My Mental Health Journey

“I live with anxiety and depression and try to do and be better every day.  Living with both makes me obsess and not care at the same moment, because it can feel like everything is crumbling around me and I want to fix it, but sometimes it feels like I don’t have hands to do anything at all.”

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. Need help? National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255

Trigger warning: Molestation and sexual abuse.

My journey struggling with mental health began as a child. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in my 30’s but I had symptoms and signs throughout my life, noticeably as a teenager but very present during college.

Stressors and trauma began when I was just a baby. My parents divorced when I was a year old, when my mom entered tumultuous relationships; she did not keep me safe and I went into foster care. She eventually got me back with my siblings, but life didn’t get better. I grew up with abusive parents that were non-supportive and not present emotionally. I was constantly berated and tore down by my mother’s words. She would say that she wished I was never born. As a result, I never wanted to give hugs to kisses to any of my family. I don’t remember feeling safe or wanted.

All of these feelings flowed through my body by the fifth grade and that’s when the molestation and abuse began while my mother ignored and refused to take action against my step-father. I didn’t have a relationship with my biological father and when I asked to talk to him, my mother said I couldn’t because I didn’t even know him. This was not a normal childhood.

Entering foster care at age 14 was frightening and life-changing. I was glad that I was safe, but I really didn’t feel safe. I didn’t know if I was going to fit in or be wanted. I continually lived in fear that I would be rejected. These feelings still haunt me, even now, as I write these words.

I literally remember sleeping in my best friend’s backyard. I told my mom that I was spending the night, but really, they were not at home. I slept in the backyard all by myself and I don’t remember being afraid. I was numb and didn’t know how to ask for help. I also remember that I would mentally fade out as a kid. Especially when I was being abused. I physically would fight at first and squeeze my legs together, so I wouldn’t be violated. When that wouldn’t work, I would pretend I was in the story of one of my books. And I kept a diary/journal. That’s how I coped because I never asked for help until I was in eighth grade. I remember hating my step-father in fourth grade and writing in a diary about him. My mom found the diary, didn’t’ take me seriously and told me that I wasn’t allowed to keep a diary anymore. That’s when I started to write on pieces of paper and hide them in my room.

Yes, I am a survivor and warrior, but I am still surviving my trauma. A certain phrase comes to mind, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Walking around with trauma, is walking around with a wound that you can’t see, but it still hurts, months and years and decades later. The tough part is that there is such stigma around mental health and foster care, that people can respond to people’s past traumas, with generalized statements, such as….“It’s in the past, get over it.” or  “You always act like a victim.”

I was two years old and in the foster care system and I am positive that in the 70’s no one was aware of PTSD and trauma like we are today. I never got treatment for being a victim of domestic violence. I grew up thinking that there was something very wrong with me. I felt like my life didn’t matter to anyone. I cannot count the times, that I said, “I wish I was dead.”  I hurt myself often and no one noticed.

Triggers are memories that feel like you are living your nightmare of a past all over again.

I live with anxiety and depression and try to do and be better every day.  Living with both makes me obsess and not care at the same moment, because it can feel like everything is crumbling around me and I want to fix it, but sometimes it feels like I don’t have hands to do anything at all.

Fortunately, I learned how to build my resilience, since I was a child.  Not every survivor can say this, but people have always intervened and helped me along the way. I also built resilience as a teenager when I attended mandatory counseling and participated in a support group for victims of sexual abuse. I learned to cope in new ways, and recognized that when I cannot handle my emotions, that’s when I have to seek professional support and counseling. Every time, I have faced insurmountable odds, that’s when I decide to pick up the phone and call a counselor. For example, I was assaulted on a date and was afraid for my life in 2014. I called my support network but I also went back into counseling. It’s not easy admitting that you cannot do everything on your own, but I know that without support, I could end up being the statistic everyone has always said I would become. The pressure of failing, helps me cope, even though I recognize how unhealthy it has become, to constantly re-center myself on the belief that I just have to keep it together another day and another month and another year. It works, but it’s not the best solution.

I know it is mandatory to ask for help when my anxiety increases because if I don’t, I become irritable, angry, and cry a lot. I also self-sabotage relationships and distance myself into isolation. I have always prided myself in not being tearful- it’s easier to put up walls and be tough to prove to everyone that I am going to keep surviving. When I feel completely overwhelmed, I know I need to take care of myself.

My past traumas were caused by others and some were caused by my own deficiencies and poor decision making-skills. We cannot erase or wish away the hurt. Some push it away, but it always seems to be the loudest voice, fighting to be heard.

When I experience anxiety, there are small steps I take to cope. Meditating, journaling and making art are my three go-to coping skills. I also keep Aromatherapy lotion on my desk at work and post inspiring messages. I practice positive self-talk and speak affirmations when I start to overthink. When anxiety is overwhelming and I cannot stop being overly anxious, I schedule a counseling appointment. I know I can’t cope on my own and it took me a while to recognize that that is nothing wrong with me visiting a therapist. I think it has only become more difficult as a single mother to make the call, because I don’t want to be judged as a parent and caregiver of my child. Regardless of my fears and insecurities, I know this step forward is the most important decision that can be made during my mental health journey.

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As a survivor of trauma, there are additional steps that I have taken in my life to practice resiliency and maintain growth in my mental health journey. Also, there have been lessons learned about managing myself to safe-guard my future. Here are a few actionable steps that can replenish and restore us before everyday tension and pressure become cumulative and overwhelming:

  • #1- Reconnect: Do not disconnect. Don’t be stubborn and try to figure it out all on your own. Build a support circle. Find a therapist. Learn from your friends but don’t rely on them for mental health support.
  • #2- Reflect: Take time for yourself. Don’t feel bad about taking a “mental health day.” Your self-care is necessary. You cannot help others if you cannot help yourself first.  Take time to realize your growth and successes and what lessons you still need to learn.
  • #3- Reevaluate: Do not avoid the most important step – Pay attention to your needs. Take care of your physical body. This means drinking plenty of water and getting the rest you need every day. It means that you actually go to the doctor and do what he/she/they tell you to do.
  • #4- Regrow: Nurture your joy and inner peace because you need to focus forward more than ruminating on the past. We all need to know where we come from and share our story as a testament of our progress. But that’s not the place where you should be walking through every day.  You need to add to your life, not beat yourself up for what you didn’t do first.

Again, we need to Reconnect. Reflect. Reevaluate. Regrow. These are four ways to practice resiliency when you are feeling anxious and depressed. Your mental health journey matters and make the call to a mental health counselor if you are in need of more support.

Reflection:

  1. What are three ways you cope with stressors?
  2.  Draw your support circle on a piece of paper and hang it up where you can be reminded that you not alone.
  3.  What do you need to do today to take care of yourself?
  4. How can you add joy to your life?

Soul-Inspired Affirmation

You are capable of growth and full of potential to become greater than your past. Do not let anyone define you, but allow yourself to be refined by setbacks and hardships because you are a SURVIVOR and WARRIOR. You got this! 

Kimberly C. Rhyan is a former foster youth and speaker/trainer/consultant who inspires/empowers foster parents, caseworkers, supporters, educators, and foster care youth/alumni to step into their future better prepared to facilitate/achieve foster youth’s successes. Please contact kimberly.c.rhyan@gmail.com in regard to booking your next event and/or consulting services.

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