When asked to write about my experience with my struggles in mental health my first thought was “Sheesh, got a while?” Then they said “500 to 700 words.” I audibly laughed. How on earth do I encapsulate 40 years of struggle in such a small amount of words? What can I say to those who’ve struggled with their mental health? I have four words: You are not alone!

I began this struggle very early on when I was about eighteen months old and experienced my first trauma. Those who were close to me told me that I wasn’t the same child after that. I experienced my first clinical depression at the age of 8 when my parents got divorced and my mom, brother and myself moved across the country thousands of miles from my dad. I had difficulty sleeping, waking, eating, doing work at school, cried all the time, my hair began to fall out and I had started losing a lot of weight. My mom was concerned and in working with the school, I began counseling.

When I was 11 I was abused by a family member and that abuse lasted 4 years. When I disclosed this abuse to my mom she called me a liar. To be called a liar about such serious matters was soul crushing. Also, please don’t judge my mom. She’s a survivor of trauma herself, we’ve talked and she feels horrible about this chapter. This all happened at age fifteen and before. I’m now 44 and I still struggle with my mental health.

I’ve been diagnosed with a whole gamut of things, which were all wrong. My true diagnosis is posttraumatic stress disorder. It has been all along.  Looking back at my life through the lens of this disorder so much about my life, the things I’ve done and ways I’ve reacted makes sense to me. It’s incredibly freeing and calming to know that you aren’t some brand of crazy that no one has thought up yet. There are reasons for the things you do and the ways you react and it can all be tied up into PTSD. Once you name what it is, you can deal with it appropriately.

I’ve been in counseling on and off nearly my whole life. My mom was a firm believer in the benefits of therapy. When I was abused as a teenager and finally taken seriously I began intensive trauma therapy. I didn’t want to go so when I was there I sat in silence for three months. Eventually I broke and while it was painful to work though my trauma I learned SO much about who I am and how to have a better life. In my line of work I meet men who’ve had a life full of trauma similar to mine and they are in prison. I know that my life could have easily gone down that road if I hadn’t gotten help. It makes me grateful that my mom forced me to take care of myself.

I’m now 44 and I have achieved so much in my life that I am proud of. I have four beautiful and healthy boys. I have 2 amazing bonus sons, a charming bonus daughter and I couldn’t ask for more amazing children. I went to college, which I never thought I’d do because of the trauma I experienced. High school was a HOT MESS for me as I was constantly fighting depression and anxiety. I graduated with a Master’s degree in psychology (3.95 GPA), I applied to, interviewed for, and attained a position in a clinical program therapist, passed my licensure exam and am on my way to licensure. I have learned to appreciate all that my wonderful body has done for me and can now honor it for the temple that it truly is. I never thought I’d be where I am today and if I can do it, you can too. In the beloved words of Dory “Just keep swimming.”

Best of all, I get to be a helper to people like those that helped me. Yay!