You Are Not Alone
May is mental health awareness month. I couldn’t let it slip by without contributing my two cents.
I’m proud of my mental health under the circumstances. Considering I tried to commit suicide twice as a child. I didn’t want to die either time. It was a cry for help. I didn’t know any other way out of what I considered a hopeless situation. Fortunately, I lived to tell my tale.
I’ve practiced a lot of spiritualism and self-help techniques over the years to help overcome the trauma of child abuse — everything from affirmations to zazen.
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that helped more than another. Every positive effort contributes to the greater good. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I would say the number one thing that helped me was getting out of the toxic environment. From a safe place, I began the mental healing process. It took a lot of time and patience.
Nearly a half-century has passed since those dark days that have become faded memories. The worst memories are blocked by my protective sub-conscious. On rare occasions, something triggers a childhood memory, which automatically puts my body and nervous system on high alert. Something as simple as looking for lost keys or paperwork while someone is impatiently waiting can create anxiety.
If someone yells or I feel threatened, it may cause me to become vulnerable to the phantom pain of old wounds and flip my lid. If I don’t get control of my emotions in time, a warrior emerges!
My default personality is quiet, calm, kind, passive, stoic, logical. I have some residual people-pleasing and peacemaking tendencies. But, if my lid is flipped, my alter-ego becomes angry, aggressive, foul-mouthed, loud, and unpredictable. I would rather run from perceived danger than face anyone with a flipped lid.
I quit a couple of jobs because of controlling, narcissistic bosses that made a sport of seeing how far they could push me. Fortunately, flipping my lid has only happened a few times in my life. Still, it’s terrifying not to feel in control of your emotions.
When someone gets hurt externally, we can see if healing has taken place. But, when we get hurt internally, others often don’t see the wounds and don’t understand that addictions, anger, depression, irritability, isolation, lethargy, OCD, phobias, PTSD, suicide attempts, etc. are often symptoms of psychological wounds that have not healed.
The good news is help is more available now than ever. I believe awareness is the first step to change. As a writer and mental health survivor, I feel a moral obligation to raise awareness through sharing my story and the resources that helped me on my mental health healing journey.
After getting out of the abusive environment, here are a few things that helped me heal my mental wounds:
- Writing — Without a doubt, writing is at the top of my list of things that have helped me heal. I wish I could remember the book I read that recommended writing your life story to help heal your mind, body, and spirit. I’m sure many books make similar recommendations. A few that come to mind are books by Dan Allender and Louise Hay. This particular book said to write your story starting with your birth. Tell your story, the good, bad, and ugly. It took me months to write my story. I cried a lot and had to stop writing for a few days to weeks sometimes. It was all part of the healing process. It felt good to get my story out of my head. It was like giving a voice to my inner child, releasing her from the bondage of so many secrets. After I finished my story, I put it away for a few months and eventually burned it. Getting my life story down on paper set me free in more ways than I could have imagined and ignited my lifelong passion for writing. I eventually wrote poems and memoirs in an effort to help others heal. Writing and sharing my stories helped me feel that my suffering was not in vain. It served a greater purpose. Whatever it takes to keep your peace of mind.
- Education — Learning in every way that I could, from attending mental health seminars and workshops to reading, watching videos, listening to audiobooks. I am a lifelong student, always hungry to learn how to heal my mind, body, and spirit and help others along the way.
- Connecting — It took me a long time to be able to share my story with others. But, when I did, I realized that I was not alone.
Several years ago, I wrote a poem for NAMI — National Alliance on Mental Illness. It was about my battle with OCD which has entertained my family over the years while watching me turn cans right-side-up and aligning the labels to being a germaphobe who used hand sanitizer and baby wipes after touching anything. Thankfully, I was able to get over the germaphobe issue long before 2020 raised awareness worldwide. But, to this day, I can’t handle seeing a can or book upside-down on a shelf. I feel a compulsion to correct it immediately!
We all have our battlefield stories with mental health. It sometimes feels like part of the creative process! Writers, artists, actors, musicians, inventors, etc. have dealt with mental health issues: Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others.
NAMI has dedicated a section on their website to help us not feel alone with mental health issues. What’s your story?
Music and poetry are the other two very important parts of my mental health healing journey. I think I would go insane without this artistic outlet. When I listen to music and read or write poetry, I don’t feel alone. I feel like there is a method behind the madness, a purpose behind suffering that transcends understanding, and a medium that understands what this life is all about.
by Victoria Vautaw (my pen name)
monsters under the bed,
voices in your head.
rainy days, lonely nights,
the blame game.
So, when life feels out of control, take a deep breath, write, connect, make art, and remember you are not alone!