Today marks the last day of Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada (October 1 - 7, 2017). October 10, 2017 is World Mental Health Day. I wrote this blog post 18 months ago (March of 2016). Truthfully, I haven't been able to publish it due to feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of stigma. Yet there have been many situations and stories of peoples' challenges with mental health that have deeply touched me since then. My husband's friend and former classmate in our community who completed suicide, a well-known Yoga teacher Micheal Stone who was not yet public about his diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder and died of a fentanyl overdose, clients I have the honour of serving as a social worker, and other stories that were entrusted to me (you know who you are). However today I put my fear aside and share in honour of all those and everyone experiencing challenges with mental health, which is so many of us (1 in 3 Canadians will experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder in their lifetime to be more accurate.) This is my most recent personal story of mental health: suffering from stress, inter-generational trauma, depression, and compassion fatigue.
This post is pretty raw, pretty personal but it's all a part of me and integrating all parts of myself. The last year has been HUGE for me. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, I am owning it all.
This is a delicate balance of "satya" (truthfulness) and honouring my parents however, not unlike others, I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I know my parents did the best they could with what they had but their dysfunction was inter-generational. They were raised experiencing abuse, addictions, and mental health issues in their family of origin and it was just too much to unravel before becoming parents themselves.
An important theme in my life has been with self-love. Not unlike many women, I
struggle(d) with my self-esteem. A significant part of this can be traced back to my mother. Though loving me, she is not able to love me unconditionally due to inter-generational dysfunction and trauma. She also nurtured me well but only until the age 13, at which she experienced a significant trauma which made it difficult thereafter. This is something I face nearly everyday whether consciously or not. Sometimes I long to be nurtured and long for the love I feel for my own children.
My relationship with my father is not without it's misgivings. While I grew up he had his own challenges with mental health that he was diagnosed and treated for. Generally he coped well and he managed to work and support the family despite this but it wasn't easy. He is also a very sensitive person, maybe even a highly sensitive person, which is difficult at the best of times never mind with the messages we send to men about emotions and masculinity. His heart is just so big and I think that his lack of coping lead to past struggles with alcohol.
I find family systems theory fascinating because of my upbringing and how I was able to apply that understanding to my family. I love being able to practice social work with families for the same reason. My family hierarchy was unhealthy, as the eldest child I would often take the parent role. I would make sure all was well and good and running as it needed to be. It was a big job for a young person.
All this left me with anxiety, control issues, a ramped up nervous system in a perpetual state of fight, flight, freeze, being overly responsible, taking on too much, never feeling like I am enough, wrapping up my self-worth in what and how much I can do, give, and how I can help... '
...on the flip side it allows me to create, to lead, to be driven and focused, to be highly sensitive, and to have compassion for the suffering. I found Yoga and social work and these things have been a significant part of my healing journey. I am still unraveling and will probably continue to for the rest of my days. The "samskaras" (grooves, recollection, psychological imprint) are deep and the knots thick.
Sometimes those who suffer or have experienced difficulties are drawn to a profession like social work. When I can be a caring adult in the life of a young person who is suffering it helps me heal and integrate parts of myself, the parentified child, the little girl who's parents partied and fought, the teen girl being sexually harassed by boys and mistreated by her teacher... the child/girl/teen who couldn't say anything because there was no one to tell and no one to trust.
And so here I am over the last 10 years serving children, youth, and families, holding space for them and their pain...knowing that we are the same and that my freedom is wrapped up in theirs and that I can only help them heal as much as I've healed myself.
In December 2015 I was feeling stuck, overwhelmed, over-worked, and depleted. I had been called to assist with four traumatic events within six week at the schools that spring through my role as a school social worker. It was completely chaotic and unsustainable. I had finally taken on too much and it was the tipping point. I hit a wall. It was finally too much.
I had been for counseling on and off in the past and knew for years that I needed more. I saw a therapist who practices somatic experiencing, a fascinating mind/body modality. It is a biological approach to healing trauma that works by scanning and tracking body sensations to release trauma stored in the body and brain and brings the nervous system back to equilibrium. I found immediate relief. I am continuing sessions as I believe there is likely a lot of unresolved trauma of my own and that I have taken on from my clients from my everyday work in the schools and hospital and in responding to traumatic incidents like that of La Loche.
Early in 2016 I saw posters for a Restorative Yoga teacher training with Andrea Peloso in a couple of completely random places and something about it was calling me. If you have never experienced restorative Yoga it is essentially building little nests of props to support the body in poses, to be held, let go, and to illicit a healing response in the body.
I attended 40 hours of training and have been doing my own personal practice; it has truly been transformational. As part of the training we had to do a 30 day restorative practice for at least 20 minutes per day and also journal about it. Doing this I felt the cumulative effects of the healing restorative yoga offers. I still make twenty to thirty minutes of time many days to actively relax in a restorative yoga pose. This practice not only soothes my nervous system to help me enter rest-and-digest but it allows me to love and nurture myself.
On the last day of our training my teacher had me demonstrate a restorative child's pose. In this safe container with a sweet and compassionate group of women I was able to have a huge emotional release. I let go and allowed myself feel some of the long held grief. The grief for a mother's love, the grief for my own ability to mother, guilt and lack as a mother, the grief for that little girl, that teenager, the grief for my clients, both children and parents... for their suffering... all wrapped up in each other. I cried... and the women witnessed me and held me in the space and in the pose. I felt their love and compassion and it allowed me feel this grief, some long, some short, and all deeply held and to feel that was safe and ok to allow...
Near the end of my long drive home from training I happened upon a song from my youth "Release Me" by Pearl Jam. Listening to it loudly, tears streaming down my face, I actually had to unzip my jacket because it felt like my heart had cracked open and I was releasing this very old grief stored in my body.
I have listened to it countless times since, please have a listen if you are so inclined. Feel free to share any comments you have or send me a personal message. Because we are interconnected, our common experience of grief and suffering, mental health challenges and how it is wrapped up together I feel that you may be able to relate to some of this significant window into my healing journey. My tipping point, unraveling and releasing, and the drawing back in all parts of myself.
love and light,