). “The Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (MHDD) National Training Center is a collaboration between the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Kentucky, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Utah State University”. Their objective is to improve the quality of services and supports for those living with a developmental disability. For more information about their organization visit: https://www.mhddcenter.org/about/.
In the podcast below, I discuss the multiple disabilities I live with and the challenges I have faced living with an “invisible disability”, both in employment and in accessing care. It is roughly 22 minutes, so listen at your leisure! My hope is that my story will resonate with you or someone you love who also struggles in a similar way.
My goal in sharing my story is to spread awareness and combat the stigma surrounding mental illness. Thank you for reading and feel free to share if you like.
A special thank you to Adam Potter, BA who interviewed me and edited my story and to the organization, MHDD, for the opportunity to share! I appreciate the work you do in increasing awareness and bringing a “voice” to our stories! Thank you!