Hello Live Out Louders,
Welcome to all my new subscribers and welcome back to all of my faithful readers. Without further ado, let’s get to chatting about the stigma of mental illness and how I’ve been on a quest of acceptance and dedication to LIVE OUT LOUD!
Mental illness is such a taboo topic, especially in the United States. Not many people address it, but when it is discussed conversation, people often tend to change the topic pretty quickly. But why is that?
Over the course of world history, there are many instances of humans having suffered. Whether it be civil conflict, poverty, or just a really bad break-up, humans experience low points in their lives following “less-than-ideal” life scenarios.
Having been raised Baptist and attending a Church of Christ undergraduate institution (shout out to Pepperdine), the Bible is one of the first places that I learned about the ability to survive through trials and tribulations. Throughout the 66 books in the Old and New Testament, you will stumble upon countless stories of human beings who faced slavery, displacement, sexual assault, and many other instances of trauma. However, thinking back to these stories, I realized that there was little reference to how people dealt with trauma/mental strife other than prayer. While I’m all for a good prayer session with God, it is impossible to grow from debilitating situations without addressing the negative impact that have had on your mental health.
Coming from a background where mental health and wellness was not thoroughly discussed, it came with very little surprise that my immediate reaction to my PTSD and depression diagnoses was one of extreme rejection, confusion and shame. I believed that because I had no issue with recanting my involvement in the attack, I was bulletproof from mental illness. I wanted nothing more than to return, have a couple of therapy sessions and shake off the trauma. But, my brain had a different plan for how I would process my involvement in the terrorist attack.
Living with PTSD is an interesting; and coming to accept my diagnosis and the symptoms that it brings has been even more trying.
There are many days where my mind is consumed with guilt, shame and questioning. Thoughts of guilt that I was able to evacuate the country expeditiously following the attack and return to a stable environment with expert medical assistance. Feelings of shame that I was able to utilize short-term disability benefits while my many of my survivor counterparts struggled with returning to work, in addition to managing their mental health without medical treatment. Constant questioning as to why God chose me to survive, attend graduate school for free, and start a new career when almost 30 died in the attack.
Contrarily, there are days where I feel invincible to negative thoughts, as if no trauma ever occurred. These days are consumed with effortless smiling, laughs and general thoughts of accomplishment regarding my healing journey. Days like this are celebrated with outdoor, patio brunches without the paranoia of terrorists entering the restaurant with murderous intent; long strolls through neighborhoods without the consumption of being kidnapped and murdered; or a trip to go get ice cream without the guilt that I don’t deserve to enjoy my life.
Although my days and weeks are filled with a range of thoughts and emotions — most of which can be extremely exhausting to manage — my goal remains to live out loud.
While the decision to live my life out loud, without allowing my mental illnesses run my life can be extremely difficult, there are three reminders that I tell myself to help push me to vibrantly push through PTSD and depression:
DON’T let one bad day interaction dictate the rest of your day/week: Irritability is the single most frustrating symptom of PTSD. After having witnessed first-hand extreme violence and fatalities, I tend not to sweat the small stuff anymore. That being said, not everyone with whom I interact has lived through a life-changing trauma — which often results in conversations with people who have very different outlooks on life than my own.
As hard as it is to listen to conversations with an over-concentration on trivialities, it is important to not allow that minor annoyance to dictate my mood. By holding on to one negative interaction, or letting that one bad day impact my week, I would be setting myself up for a cycle of disappointment and constant focus on the negative.
Instead, I attempt to lead a rationale conversation with myself, by reinforcing that different views a what make the world unique and try to tell myself that in the end, “nothing’s really that deep.”
Being kind and patient with your healing process: One thing that took me a very long time to understand is that I would not just wake up one day without remnant traces of my PTSD or depression symptoms. In my two years of therapy, I continued to hear “healing is a process” and has no defined end date. As an individual that is very accomplishment-driven, this advice always seemed like a battle for me to defeat.
I believed that if I continued to go to my counseling sessions and complete the weekly assignments that I was given, that I could control the speed of my healing. This is so far from the truth, that it’s now laughable.
Instead, I try to give myself the room to experience drastic symptoms of my PTSD/depression, while also knowing that over the past two years, I have made immense progress. I am much less reticent in expressing the struggles that I face in living with mental illness (as evidenced from my publishing of this blog). I am more able to dismiss the embarrassment that appears when I experience the various symptoms of the mental illnesses. Lastly (and a huge success in my healing journey) is the ability to cut myself some slack in recognizing that two years wasn’t that long ago and it is completely normal to still think about my involvement in that tragic day. Neither my mental illness nor my experiencing of symptoms makes me a failure; but instead a triumphing warrior!
DON’T let your mental illness labels or trauma define you: While I was the victim of a terrorist attack and as a result now suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety, I refuse to let my circumstances define or label me. Instead of letting one horrific day determine how I live my life, I attempt to think more holistically about my life, realizing that I still had other labels in which I described myself before that day. As such, I will continue to be a survivor, graduate student, wanderluster, global citizen, future Foreign Service Officer, daughter, and friend and much more!
Additionally, I attempt to reflect on how the experience impacted me and in what ways I can grow from the experience. While I may never go back to the same La’Nita as I was before January 15, 2016, I realize that God blessed me with the new view that every day is extra. My trauma has made everything seem so real and has led me to extract artificial or contrived tasks and relationships from my life. Therefore, with each day, I wake up with purpose and intent to truly fulfill His will and purpose for my life. I look for meaningful experiences through travel, friendships and connections!
Although there will never be a perfect example of accepting and living with mental illness, I have found that those three reminders help me cope in my daily life. Through constant personal reinforcement of my progress, I am able to accept the bad and good as they come. I know that as time continues to pass, so will my scars and wounds! So, here’s to living a full life with mental illness and knowing that every day can and will be better!
Catch ya’ next Saturday