A Message for My Nephew Before He Goes to College

Dear J,

While I am asking myself, how could this be happening? (with tears in my eyes), I know you are saying, YES!!!

Well, you have done it! You made it through, what is for many people, the most stressful four years of their lives. I do not know how to express how proud I am of you. You are one of the hardest working people I know. I don’t know anyone who attacks each assignment, whether in school or in life, with such energy and with such strength.

Your summer will be yours to live, laugh, have fun and be a role model for your campers. When the summer ends you will embark on an entirely new adventure in an entirely new environment.

My Advice: SOAK IT ALL IN!! From the moment you walk into campus, soak in it. Look around, take a breath, notice the people, notice the other students who probably look just as overwhelmed as you may be. Look at the buildings, even notice your parents. This moment will never be re-produced for you and it is monumental. Beginning college life has so many branches but this first moment, I think, is the most meaningful. You get to separate from your parents in a way you never have before and while that can be sad and overwhelming, it is also, simply, fucking awesome. This is your time. Take it. Make good choices. Use it. Breathe it in.

I love you so very much,
Auntie Risa


Repressed and Remembered: Sexual Assault

My severe depression began to lift in August and it has been an interesting 9 months, to say the least. I did not simply start to feel better and life was great. I had to first cope with feeling better and being cautious about that experience. Then I had to mourn the loss of my therapist whom I had seen for the better part of 24 years as she was too afraid for me to become ill again and drive to Boston to see her (2 hours each way). While I understood this and it made sense to see someone locally, there were a lot of years of work there as well as a close relationship. It only came within weeks of beginning to feel better and while I transitioned to a new therapist over time, we last saw each other in November. There were several months of working through that loss which included disappointment and pain with my new therapist. Still, I lived my life. I enjoyed time with Ken and Iliana, enjoyed being at work and the little things that happen each day that we sometimes take for granted.
And then it happened. I had worked with children and adolescents with PTSD and it was difficult to hear their stories. I always wanted to swoop in and take it all away. I now have an idea of what it was like for them to experience those trauma-related symptoms. I dated a guy for about 2 months when I was 30 years old and always described a “bad experience” occurring with him but never thought about/wasn’t aware of the details.

Two months ago, I remembered what happened. The first few weeks after telling my therapist and Ken were terrible. I had flashbacks (transported back to it without being aware of the present), I dissociated (checked out), I was constantly on edge – checking behind me when walking through the mall before and after work and my senses were on high alert ready for something “bad” to happen. I could not sleep, was extremely irritable and my anxiety was in a constant state of “high.” I do not need to get into the details of exactly what happened to me, but I can say that I was sexually assaulted. The legal term is rape. This bastard forced himself on me and remembering this has changed me.
Many in the psychiatric world say that when an assault is repressed in our memory and we later remember it, it is due to having the mental ability to deal with it. I agree with that. I would never have been able to cope with this a year ago given my severe depressive state. At the same time, I do wish I never remembered it as it is so painful.
My therapist and I are working hard on the aftermath (PTSD) which can be typical: self-blame, thinking pejorative descriptions of myself, shame, having trouble catching my breath, difficulty concentrating, the level of hate and anger I feel toward this bastard that cannot be put into words. While I rarely have flashbacks at this point, the irritability is there but is better controlled, especially since my psychiatrist increased one of my medications. My sleep still requires more medication. I have told some friends and my siblings. I knew from the beginning I would need their support. I am very lucky that Ken is right by my side, as always, and is willing to listen and is reading a book my therapist gave me that explains the trauma reaction.
When I first remembered, I thought to myself, “woe’s me” as I could not believe there would or could be more negative experiences. After some time though I have begun to accept it as there is no other choice. As with my depression, I am dealing with it in the best way I can. Some days are better than others but I am trying. It is taking a lot of my energy and some days I keep fighting and others I feel defeated. This is all I can do right now. It is hard but it is my life and it is the only one I have so I must continue the best I can.

I Am Honored, Grateful and Desperate

Last week I was given a Humanitarian Award from my local Jewish Family Services for my fight against the stigma of mental illness. To say that I was honored, humbled and overwhelmed would be a complete understatement. It’s been 4 days and I have been experiencing a range of emotions. I knew I was receiving the award but I had no idea what I would feel after receiving it. I was extremely emotional the first couple of days, crying a lot, feeling so loved by supportive comments on social media that, again, felt quite overwhelming. I would walk by the award sitting on my kitchen table (we had not yet found a permanent home for it) and take a second, third and fourth look, always surprised to see my name on this gorgeous award. My anxiety would rise each time I walked by.

I began to question why I was given this honor. I asked myself, what have I really done to deserve this? I certainly am invested in my local Jewish Family Services and feel so grateful to be a part of their family. I write, I speak, I constantly post on social media. I share my experience of mental illness, of having a treatment resistant illness that has required invasive treatments. I am open, honest and do not shy away from any aspect of the topic of mental illness.

I then began to feel sad. I wondered, I have to do more, there is still so much more to do. How and what can I do to ensure that people hear me? It’s not working! I need to not only convey my experience but have people hear me, react, do something to demonstrate that they hear me. I need people to see the stigma and do their part to fight it. I felt angry and defeated and even retreated a bit over the weekend due to feeling disheartened.

While that strong feeling has dissipated, I am still feeling a bit defeated. I am so desperate for people to understand and not be afraid of mental illness that I feel lost as to what to do next. I am out there, there is no question about that. I will keep writing and share that writing hoping to connect with people. I will keep speaking about my experience as it is so vast but giving one speech does not come close to covering all that experience entails, not even close.

Patrick Kennedy was the guest speaker at the event and I am trying to use his words and follow his lead in terms of his never-ending fight against stigma and prejudice. His energy does match mine, I just need to look inside myself and recognize that familiarity. This is not an easy fight. Sharing myself so openly and without inhibition is almost natural and I plan to use that ease to continue my fight by sharing my experience. It’s there…in my heart. I do feel it.

As Jewish Family Services would say, I am going to Embrace Possibility.