This week, Betty Mujica-Milano, president of our board of directors, and I, stood in front of a gymnasium full of hundreds of high school students, slightly terrified I must admit, and poured our hearts out about the project. We walked into that gym having flashbacks to high school and wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into, but let me tell you, we walked out with, well, hope.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from an English teacher at Dutchtown High who sponsors a new club the students there put together called "Be the Change" with the goal of creating a more positive school environment and enriching the well-being of the students. This club planned an incredible (and completely voluntary) event called Commitment to Change where students and volunteers, like myself and Betty, could openly talk about mental health and wellness.
And that we did. Ya'll, that fear we had going in immediately dissipated the moment these students started opening up about what they're going through. We talked through some coping mechanisms; we talked at length about the power of having a trusted adult to talk through your problems with; we talked about the importance of having at least one friend you could pour your heart out to and, in turn, be there for. We talked about self-care and vulnerability and support. We talked about real pain. And then we watched a group of teens, from freshmen to seniors, sit in a circle on the floor surrounding one of their fellow classmates, but ultimately a stranger among a sea of 2400 students, to comfort her as she expressed her pain and anger. We saw them cry together, we witnessed them be vulnerable about what they've gone through, and we heard them make an oath to meet up the next morning. And then we watched as they took the first steps in the planning process with one of their teachers to start a peer support group. And ya'll THIS, this is what the project is all about.
When we arrived, we were given a sheet of paper with questions the students had submitted that we could use to guide the discussion. As I left, I realized that we didn't touch on some of these so I'd like to do that now. As I told the students honestly, I am not a mental health professional. I'm just a girl who's been through some shit (ok, I didn't use the word shit) but I made it out the other side and I didn't do it alone. And you don't have to either. So these are strictly my opinions based on my own experience. Please, if you have anything to add, do so in the comments. The goal of this blog is to serve as a discussion board for support and hope. To crowd-source that help and that hope and provide resources to our community.
What's the best way to manage or prevent stress?
I think we can all relate to this and it's no different for high school students. If anything, I think students today have even more pressure on them to be something they may never be able to live up to. (And yes, social media has a lot to do with that.) So, here's my advice, set boundaries for yourself. Don't be afraid to say no to helping plan another school event or going to that party. It's ok to take some time for yourself, actually it's not just ok, its necessary for our survival. And be honest about why you're saying no. "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I would rather take the time to recharge so I can come back stronger than to commit to something I can't give 100% to right now." "I do want to hang out but I'm feeling anxiety and stress and I think I need a day to myself." Preventing stress is impossible. We're wired for it. And sometimes we can strive in stressful situations. We just have to keep our well-being top of mind, be honest about what we need, and reach out for help when we can't do it alone anymore.
Some of my friends have told me that the relationship I'm in isn't healthy. How do I know if I'm in a toxic relationship? What should I do if I am? Where can I go for help or who should I talk to?
This is something I unfortunately can relate to all too well. I don't talk about the details because I've chosen not to hurt the people who hurt me and truthfully, I still care deeply about them. But, I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship in high school which led me down a dangerous path of emotionally abusive boyfriends until I was 28 years old.
First, if your friends think your relationship isn't healthy, they are probably right. And you will likely hate them for it, at first.
Secondly, if you have to ask, you are likely in a toxic relationship. You should never feel afraid or less than the person you are dating. You should never let another person make you question your own self-worth. Mental abuse can lead you to think the worst about yourself and, the longer to stay, the more you will believe it. Which will just lead you down a dangerous cycle of more abuse, trust me.
If there is any violence AT ALL, whether thats "just when they're drunk" or because "they had a bad day," that's NOT OK. If you're having to make excuses for them, you're not in a healthy relationship. If you are experiencing any sort of violence, get out immediately and tell someone, right NOW. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL ITS TOO LATE.
That doesn't mean that the person you care about, and probably even love, is a bad person. That doesn't even mean that you don't love them. Like I mentioned, I still care deeply about the people I dated that hurt me. But it does mean that they need the kind of help that you are not capable of giving. Talking to a trusted adult about both your situation and theirs can help you both. It's not an easy thing to admit. And confronting the person you're with is not the answer. They will likely be combative and again, you are not capable of providing them the help they need. YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN BE THERE FOR ANYONE ELSE.
There are a host of counselors and therapists in the area that are trained to handle abusive or toxic relationships, especially in teens. So, ask for help and I promise you, you (and they) will be better for it.
Wow, ok. I still have 12 more questions to go but I will end this post here and pick up where I left off another day. I hope this helps. I hope you know you're not alone. And I hope you know that there are people you can turn to for help.
-Chelsea Borruano, Founder | Executive Director
Traumatic events left untended that grow into demons that become almost unbearable to face.
Don't let it get to you, you'll be fine, just push through it.
I made it through the rest of my shift fine, laughing and joking around per usual, but when I left that night, I crumbled.
I would sit on whoever’s floor, and I would sob, begging my friends to help me because I was tired of fighting alone.
That became my norm. Drunk everyday after shift, crying alone, but smiling in front of my friends and co workers so that know one would know I was slowly dying.
When I was 21 I had an episode that I can only describe as some sort of psychosis where I was having constant panic attacks for 3 days straight and couldn’t distinguish between reality and dreams.
My story actually started on this day, six years ago and along with it so came my daily struggle with anxiety and depression.
I believed that the sadness started on the day that my husband left me.
I had a son roughly 7 months ago. He is my third child, my second son. By around a week we knew he had issues, but by 3 weeks, I knew something was wrong with me. I am the 1 in 7. I had PPD.
My mom who is the best mom anyone could ever hope for doesn’t understand depression. She just did not understand what was wrong with me.
I have flashbacks of that day sometimes, hearing people laughing and having the time of our lives, feeling the sun beating down and the slight breeze from the water, all the while having no inclination of the tragedy that we would soon have to endure.
At times my depression felt like it danced with my trauma but stepped on my soul in glass shattering steps.
Funny how someone else's PTSD and depression basically triggered my own.
The days, months and years to follow have been a constant struggle between wanting to live for him and not being able to live without him, wanting to tell my story but also not wanting to be defined by it and more deeply feeling the constant anxiety of losing those closest to me.
I couldn’t simply feel better. I couldn’t say…didn’t know how to articulate… that the sadness was growing.
Living in a dark hole of fear and sadness is so foreign to them, but to those of us who live with it daily, it's an all too real prison.
What if…I mean what if…I don’t notice that the semi in front of me stopped for railway tracks? The other driver would be okay. And I wouldn’t have to feel this growing thing inside me anymore.
I will never forget where I was when I literally wanted to jerk my car off the road into a telephone post.
What does PPD look like? It knows no bounds. It does not discriminate on the basis of age or race. It doesn't care what your religion is or how you were brought up. It doesn't care how much you love your children, how hard it was for you to have them, how you got there, or how long you waited and prayed for them. 1 in 7.
The longest journey of my life (a 10 year process) was looking at the scars and acknowledging the depression flowing inside my body.
As she writes, she realizes that the end of her life as a child sex slave, was the beginning of a beautiful life (foreordained by her loving Father in heaven), which she could have never imagined possible.
My name is Dianna Pippins and I am a US Army female Veteran that suffers from PTSD and anxiety due to Military Sexual Trauma while serving my country. Everyday is a challenge and it very hard to just live. I and others like me have suffered in silence for way too long.
I had the overwhelming fear that the people I loved would be taken from me and it was a fear I thought I had to live with, I thought it was my burden to bear until I woke up one morning and decided to get help.
Hope saved me in the same likeness like when a wildfire is finally tamed and controlled.
Food can truly change someone’s life and often makes me wonder who else is suffering because of the food we consume.
I found a therapist the following week. I vomited the Darkness in front of him as brutal as I could stomach. His response, “You’re not always going to feel like this.”
I didn’t get help until I was standing on a desolate plain behind the remnants of bombarded walls.
It was honestly a hundred little things that helped me survive. It was baby ducks coming up to me by the LSU lakes, it was laughter and connection, it was deciding that I wanted more from life, and it was acknowledging that I could be resilient despite all the trauma and darkness.
Other’s transparency about their own mental health struggles helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Nothing feels more comforting than realizing that what you face every day, and what seems insurmountable, is not unique to you; you really are not alone.
I AM FREE. And to think IT all had to do with diet. I am truly convinced I am not alone in this food thing.
I could learn to live with myself, and not let my PTSD and depression be the definition of my life. I don't know that she'll ever know it, but that counselor saved my life.
Depression and anxiety are very real and though some forms come from experiences such as mine and others from chemical imbalances, the most important thing to know is that YOU AREN'T ALONE and I'm not alone. We are all in this together.