MHDD Digital Storytelling Series: My Story

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!

An Open Letter To Those Treating My Mental Health Disorder

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A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days engaged in a partial hospitalization program with the hope that I would gain a few more coping skills that would reduce the intensity of my PTSD and Bipolar 1 symptoms. The program actually ended up to be a more of a “one size fits all” program and it wasn’t truly beneficial to me. Without going into too many details, I had a couple of incidents of conflict where I felt disrespected by some of the employees there. This is not all that uncommon. It happens. Employees are just people in the end and some are not always sensitive, others might be experiencing a “bad day”, and still others are just there to “pick up a pay check”. The experience, however, got me to thinking about what I would like to say sometimes to those who treat me for my mental illness on my “worst days”. I decided to write an open letter to those who provide mental healthcare services, particularly those who do so in an inpatient setting or intensive outpatient program. The following sums up what I want those treating me to know. Maybe it will resonate with you as well.

Dear Mental Healthcare Provider,

To you, I am more than likely just another patient in a fast-paced program that has the goal of crisis-stabilization. I am one of many that you serve in a busy environment where safety is more than likely your primary concern. With the amount of people coming and going, it is to be expected that you might not ever truly know me. Between facilitating groups, completing necessary documentation, and other miscellaneous duties, there is very little time to actually connect to each patient in a meaningful and memorable way. In order to ensure safety, and a routine where programs run efficiently, the relationship between patient and provider is not one of equal power. Your role by it’s very nature, especially in an inpatient setting, is to enforce boundaries and rules to maintain the type of environment where people can receive the help they need in order to return to baseline. This dynamic, albeit necessary in ways, can be difficult for some of us to adapt to as it can feel not only constraining, but even oppressive, at times. In addition, the often sterile environment of some hospital settings and the loss of personal freedom, can seem disorienting and demoralizing to someone seeking help.

As a patient, I am coming to you at my worst, often in a place where I may not be in complete control of my impulses, moods, or perceptions. You see me when I am most vulnerable, often in the throes of an illness that I am doing my best to manage. Despite my efforts, there are times that the illness takes a hold, and I need a little help to return to my baseline. There is a lot of shame and embarrassment when I have to admit to myself and others that I need help to cope and manage the chronic illness of Bipolar 1 that occasionally rears it’s ugly head, robbing me of my time, joy, relationships, and even jobs.

When I walk through your doors or am brought in by an ambulance, I am instantly reminded of how powerless I am, at times, to this debilitating illness. All my possessions, like my purse and anything else I bring in with me to the hospital, gets stripped from me and I am asked to stand unclothed in a robe so that someone on staff can “search me”. I can remember being asked to do this each time I have been in inpatient, and yet, the actual occurrence of it I have conveniently blocked from my memory. As a victim of sexual assault, this is particularly dehumanizing and distressing for me. At one inpatient placement, I even was forced to wear a blue jumpsuit very similar to what is worn in a prison setting. The contents of my purse were dumped into a plastic bag. I felt violated, having my privacy breeched and felt nearly treated as if I were a criminal.

When you see me, I am coming to you to at my “worst” asking for your for help, but it can feel sometimes like I am part of a machine that doesn’t value or see my humanity. The first few days of treatment can feel somewhat numbing. Pink Floyd’s song: “Comfortably Numb”, comes to mind and the medications that I am pushed to take during an inpatient stay feels like what is conveyed in the lyrics: “just another pin prick” and “there will be no more, “Ahhahhhaaa, But you might feel a little sick”. Often the first day or two, I feel like just “another brick in the wall”, numb and disoriented, wishing I were anywhere else but back in this spot, vulnerable and raw.

When I walk through the hospital doors asking for your help, I carry with me 32 years of experience as a consumer of mental health services. I also am informed and aware of my patient rights. I may be struggling, but just in the past week or so, I was at work serving clientele as a social worker. I was sick and struggling, but holding it all together. I came to you because I had the insight and awareness to acknowledge that I need the help. I want to be seen as someone who is currently struggling, but respected as an individual who on most days is competent and insightful. Ultimately, I want to be seen as an individual who has many strengths, not just a mental illness you are treating.

Even on my worst days, when I am receiving care, I want to feel that I have a sense of agency over my healthcare. I want you to ask for my input and respect my right to decline treatment. Sometimes, it can take time for me to research and decide what I feel is best for my health. I’ve had nurses “talk over me”, even insist I was delusional, because I wouldn’t take the medications that were initially ordered by the prescribing doctor at the hospital. I once even had a nurse threaten to “tie me up in a rubber room and inject me with my medications” if I continued to refuse. Sadly, due to the stigma surrounding my mental illness I know if I had reported this incident I would have not be seen as credible. Yet, many of us in treatment have endured abuses or threats like the one above.

Just because I live with a mental illness and am requesting help, does not mean that I am incapable, even while hospitalized, of making informed choices. Had I taken the medications prescribed by the doctor during some of my stays, it would have been too much for me. I know my body and I also know my rights. I have the right to decline medications. I earnestly am asking you to educate me, provide me with the information about the medication you are prescribing, allow me to research it, and even provide alternatives. Wouldn’t you want the same for yourself if hospitalized?

I realize that providers are just people and they make mistakes. I’ve had to remind a few of my providers that I couldn’t take certain medications due to drug interactions. Sometimes, they are too busy to look up a medication or have forgotten that an interaction exists. I realize providers are not walking encyclopedias and their knowledge may be limited. And I also understand that most people willingly trust what the doctor “orders”. I am someone who has had a few truly negative and scary experiences while taking medications and I am hesitant to start any new drug. Please give me the time I need so that I will feel comfortable trying another new medication. And please don’t take it personally if I question a medication you prescribe or even decline it. It is my body and I will do what I feel is safe and comfortable for me.

I also again want to remind you that I am at my worst when I come to you. I am sick, vulnerable, and often raw. I again have to open up and tell a complete stranger things about myself that might be hard, stressful, and downright painful. I feel exhausted and depressed after having to explain my history and symptoms to, yet again, another individual that, in a few days, I will never see again. The mere thought of disclosing and repeating my history once again can send me into panic and is nauseating for me. To you, I might be the new admit going to bed 107 that you have to quickly assess before the next patient arrives. But, for me, the whole experience feels dehumanizing and it often makes me feel powerless and small.

I sit in the chair slumped over across from you, often sharing the things I don’t want to share with anyone. So, please excuse me if I appear on edge, easily angered, defensive, or irritated. For me, I am at the beginning of a stay where I will be thrust into groups with strangers, sleeping in a room on an uncomfortable bed with a roommate I do not know, and told when to eat and where I need to be for the next few days. Nothing feels normal at the moment.

For you, it is just another day at work and you’ll be home to your creature comforts soon enough. Your demeanor and approach with me can set me at ease and even bring a faint smile to my face, or it can make me feel ashamed, angered, or numb. I understand you are human as well, but I hope you are able to understand that I truly am at my “worst” and please be sensitive to that fact. It will make such a huge difference in my stay if you do.

During my stay with you, I will sit in groups and listen to some of the same approaches and interventions that have been introduced to me before. Initially, I may feel, on a certain level, that for me to wind up here again, I must of failed in some way. There is a lot of shame, grief, and even rage, that I am feeling. I wonder to myself: How did I wind up here again? I long for the group that tells me I am OKAY, despite my struggle of living with a mental illness. I appreciate the rare facilitator that starts the group out telling us that our chronic illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of and that we are not here because we “behaved badly” or that we somehow caused our illness. There is no shame in struggling. Many people “behave poorly” and have unhealthy habits, but do not land in an inpatient psychiatric setting requiring care. A mental illness is a true illness and if unhealthy habits were responsible for the struggle, many more people would carry a diagnosis. Please remember that I have an illness, not a “behavior issue” and that I do truly try to manage it.

I will also add while I am at it, that I wish I had a private room and the hospital would separate the men from women, particularly not allowing them to sleep on the same halls. This was distressing and distracting for me. I would also like for the environment to be less sterile and more homelike and for groups to be designed with functioning level in mind. Hey, I can have a wish list, right? Some groups are difficult for me to sit through because the information is not new to me.

On my worst days, when I find myself in an inpatient or intensive outpatient setting, please treat me exactly as you would like to be treated. I can respect certain safety measures as I am aware that they protect me as well as others in the program. And yet, please don’t talk “over me”, or refuse to accept my input. I would prefer you not ransack my purse or insist I dress in a blue suit. I also want to be seen as an individual.

And, please, if I have a “meltdown” or an angry outburst and I later come to you to share why I was upset or I wish to apologize, it would be nice if you accepted my effort to resolve things graciously. There have been incidents in the past where I have tried to smooth things over and it was met with stonewalling and a complete disregard for my struggle. Please remember if I am in the hospital for my mood disorder, I might not have the best control over myself. If I did, I would not need to be in an inpatient setting. Like others, there is a lot of shame that I experience during times when I lose dignity and become verbally abusive when upset. I genuinely am not proud of these moments and if I am making the effort with you to apologize, my hope is as, a professional, you will at a minimum try to acknowledge that not only am I “at my worst”, but I’m also in a position where my freedom and power has been stripped from me. The inpatient setting alone is abnormal and adapting to it can be a challenge for anyone. Often patients escalate as a result of responding to a system that is inherently dehumanizing, at times.

I feel so much needs to change regarding the structure of inpatient stays. So many of the patients need longer stays with additional services to truly stabilize. The current system is overwhelmed, rushed, and often the stay is too short to ensure a safe discharge. More time is needed to determine if the medication changes made are indeed actually effective. In the past, stays not only were longer, but the care was more individualized. I remember in the 1990s not only receiving a variety of physical and mental tests and assessments, but I also met a therapist 1-2 times a week. My recent hospital stays were too brief to actually ensure a correct diagnosis or to provide patient-centered care. Maybe it is too much to ask that a mental illness, be treated like a physical one? A holistic approach would benefit patients to ensure that there isn’t any other reason for their symptoms. I shudder to think about the accuracy rate of determining one’s diagnosis or the safety of the discharge when stays are often too short to truly know the patient’s needs. This causes unnecessary recidivism, but again I guess insurance companies prefer to take that “gamble”. Sadly, lives are lost doing so. And for many, who suffer for years without adequate care, their quality of life is greatly diminished. This can lead to poor outcomes for some such as incarceration, homelessness, or other health complications from lack of self-care.

My hope is that one day those who survey the hospitals to renew their accreditation involve a board of individuals who actually live with a mental illness who have been inpatient. Please consider our voices in the process. Many of us have ideas for how we wish to be treated and what we need for the experience to be better.

I will be the first to admit, I don’t always show my better side while in treatment. It is a demoralizing experience where as an independent, educated, and high functioning individual, I feel my rights are stripped from me. If I am unlucky, there might be a few staff members that can make the experience intolerable. I have experienced some truly effective and good providers in the mental health system and to those people, I am eternally grateful. But, the few “bad apples” can truly damage an individual who is already struggling, causing them to not ask for help again. That is why the quality of services matter so much to me. It can save a life. And it can enhance the quality of life for so many struggling.

Thanks again for taking the time to read my thoughts and concerns. It is just my perspective from the position of a patient being served in our current mental healthcare system.

With sincerity,

A Mental Health Consumer

A Heavy Burden to Bear: When Lack of Access to Affordable and Quality Healthcare Compounds Complex Trauma

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With the current focus on mental health issues relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I feel this is an opportune time to have an honest and frank discussion regarding access to affordable and quality mental healthcare services in America. Those of us who have been struggling for years living with a mental illness, are all too familiar with the challenges of finding the help that we need to not only reach stability, but maintain it. Often the services and programs to support recovery are difficult to access and some are virtually non-existent or not affordable. Most of us with lived experience have managed to piecemeal our recovery efforts over time to sustain our recovery, but we are also aware that services and programs fall short to meet the needs of many and, as a result, some unfortunately do not ever recover.

One of the main triggers for my depression is the lack of concern for those living among us who are struggling with a mental illness and/or addiction issues that often leads to incarceration, disability, or homelessness. I am particularly sensitive to these issues because of my own life long struggle with mental illness. It is also distressing for me to see those living with addiction issues who experience homelessness or incarceration because I have loved ones who struggle with addiction and I am empathetic towards the issues surrounding the disease.

For the past two years, I have been living in Los Angeles and the level of homelessness here in the city is at epidemic proportions. It is disturbing, to me, to see so many living on the streets in such dismal and dire circumstances. While not all who are homeless struggle with issues of mental illness or addiction, many of them do. As a consumer of mental health services for nearly three decades, I know first hand how difficult treatment can be to access and how, often times, the quality of treatment is poor. Services rarely include the continuity of care that leads to and enables long term recovery. Too many people are slipping through the cracks and it becomes nearly impossible for these individuals to remain in recovery when society lacks the infrastructure needed to support those rebuilding their lives. Most who have never experienced accessing mental health services firsthand are unaware of how deeply fractured the system is and make judgments without having the lived experiences of attempting to do so. As an educated individual who is able to advocate for myself, I have often been appalled by the way I have been mistreated, and even defeated, at times, by the lack of services available that would support and facilitate my recovery.

Many services and programs are often laden with structural and attitudinal barriers that even the most skilled, experienced, and educated individual would have difficulty navigating. My hope in sharing my story is to demonstrate the complex interplay between the individual struggling and the programs and services that are sometimes unavailable or of poor quality. Many times people seeking help are dealing with not only the symptoms of their illness, but also the consequences of struggling for too long in a system that lacks the wrap around services to truly help them. They also may be experiencing shame and frustration from having people in their lives who lack the awareness of how difficult it is to access help, make the false assumption that they are “just not trying hard enough”. Many who do not suffer have the wrong impression that help is easily accessible and they unknowingly invalidate the individual struggling. Using my own struggle, I hope to bring awareness of how one individual over the course of many years might experience several damaging experiences and this can lead, over time, to mistrust and a hesitancy to reach out. I am fortunate to have a good therapist at the moment who validates my complex history which is unfortunately littered with many incidents where I “hit a wall” when attempting to access help. I hope the following resonates with some of those struggling and sheds light on how challenging it can be, at times, to access quality care. The difficulty of accessing quality medical care, the services and programs needed to enable recovery, and the protections meant to prevent disability discrimination can create a challenging and difficult road for an individual who is struggling to recover from a mental illness or addiction. Below, I discuss examples from my own life to help contextualize each of these struggles in hopes to spread awareness and cultivate empathy for those doing their best to access the needed treatment and services to heal.

Lack of access to quality medical care and treatment. This can present itself in a variety of ways. Here are some actual incidents that have occurred to me personally that not only were damaging, but caused a relapse in my symptoms of anxiety and depression. Beginning with the most severe and damaging incident causing a distrust in the system, to the least offensive causing a delay in access to care, the following are my own personal experiences as a an educated individual attempting to access quality care for the disorders I live with: Bipolar 1, PTSD, Somatic OCD, and ADHD.

  • Denied access to an inpatient care facility for crisis stabilization: I was once forced to leave inpatient care prematurely after only one day of receiving treatment. I had waited roughly 36 hours in the emergency room department to be assessed by a social worker and was later admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit. Once admitted, I was able to sleep a few hours. I made the error of requesting to leave after feeling mistreated by one of the staff there. I immediately changed my mind and communicated my wishes to the staff as I knew deep down I needed the help and more than likely needed my medications adjusted. I also was waiting to receive a test that was ordered due to having breathing difficulties from a recent respiratory infection. The doctor there decided to discharge me, even though I was openly requesting help for the suicidal ideation that I was still experiencing. They forced me to leave treatment stating that if I did not leave, I would be ushered out of the inpatient unit by the hospital security. I was discharged with no medication change and the test that was ordered for my breathing difficulty was also not completed. This incident was probably the most damaging experience I have endured during all of my years of treatment for my mental health disorder. It not only placed me at increased vulnerability for a suicide attempt, but the hospital placed my physical health in jeopardy by not completing a test to determine why I was visibly having breathing issues.The incident was traumatizing and has made me not want to ever seek inpatient services again. I also felt powerless to do anything about the incident because I did not feel I would be believed. Other than to write a poor review of my experience on their Facebook page, I have taken no other actions and have moved my life forward.
  • Medical providers who have been unwilling to support workplace accommodations. I have had therapists or psychiatric providers who were unwilling to provide documentation to support my request of setting up accommodations in the workplace. This was particularly damaging because the delay caused by having to find a provider that would assist me in this way, lead to employers doubting that I had a disability that required accommodations. This also caused significant stress for me which only exacerbated my symptoms. Some providers are unwilling to assist in letters regarding unemployment claims or accommodations requests. This leaves the individual struggling with no real pathway to gain accommodations in the workplace unless one decides to change providers and this can take a lot of time.
  • Inability to afford or being waitlisted for needed healthcare services. I cannot count the amount of treatment opportunities (particularly recommended DBT classes) that were thwarted by lack of insurance or long waitlists. Many times I was willing and waiting for treatment to become available and the waitlist was either too long or it was too costly without my insurance providing payment.
  • Certain services that would be helpful are not covered by insurance companies. I was told over and over that residential care would be the most beneficial for me. And yet, my insurance through my workplace did not pay for this type of treatment. Plus, it would have been nearly impossible to get the time off of work required to complete the program. The cost was “out of reach” for me.
  • Denied access to needed treatment due to having to rely on Medicaid which often does not cover speciality care. While waiting on Medicare to “kick in” after being approved for disability insurance (SSDI), I was denied multiple needed treatments by Medicaid which caused my condition to worsen and my symptoms were exacerbated as a result. The process of waiting to receive access to quality care for both my physical and mental health for 2 years was a dehumanizing experience where I truly felt invisible and devalued. I was even suffering with a new medical condition that affected my swallowing whereby I had lost nearly 80 pounds in 6 months and I was denied multiple referrals to a gastroenterology specialty clinic. It was a terrifying experience to lose so much weight and not get the help I needed and it actually thwarted my initial plans to attempt working part-time. I was too sick and unable to get the care I needed through Medicaid. With Medicare in place now, I get the care I need and am grateful.

Lack of access to services/programs that facilitate recovery. Many of the program from housing, disability insurance, vocational rehabilitation, etc. are often inaccessible due to long waitlists or other factors. Below are some of my personal experiences trying to access these services and programs.

  • Being waitlisted for vocational rehabilitation services. When I lost employment due to being denied accommodations in the workplace, I immediately signed up for vocational rehabilitation services in the state of WA. I was approved for services, but waitlisted for nearly 3 years. By the time my name came up to be served, I had already moved out of the state with a friend in order to prevent homelessness. I consider myself lucky that I have people who have supported me when needed. Being in a state of vulnerability where I could not access the services to help me return to work, has made me more empathetic to those who do not have a “lifeline” and end up homeless.
  • The long wait time to be approved for social security disability benefits leaves the disabled more vulnerable to homelessness and loss of needed medical treatment. Waiting for disability insurance (SSDI) to be approved, was yet another dehumanizing experience that included many roadblocks that appear to be “set up” to deter people from gaining benefits. With determination and grit, I was able to get my benefits awarded in a little over a year. However, I know many more who wait 2 and 3 years and lose everything in the process while waiting.
  • Programs, like section 8 that helps low income adults afford housing, have long waitlists and are often difficult to access. I have attempted to learn about housing opportunities here in Los Angeles so that I can be independent again and begin working a part-time job. I was told by the Department of Mental Health and another social agency that in order to receive section 8 here in Los Angeles, I would need to be experiencing homelessness. I have placed a few more calls to request about other programs for low income individuals who are dependent on their disability insurance as their only means of income, but they have been very slow to get back to me. I realize I have to be persistent, but again not everyone struggling has my education level or access to the stability I have in housing to make contact in a consistent manner. They might not have access to reliable internet or a phone. Not everyone who is struggling is well enough to voice their needs and remain consistent in pursuing services.

Lack of protection when there is a denial of rights or services. Often when an individual living with a mental illness experiences discrimination in the workplace, a denial of treatment, or another abuse, it is too easy to discredit the individual as often the above can be difficult to “prove”. Many times people who struggle experience poor treatment or other damaging incidents, but they are unaware of their rights or even if they are aware, it is common due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness for a lawyer to decline representation to provide a remedy.

  • Workplace disability discrimination is more common than one might think and victims often are unaware of their rights or have difficulty gaining representation. I have experienced multiple incidents of workplace discrimination in the form of denied accommodations and even the refusal to engage in interactive discourse to facilitate the process of getting accommodations set up. This has lead to job loss, loss of housing, loss of health insurance, and ultimately a disruption in continuity of care. The entity where one can file a complaint of discrimination, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), is often very slow to act. It took a year for them to investigate a claim of discrimination that I reported and I was already in another place of employment when the investigation began. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the civil rights law that protects those living with a disability from discrimination in the workplace, however, it’s language is often not specific enough to provide true consequences for those engaging in discriminatory practices. More often than not, places of employment are able to escape the consequences of discrimination and this leaves the employee extremely vulnerable, having to pick up the pieces and move forward. Many people who experience discrimination in the workplace are fearful to defend themselves as they may need a descent reference or might wish to avoid other negative consequences of doing so.
  • There is little protection for those who experience mistreatment from a mental healthcare provider. One can file a grievance and I have, but I have never had anyone follow up with me. Lawyers are very hesitant to get involved because the stigma lends many to believe that those living with a mental illness may not be credible, particularly when in an inpatient setting. Obviously, reaching out to report can be re-traumatizing for the victim in and of itself, especially when the victim is not “believed”.

Many of my examples are more than likely relatable to so many living with a mental illness. And believe it or not, I have many more stories that I could share. These experiences compound upon one another, and, over time, truly “break” a person. It becomes harder to trust the system and more difficult to trust medical providers enough to open up again and risk being vulnerable in order to receive help.

Living through so many tough experiences, I feel compelled to speak out regarding these issues. Many times, people lack the compassion towards those struggling because they only are viewing the one incident that is being shown to them at a particular time. Life is complex and too often I see people minimizing an individual’s struggle because they are simplifying their experience by looking at only one incident. Living with a mental illness often comes with many layers of struggle from living with the stressors of income instability, job and relationship losses, and dealing with the shame that stigma causes for those struggling. All of this is in addition to managing the symptoms of their illness. More often than not, when someone is requesting help, they have been “kicked around” a bit in the system, told “No” a lot, and are truly trying. It is truly hard out there.

This begs the question: “Why do so many not care? Where is our humanity?” I view our world as the interplay between us, the environment, and the systems we create to support a healthy relationship between the two. When we have many homeless living on our streets, we have to ask ourselves, how healthy is our society? Perhaps, those struggling with mental illness are more aware of these issues because some are faced with these risks and this makes them more attuned to the struggle. It is just a thought. My experiences over time have truly cultivated empathy. It hurts to see so many living on the streets. I personally know how hard it is to access the few services that exist to help people and I’m aware that the care is not always of stellar quality. I am acutely aware that had I not had a support system in place, I, too, may be at risk for homelessness.

I also am aware that many who struggle with issues of addiction were raised in families where their parents struggled in similar ways. The system failed to serve them as children and now they are adults mirroring what they have learned. Our society often devalues those who are currently incapable of contributing. And yet, the infrastructure simply isn’t there to help people to contribute. I am educated, persistent, and able to advocate for my needs and it was still impossible, at times, for me to receive the help I needed. As a result, I ended up relapsing and now I even have other physical illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, IBS, and migraines, that I feel are a culmination of living with an illness for so long and never “catching a break”.

I know in my heart that we have enough resources, talent, and creativity to address the problems of mental health issues and addiction that are now both at epidemic proportions. I feel if I want to see change in my community that I have a personal responsibility to act and to voice my concerns. Perhaps, in doing so people will become more aware of the challenges in addressing these issues, as they are complex and multi-layered. Isn’t it time to truly tackle mental healthcare in a creative way that not only changes lives, but changes our community and world? I would wager a guess that most people who do not see the value in serious mental healthcare reform would feel that it is too costly. In reality, the cost of the programs and services created to help families and individuals in need would be more than paid for by the decrease in rates of incarceration, disability insurance, and other medical costs incurred by individuals requiring repeated care due to relapse, etc. Investing in those who are struggling and early intervention/prevention will provide for less dependence overall.

Many times I can hear in people’s tired voices, who indicate that they are depressed, that they don’t know how to put their struggle into words. That is is “too much”. I hope by articulating my struggle I have shaved off a bit of the “iceberg’ so to speak that keeps so many of us immobile. It is too much and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to receive the treatment and services we need to help us truly recover. Society has a responsibility to meet us half way. No one is an island and the more we work collectively to address these systemic issues, the healthier our entire society will be. Our wealth, power, and sense of community is only as strong as our most vulnerable members living within it. How we treat those struggling is the difference between a decaying society and one that is flourishing, truly “rich”, and healthy.

I have hope in humanity. We are resilient and innovative. I hope by sharing my own complicated struggles that some become aware of the different issues impacting many of us who are still paddling at the surface, treading water. Give us a hand, pull us to shore. Be willing to listen. Many of us are willing to share, work, and engage with you. The struggle of so many has been weighing heavy on my heart this year and this is hopefully just the beginning of my own role as an advocate.

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Please Stop Scapegoating Those Living with a Mental Illness

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With all the on-line bickering and arguing as of late, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. It’s become so commonplace, that I see something nearly every day that truly rubs me the wrong way. It is the “scapegoating” of those living with a mental illness in social media. And it is not something that is only being done by “one side” or the other of the political divide, it is actually rampant on both sides.

Some examples I’ve recently seen are:

*Referring to those who are “racist” as “mentally ill”.

*Calling either political party “mentally ill” because their beliefs are in opposition to yours.

*Stating that someone is “mentally ill” because the are unwilling to take the vaccine to prevent Covid-19.

*Responding to an article about an individual who committed a violent act as “mentally ill”.

*Referring to those who are members of extremist groups as “mentally ill”.

This list goes on and on. Many of the above examples “scapegoat” those living with a mental illness by generalizing an entire group of diverse individuals by affixing the label, “mentally ill”, in a context that is dehumanizing and demeaning to those who truly suffer. As someone who has lived with a mental illness for nearly 32 years, this obviously is upsetting to me. And, it also increases the stigma surrounding mental health.

For those of us actually living with a mental illness, we realize that our diagnosis, disability, or condition does not define us. When you collectively refer to any group of people as “mentally ill”; You are devaluing this population by stereotyping and generalizing a group of nearly 44 million adults (roughly 18.5% of the US population) who come from all walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, etc.

As someone who lives and struggles with Bipolar 1, PTSD, OCD, and ADHD, I get tired of having “mental illness” being used as the catch-all and “go-to” phrase as the rational for everything wrong with humanity. When humans behave in harmful ways, a mental illness is NOT always to blame.

Hatred and the type of ideologies that lead to violence or discrimination, stems from learned behavior. Fear as well as a lack of education and exposure to others and novel ideas, can also lead individuals to act in irrational ways.

It is crucial to understand that living with an actual psychiatric disorder, causes the individual who is struggling to experience limitations and symptoms that are disruptive to his or her life. This could take form in a number of ways to include difficulty with employment, relationships, and even basic self care. Some struggle more than others and each individual’s experience is unique.

Many people who live with degrees of racism/homophobia/misogyny etc. actually do not experience any limitations in their day to day functioning and they are still able to function with little to no problems. So, acting in a violent way, espousing racist ideas, etc. may not mean you actually would fit into the criteria of having an established psychiatric diagnosis.

On the converse, many of those who live with a mental illness might struggle in a variety of ways, but are caring and empathetic individuals who have never been violent and are competent members of society who contribute both at work and in their respective communities. This includes people from all walks of life: pastors, nurses, teachers, etc. Often, because of the stigma attached to mental illness, individuals do not always disclose their struggle.

Thus, when I see so many people use the term “mentally ill” to describe a violent or racist individual, etc. it is harmful to me and others who are working to debunk the myths surrounding mental health and decrease stigma.

I actually spend a lot of time on-line educating others. Sometimes, I have been pleasantly surprised to receive an apology when I explain to an individual who has just equated racism with mental illness, that their words are every bit as damaging to the mental health community as certain expressions are to POC.

Those of us living with a psychiatric disorder are like anyone else. We want to be seen for who we are, not for our disability. And we want to be seen in a positive light.

I live with a mental illness. I also am educated and hold a MS degree. I have never harmed anyone, nor have I ever been violent or arrested. When you take the word “mentally ill” and equate it with something truly negative, it is harmful to people like myself.

I hope this helps people to understand that changing what words we use actually matters, even when it is something as trivial as a comment on a Facebook or Twitter post. Words are powerful. They matter. Please respect them and use them responsibly.

I hope one day I see a lot less scapegoating and stigmatization of the mentally ill. It does make me more hesitant to openly discuss my psychiatric disability for fear that people will assume “the worst” about me. And this causes some individuals to not seek treatment because they don’t want to be identified as someone with a psychiatric disorder.

I am just like YOU. I am just another person journeying along in life, trying my best to improve, grow, and learn. Next time someone scapegoats an entire population of people, please remember me. There are 44 million more of me in this country and we want to be seen for who we are, not diminished to a label in a demeaning and disrespectful way!

Thanks for reading. I just felt this was something I needed to express, not only for myself, but for the many others who also might feel dismayed and discouraged by being scapegoated. Let’s lift each other up and see the best in all of us!

Letting Go of the Shame Caused by Stigma

Me and Gracie!

That’s me above, and my pup, Gracie.  This picture was taken nearly 5 years ago while I was still working.  I was living in Seattle, WA at the time, and working in a long term facility as a recreation therapist (CTRS).  And, trust me, even while donning a huge smile, I was severely anxious and struggling! 


Since then, I’ve been approved for SSDI and have been focusing on rebuilding my health, one day at a time. My  hope is to live gracefully with my illnesses of: Bipolar I, PTSD, ADHDOCD, and PMDD. I have learned to accept my illness and am acquiring new skills and approaches to cope more effectively.
 
The suffering I’ve endure related to my mental illness has been amplified by the stigma and the shame surrounding it.  It has taken me years to separate myself from the symptoms that my illness has caused and the stigma that is perpetuated by those who lack the awareness and sensitivity to understand my struggle. The shame I feel from having an illness has significantly decreased over time, as I have worked to cultivate acceptance and compassion for my struggle.
  
The “stigma and shame” surrounding the “suffering” can, at times, exacerbate the severity of my illness. It has taken years of healing to separate the “suffering” from the “stigma” and the “shame” that often accompanies mental illness. I share in the following paragraphs how the suffering, which is often biological for me, has been impacted by the stigma I’ve faced, which inadvertently causes shame. Being able to see these as independent from one another, has allowed me to move further along in my healing process. 
        
What do I mean by my “suffering”? 

My “suffering” is my life-long struggle with an illness that causes chemical changes in my brain that are often difficult for me to manage and control. I never chose to be mentally ill, not for a certain time period, or even for a day! In fact, my illness began when I was in the “prime” of my life! I was captain and MVP of the swim team, had a leading role in the school musical, and was well supported by my friends and church. Like many others who struggle, I was active and involved prior to the onset of my mental illness. My illness began around my sophomore year, and it crept along, gaining momentum, until one day it was painfully obvious to others that something was just “not right”.  In my case, my struggle presented itself as a combination of symptoms that included: obsessive & intrusive thoughts, delusions, anxietypanic attacksdepression, and disassociation. I was acutely aware that my thought processes were somewhat “off” and I decided, on my own, to seek treatment. It was unsettling to me at the time and caused me much distress.
  
I have often made the comparison that my “suffering” is much like having an onslaught of bad “side effects” to a prescribed medication, except that the symptoms are often more severe than that of side effects and the onset and duration of symptoms can be unpredictable and uncertain. For example, too much caffeine may cause some to experience symptoms comparable to mild mania in that they may be: edgy, anxious, irritable, energetic, even euphoric, etc.  Their mind might even race and they may feel overly optimistic about what they can accomplish.  Depression can feel somewhat like taking too much Benadryl for an allergy attack: one can feel foggy, exhausted, excessively sleepy, and withdrawn.  In drawing these comparisons, I am trying to help a person who doesn’t suffer understand that the symptoms are not only biological, like side effects that must wear off, but they are also difficult to “snap out off”.  Unfortunately, for the sufferer, it is not as easy as discontinuing a medication to stop the unwanted side effects. 
  
Thus, my “suffering” is a lot like clipping along and doing “ok” and then being suddenly blindsided by a cycle of unwanted “side effects” in which there is no escape.  Sounds like a personal hell, right?  It is. This is the suffering that most people (unless they experience it) do not understand, while some others do not even acknowledge. Medication and other approaches (mediation, therapy, etc.) can sometimes alleviate or decrease symptoms, but many of us suffer for years, on and off, endlessly trying to “escape” a chemical imbalance that causes the illness.  

The Stigma: 

Unfortunately, because mental illness is often misunderstood, I’ve had to “suffer” in world that stigmatizes and shames those struggling.  There are many people that question the validity of mental illness and have unfair and unrealistic expectations of those struggling. I can remember being released from my first hospital stay and friends laughing at me or telling me I just need to “snap out of it”. I even had a counselor in college who told me, I needed to “pull my boots straps up, and try harder”. Obviously, this caused me immense shame as I blamed myself when I struggled to control my moods or manage my level of anxiety. This compounded my anxiety and depression as I felt ostracized from others and would resort to “self-loathing” when my illness became episodic and I couldn’t “snap out of it”. I often blamed myself and became more alienated. I was diagnosed before the internet was in existence and couldn’t reach out to “social media” or on-line groups for support.  
  
Often people who have a mental illness feel that they must hide their struggle from the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I remember after being initially diagnosed in the early 90’s with Bipolar 1, I was told to “hide” my diagnosis from others, particularly in the workplace. This only served to ramp up my anxiety as I struggled to keep everything “sucked in” and hidden from view. I have even lost jobs and experienced discrimination in the workplace when requesting help in the form of accommodations. My struggle was often viewed as not credible and I was seen as a “troublemaker” or an “attention seeker”.
  
The stigma surrounding those struggling with a psychiatric disorder, often prevents people getting help in the workplace and seeking treatment. The effects of stigma can be devastating and can mean job losses and access to adequate care.  Many of the failures stemming from those suffering are not the fault of the individual struggling, but of the inadequate and unjust system that perpetuates stigma and negative stereotypes.  

The Shame:

The stigma can lead to a deep level of shame. Without others having the awareness and/or sensitivity of my illness, of which I felt I had to “hide”, there were times I was misunderstood. I might have been seen as haughty or short when I had to disappear quickly to manage an escalating panic attack. I may have been viewed as uninterested or unmotivated on a day when I was struggling with my depression. My symptoms were often misinterpreted as my personality, and this caused me conflicts with others. In time, I could see clearly that my illness had robbed me of my potential in the workplace, but NOT of my talent, motivation, experience, or passion. It was often how I decompensated during times of stress, due to my illness, that wrecked me. And my frantic efforts to to feign “normalcy” only exacerbated things, until I just “quit” abruptly, or began missing too much work.
 
These lived experiences of struggling, experiencing stigma, and then feeling shame, ultimately caused me to respect my illness, for what it truly is: a devastating biological illness that affects my mood and perceptions which is often visibly seen through my behaviors. I began to see the distinction between myself, when I am suffering, and myself when I am not. I started to challenge myself in the midst of my suffering to let go of the shame that I had relating to my behavior when sick.  I could see that focusing on the negative behaviors that arise during an episode, often served to keep me hooked in a cycle of shame and regret.  Instead, I decided to give the illness the respect it deserved and I spent time finding ways to aggressively fight it and keep it at bay. 
 
If you are like me, if will more than likely rear its ugly head again, but this time when it does, I have decided to forgive myself, instead of lamenting the mistakes made when chained against my will, and suffering with a serious mental illness. Now, I get busy working to “get ahead” of the next episode.  I’ve decided to be like a hunter and become skilled at tracking it down, intercepting it, hopefully before it escalates too much. And even, if I become ill, and things “get messy”, I quickly return to practicing self compassion and respecting the chronic mental illness that I live with that takes immense effort to manage effectively. 

I’ve learned through a lot of years of tears and immense pain, that I don’t have to be ashamed anymore. I also acknowledge that many people are going to misunderstand my illness and there is only so much I can do to educate and inform others. My hope is through writing I can help others better understand what it has been like struggling now for nearly 32 years with a severe and persistent mental illness. And, I am immensely proud of the courage and persistence I espouse, despite the often insurmountable odds I’ve faced living in a world that is still sometimes not accepting or sensitive to my struggle. I hope this helps others. If it does, I am even more grateful for what I’ve lived through and survived. 

From Personal Struggle to Accountability and Advocacy

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The last few weeks have been the most devastating of my entire life. I’m holding on by a very thin thread, dangling over the edge, grasping on tighter, while praying for reprieve and respite. I’ve never felt more disillusioned and alone. They always say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”; And yet, so much has been lost that I question to what or whom will I need to be “strong” for? I feel discarded and devalued not only by those in society to whom I am invisible, but to those who know me, but do not truly, “see” me.

On top of watching my country being ripped apart by deep political division and deaths from COVID-19, my family unit is all but dissolved. I guess I knew deep down this day was coming, and yet, it has been painfully punctuated by the backdrop of a relentless and deadly global pandemic, the worst fire season the West Coast has endured, and as of last night, another earthquake. Life is not only riddled with uncertainty and angst, it is fraught with deep loss and irreconcilable differences. The lines are being drawn for battle and the bridges have been all, but burned down to the ground. I’m lost and am just trying to stake out a small piece of serenity to savor so I can have the space to grieve and “let go”.

I’m completely cognizant of the fact that my last post of only a few days ago was written from a place of serenity and peace, after having spent several days not engaging with my “family”. I had a few days of instability where I wasn’t feeling physically well, and I made the mistake of “checking in” one them, only to find an EPIC mess unraveling. The dysfunction that exists within my family system is so palpable and virulent that I found myself consumed again, swept up in the insanity, and literally “choking” on the bitter pill I am continually “made to swallow” when I choose to engage. I immediately regretted my decision to interact, but my emotional state of rage, disappointment, and grief held me hostage there, in an irrational state, unleashing what was left of my ammunition.

Ultimately, I am a pawn in my family and am easily brushed aside and discarded. I simply am not of value or worth to them. This has been revealed to me over several years, but became further underscored over the past month when I was denied the joyous occasion of my niece’s birth and then later told I am no longer “part of the family”. The splinter has been growing over the last few years as a result of confronting the addiction occurring in my family in effort to facilitate change and encourage people to receive help.

Admittedly, I acknowledge over time I grew angry at the devaluation and abandonment I felt from them and I allowed myself to grow bitter and enraged. The loss would have been easier to absorb had I not already been struggling with employment loss, disability, and my own inability to have children and a family of my own. I felt the loss of my only sibling and her children greater, in a sense, because I have no children of my own and am currently single. I wanted so much to be a part of their lives and experience the joy of being a part of my niece’s life during her pregnancy and birth. This all became impossible as the last year my niece lost custody of her first child due to drug use and any attempts to contact her during her pregnancy were usually met with stone cold silence.

I’ve often been the scapegoat for the troubles in my sister’s family, even recently being blamed for the EPIC mess that occurred after I reported a sexual allegation regarding my great nephew. I live all the way across the entire country and yet, I still became the one somehow responsible for the temporary removal of my nephew because according to the case worker there were “several issues” occurring in the home. The sexual allegations have not been substantiated, but the their home was in desperate need of repair to be considered safe for a child. Without going into too much detail, because it is complicated and convoluted, I was ostracized for being concerned enough about the welfare of a child to report to Child Protective Services.

The most difficult part of loving someone who has an addiction and who also is more than likely living with ASPD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) is that their actions often impact other family members who live with them who are often vulnerable. For this reason alone, it has been extremely difficult to completely disengage. I realize now for my own health and well-being I have to, but it has been very difficult when there are disabled adults and children living amid the chaos. The last few years have been repeated incidents of my nieces and nephews who have significant mental health and addiction issues go in and out of jail, often due to domestic violence charges against my sister. It’s heartbreaking to watch young adults that you love become visibly more sick with hallucinations and delusions and be denied treatment because there are no options for long term programs that are compulsory. They bounce between the unhealthy living environment where people are using or are back in jail. And thus, not only do they not get well, but the charges “stack up” and it takes years before a sentence is given. For instance, my niece is still dealing with charges from 2018. This prevents her from actually truly moving forward with her life in any meaningful way. It would be rare for a person with pending charges in the system to land a job, etc.

Our court systems are trapping young individuals who have been raised in poverty, who often become “addicted” to substances as children while using with their “addicted” parents. And there isn’t any entity out there that protects children from parents that use in the home. Often, it is a monumental feat to truly remove a child from a home environment of substance use. This “way of life” for some becomes a “life sentence” of cyclical poverty, incarceration, and mental illness. I’ve seen this firsthand in my own family. I’ve made reports to CPS that have not even been investigated and I’ve watched as adults, including my Mom, turn their head, ignoring the problems that are so damaging to young adults. We have a growing epidemic of not just a culture of drug use, but one that glorifies it, along with perpetuating violence, poverty, and lack of education. And in many rural areas, this “way of life” is quickly becoming normalized.

A larger, more disturbing issue is that these kids often become the “profit” for prisons that are run privately in our country. One only has to take a long, hard look at our judicial system to understand how truly corrupt the system has become. Most of us who have never been incarcerated are truly unfamiliar with the inhumane treatment and injustices that are occurring daily in a system that traps people, often providing no real opportunity for treatment, rehabilitation, or remediation. The system traps people by allowing charges to accrue and by also using certain criminals as informants to law enforcement. Informants often lead law enforcement to other criminals by offering information or leads which are rewarded by reduced sentences, etc. This allows the more “capable” to prey on the more vulnerable and ultimately keeps people caught up in a system of crime. “Snitching” also has severe consequences when and if those who do so end up incarcerated. Guards are known to “turn their heads” while people get “beat up” while in custody. What we are unaware of won’t “hurt us” in the end. But, in actuality, our communities are becoming less safe as a result and our population less educated, which is eroding our quality of life and personal safety.

These systemic problems have touched me personally as I have watched as my niece has been “set up” and jailed and I have even been outright “lied to” by law enforcement to protect an informant. This is the ugly and dangerous part of the drug epidemic that causes people like myself to “stay away” and not intervene as I recognize that my own personal safety would be in jeopardy. I hesitate moving back to the same state where my family resides for these reasons. There have been times I have engaged with law enforcement and the judicial system there because I can see the injustices occurring. However, living in the same state I would not feel as emboldened to confront an officer or the system at large. I can see the corruption, I do not feel safe enough to address it myself. More than anything, I just wish my family had not lost themselves to the epidemic of addiction which has trapped them.

It seems as if the systems in our country are crumbling and we are on the brink of complete chaos and disruption if we continue down this path of complacency and denial. Our society is failing to recognize that reform is truly needed on a grand scale to ensure that our communities in the future are safe and that our living conditions do not become inhabitable. It’s time for the “American values” of fierce independence and self-reliance to be balanced with a focus on interdependence and a responsibility towards our community. We have taken our personal freedoms for granted to the extent that many do not see the value in altruism or compromise. We’ve become excessively independent, bordering on becoming narcissistic and stoic. Many of our larger cities have thousands living on the streets and under bridges and the number of people who are homeless grow exponentially each passing year. Our broken systems have become visible and can be seen in the “tent cities” sprawled out on our city sidewalks. And still yet, some remain in denial of the systemic failures, placing blame on those suffering while they safely sit behind their computer screens showing their disdain and disapproval.

I feel often powerless and small. Even in my own small family, I am devalued and dismissed. Reality is often denied and the problems grow larger each year. I watch helplessly on the sidelines as those I love lose themselves to the epidemic of addiction. I am “beaten back” by those unwilling to intervene and the stress takes both an emotional and physical toll on me. I am in chronic pain and my health has deteriorated. I feel trapped knowing that my family needs serious help and intervention, but am also acutely aware of the lack of programs and opportunities available to facilitate change and support them. And so, I’m resigned to “letting go”, grieving, and healing myself.

I do realize that I can only change myself in the end. But, I also feel that current day “pop psychology” glorifies “me” over “we” and is feeding into the “fiercely independent” value system that is ultimately leading to lack of community and thus, isolation. I feel it is our misplaced values that become justification for the lack of support that results in our societal ills such as homelessness, addiction, and incarceration. We devalue those who struggle, and any safety nets to help people have eroded over the past few decades. In our own egotistical ways, we have created a culture that devalues people. And, eventually, it will lead to our demise. When we fail to care for our communities by providing adequate educational and employment opportunities, housing, and affordable treatment; we are in essence destroying our own quality of life. If we want to live in a safe and thriving community, full of life and beauty, we have to cultivate it. It requires work, investment, and reformation.

It may have seemed to some that I digressed quite a bit in this post, but I feel everything is interrelated. We are all connected and are interdependent. The American culture has become, in many ways, fragmented. We have become more isolated in ways and less community oriented. My personal experience is directly effected by the opportunities or lack there of that reside within my community. These opportunities are created or destroyed by the infrastructure we create collectively through voting, volunteering, activism, etc. So much of my personal heartache and frustration stems from the decaying systems in our communities that have personally touched my life. Many of us are suffering in this way and we feel discouraged by our lack of power. I am still searching for ways in which I can make a difference. Because my influence is limited in my own family, I often seek refuge in writing as it helps me to process the pain of feeling helpless and discarded.

I’m still healing and working on myself. I’m hopeful that I will one day be able to return to the workforce in an advocacy role, working for those touched by the issues that have affected me personally: addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, and disability discrimination. Until then, I’ll continue writing to find my voice and amplify it. I’m hopeful in time I can work with others to facilitate change in real, measurable ways.

The Airing of Dirty Laundry & Breaking the “Status Quo”

woman wearing fairy costume
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As I was sharing my recent heartache and experiences with my therapist the other day, he stopped me to explain his role as a mandatory reporter. Therapists, as well as other medical providers, teachers, etc. are trained to recognize the abuse and or neglect of children or vulnerable individuals and report the occurrence to the authorities so that it can be investigated. Individuals trained in this manner are called “mandatory” reporters because, by law, they are required to report any alleged incidents of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable individual. Both my mother and I are “mandatory reporters” because we both have worked in the healthcare system and have received the training that now requires us to report. This isn’t the first time a therapist has stopped a session to explain that he or she may need to report the abuse or neglect that has occurred in my sister’s home. In fact, it has happened with nearly every therapist I have seen. I haven’t had any therapist tell me that they have followed through with a call, but it is likely they have.

This has got me to thinking about a few things. For one, I have made a few calls to both Child Protective Services (CPS) and to Adult Protective Services (APS) over the past few years. To my knowledge, my mother has never called CPS or APS to file a concern regarding the well being of her great-grandchild or her disabled, adult grandchildren. Although, we both have been trained to report incidents of abuse and neglect, I find it odd that my mother has never done so. Often, my mother and I disagree over the extent of the abuse and I feel she not only downplays it, but doesn’t want to acknowledge it or even discuss it. This has left the responsibility up to me to report and has often left me feeling like “I’m the bad guy” for “telling on the family”. The lack of adults who have knowledge of the abuse, but who have not reported it, have left the grand baby and disabled adults vulnerable to potential danger. Because of my willingness to confront the abuse head on and even report it a time or two, I’ve endured shame, scapegoating, gaslighting, and abandonment.

Meanwhile, continued episodes of abuse and neglect occur with no real consequences that could possibly change things for the better while providing protection to those who are vulnerable there. Instead, over time, I have had to grieve and let go, walking away with pangs of guilt for “abandoning” those I know to be struggling there. The system (CPS) simply doesn’t have “enough” information or resources to investigate and move forward on the claims I’ve made. And, my Mom and sister downplay the chaos and drama that continually enfolds there, calling me “overly dramatic” and/or “controlling”. I have left because after years of confronting and fighting for respect and visibility in my family, I have been dismissed as difficult, abusive, and disrespectful. Granted, I have become very ugly with my Mom for not “taking my side” when I’ve confronted the addiction that I feel has substantially ruined 5 lives already. I have brought up the SAME concerns to my mother that I have to therapists only to be ignored, discarded, or dismissed by her. This struggle has lead to feelings of despair and alienation, and ultimately has lead to me feeling I have to “walk away” for my own health and sanity. I do not feel my mom dismisses me knowingly and intentionally. Instead, I believe her responses to be a result of her own ineffective ways of dealing with trauma that were formed early in her life.

It was in this LAST therapy session that it truly dawned on me how ALONE I have been in this fight against the addiction that has caused so much hurt and annihilation in my family. I “took note” this time when my therapist noted the severity of the situation as I casually discussed the violence and drug abuse that continually erupts in and around my sister’s house. It wasn’t until a day or two later that the therapist’s response began to weigh heavily on my mind. The information that I had relayed to the therapist was the same information that my mother has received on multiple occasions, but had neglected to question it and report it so that it could be investigated. Often, my mother would decline following up or reporting, using the mantra that “no one really knows what’s going on” anyway. As long as she could claim some level of ignorance on things, she would do so.

And yet, as time moved forward there has been more episodes of violence, incidents of drug use, and crime. Not to mention no adults (there are 6 of them) who reside in my sister’s home work. Two are disabled as a result of their drug use and I question their ability to work. The other two, I assume actively use, as they both were supposed to be in rehab recently, but one left treatment, the other might still be on a waiting list. Both of them only decided to consider rehab after getting in trouble to avoid certain consequences. Again, evidence that consequences actually can cause an individual to receive help. I acknowledge that is just the first step. But, often our family has “failed” at getting people to the first step because they have enabled them and thus they do not experience the consequences that might provide them with an opportunity to seek treatment.

Over time, I’ve learned that it is not only addiction, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that has caused so much pain and devastation to me and my family. My sister, simply put, continues to cause damage while my mother enables her behavior. And thus, everyone outside of that codependent relationship is actually quite sick. Either they are using substances and are in the throes of “active addiction”, or they are permanently disabled due to severe and persistent mental illness. They have not been well enough to manage their lives and heal from the significant trauma of being raised by two people who struggled with chronic addiction issues. And the parents never really invested in their future by providing them with a basic education and the tools needed to be independent. Instead, my nieces and nephews essentially “raised themselves” in their adolescent years with little to no oversight. The neglect was extreme and they were not protected from chaos that was continually brought in by the constant traffic of individuals struggling with significant addiction issues. In fact, the family endured the death of a three year old that my sister often baby-sat that resulted from a caretaker beating her to death because she knocked that individual’s “fix” off the table. After the traumatic death of this child, I tried again to get my sister help for her addiction and urged my sister to surround herself AND her kids with healthier adults. My pleas fell on deaf ears, the drug use continued, and not more than two years later my sister’s kids experienced the traumatic near death of their mother due to needle use.

Even so, no one would stand with me and confront my sister’s drug use and she went back to using after healing enough to do so. I’m not sure if she used needles after the incident, but she definitely was using again on and off. Although I urged my mother many times to join me in confronting the addiction, my mom dug in deep and continued to dismiss my concerns. There were times she “agreed that there was a problem”, but it never seemed to her, severe enough to join my efforts in confronting it. I stood alone in the storm and over time this has completely eroded the relationship between my mother and me. To me, it has felt like a refusal to acknowledge the depth of the addiction and the neglect it caused. I predicted long ago when my sister began using very heavily that my bonds between my family and me would nearly be destroyed. More than a decade later, after years of screaming into dead space, I am walking away from the trauma that caged me. It has been traumatic for me to watch my nieces and nephews all struggle with addiction issues, many times leading to arrests, incarceration, abusive relationships, and near overdoses. The struggle with my sister was hard enough, but it has been multiplied times 5 over the past decade as I watched one by one my nieces and nephews surrender to the throes of addiction. I watched as no one walked across their high school stage to receive a diploma and each of them became more engaged in drugs and criminal activity. At one point, I even watched as my niece went back to her abusive husband who was reported to have assaulted my niece’s father and had even held her hostage at gunpoint. I continued to confront and fight for my niece for a whole year while hearing that her husband was “drugging” her and controlling communication. As an individual with a diagnosis of C-PTSD and a history of childhood trauma it took a lot of time for me to “let go”. It was made even harder because no one else in my family wanted to join me in the endeavor of confronting my sister’s kids and getting them help. I often felt I was the only one seeing and acknowledging the devastation. Things continued to be normalized and I became the “problem” of my family.

Over this past year, I acknowledged I was powerless in this fight. I was not only being stonewalled and character smeared by my sister, but my mother also continually dismissed my concerns and often either rationalized away things or defended my sister. Stuck in this spiral of never feeling heard, I surrendered to the reality that I was completely ineffective in “reaching” those in my family struggling with addiction. As a result, I have slowly and painfully given up “the fight”. It was destroying my health and I decided to “cut ties”, heal, and wait to reconnect in distant ways after I grieve the loss. So, in the midst of a global pandemic when many are reconnecting and becoming closer, I have “let go” and have become more isolated. It’s difficult, but it is what it is.

So, when my current therapist stopped me during our session to share his role in mandatory reporting, it struck me AGAIN that it wasn’t only me who found the behavior of my sister and her adult kids concerning for the child who is being raised in the home. In ways, my therapist’s response was validating to a certain extent.

I believe one of the most difficult things in dealing with a dysfunctional family, besides feeling alienated and often invisible, is the shame that society places on “airing dirty laundry”. We are told to hold the secrets inside because there is great shame and stigma associated with revealing the dysfunction in our families. This further compounds the issues of isolation and can lead an individual to go “over the edge”. And often, this leads to an individual feeling as if they cannot “relate” to others. I want to “break the silence” and the “mold” that is telling those who suffer, to do so silently. The silent epidemic of sheltering and hiding dysfunction is deadly, for some.

Ultimately, I would love to one day work with and write about the trauma and pain associated with the forced shroud of silence surrounding family abuse and neglect. We heal when bring things into the light, which can lead us from confusion to clarity. We heal when we can separate our story from the historical cycles of shame and guilt. Although it can be a brutally messy process, light and truth is required to separate ourselves from the ancient chatter that binds us to the darkness of our past. The darkness that people want to ignore, to burry, and to even deny, is what must be bravely examined in the light so that separation can occur. We must go on a journey of self discovery, and “shed” the skin we were sealed in as a result of cyclic shame and loss. It is in this space, where we are increasingly becoming aware of our loss of attachment to our past, that we begin to sense freedom from it. This is the space where separation results in accountability and ownership, and ultimately the empowerment to “take flight”. It is in this same space, where we are able to cultivate compassion for our past mistakes and willingly forgive ourselves and others. We begin to open our conscious to the collective suffering of humanity and, despite it all, we become curious about our infinite potential to create and sustain our own peace and stillness. Standing in the light, recognizing the shadows that have been laid to rest on the ground beside us, allows us to fix our vision and gaze on the vast horizon ahead. I’d like to think this space is where the “magic” happens and the “mystery” of life is renewed. We once again view the world with childlike excitement, but with the strength and resolve of an adult. It’s a rebirth where separation occurs, boundaries are drawn, and mastery is refined.

The curtain where the “wizard” was pulling the strings has been drawn. Light is flooding in and, in the beginning, this causes disappointment, disbelief, anger, and even pain. But, what comes to pass is that we realize, much like Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz, that “home” was within our grasp all along. We can take ourselves where we like. The light that floods in reveals we’ve always had a “heart, a brain, and courage”.

With the curtain pulled back on my life, I can easily see what is mine and what is theirs. There is now full transparency and although, initially painful, I realize that it is up to me to go forward, separating myself from the shame and suffering that caged me.

I feel a sense of stability in this newly formed space that I have begun to cultivate all on my own. And I’m proud that I am no longer part of the “status quo”. I’m moving forward, even if a bit isolated and alone. I trust that I will bring people, love, and light into my life while protecting myself from needless noise and chaos. Land, undefined, is finally gaining definition and taking form. Finding myself in this space is freeing, while, at the same time I feel more anchored and resolved. This is my life. It is messy and imperfect, but it is also full of forgiveness and love. And this is just the beginning. I’m shedding the cocoon to flutter, fully in the light, with less cares and worry. Life is lighter. And the space around me is finally mine. ❤️ 🦋❤️

On Borrowed Time: A Space to Become Softer and Soar

white and brown eagle on brown tree branch
Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

 

I feel as if I am here on borrowed time, having slipped in to someone else’s skin, never quite feeling as if things are familiar. I have but one foot on the ground.

I’m not sure if I have ever felt truly safe. The kind of safe that just feels good all over where the body can just let go and melt into the surroundings, feeling no separation from it. I feel restless and uncomfortable here. I seem to get so close to what I want, only to realize I’m too far away to reach it, that I’ll never truly know what it’s like to feel satiated or secure. I blame no one for this strained and rushed reality, where my dreams are constantly interrupted by fitful nights of waking, disoriented and fearful.

And yet, I do feel an unraveling of sorts. And, I feel a renewed sense of accountability which can be very empowering. When I find that I am again clinging to old habits, desires, and distorted thinking; I am able to quickly identify that I am doing so. There is a lot of shame that is bound to engaging in the old and ineffective coping mechanisms that I have employed for years. I’ve learned that my thoughts and behaviors are not so easy to change. Thoughts will come and go, if allowed to do so, but some are so heavy and sticky for me, that I get stuck there for awhile, becoming stubborn and unwilling to move. There have been so many times I have had the intention in my heart to “let go” and just live more freely, in the moment. And yet, my system seems to be hardwired to recognize the existential threat of being “abandoned” or left alone and I clamp down harder, unable to release. I become easily swept away in the turmoil of what was left after someone I loved repeatedly left me or abandoned me on an emotional level. I’m now somewhere in the midst of releasing the tight grip I have had on my expectations of others and moving more towards accepting the responsibility of independently constructing my own security and stillness. This is challenging for me. I have to remind myself to cultivate self compassion, not only in thought, but in action. It is ridiculously easy for me to backslide into the oblivion of rage, depression, and fear. When I do so, however, I am more likely now to forgive myself and acknowledge that the pain and trauma of the past is blocking my progress.

I am trying very hard to be honest with myself. There are times I wonder if I am allowing my pain to go on “too long”. If I so desperately want out of this, then why then do I keep going back to massage the broken glass that continues to cut me so deeply? Isn’t it time to stop revisiting the past? Aren’t I ready to do so? In some ways, doing so terrifies me. Sometimes I feel the pain and rage is all I have left of the connection that has been so devastatingly lost. I realize going back again and again only keeps me trapped and tied to it, but it is so hard to walk away from the pulse of life and love that has now dissipated like the vapors of fog on a sunny day. I could go bask in the warmth of the sun, but instead I continue to look back, a bit lost, struggling to accept that the people I love are no longer with me. I remind myself that I have no other choice, but to go forward. Staying in this space is actually stagnating me, it is suffocating. And I recognize, that only I can pull myself away from the wreckage and move forward. I guess it truly is time to do so.

I have allowed my world to become very small. I have based a lot of my decisions to “shut down” and “turn off” on past relationships and the trust that was destroyed. Multiple incidents of betrayed trust in my personal life, along with enduring toxic work environments where I was discriminated against, lead to my complete resignation and unwillingness to try anymore. I gave up. This was reinforced by examples both large and small of hate and depravity that I could see playing out through stories enfolding on the news and in the ways people treated one another on social media. I didn’t want to be part of a world that I felt I could never trust again.  I am still very much on the fence when it comes to trusting others. Still yet, I sometimes feel I am unable to trust myself and my own reactions, especially when swept away in fear and sadness. Often, this is masked in rage. I recognize it would be in my best interest to “soften”. I step back a few feet and I can see much evidence that so many of us are struggling in these ways. It is why we continually “miss one another”. The experiences of my past are often clouding my judgment and I form opinions of people and situations without having even actually experienced them in an open and accepting way.  It is so easy to let the past dictate present reality, not truly ever being present. This is why I believe trauma robs us of so much, not only in our past, but in our daily lives. Especially if we don’t recognize what is occurring and neglect to work to open up again, experiencing the present moment non-judgmentally, as it enfolds.

I realize that I have a choice to make. My health, both physically and mentally, is unable to withstand staying “on the fence”. I either have to become resolute in my decision to heal completely, or settle with staying locked in the space where I continue sifting through the wreckage. There is nothing left there and I realize it is time to move on, even if doing so seems difficult. I have to find a way not only to forgive myself for “going back” again and again, but for the time it has taken from me in doing so. And I must aggressively forge ahead . I must leave the ship wreck on the shore and blaze a new trail of adventures for myself. And, I must do so with intention and purpose. My greatest challenge going forward will be to remain engaged in the present moment, not allowing the past to color every interaction and relationship I pursue. If I can do this, I will feel liberated. I cannot remain chained to what the past held when I am creating a new life for myself. It is time to truly leave the nest. I am ready. I must leave with the intention of flying with my eyes wide open, non-judgmentally, seeing the world AS IT IS, clinging to nothing. That is how you fly! And in time, without fully realizing what you have accomplished, you will be spreading your wings, soaring, and landing in a spot where you are alone in your stillness, but deeply at peace.

This place of serenity and stillness is one of feeling connected, but not clingy. It is one of openness, not fear. It is a place where you feel grounded by the efforts and actions of the self-care that you routinely took to get you here. I believe it is a space, once truly found and appreciated, that you protect and guard, not out of fear, but out of the desire to maintain and enjoy. Once perched on a tall branch, resting from flight, there is little desire to return to a space where you were once caged, stagnating. I believe this to be true, and I am so ready. I am trusting that everything I have went through and learned has prepared me for flight. I often want to “hurry up” the process, but I trust what I am learning from my struggles to do so is purposeful. Perhaps, I will one day be able to help others feel less so alone, because they too struggled “leaving their nest”.

I am setting boundaries that will enable me to refocus and fly. I am not entirely happy with how I have raged and have lost dignity, at times, with those that I have struggled to leave. There are certain relationships in my life that have to be completely put to rest as they continue to be damaging and entrapping. Admittedly, I am the one that keeps going back seeking connection and then realizing I am unable to stay when things are so dysfunctional and unhealthy. I also am potentially harmful to their healing process as we are on separate trajectories. I actually do hope those in my life struggling with addiction or the enabling of it can heal and move their lives forward. If I could “stay on” and somehow graciously accept their struggle and their current inability to engage in healthier ways, I would. The problem is I fail miserably at this and I become consumed again, losing focus becoming not only ineffective, but angry and hostile. No one wins and the wreckage decays further.

And so, another piece about leaving and “letting go”. Another post where I am readying myself for flight. I sometimes feel I should already by flying, but judging myself for not leaving earlier will only serve to keep me trapped in feelings of shame and low self worth. Instead, I will focus on today and what I can do to enjoy this moment. Because, this moment is all that we truly really have. This moment is all that matters in the end. And if I can wholly embrace the potential in this moment, and live fully embracing the gift within it, then I believe in time that I will feel more “at home” here. After, all we are only here “on borrowed time”. These moments count and no one knows when we will be “slipping out”, into the unknown. We only know that we all made it here, thrust into the light and breathed into, and one day we will leave this space. In the interim, we are on “borrowed time”, and every moment counts.

Enjoy each and every moment of your day. Love and light!

woman in a red dress looking at the sunset
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

 

Alone & Unable to Connect to Family in a Global Pandemic: We are Strong, Resilient, and Enough

sunset man
Photo by Ali Naderi on Pexels.com

I am in a lot of personal pain that is stemming from the dissolution of my family. I guess I thought, by some stretch of a fantastical imagination and misguided hope, that the threat of a deadly global pandemic might somehow bring my broken family closer. I am reminded daily by “warm and fuzzy” commercials on TV and the professionals on the news, to connect and reach out to family and friends during these difficult times. This only serves to crush me further, because in doing so over the past two weeks, I have only felt more devalued and disillusioned by the continued chaos that continually erupts from my family. The chaos that quickly entraps me in old, ineffective coping mechanism from years of being gaslighted, devalued, and discarded. The chaos that has taken the lives and potential of my young adult nieces and nephews and has left two of them disabled and the other two in the throes of active addiction. The chaos that has lead to the erosion of the relationship with my aging mother whose denial has lead to me feeling muted and silenced.

And yet, I know, that I am the only one that can walk away from the devastation, the confusion, and the unbearable weight which has left my health in a state of deterioration  and decay. I have been wasting away, unable to “swallow” the grief and pain of not only losing my family to addiction, but also to the personality disorder I now believe my sister has: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I have hesitated in the past to “label”  her negligence and ineffective coping as NPD, but time has provided too many experiences where the “mask” has been stripped, revealing a crystal clear picture of the tactics that narcs commonly employ to erode the confidence and credibility of their victims. This reality has made my decision to leave and “let go” a difficult one as her adult children are suffering greatly. They live in a remote and rural area, are uneducated and live in poverty, and they do not have the skills or resources to leave the situation. They do not have phone service and their access to internet is limited. Because they are also in the throes of addiction, they are even more vulnerable to my sister as they are dependent currently on her for transportation, food, and housing. Her kids grew up in chaos and never acquired an education or the skills to work. I have remained engaged lot longer than I normally would, in attempts to gain support from my mother so that we could together try and help her struggling kids work toward independence. These attempts were often met with deep resistance and denial from my Mom who wants to continue to believe the lies and confusion of the web that my sister spins that make it nearly impossible to break through and have any amount of sustained change. I have tried for years now, only to the detriment of my own health and sanity, while relationships continued to erode and disintegrate.

Weeks ago, before the Coronavirus Outbreak became a daily reality, I was at peace in my decision to “let go” of my family and focus on my time and attention of rebuilding my life in a more balanced and peaceful way. I even set up a volunteer opportunity with NAMI and I chose a local church that I would start attending. Within a week of doing so, the world was turned upside down by the daily reality we now are living: social distancing, staying at home to save lives, and helplessly watching as many are impacted by the deadly virus that is circling the globe.

With uncertainty and fear looming, I made the decision to “reach out” to my family again and to try and remain “connected” during this difficult time and encourage my family to “remain inside”. My initial goal was just to make sure they knew how serious the threat was as my family lives in Tennessee and their state was not taking things that seriously at the time.  My good intentions were again thwarted by chaos and confusion when my disabled niece, who became sick with pneumonia, went to the hospital twice, unaccompanied by anyone to advocate for her. Because of her level of incompetence, she ended up leaving the hospital against the medical advice of being admitted (the first visit), and the second time she just “walked out”, leaving our family in a panic to find her. The police were called to locate her and eventually she was brought home. Tension rose as I had strongly encouraged my sister to go with my niece if she had to go to the hospital a second time, because my niece has significant mental health issues and lacks good judgment. When she went missing from the hospital, I became angry, as well as concerned. The situation was made a lot worse over the next couple of days when my niece’s separated husband (who has abused her in the past & has had a recent arrest and drug issues) was allowed to just come up “unannounced” to my sister’s home and take my niece with him. This caused a great deal of friction between my family, as I had hoped while she was still sick she would stay resting at home. Not to mention that my niece’s mental state was compromised as she had not been taking her medication and was still sick showing symptoms of pneumonia. I acknowledged that my sister and mom may have not been able to prevent her from going, but I did not feel they tried hard enough to prevent her from going. I also pointed out that my sister’s “lack of boundaries”, where my niece’s abusive husband feels comfortable dropping by anytime, unannounced, is problematic for my niece who was sick at the time and exercises poor judgment. Avoiding going into anymore details, things deteriorated from there and as a result, I have again felt the need to protect myself by disengaging and “letting go”.

As depressed as this is making me, I felt a responsibility to write publicly about my struggle, because I know there are others in similar situations. I went in with the good intentions of connecting to my family during a time when everyone is encouraging others to connect, to appreciate life and each other, and ,ultimately, I regret doing so. Some of us do not have the supportive structures in our families to gain comfort from them and it can “backfire” and lead to additional stress, anxiety, and depression. For a few days, my mental status was derailed and I was triggered, showing signs of mania and  increased rumination. I even felt suicidal, at times, although I knew deep down I did not actually want to die. For me, and maybe for others, reaching out to our families may not be a wise idea. For some of us, our families are chaotic and can cause additional strain and anxiety.

For those of you feeling alone and struggling through this uncertain time without the support from your family or even friends, please know you are valued. I feel this is the perfect opportunity for me to value myself by engaging in healing endeavors, like yoga, meditation, art, music, etc. I acknowledge the past few days, I became swept up again in the disillusionment and depression that interacting with my family causes. I am still raw and “bleeding” and it wasn’t the right time for me to engage, and yet, the media outlets with their “warm and fuzzy” commercials, had me feeling all nostalgic. I lost my compass for a few days on a fantasy of family connection that deep down I knew would be “too good to be true”. Healing takes time and I went back with hope in my heart that was eventually dashed. However, more importantly, I was reminded that I alone am ENOUGH and I intend to spend the next few days cultivating forgiveness and love.

There may be a time in the future where I have acquired the skills to interact with my family without being “pulled in” and becoming ungrounded. Until, that time comes, I will do my best to remain disengaged with my family, while engaging in self-care and compassion, daily. I recognize when I do so, an enormous amount of space is freed up within me, that brings clarity and peace. I just went back “too soon, too early”.

For those of you in similar situation, please know how valuable and worthy you are and that YOU, ALONE, ARE ENOUGH. This troubled and scary time will pass and there will be more concrete ways that we can move forward in our healing processes. It can feel like we are suspended, and it can cause some to lose hope. Please take comfort that I am here, like you, in this same space, feeling somewhat alone and fearful, at times. But, as all things do, it will pass. If we know anything about life, we know that change is the one constant we have. I hope you take comfort in my words and take care of yourself today. Even if you feel you can connect to certain loved ones right now for support and solace, Know you are not alone, and will make it through. Hopefully we will even learn something about ourselves in the process: That we are that strong, resilient, and ENOUGH.

 

Love and light!

 

Amy

As I am Leaving, I Want You to Know…

photo of woman sitting on rock
Photo by Eternal Happiness on Pexels.com

This is written for anyone who has left someone they love out of self-preservation. It is a letter from my bleeding heart to those I have left, expressing the emotional turmoil and grief of “letting go”. I recognize everyone involved has their own story to tell, this is mine.

This has been extremely hard on me. My decision to “walk away” has been years in the making; A culmination of events, both big and small, where the words emanating from these events left me feeling alienated, devalued, and lost. It has been years of using my voice to reach my family and always getting close, but never truly making contact.

Many of my days, especially in the last few years, have been spent sounding the alarms while watching my nieces and nephews drown with no real willingness from others to come together and help them. Instead, I watched helplessly as my own sister blocked communication, often manipulating others which thwarted efforts of intervention. The addiction raged on, ravaging all five of her adult kids, rendering two permanently disabled and two others are both presently in positions where rehab was essentially forced due to a pregnancy with one and the threat of incarceration with another. The seeds of me separating and letting go were planted over two decades ago when addiction ravaged my sister’s life, causing the significant neglect and trauma of all of her children. I knew instinctually years ago, that I would one day not know my family. It has altered my family’s reality, and the damage, especially for some, is irreparable and irreversible. Two of my family members have suffered with years of hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior that has not been responsive to medication, even after years of multiple hospitalizations.

Even with this amount of damage and destruction, I feel my voice is often muted in the storm. I recognize that my sister and others are sick and in the times of sobriety, I have acknowledged the deep pain this has caused her and her now adult kids. When addiction takes hold, I no longer recognize the people I love.

I have advocated, provided resources, and even moved home (across the entire country) to help and I have been pushed away and even abandoned during times of crisis. I was stonewalled by my sister after moving home to help and spent another Christmas alone, separated from my family, even though they were all within 20 miles of me. I made efforts to repair the relationship which were largely ignored, before I decided to move back across the country in order to heal and begin the process of grieving. And even though that should have been my exit, I hung in there for another 2 years fighting with and for my family to heal. Admittedly, my approach was not always peaceful and I often would lose my compass and become abusive and ugly. I regret those instances that I cannot “take back”.

I sacrificed my health trying to “save” my family, ending up disabled and in despair because I could not LET GO of them. And as time pressed on, I grew ugly, flying into rages, further damaging the ties completely in an effort to end the suffering that was killing me. I simply did not know how to let them go, while at the same time I did not know how to hang on while keeping my dignity intact. I began to loathe myself, the world, and I allowed the darkness to envelop me often spending hours trying to convince myself to just “end it already”. But, for whatever reason, even though I was shedding a huge part of myself… I hung on through the darkness, waiting for any light to “shine in”. I learned in this darkness, that my world which had become so small, was about to shatter. The shattering was in essence the formation of myself, the separation that had to happen for me to heal. The pain was immense and felt unsurvivable, at times. I’ve walked away to save myself and to prove to others in my family, that they too can walk away when ready, from the trauma and patterns that have caged them. I will continue to walk away from the destruction, with my head held high. I will no longer engage or get pulled in when I know from years of painful experience that it will only lead to a loss of self and dignity, while connection continues to be increasingly fractured. The time to let go is evident when holding on causes more pain then releasing those you love. To clarify, I do not blame my family for my loss of dignity. I fully blame myself. I had not learned yet how to safely disengage and develop boundaries with myself and others.

Here is my letter to loved ones (This is primarily written for myself as only one family member might read this, but maybe one day when we are all well, someone might find value in what I have written here).

As I am leaving, I want you to know… 

I want you to know, that I am here. I will be waiting on the “other side”, should any of you abandon that of which is dimming the light within you. I recognize now, as painful as it is to “let go”, that I cannot save any of you and it was never my responsibility to do so. I could barely save myself. I will be here, even if years pass, to accept you with open arms if you sincerely desire my connection and are working towards healing.  I realize this will take time for you and me as healing is not a quick or easy process. And I will respect your boundaries and level of desired connection even if it is no connection at all. I know my words might be perceived as condescending, and that is not my intention. I have been just as sick in my own way and have wrongfully forced connection when it was not desired. I do not know what is best for you, that can only come from you. I apologize for not respecting your boundaries and am leaving in part because I realize you are capable of recovering independently and feel that although my intentions were to help, my overbearing presence, at times, may have communicated otherwise. I acknowledge that I am no longer effective due to my own pain and that recovery is truly a solitary endeavor.

As I am leaving, I want you to know….

All of you will be in my thoughts constantly. I will routinely check certain social media sites and “mobile patrol” and I will fight the urge daily, even hourly, to reach out to you. You are my family. And I love you. But, I have learned that reaching out when people are not ready for change only leads to the excruciating pain of being devalued and often my words and actions are misinterpreted. Also, it places me at grave risk of becoming triggered and losing myself again to my own illness of Bipolar and PTSD. When I lose myself, I become ineffective, often pushing people away with raging and abusive behavior. I too have pushed friends away who have seen me in pain and have advised me to disengage and seek help. I hope one day some of you see that as the addiction has a “hold on you” causing you to lose yourself, it also had “a hold on me” causing me to react in often irrational and ineffective ways as I struggled not to lose you. I want you to know, that I have finally surrendered completely to the illness of addiction. I respect the illness fully and recognize what we have lost as a family as a result of its relentless grip on our family.

As I am leaving, I want you to know….

I see that we all are suffering in our own ways in response to the trauma we endured and to the addiction that has fractured our family tree. As I was raging in the storm, I see some were sheltering with denial while others were using weapons of defense to continue using because facing the pain perhaps seemed unsurvivable to you. Addiction has a way of lying to you, justifying any and all behaviors that enable continued use as using feels safer than risking being vulnerable enough to seek recovery. Shame and guilt has a way of lying to us,  keeping us bound to the historical cycles that created the comfort we feel in chaos.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

I see all of you, not just the addiction or the rattled caged bird who no longer sings out of shame, fear, and perceived safety. I see your strengths and how hard you have worked to overcome adversity. I know that healing is a process with continual failures and relapses, and we learn each time we get up and try again. I also feel a lot of the devaluing is unintentional and you are unaware that it is occurring. I have tried to help you see it. I also have been abusive and devaluing of others myself as I raged in the storm. I can understand that might be all others can see of me in their own pain, fear, and disillusionment. Our family is sick and I too have been sick. My hope is that distance will bring clarity and that my exit will refocus the energy on the real problem of addiction, instead of on my rage, which has become the “scapegoat”. I am however fully accountable and aware that my approach in the last few years has at times, been ugly and abusive. I apologize for that.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

I love you. And I am sorry. I am sorry that I have not been well enough to connect in healthier ways and to remain distant enough to perhaps be more effective, in the end. I do not feel I have any control or influence in the lives of my family. I wish I had distanced myself earlier and perhaps remained engaged in limited ways, accepting that my family is not well or ready to heal. I also have been very sick. I am just now learning to set boundaries with myself and those I love. Setting boundaries has been a foreign concept to me. I have been reacting to the illness of addiction which robbed me of connection for nearly a decade now with those I love. Forgive me, for not knowing how to manage this amount of grief. I tried in every way imaginable to communicate that our relationship was dissolving, but nothing truly changed and I had to walk away to save myself.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

Please do not contact me, comment, or e-mail. I am still in immense pain, both physically and emotionally. I am not “out of the woods” yet. I know there will be continual disruption and crisis in our family due to the pervasive addiction that has touched everyone involved, but unless it is a death, I really need this time to heal. I am in continual chronic pain and I am not entirely stable yet. You all are in my thoughts, even if I am not in *some* of yours. I will worry, I will feel guilt, I will feel remorse. I will have deep, primal urges to reach out and connect, but I know on another level not to do so until I have rebuilt my life and feel safe doing so. If I cannot be there for myself, how can I be there for you. I hope if I am well again one day soon, some one there will understand that setting a strong boundary to heal and become whole is necessary and it will become an inspiration for them to follow. We are stronger than we feel. And this illness of addiction will only “break us” if we allow it. I do realize each one of us is sick and we are all coping in the best way we know how. I can forgive the devaluation, the gaslighting, the character smearing, etc., but I cannot subject myself to it any longer. And, when I become healthy I may be able to engage, knowing how to navigate those who choose to remain stuck. This is hard work. But, if I cannot do it, then how can I expect anyone else to? I have to stay the course this time, put myself first, and remain in the light. As I said, originally, I will be here to connect with those who are truly healing and desire a connection with me, but I am realistic about the time it takes to heal and I want both of us to have the space and time to do so.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

I love you. I lost myself in a mad pursuit to connect to you. But, all is not lost. They always say you must love yourself before you can truly love others. The raising of my voice and demanding more from you came across as abusive at times, but it was truly an act of self love. I felt deep remorse for the ugliness that resulted from my deep pain, and yet, it lead me to the isolation I needed to confront my own “holes” and be accountable to the mess I had created in my own life through self neglect. The louder I screamed and raged, the more I retreated into myself finding the love I needed to persevere. As I was losing you, I was finding myself. And as the old saying goes, it is necessary in an airplane crash to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. And so… that is my plan. I am “placing the oxygen mask on my face” and engaging in self care

***As someone who has been silenced a lot in life and made to hide certain truths, my trauma had lead to me feeling guilty for writing openly about certain details in MY life. Some may think I am trying to “shame” my sister and my family, but that is NOT my intention. My mother will more than likely read this post, but I doubt my sister follows any of my blog as she has not show interest, even after I have sent her some of my posts in the past. I feel sharing my story is a release for me and it hopefully will help others who are discouraged from telling their story out of shame or fear, to feel less alone. I do feel those affected by addiction directly or indirectly, have engaged often in ineffective coping mechanisms and get trapped in a true cycle of “shame” that often serves to perpetuate the cycle. My mother is a strong and capable individual who I admire, and yet, when it comes to the addiction we struggle greatly to agree. I love my sister and I want her and her adult kids to heal and be completely well. Although, I doubt they will read this post (or any of my blog), I want to make it clear that the intention of my post is for healing purposes only. My sister has endured significant trauma in her life and she and her kids have their own story to share. This is only MY side and perspective. I see their strength and despite their sometimes ineffective ways of coping, I know they hold the capacity to heal and to care for others. My own securities and guilt has me again justifying my actions. If I come to the conclusion that this post is not helpful for me or others, I will take it down as my intention is truly to spread light by providing examples of my struggle and growth. This more than likely will be my last post that is focused on the loss of my family.

My goal is to have a true shift in my blog where I am highlighting the journey of rebuilding my life. I am ready to “stop spinning” on the past and am ready to release myself from it. However, I would be amiss to not demonstrate the transition in my life by including a post as significant as letting go of my family in order to “focus on myself”. I am fully accountable for myself and my journey going forward. I am learning to separate myself from my family and to truly accept responsibility for MY life. I am empowered by this decision. I realize in the past, I was giving up my power by blaming others for the pain I was unwilling to process. In the post above, I try to accurately reflect the relationship dynamic with my family and what has caused me to “let go” for now. But, I truly want to be clear that even with all of the chaos and crisis, I was 100% responsible for my own behavior and for taking care of myself. My behavior was ineffective, hurtful, and harmful. Period. I regret the many times I lost myself and became abusive with those in my family. I will always be honest about my behavior as I am not proud of how I sometimes reacted in my pain. My blog is taking a shift towards personal accountability and further posts will be more “present moment” focused. I hope to write about my continued journey towards wholeness through the loving expression of walking forward alone in self love and resilience. I’ve lived in the past for “too long”. I am ready for the gift of the present moment where my thoughts are no longer trapped in past patterns.

I am a strong advocate for breaking the silence and talking about our pain. We should share with others our struggles. We should not be ashamed of our humanity or our flaws. When you walk today down the streets of your city, and you pass by people, remember that so many have endured trauma or have lived through atrocities or survived a battle with addiction. Life is not easy, it is often hard, and can even be brutal, at times. What makes it bearable is love. And it starts within you. The simple act of slowing down enough in your life to conquer your pain and fear, cultivates compassion and love. Often times we don’t know how to help someone who is struggling. I say that we can help by loving ourselves. It truly starts with you. Once you fall in love with yourself, you have made a difference. The love that comes from within, is pure and infinite and resides within all of us and it is what truly connects us to others. Heal yourself, heal the world. 

hands heart love
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