For most of my adult life I have benefitted from (individual, couple, and family) therapy. Since my time as a graduate student, I have intentionally sought out the support of trained professionals for help and they have been ministers, spiritual directors, social workers, counselors and therapists. This desire for support comes from a deep place of pain…pain from the brokenness of life that many of us are all too familiar with and know firsthand.
Writing, publishing and speaking about my book “Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church” was and is an act of healing. In the past four years of speaking across the country sharing my story, I have focused on sharing stories of severe mental illness in my family that shaped and still shapes my life. In my public speaking and writing so far I tend to share less about my own personal mental health. After hearing my story, people have asked me, “So, how are you doing?” Or “How did you turn out so normal?” (That last question always makes me laugh…what *is* normal?)
Then I share ways that I seek to take care of my mental health: I am in regular therapy, practice yoga, eat a vegetarian diet, get plenty of sleep, engage a network of support from friends and family, and nurture my spirituality.
This past year I asked my mental health provider to share with me my diagnosis. I had not thought to ask before. I do not take any medications, so the issue had not come up.
Post-traumatic stress disorder.
That was hard to type because it’s the first time I have shared this in public. It feels vulnerable. It feels exposed. But I hope it is also liberating and healing.
While I think this diagnosis is accurate, I also am sensitive to being defined by a diagnosis. PSTD has many faces. Military veterans are the first to come to mind. I’ve never served in the military. So I’m thinking more about how my life story and the story of people with PTSD intersect.
As I share in my book, over the years I have experienced significat trauma as a child, youth and adult. This chronic exposure to trauma (neglect, emotional abuse, sexual harassment, witnessing execution, sexism, bullying) over the course of my life has led to symptoms that correlate with PTSD: flashbacks, startle response, avoidance, numbness, depression, and anxiety. Over the years these symptoms come and go, but they remain steady and intensify during times of stress.
Having this diagnosis is not a label, but a lens for how I can think about my life story. It’s a way for me to view all that I have experienced and better understand how I have been impacted, shaped, and transformed by what I have lived, what I have survived…all that hasn’t killed me, but makes me who I am today.
PTSD and me. It’s just another way to say, hey, there’s some things I’ve been through that I need to pay attention to because they’ve shifted some things inside me. It’s like an interior earthquake.
It helps to have some one to walk around with me to check and make sure that life’s little earthquakes haven’t cracked the foundation. Under the care of a mental health professional and following a wellness plan, PTSD doesn’t prevent me from enjoying life. If anything, because of all of the trauma I have survived, I am deeply grateful to be alive.
Some days are challenging and those are the days I reach out for help. Experiencing care and love from people in my life has healed my pain.
It’s because of my healing journey that my personal mission is to partner with others to share God’s hope and healing with people in pain.
No matter what the diagnosis, I believe that our ultimate identity is as God’s good creation. We are loved. We are healed. We are whole.