Why I’m Involved: An Interview with Crystal Lancaster

Why I’m Involved: An Interview with Crystal Lancaster

1. Why are you volunteering at Breaking Taboo?

I am volunteering at Breaking Taboo because I am extremely passionate about the cause of mental health and working towards ending the suicide epidemic currently facing this country. I myself live with Bipolar 1 Disorder. I had my first mental breakdown when I was 16 and was committed to a psychiatric hospital at age 17. I know how hard it is to live life when you are afflicted with such a condition as Bipolar 1 Disorder. I simply want to spread the message that there is hope for everyone who is struggling with some sort of mental ailment and that there is happiness in the days ahead. No matter how many relapses I have or how many breakdowns I endure, I will keep fighting. This disease can be aggressive, but I believe I am stronger, and it will not keep me down. I wish for others to feel this way as well in their own journey to recovery.

2. Why is breaking taboo important?

Breaking Taboo is important because it is creating awareness about mental health and is helping to break the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. You can never have too many organizations fighting for the same cause. Most specifically, Breaking Taboo aims to end the vicious cycle of suicide and to educate people about suicide prevention. Over the past decade, the number of suicides nationwide has only increased. We, as a nation, need to find a way to end this cycle. Breaking Taboo, I feel, can be extremely instrumental in that process.

3. What is your favorite thing about volunteering?

My favorite thing would have to be knowing I am helping another person or group of persons out there, and knowing I am part of a greater cause. As an individual, you can only do so much and reach so many people, but when you combine your efforts with like-minded people, it can start a real movement.

4. What is her background in mental health?

My background in mental health stems from almost 19 years of lived experience of having a mental illness. I don’t believe there is a greater way of understanding a mental health condition than having actually lived it. Also, since 2017, I have worked as a volunteer for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), acting as a public speaker, visiting college and high school campuses, as well as psychiatric wards and speaking to young adults about mental health as well as my own personal struggles with it. I am currently pursuing my M.A. in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University, and am learning a great deal about mental health in general.

5. Why is she a mental health advocate?

I am a mental health advocate because I feel mental illness is something many people go through but don’t understand. They feel alienated and alone in their struggles. If I could help only one person today by being a mental health advocate, it would all be worth it. As I said before, I wish for all people struggling with a mental illness to know, they can lead happy, full lives. Recovery is possible and we mustn’t give up hope.

6. How do we go about nationalizing mental health education in schools?

I feel we would have to lobby people in congress or a member of city council to put the ball in motion. Perhaps we could even start a petition, or write letters to congress, requesting mental health education become integrated into school curriculum. Both New York and Virginia last July established laws doing just that. They brought mental health education into their school districts and into their classrooms. Finding ways to get the cause of mental health recognized and emphasize the urgency in educating our youth about illnesses that affect millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people worldwide is key. Illnesses like depression that take the lives of too many people. If we can get the government to listen and to empathize, maybe we have a chance. Presently, mental health education is not a priority of the U.S. government and there is something profoundly wrong with that.

7. What do you do on a daily basis to take care of your mental health and how can others learn from you?

I try to be very mindful of my thoughts, making sure to stop myself when my mind starts going to negative places and reinforcing positive thoughts. I’m always reminding myself to take deep breaths when I start to feel stressed or do positive affirmations. I try my best to eat healthy and take care of my health because my physical health does impact my mental health. I think what others could learn from me in regards to taking care of mental health is to try to refrain from doing things you know will harm your well-being or affect your self-esteem. Avoid situations that might cause you a lot of distress. It is okay to miss a party or dinner with friends if you aren’t feeling up to it. Listen to your body and your needs. It is OK to put yourself first if it means giving you peace of mind.

8. of mind. How can people get involved in destigmatizing mental health?

People can be more mindful of words they use in everyday dialogue. Avoid using stigmatizing words such as “bipolar” or “crazy”. Recognizing people living with a mental health condition are people first. They live with the condition, but it doesn’t define them. Refrain from criminalizing mental illnesses and those that live with them. But most of all, becoming more educated about the mental illnesses that exist and be more empathetic towards those that live with it. The more you learn, the more understanding you will become, and empathy is evolved out of that understanding. Empathy is the key and a main step on the road to finding a solution to ending the mental health crisis.

9. How did you become aware you have bipolar disorder?

I was 15 when my dad passed. A year and a half later, September 11th happened, and for reasons beyond my comprehension, it triggered a trauma inside of me that I didn’t even realize existed. I became heavily depressed, on edge, and paranoid. My mom pulled me out of school. I saw a psychiatrist who had diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. When I returned to school, I had become someone else entirely. I was bold and brazen and did things completely out of character for me. I used to be a 4.5 GPA student but when I returned, I was pulling D’s and F’s. I barely graduated high school. That summer things only got worse, and right before I was supposed to start college at UCI, I was committed to a psychiatric hospital instead where they diagnosed me with Bipolar 1 Disorder, however, it wasn’t until about six months to a year later that it really sunk in that I had this monster of a disease.

10. What are things you struggle with because of this disorder?

The medication I take for my disorder helps stabilize my moods, controls my anxiety, and keeps me from hearing voices. My medication is however only one factor of a number of factors that keeps me on the road to recovery. (Other factors would be: strong support system from my mom, boyfriend, other family and friends, seeing my psychiatrist, etc.) Being off my medication in the past has proven highly consequential. I would hear voices again as I did during my first breakdown in high school, become delusional, and have extreme levels of anxiety. My mood might waver from highly euphoric to devastatingly depressed. My last breakdown, I couldn’t get out of bed for five months straight. Every time I tried to leave the house, I felt my anxiety shove me back in. I couldn’t tell delusion from reality. I trusted no one, except for my boyfriend and I thought everyone was conspiring against me. When I experience anxiety, it often surges up inside of me and I am unable to repress it. My brain feels like it’s on fire and I am suffocating. My mind runs a mile a minute and I start to feel like I’m drowning and will sink into the floor. I can’t control my thoughts. I begin to panic and more anxiety grows only causing the current anxiety to increase tenfold. The worst part about my illness is that I never really know when it will strike again. I might notice some signs, but it is unrelenting and brutal. Before I had my second breakdown, I never thought it could happen again, but it did. It caught me completely off guard. You can be as mindful and careful as you like, but sometimes, it trips you up.

How to Juggle Mental Health With Life: An Interview With Danni Blackman

How to Juggle Mental Health With Life: An Interview With Danni Blackman

1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, i.e. where are you from, what are you doing now?

I was born and raised in Orange County, still currently live in Tustin. Aside from taking care of my mental health at an outpatient facility, I work with my family as an administrative assistant at their law firm and I go to school for Gender Studies and Psychology. I am looking to become a therapist once I graduate. During my free time, I enjoy painting, rollerskating, playing music with friends, going to music shows, writing poetry, and reading.

2. What is your diagnosis and when were you diagnosed? When you were diagnosed, how did it make you feel? Panicked? Relieved? Indifferent? Was it hard to accept your diagnosis initially?

I am currently diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder with psychotic features which happened in 2018. 2016 was when I had my first diagnosis of Schizoaffective disorder which eventually deemed to be inaccurate. I was absolutely terrified, in a state of grief, confusion, and anger. It took me about 2 years out of 2.5 years to fully accept my diagnosis.

3. What do you do to cope with your illness? Being an artist and actor, would you say these both play a large role in helping you cope? Would you say a community of people who are more creative are more accepting of someone with a mental illness? If so, why do you think that is?

Painting is my go-to when dealing with my mental illness. It allows me to escape to my safe place where everything and anything is accepted. Acting is no longer a big part of my life anymore but I would agree to that with painting and drawing. From my experience, people who are more open-minded have a better time accepting someone with a mental illness more than anything. Though creativity is helpful with this aspect, I don’t find it’s a dominant feature to one’s ability to empathize and accept those of us who are different.

4. It is entirely understandable for people living with mental illnesses to feel uncomfortable sharing their illness with others for fear of judgment, rejection, or just being treated differently. How comfortable are you about sharing with people about your mental disorder? If there was less stigma surrounding mental illness nowadays, would you be more inclined to talk about your disorder with other people?

I am pretty comfortable about sharing with others about my mental disorder. It doesn’t define who I am anymore and I think it is part of my civic duty to have casual conversations about it so that the stigma decreases.

5. In regards to mental health, what do you feel is an issue that needs to be more talked about and why?

I feel an issue that needs to be talked about more is recovery because the stigma around it for one, leaves people with a disorder more inclined to ignore their healing options and live more difficult lives than they need to. Secondly, with the topic of recovery more involved in conversations, it could potentially lead to easier access to treatment.

6. What are your plans for the future? Would you see your future looks hopeful or dim?

My plans for the future are to become a therapist of some sort and start my own grassroots organization that provides art therapy to people who don’t have access to proper mental health care. I see myself living an activist and artistic lifestyle. With my own recovery in the mix, the future looks overwhelming but also bright and productive.

7. Do you think the government is doing enough to help the mental health community? If not, what would you like to see the U.S. government due to help the millions of Americans who live with mental illness?

No, I do not. Mental health issues are still a very underrated topic and many people are still not able to afford education, medications, and therapies needed to sustain a healthy living. I would like to see better education in schools starting at the Elementary level about mental illness and more affordable care. Everyone deserves a balanced mind.

8. How do you feel about the portrayal of people living with mental illnesses in movies and in T.V.? Is it accurate? Does it need a definite overhaul? What can the media do to help society better understand someone who lives with a mental illness?

I have seen some movies like “The Edge of Seventeen” that depict living with a mental illness gracefully. I have seen others like “Welcome to Me” that display it overdramatized and inaccurately. It could use an overhaul, especially when it comes to telling stories about people with schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. The media could tell stories that display characters less characterized to better understand someone who lives with a mental illness.

9. Do you feel alienated or misunderstood if and when you share with those close to you that you have this mental illness? What is their reaction when you tell them? Do they act differently towards you?

Not at all, the people who are around me are incredibly supportive and understanding. They usually have or know someone else who suffers from a mental illness as well and it usually is a bonding experience. There have only been a couple of times where people have shown more negative reactions and those people are no longer in my life anymore. Those who are close to me treat me with more compassion, but for the most part, they treat me exactly as they did before.

10. What is the greatest piece of advice you can offer someone who feels like they cannot go on living anymore?

Do something you absolutely love doing for a moment. If you don’t have the energy, spend time with someone who can lay down and do nothing with you. You are loved, don’t be alone! You are not a burden.

Dr. Denise Nguyen Interview:  Advice and Experience from a Marriage and Family Therapist

Dr. Denise Nguyen Interview: Advice and Experience from a Marriage and Family Therapist

Meet Denise Nguyen. 

1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, i.e. where are you from and where did you study? What made you want to become a mental health professional? Was there a defining moment or experience that led you in that direction?

I was born and raised in Southern California all of my life. I’m a 2nd generation Vietnamese American. My undergrad was through UCI and then received my Masters and Doctorate through Argosy University in Counseling Psychology (MA and EDDCP programs at the time allowed me to work full-time and pursue my internships). I’m currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I originally went into the mental health profession because I was so fascinated by the stories I’ve heard about my parents’ and relatives’ experiences as refugees during the Vietnam War. I couldn’t understand how they went through such  horrible ordeals (losing children, rape, leaving family members behind to escape, seeing death/persecution, etc.), but came out with such resiliency. However, the more I dug in, the more I saw how depression can be masked in many ways. I learned the stigma that “mental health” held in Vietnamese culture and wanted to find ways to help fix that with other families. In fact, my dissertation thesis was about “The Effect of Social Stigma on 2nd generation Vietnamese Americans: Influencing Attitudes toward seeking Mental Help”

 

A defining moment for me that solidified being in this profession is when my husband (then boyfriend) when through his own hospitalization and continuing to manage as a couple. Seeing it very close and upfront brings a new type of awareness and empathy that I can always channel from, when I’m working with other families.

2. That phrase you quote by Jimmy Dean, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my direction.” What does this phrase mean to you? Would you say that is reflective of an approach you encourage your patients to use in coping or even just in their everyday lives?

This sounds so much like one of my favorite quotes by Charles Swindoll: “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.” This is something as a Supervisor, I try to impart onto my staff. Additionally, this is something I try to help all of the clients and families we work with to learn and find some acceptance with situations that arise in their lives as well. There are so many things in life that will be out of our control, but the one thing we do have control over is how we can approach the situation; whether it be in our attitudes towards it, or how we choose to cope with the situation. I’ve worked with children, teenagers, young adults, adults, older adults. I’m blessed to be back in a program (Wraparound) that works to “wrap” the entire family system, so no one person is singled out as “the problem”. Everyone in the family (that agrees to participate) has their own goals that are collaboratively working towards their family vision. So we are able to bring this philosophy to everyone in the child’s “team” essentially!

3. Do you still work as the Wraparound Supervisor at South Coast Community Services and Children’s Society. How did you come to be in that position, and what would you say is the most rewarding aspect about your job?

I might be repeating myself in the previous answer, but I worked in many programs either as a County employee, non-profits, or County contracted mental health programs. Each prior program I’ve worked in, I would just interact with the client themselves or with client and a family member through conjoint therapy. With Wraparound, I love being able to work with the entire family system as our goal is to strengthen the youth & families’ bonds with their surrounding community, in addition to supporting them with their individual goals. We understand that it’s impossible to have the energy to care about your own mental health needs when you might not even know if you’ll be able to pay for your rent for the next month. Our program is able to receive funding to assist with basic needs/safety needs first in order to stabilize the family, and additionally work on acknowledging their mental health needs as well. Pretty much going into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and working to build a solid foundation before delving deeper into other interpersonal goals. Our program is all about celebrating the small milestones, so every time anyone in the family is able to meet a goal: we celebrate as a team! We work mainly with low SES families but we also work with very well-to-do families, as we help normalize their situations and build familial bonds to work towards their success.

4. What is the typical age range that you work with? Are most of your patients open to sharing with you their struggles and issues, or do you find many of them are reluctant to open up? And if the case is the latter, is there a common thread amongst them that you feel might be the reason why?

I’ve worked with children as young as 1.5 years old and up to 21 years old. It really varies with each family that comes into the program, but the nice thing is that the referral has to come through their Therapist, Social Worker or Probation Officer. With that being said, the referral usually comes with a good amount of background information (depending on how long they’ve been opened with one of the 3 referral sources). We have a “no secrets” policy (while also still being mandated reporters) in that we’re open about what the referral say, but we also want to hear in the family’s words about their story…and why they are in the situation they are currently in to be accepting of our services.

In Wraparound, we develop a Plan of Care within the first 30 days, where we ask each family member about Needs that they want to work on. Need statements are the “hole-in-the-heart” needs and when the team is able to build trust and rapport with the families, they usually are able to share their Need…which in turn comes with the families’ story. We don’t have set timelines (we’re open as long as their case with the referral source is open), we don’t have a policy of missing appointments that causes them to be dismissed from the program… it’s really a “whatever it takes” model. We’re a neutral party as well, so we don’t make recommendations to the Psychiatrist, we don’t make recommendations for their court cases, etc. Once the family begins to see that our program is different from a traditional mental health program, they start to open up a lot. Our meetings can be held at parks, in their homes, at a bowling alley, in their therapist’s office, etc. I also think because each team comes with a 1) Case Manager, 2) Parent Partner (aka mentor), and 3) Youth Partner (mentor), that everyone in the family feels there is a representative for their voice.

 

5. Working as a therapist, have you discovered a commonality amongst youth in general, in regards to problems they are having or similar emotions or feelings they are experiencing? Do you encounter many youth who are contemplating suicide or have suicide ideation?

Unfortunately, so many of the youth we work with have contemplated suicide, have expressed suicidal ideations and/or have attempted suicide. There is a pattern of feeling lonely, not accepted/loved, and not understood (by their peers, parents, people in their lives). With every Plan of Care developed, there is a Safety Plan component built in as well. As a Supervisor, I have to assess each referred youth and the youngest case I have is an 8 year old that started cutting (which was only discovered because she posted it on social media).

 

6. Do you work with any adult patients? If so, what is your experience working with adults versus with younger patients?

I’ve worked with adults before and right now in my program, we work with the youths’ parents as well. Working with adults in my past programs on an individual basis, I found it harder to gather information (as they have to give me consent about who I can talk to) to develop a better sense of the client. It also really depended on their developmental age and emotional development, as some adults can very well present like a teenager or younger in how they perceive the world. With trauma, people can get stuck in the developmental age when their trauma occurred, so I find myself using similar techniques I’ve used with the adults I’ve worked with and have shared those same techniques to my current staff when working with their youths (e.g., relaxation techniques, grounding strategies, coping skills/tools). Adults respond well to positive praise and incentives as much as the younger ones too!

 

7. I know as a patient myself, I sometimes feel reluctant to open up to my therapist in fear it will open up old wounds and re-trigger past traumas. Would you say some of your patients have expressed or have seemed to feel similarly? If so, what do you do to make them feel at ease or comfortable in opening up?

I’ve always let clients know that they don’t have to share anything that they’re not ready to share, typically when I’m doing the initial Intake assessment…as it does ask delve into questions about trauma, family history, etc. I’ve certainly had youths tell me very little at times and I let them know that it’s okay. Since my role as a Supervisor doesn’t allow me to be part of the main team that sees the family on a weekly basis, I really try to go out to as many meetings as a I can during the initial phase so the youths and families know my face and can get a sense of my personality. I think that really helps with inserting myself in the very beginning and doing fun activities with the family before I go into “assessing mode”.

 

 

8. see you worked as a Social Worker for more than a year back in May of 2010. Would you say a lot of the issues you encountered as a Social Worker were are relative to a person’s psychology? Did working in the field of social work compel you to want to work even more in the field of psychology as a therapist, and if so, why?

Since I dealt mainly with the elderly population when I was a Social Worker, a lot of the issues I encountered were both related to their psychology but it went hand-in-hand with dealing with aging, health issues, lack of independence, seeing their peers die and losing their social networks, and feeling either helpless or useless within their own family networks…all of which influenced the levels of depression, anxiety, etc. that could have been existing many prior years before. I’ve always seen that social work and psychology should go hand-in-hand, because we do not exist independently in our own bubbles. Our families, friends, community, and world events play a part in our lives (for good or bad) and understanding that social connectedness sometimes puts the pressure off the feeling of, “How come I can’t get better?”

9. How do you feel about the portrayal of people living with mental illnesses in movies and in T.V.? Is it accurate? Does it need a definite overhaul? What can the media do to help society better understand someone who lives with a mental illness?

I’m starting to see more portrayals in movies and TV about mental illness but as someone very invested working with not only the Asian Pacific Islander populations (e.g., seeing more people of color and their families deal with mental illnesses), but the underserved populations as a whole…there is so much more to what’s shown on TV that doesn’t accurately capture what these families go through each day.

10. What is your favorite part about your job?

 

It is a mix of mentoring staff that are working with the youths and families, and still having the ability to interact with the youths and families myself. I’ve been in this field for 10+ years now and am able to be like an “anchor” for my teams in times of high crisis, or to be on the sidelines to hear about all of the successes they’ve been able to celebrate together with their youths & families. I always tell my staff that it can be a thankless job at times, so you have to be able to really find meaning in the daily work that you do…to bring that passion forward each day. But I still get to be a part of those family meetings, I can jump in and fill any role for my teams when needed, and be a part of those celebrations as well.

11. What is the greatest piece of advice you can offer someone who feels that they cannot go on living anymore?

Although you might feel like you cannot go on living anymore, you’ve somehow either searched or reach out to find these words right now… that life is hard, but you are not alone. If you don’t have anyone that you can share this feeling with, do not lose hope because there is someone out there that wants to help you. Search for a therapist and tell them what you’re feeling, and you will have someone to help you bring back hope in your life.

Caitlin Cawley Interview: Staying Strong Against Co-Morbid Mental Illnesses

Caitlin Cawley Interview: Staying Strong Against Co-Morbid Mental Illnesses

We had the great pleasure of speaking with Caitlin Cawley. She is someone who shows resilience and fight against many things affecting her mental health. She continues to how one can overcome co-morbid mental illnesses, such as OCD, anorexia nervosa, PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation. 

 

1. How was it for you when your dad was sent to Iraq?

My parents weren’t together my entire life.  That said, my dad and I talked regularly and he came to NH every few years for a visit.  When he went to Iraq, it was scary to think about the possibility of losing a parent – regardless of how close we were.   I watched the news every night at 5:30, 6, 6:30, 10 and 11 and woke up to watch it again at 6 and 6:30a. It helped me to get updates on the war and ease some anxiety.

2. How did your grandmother passing affect you?

It was my great-grandmother, but her death broke my heart.  We were very close. She was my first significant loss and still haven’t processed her death 13 years later.  When she died, for years, I had nightmares about her death and the last look she gave me where I knew she recognized me.

3. When did you know you had depression?

When I was told I wasn’t as bubbly as I used to be and felt hopeless almost everyday.

4. Can you tell us more about OCD?

My OCD presents itself in different ways depending on what the trigger is.   I always have the obsessions and compulsions. However, when my anxiety isn’t in control, I check the locks and the stove multiple times in fear of a fire or someone breaking in and killing me or my family.   

5. Can you tell us more about the eating disorder?

I have struggled with an eating disorder for 13 years.  I have struggled with anorexia and ed-nos/osfed. I have in the past also struggled with exercise addiction and laxative misuse.  My eating disorder has always given me a sense of control and first started when my great grandmother died. My eating disorder has also numbed me from having to feel my feelings – particularly anger and sadness.   It is still something I struggle with more often than not and still struggle with body image issues.

6. What was your experience like in a hospital?

My first hospitalization was in 2006 when I was in high school.  The experience was fine – I was with other teens and some kids. In 2010 I was in residential treatment for my anorexia. It was extremely painful to refeed my body and get back to a healthy weight.  However, I was able to work on several issues while there. In 2011 I went back to the same program I was in in 2010 but signed myself out AMA after a week because I was so resistant and didn’t want to be there.  Later that year I went back into treatment at a different hospital. It was, again, painful to refeed myself as I was at the lowest weight I had ever been. Since then, I have not been in treatment for anorexia. However, in 2016 I was hospitalized for a week for suicidal thinking and plan.  The experience there was ok as well but felt like I knew a lot of the stuff they were teach from all my times at treatment. A med adjustment was what I needed.

7. What type of help have you received for OCD, eating disorder, PTSD, suicidal ideation and depression?

I have been in individual therapy, gone through IOP a handful of times. I have also gone through DBT  in a formal setting twice and Cognitive Restructuring.

8. What do you want people to know about OCD, eating disorders, PTSD and depression?

There is no shame in talking about it with people you trust and who respect you.  There will be A LOT of education for yourself and loved ones but it’s crucial. Recovery isn’t linear and relapses happen.   Pay attention to when you struggle most so you can see if there is a pattern and cope ahead for when that pattern is due to start again.

9. If you could change how suicide and mental illness is seen, what would you change?

There is no need to be stigmatized or feel stigmatized.  Just because you can’t see mental illness doesn’t mean it deserves less respect, funding or research as medical diagnoses like cancer or diabetes

10. Do you think it's important for people to advocate for mental health awareness? If so, why?

Yes – sharing one’s story can be healing for the individual telling it and those listening.  It helps to ease some of the loneliness. Sharing your struggles or your story can help people in ways that aren’t always tangible and clear.  

Surviving Trauma, An Interview with Katie Han

Surviving Trauma, An Interview with Katie Han

Meet Katie Han, a strong woman who is overcoming her incredible traumas every day. She suffered through childhood abuse and sexual harassment which led to her mood disorders. She shares her insights of how she has learned to love herself, heal, and cope with her past.

1. Can you tell us a little bit more about your mood disorder?

Although I didn’t really understand it (and still sort of don’t), my mood disorder can be best described as an overall “flat affect.” It was explained to me that I didn’t receive a depression diagnosis despite experiencing several symptoms (apathy, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, etc.) because I had some sort of motivation that made me appear high-functioning to others. Mostly, I felt numb and wondered if that’s how other people felt.

I’m not sure if I still have a mood disorder. When I took an abnormal psychology class in college, my professor asked how we know when behavior is considered abnormal, because these criteria are oftentimes subjective, but behavior becomes abnormal when it interferes with our daily functioning. For that reason, I don’t think I still have a mood disorder but at the same time, I don’t think it completely went away, either. There are days when I have bouts and want to hide all day and don’t know why I’m crying; the outside world doesn’t feel safe; and the numbness returns. For the most part though, I am happy that I am okay.

2. What was it about Psychology that you enjoyed?

I like that it helps explain why we are the way we are. My Introduction to Psychology class was eye-opening because it gave me a different perspective than what I had been told by my parents my whole life; it provided a “baseline” clarity and, in a lot of ways, served as a sort of self-therapy because I wasn’t allowed to get help. I think it’s especially interesting now that I have that knowledge because when I do get anxious or go through a hard time, I reason with myself and try to figure out the root of my behavior/feelings so that I can properly address it and grow.

3. Can you tell us how therapy helped/didn't help? Would you recommend therapy to others?

I always recommend that people go to therapy even if they don’t have a mental illness because it’s a great way to get to know/understand yourself. Even though we may not see physical evidence of hurt or we may not make much of something, so much how we behave is impacted by our experiences, and in order to understand yourself, you have to be willing to take a hard look at yourself, and no one has those answers except for you.

At the same time, therapy can be frustrating and impersonal because not only are you barring your soul to a complete stranger hoping that they’ll make sense of your situation, but you also have to figure out what works for you in terms of treatment and fit. The very strong possibility that you won’t connect with your therapist and have to start over can be overwhelming when you are emotionally fragile like I was, and, because these issues are unseen, you could spend years in therapy and still not get what you need out of it.

In my experience, I sought therapy at NYU and saw 3-4 different therapists – I didn’t have one assigned to me, which was emotionally terrifying – before being told that NYU didn’t offer long-term therapy. I immediately sought a private clinic and went with the first therapist assigned to me because I craved emotional stability. Although I stopped seeing her because she wasn’t particularly helpful, I did have a space to finally open up about my past and learn that I prefer healing/growing with actionable steps rather than just talking through issues. I wound up with an amazing therapist when I was in Texas, and I’d totally go back just for her because she provided exercises for whatever issues I presented her with.

4. How has your past affected where you are at today?

What a loaded question – where to begin?! My past has affected me in every way possible – mentally, socially, financially, physically – and it still does. As a result of my trauma, I saw the world through anxiety/fear-colored lenses and let them drive my decisions during and after college: I had my first sexual encounter with someone I wasn’t attracted to, but went along with it simply because I thought that no one else would like me; I had trouble connecting with people because I didn’t know how to talk to them and would panic when I ran out of canned responses to ask/say, because I was told my whole life that this is just the way I am. However, the most prominent impact thus far has been my constant self-doubt in whatever I do because I automatically think I’m not good enough before I even try, because that’s what I’ve been told for the majority of my life. At the same time, it’s made me work very hard to achieve the goals I set for myself, because I know that I don’t have anyone to depend on except for myself – I am very much independent in that way and refuse to depend on someone financially because I’ve been in that situation, and I won’t let anyone control me in that manner again.

5. Do you think self-care is important? What do you do for self-care?

Absolutely. I didn’t really know what caring for myself meant until I moved to Texas after college for my first job. I didn’t know anyone there and was miserable at my job so I had to figure out what comforted me and made me happy. In doing so, I realized that for me, self-care is the little things: I like climbing into bed with comfy pajamas binge watching a new favorite show, a luxurious body oil, painting my nails, café-dwelling, and writing – literally hashing out why I am down/having a hard time – and of course, retail therapy always helps. Ultimately, I think that we place so much emphasis on what we’ve accomplished right here, right now that we forget that it’s okay to take a break and rest for a while.

 

6. What would you tell someone who is currently going through the things you've been through?

I would tell them to seek therapy and find a strong support system – people who will love and support all of you, even the deepest, darkest corners of you. Despite my journey, I’ve been extremely lucky to have found not only an amazing therapist but also an incredible support system that I now call my family. PTSD/domestic violence/sexual harassment can make you feel incredibly isolated and alone, especially when your parents are at the root of that trauma, so it’s helpful to seek different perspectives and talk about it, because healing begins when you tell your truth. 

7. Why do you think it's important to break the stigma that surrounds mental illness?

It’s important to break the mental illness stigma because a huge part of healing involves voicing our pain. When you don’t talk about what’s bothering you or keeping you up at night, it begins to eat away at you until it controls you. For many people, especially those in collective cultures, mental illness/therapy signifies that something is “wrong” with you, but that’s not the case at all and, in a way, you’re signaling to them that they are of lesser value.

Everything that you experience becomes a part of you and manifests through your behavior, especially unhealthy experiences. When you don’t take the time to understand yourself – really digging through your depths to figure out why you are the way you are – you miss opportunities to grow, because the only way you can change and grow is by acknowledging that these behaviors/thoughts exist. And when we talk about it, we encourage others to heal with us and create change for the better.

 

8. Can you tell us more about where you are at now?

I am in a place of acceptance: acceptance that I allowed my anxiety/fear to drive my decisions in the past so I won’t make the same mistakes again; acceptance that because my mom emotionally abused me, I won’t know that kind of maternal love in my lifetime; acceptance that in that sense, I am alone. At the same time, I am so comfortable and happy with where I am now – and so incredibly proud of how far I’ve come, especially since I never thought I’d be where I am today.

The biggest step for me was realizing that in order to heal, I need to embrace my past; I thought that if I hid this part of myself and didn’t speak about it, then it wouldn’t be a part of me. But it is, and because I actively hid this side of me, it controlled me, and I couldn’t fully be myself with others. Now that I’ve realized and acknowledge that although this happened to me, it doesn’t define me, I feel a sense of peace that I haven’t felt before. I can’t describe the feeling other than feeling whole and so comfortable with myself, with the biggest changes being in the way that I interact with people. I no longer work through my canned responses when meeting new people – because I am no longer afraid to be vulnerable in making a connection. I’ve set boundaries for myself and learned to protect my time and space, because I come first. If someone doesn’t respect any of those values, then I move on, and that’s okay. When you learn to love yourself as I have, life feels so much more fulfilling and purposeful.

At the same time, I’ve only recently realized how my past influences my present and future; because my dad molested me and treated me as his wife emotionally, I don’t view the father-daughter relationship the same. I thought it was something that I would work through in therapy but I see how it’s still manifesting; for example, I reject guys I am genuinely interested in to ensure there is no future there, because the thought of my husband potentially favoring my daughter over me induces anxiety and makes my skin crawl. For that reason, I am unsure whether I have the capacity to have kids with a man I truly love or even get married. But, healing is an ongoing journey and if the time comes, I will, of course, return to therapy.

9. How do you help control your anxiety now?

Because the gears in my head are always turning, I write everything down so that these thoughts are no longer inside of me; I think I became more introspective after going to therapy because I am able to oscillate between the patient’s perspective – my perspective – as well as the therapist’s. When writing isn’t enough and I need to push myself to actually put thought into action, I remind myself something that my friend told me: “It takes great strength and courage to overcome what [I] have…everything else just follows.”

10. What would you change about how mental illness is seen?

I would change two misconceptions: 1) that mental illness automatically means that there’s something “wrong” with you, 2) that various mental illnesses look the same on everyone. Behavior is measured on a spectrum, so one person’s idea of “normal” may very well not be the same as another’s, especially since there are so many factors that affect how these symptoms manifest. Everyone has a story and experience, and it’s important to take those differences into account and not impose our own experiences on others. For example, despite my diagnoses, I think that from an outward appearance/on paper, I’ve been relatively high-functioning, but having one or the other doesn’t invalidate my experiences.

Amy Chase’s Story of Surviving Abuse and Depression

Amy Chase’s Story of Surviving Abuse and Depression

We enjoyed being able to talk with Amy Chase. She shares her story of emotional and physical abuse, and depression. She has been through a lot since childhood, and is living proof that you can find yourself and heal from your traumas (even at 34 years old.) 

1. What do you wish people knew about mental illness and domestic violence?

I wish people who have never experienced both can spend a day in our shoes. I like to use the physical disability analogy: Having a mental illness is no different than having a broken arm or cancer. They are all debilitating. The only difference is that mental illness is invisible.

2. What do you wish people knew about mental illness/PTSD and being a sexual assault/rape survivor?

I wish that people don’t use the term “trigger” lightly. The word is also being used as a derogatory term in political debates which further diminishes it. For those of us with mental illnesses, triggers are real and they’re part of the challenge of living with our illnesses on a daily basis.

3. What was it like being un-diagnosed for so long?

For as long as I can remember, I always felt like there was something wrong with me. When I was a kid, I felt homesick even though I was sleeping in my own bed. In high school, I often felt foggy and out of place; it was hard for me to find joy in many activities. It wasn’t until I was 22, about to graduate college, when I hit rock bottom and planned my suicide that I finally got help. One of my friends who has experience with mood disorders in her family recognized my symptoms right away and encouraged me to seek counseling at my school. That was where I was first diagnosed with clinical depression. It was liberating to finally put a label on it. It made me realize what I was feeling and experiencing was real and that I was not the only one feeling this way.

4. What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

There are so many things I wish I can tell my younger self. When I turned 30, I wrote a letter to my 15-year-old self. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the start of healing my inner child. https://amychin.wordpress.com/2014/02/

5. Have you done therapy? If so, has it helped? What have you learned?

Yes, I have been in and out of therapy since I was 22 years old. The period when I was going to therapy the most consistently was between October 2017 to the present day. In that time, I had gone through 4 difference therapists until I found the right one. I was dealing with job loss, a move, separation and pending divorce, and I was in a very abusive relationship. After I got out of the abusive relationship in April 2018, I found a therapist who specializes in domestic violence and I have been seeing her ever since. This has been the most effective treatment I have ever received. In less than 6 months, my depression and anxiety has gone down. She confirmed that my parents are toxic and it’s healthier for me to distance myself from them. I am finally learning to set boundaries with everyone, especially friends and romantic partners.

6. What coping skills have you learned?

I have learned to take better care of myself overall. I am now very protective of my inner child. Now that I have friends with children who I spend time with, I notice that I am especially protective of the girls. And I know that’s because I’m showing them the care and love that I never received from my parents. That is how I am treating my inner child as well.

7. What do you do for self-care?

I take time to re-charge. I have always been very independent and enjoyed doing things on my own, but I now find more things to do on my own, such as spending an afternoon at the park, going to an art exhibit or a performance, etc. and I no longer feel self-conscious about going alone like I used to do.

8. How are you healing from dealing with mental, physical and emotional abuse for so long?

There are some days when it’s still very difficult for me to get out of bed and to start the day. I have learned to just give myself time. The healing is ongoing. I know I can’t expect to un-do almost 34 years of abuse with just a few years of therapy. It’s going to take a lot of time, just as if I was dealing with a physical ailment.

9. When did you decide to allow your inner child to heal? Are you glad you are allowing yourself this time now?

Right after I got out of my last relationship, I wanted to do everything within my power to feel better and to move on. The concept of the inner child started to become a recurring theme. It first came up in conversation with a friend in February, then with a reiki healer in April, then again with my current therapist, and finally in a book called “The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself” by Beverly Engel. (That’s the BEST self-help book I have ever read and it’s done wonders for me. I highly recommend it!) I wish I can go back in time and start the healing process sooner, but I can’t so I’m glad I’m finally finding myself, even if it’s at age 34. I feel like I’m re-living my 20s all over again so this is my second chance.

10. If you could help break the stigma that surrounds mental illness, what would you do?

This is why I am very vocal and open about my experiences on social media. I have been approached by friends, relatives, and coworkers who have thanked me and also shared with me their struggles. I feel very encouraged by these responses, but I am even more encouraged when people tell me to stay silent because my stories might endanger my job prospects. These people are proof that I need to keep talking.