My journey into mental illness did not start with a chemical imbalance or not enough omegas in my diet. For many years, it was something I never once gave a serious thought to. Depression felt normal to me, as did anxiety and though I felt profoundly different from my peers, that was life as I had always knew it. It wasn’t until a hospital stay three years ago, did doctors start using the label PTSD. My life had consistently been stressful on some level, being a single mother, striving to raise my daughter and giving my best effort to lift us out of poverty. I fell down and got back up, many, many times, never realizing the toll it was talking on my mind & body.
I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse & endured many traumas up until my 25th birthday. It was like carrying a heavy load that virtually no one else wanted to assist me with or help me carry. I stuffed it all down and chalked it all up to misfortune & bad luck. I could see clearly that merely talking about abuse made others uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be a victim and the last thing I wanted was for people to feel sorry for me. I didn’t want to be repelled and rejected by something I had no control over.
Now that I am in recovery, I have realized that I am not alone. I have looked around me and found that my story is not unique. It is truly sad that women and girls across this country face enormous challenges and barriers to living free from discrimination and violence. Making the decision to break the cycle in my own life, has cost me dearly. Speaking out and standing up for myself meant broken relationships and experiencing a culture of denial. It also meant learning to cope in unhealthy ways because of a fundamental lack of therapy and long term services that women and children need to heal and become well again.
There are many women caught up in the mental health system, women like me whose issues crossed over to psychiatric, because of systemic problems. While the medications may help in the short term, they cannot provide the support and healing that is required for healthy living. My world was all about power and control and the mental health system is no different than any other system. Doctors do not always know how to best treat trauma survivors. In fact as a female, going through this experience added a new level of fear and anxiety.
Services for women and girls who have experienced trauma are few and far between. You learn to suck it up and in the process you can become increasingly unhealthy, as you sit on long waiting lists or get 15 minutes with a psychiatrist every three months. It took becoming mentally ill, to really take stock of my life and realize my incredible strength and resilience. Taking care of our minds is no different than taking care of the rest of the body.
Statistics are more than just numbers, they are echoes of the unheard voices and untold stories of survivors across our nation and the world. Mothers & daughters are paying the price for our denial and refusal to look at the issues. I am making it through as best I can, but so many more will not.
Women and girls are vital to our communities and to our children and families. To not invest in our healing and our potential leaves us all in a deficit. Today and every day, I urge all citizens to think about the future of our daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, mothers and grandmothers, who are bridging the gaps and carrying these heavy burdens each and every single day.
Women who are sacrificing their very lives because society is uncomfortable with the truth. Talking about our experiences & raising awareness should not be taboo. I don’t want to wear a label or carry these heavy burdens any longer. I want my daughter to know a world that protects and values her. I want what every woman and girl wants. A life that is free from oppression and the opportunity to simply feel safe, something so basic, human and universal to all.