603 Stories April Edition – 2021

Podcast Episode 1 Transcription

[603Stories Theme Song] It’s time we talked about it, getting tired of living without it. The things in my life just don’t make any sense. Each day I wake in the morning but everyday just feels so boring. I don’t understand just what I need to change. It’s up to you to want to do the things you want to do and though its temporary feeling sad can be so scary. I love the ones who understand me, I never want to feel so angry, I never want to feel like this again.

[Fade into intro]

[Intro]: Welcome to the 603 stories podcast. A monthly mental health podcast made by young adults for young adults where we share stories, make connections and find hope. Any ads throughout this podcast are not associated with 603 stories or the 603 stories podcast. There will be sensitive subjects discussed during this podcast, should you need them the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or you can text the crisis text line by texting 741-741.

[Heather]: Hello there my name is Heather Morris!

 [Jace]: And I’m Jace Troie.

[Heather]: And this is 603 stories.

[Jace]: 603 Stories is a podcast dedicated to giving young adults a platform to talk about mental illness, share about our journeys, and navigate mental wellness as a community.

[Heather]: Jace and I are both New Hampshire born people and current New Hampshire residents that have had a lot of experience navigating a wide variety of experiences in Southern New Hampshire.

[Jace]: Whether that be our own experiences or working with people in the mental health field, but with that being said neither Heather nor I are mental health professionals we are not social workers or therapists, we are simply two young adults who are passionate about mental wellness and helping other young adults in the community find it as well. We decided to do this because we have volunteered with a lot of organizations overtime whose missions are rooted in mental health and we have seen a lot of different scenarios where a deeper understanding of mental health was needed, especially by young adults. We have found that adults often talk at young adults and teenagers, when teenagers and young adults are the ones who know themselves best and know what they need.

[Heather]: Jace and I actually met working in substance misuse prevention with young people primarily teenagers and we really want to take this platform and this opportunity to share own stories and do what we can for providing stigma reduction and showing the benefits of seeking help.

[Jace]: As two people who are 23 and 24, we figured it would be a good way to engage the community by having young adults speaking to young adults, as well as possibly interviewing other young adults. So, Heather and I as far as I know were both born and raised in the New Hampshire area, so we’ve had a lot of experience in and around New Hampshire, Massachusetts, that kind of area and gotten to work with a lot of different organizations. Through our work in Human Services, I have found myself to become very passionate about LGBT resources, recovery including substance misuse prevention most importantly the biggest connector for all of these has been mental health and figuring out the root of what is causing stress or trauma in peoples’ lives and finding ways to help. So, with that Heather and I and our lovely team decided that a podcast was the best way to reach young adults in New Hampshire. For me I always felt like as in young adult, adults were always talking at me telling me what I needed to do and how I needed to go about my own healing. For me mental illness has been present in my life since I was in second grade if not earlier. So, it’s something that I have been dealing with and I’ve come up with my own coping strategies along the way, so to be talked at and told what to do and what will and won’t work was hard for me to grasp especially since I have been talking to a lot of other young adults for a long time and helping them figure out what would be best for them on their journey. So, it’s hard for me to just accept that adults always know all, when oftentimes they aren’t being told everything that’s going on underneath the surface especially with young adults or teenagers.

[Heather]: I completely agree and in both personal experiences and communicating with young people and young adults, I’ve seen that across the board. Whether it’s just you know even through the process of recovery and them having a specific mindset and expectations for the route that you should take or even invalidating and diminishing the weight of the experience that you’re going through especially in younger years; middle school or high school a lot of it is brushed of as you know high school drama or…

[Jace]: “oh you’re just a kid you’ll grow out of it”

[Heather & Jace]: Hormones.

[Heather]: Exactly! Exactly.

[Jace]: In reality even these situations that adults see as minimal or easy enough to brush off they could be the biggest thing going on in a young adult’s life at the moment so it’s important that they are validated. So, with that being said we decided that 603 stories would be a good way to create a platform for young adults to share their stories, share their experiences and come together as a community in order to build up each other’s mental health. With that being said today we have decided to just take an opportunity to share a little bit about who we are, where we come from, and what we’re doing now in order to help ourselves, and the community come together, and be as strong as we can with our mental health.

[Heather]: For me it really started very young. Even looking back at elementary school there were very clear signs of just extreme anxiety and the behaviors of that wasn’t really noticed for what it was. You know I was the kid that was always in the nurses, office with a stomachache and that became like crying wolf, you know faking sick to try to get out of school. In the perception of many of the adults in my life and even you know until adulthood looking back at those circumstances, I had no idea that that was you know my body trying to tell me like: “hey you know you’re stressed out” and you know throughout middle school and high school and on it just amplified. Really hitting it a turning point in high school specifically when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Coupling mental illness with a physical chronic illness was a challenge especially while navigating a lot of the stress of high school specifically, you know that’s a very high intensity emotional point in many young folks lives and I can’t say that that was different for me. So, trying to do the juggle of everything was a lot yeah and as I you know really started to navigate and understand what was sitting with me and analyze the ways that I was feeling—which was not good—you know I was anxious I was depressed and especially with chronic illnesses, I was fatigued all the time and it was really hard for me to separate what was what. Again, kind of coming back to the adults in my life I don’t think they really saw the weight of what I was carrying both physically and mentally and they had a very specific idea of what I should be doing to feel better whether it’s exercising more, or you know trying harder in school and for me you know I was struggling to even get out of bed. Like exercise yes though it might have been helpful seemed completely unreachable.

[Jace]: It’s interesting because I feel like those adults tend to have so much advice, but the time to listen and actually ask what you need and answer the questions with you, seems to be something far-far away.

[Heather]: Completely and I mean I struggled to feel heard all across the board, but it was at school at home you know in my personal life. It was a really challenging time you know being young is a challenging time without any barriers, so it really put a weight on me, and you know even after high school moving into college my Lyme disease began to become under control, but depression seemed to hit even harder. In school you know you feel like you have to go to school you feel like you know you have to do it all at that age like that’s kind of a societal expectation and I fell into that very quickly and did not prioritize myself in any way in the process. It really just caused me to spiral even more.

[Jace]: That’s tough… I would say that I have to agree that my mental health started, or my mental illness rather started showing up very early in my life like yours and very similarly actually with a lot of stomach aches, trips to the nurse, couldn’t keep myself in class a lot of times because I would just get so anxious all the time. But I guess I was really faced with the power of mental illness in second grade I came home from school one day and my father was home and that was strange to me because he was definitely a workaholic and I always remember that he would leave the house like before anyone was up and wouldn’t get home until like right before dinner time. So, to have him there was kind of like “what’s going on?” and when I went inside; he called me over and he said your “Grandfather killed himself”, and I was raised in a house with the expectation that men don’t really talk about their feelings so there wasn’t a lot of conversation around it. I had like ran away like out to my tree house or whatever and like tried to deal with those emotions, but you can’t really work through all of that in a matter of two hours so when I came back inside; and no one was talking about it anymore it was like OK time to bottle up and shut down and I dealt with that mentality of just bottle everything up and just shut down instead for years to come. All the way up in through high school, I was still doing that and my trips to the nurse were so much more frequent and I was just always having stomachaches. In high school I felt like a really horrible stomach ache coming on and ended up having a panic attack in front of my entire grade because we happened to be at an assembly at the time and it was the first time I had ever had a panic attack and it was just like, it felt like a heart attack, and it was one of the scariest things I think that I’ve ever dealt with and the mentality of the adults in my life where was oh brush it off and just keep going. So, I was brought to the hospital because of that panic attack, thinking that it was a heart attack, and when they found out that it was quote unquote “just a panic attack” they sent me back to school to finish the day from the hospital. So, that I think that right there just shows the enormity of how much we don’t prioritize mental health these days because if I go to the hospital for a sprained ankle or like a broken wrist I’m not going back to school that day you know I’m going to take the day off I’m going to rest but we have been conditioned to think that mental health is something that we can work through in a matter of minutes if something happens whereas it can be something that is a lot more long term.

Heather: Yeah, I actually… this is bringing back memories for me… I also had my first panic attack in high school I think my freshman year um and it’s such a bizarre moment because you don’t know what’s happening. And it’s just this like panic taking over not just your brain, it’s your whole body.

[Jace]: Your whole body.

[Heather]: I remember it must have been in the cafeteria which somehow made it even worse because then you know everybody’s in the cafeteria seeing it happen and just struggling to breathe and like tears streaming down my face. I did not go to the hospital, but I definitely stuck it out for the rest of the day. I think the nurse had me like run my wrists under cold water to try to like calm myself down, but outside of that I don’t recall having any some support. You know and I continued to have panic attacks on a very regular basis after that, it was like a floodgate opened you know once you have one [panic attack] they keep on coming. Especially if there’s no resolve.

[Jace]: What’s interesting I find about that—the nurse helping you—is that yes, the nurse helped me but the people that helped me the most were always my friends and my peers. My peers were the ones that checked in on me the most after it happened, my teachers would be more concerned with getting me caught up with schoolwork, and my peers even the ones that I wasn’t necessarily friends with or didn’t talk to on a regular basis were the ones that were concerned and checking in and shocked when I came back to school that day.

[Heather]: That is so relatable and honestly even now you know being a young adult I find that my peers are the biggest support. You know they understand and validate the experience more than anyone else I know, and always make the effort to check in whereas you know older generations I find brush it off much quicker.

[Jace]: And struggle with it, I think, because I find that the older generation was never taught how to talk about or handle their own feelings and therefore it’s an uncomfortable conversation for them. Whereas for our generation it’s normalized or becoming normalized at least, so it feels a lot more comfortable to walk up to your friend and say: “I’m really depressed right now, and I need a minute”. Whereas walking up to an adult it’s a different conversation. If you walk up and said: “I’m feeling really depressed right now and I need a little bit I need some support” and I mean some time it’s more of well how are you going to fix it so that you can get back to work you know.

[Heather]: Yeah, yup.

[Jace]: Which was very interesting for me, so after high school I had gone to college and I never really wanted to go to college but like you said college is normalized it’s what we’re supposed to do, it’s what we’re expected to do. So, I ended up going and at first, I had a really good time I was enjoying meeting new people and getting the chance to study something that I finally found interesting. But it was so stressful, and I found myself shutting down a lot my anxiety was just really getting to me, I started having a lot more panic attacks and my depression was so bad that I didn’t want to get out of bed. But my anxiety was so bad that I knew if I didn’t get out of bed that I would make things worse, I would dig myself into a pit or go into a spiral, and so I found myself eventually just like locking myself in the library to study for upwards of 14 hours a day sometimes. Without leaving to like eat or go to the bathroom anything. Um and I studied so hard and at one point I got a midterm back that I had spent weeks studying for and when I flipped it over and saw a big 23% on the back I went into a spiral and I left that classroom leaving everything I brought with me behind and I had gone back to my dorm room and I had actually made my second suicide attempt. While I was there, or no. The next day when I woke up the mentality was OK how are we going to get you better so that you can get back to school and in that moment; I realized that mental health is just not treated how it should be, and I made the decision to drop out of college. And to be honest it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made because there is such a pressure on young adults to go to college and to get a degree and yes, it is important I think but I don’t think it’s the path for everyone, and I definitely don’t think it is the only path that young adults can go down. Dropping out of college was one of the best things I think I ever did for my mental health and because I was able to take care of my mental health in that moment, I was also able to take care of my physical health better, as well. I got sober after dropping out of college because college was a huge reason for my self-medicating. And I was able to start focusing on what I was passionate about and what actually made me happy. By focusing on what made me happy and actually chasing that I have had so many less-panic attacks in the meantime. And I’ve realized that like I’ve been able to find purpose and I’ve been able to find drive again and now what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone, but I realized that by stressing myself out and by not focusing on my mental health I was only making my mental health worse.

[Heather]: I—I have a lot to say about that. Yes! like especially in college there’s just so little room for flexibility and self-care, especially you know if you don’t have the financial supports to you know have somebody pay for part of your school or your housing, or you know you don’t have the ability to like stay-at-home and commute. Things like that. Frequently folks are pushed into working while they are in school. I worked the entire time that I was in school and I never got days off, you know, I would work six or seven days a week between school and work. And it really became a necessity for me to function; to just bottle. I never gave myself the space to process everything that I was carrying, which was a lot, because if I did I it would derail my productivity. You know and professors and administration in the schools, they don’t really offer the support that you need, at least not in my experience. You know to miss class here and there or hand in assignment late, there’s always a penalty. Then if you’re handing something in late and then you get a penalty, you know, you beat yourself up more for handing it in late like: “Oh well it’s my fault ’cause I let myself take a break”. A really gigantic regret that I personally have is not either taking a break from school or you know going to part time, because I just pushed myself to get through it. Going part time or taking a break did not feel like an option.

[Jace]: We live in a society that celebrates burning ourselves out.

[Heather]: We really do. I say that coming from a lot of experience. And even like for myself I knew that I needed support, I knew that I needed to take care of myself, but because of what I was carrying at that point between school and work and everything else I didn’t feel like it was an option. You know even though I knew it was necessary and I know yeah, I should probably you know find a therapist, it wasn’t until at least a year after college that I finally ended up seeking help because part of it was denial and avoidance and also just you know putting productivity above my own well-being. Um and even not realizing like though I knew things weren’t good, how bad it was, because it was just the normal. You know I mean I would be driving to school my senior year like every single day I would cry in my car, I would have panic attacks in the hallways, there were even a couple of times I cried in class. I would just sit there and cry in class in front of everyone else because I felt like this is just going to happen and you know here I am.

[Jace]: And how do you ask for help when what you’re asking for is so stigmatized still. So, how do we break down that stigma and make it so that people know that it is OK to ask for that help.

[Heather]: I mean that’s why we’re here.

[Jace]: Exactly.

[Heather]: You know through sharing stories and experiences and being open and realizing that vulnerability is actually a really beneficial thing, in safe spaces. You know I think, you know, we can do the proof that it is possible it is necessary.

Jace: Because for me I didn’t realize that it was OK to ask for help or to go to therapy until I realized that I had a friend who was going to therapy, and I was like “you’re going to therapy” as if it was like some kind of big secret.  And I was like “I won’t tell anyone don’t worry” and they’re like “no it’s OK, like I go to therapy because it helps” and I was like “oh what happened to like make you go to therapy” and they were like “nothing I just wanted to take care of my mental health and I wanted to, I wanted to become something that was consistent in my routine so that I was intentionally putting myself 1st and intentionally taking care of myself”. They said you don’t run a marathon to get exercise, like you run a marathon, or you like start running as a way to like buildup to the marathon, right. So, it’s something that you consistently do to accomplish a goal in the end right and so if my goal in the end is to be able to make it through the day without crying, let’s start small here, therapy is one step closer to that. You know it’s one step closer to processing, understanding and giving myself the space, I need in order to be the best version of myself. So that’s why it was important for me. It wasn’t as an “OK this huge traumatic event happened, let’s work through it…” Not going to lie a huge traumatic event did happen and that’s what got me to get help, but the reason I’ve stuck with it is because I want to be able to make it through the day, week, month without breaking down. And not understanding why. Because I think it’s important to distinguish that breaking down and having a moment is OK it’s OK to feel those emotions ’cause as a kid I was always taught don’t show your emotions don’t feel it bottle it up, keep it hidden away. But, we have these emotions for a reason so to feel them is super important but to not let them hold you down and get you into a pattern of not taking care of yourself that was the tricky part for me.

[Heather]: Yeah, and I think a very important point that you made is that you know you don’t necessarily need to experience some major traumatic event for therapy to be beneficial. I really think that having that support and just sounding board, in general, someone neutral and unbiased to share with and work through conflicts with or stress with. You know, regardless of your mental health or past traumas or not traumas; it’s huge. And you know you don’t even necessarily realize places that growth is possible until you start exploring it. I mean there were things from you know my childhood and high school and things I had carried from relationships with me for years. That I did not realize were present until you know six months into therapy. You know you don’t necessarily realize the weight or impact that something has on you and for me it’s [therapy] been like it’s been a huge tool a huge-huge tool and turning point for me. Having a better understanding to slow myself down and process where emotions are coming from, why am I feeling this way and what is causing it. If it’s something that’s solvable, how can we solve it. Like do we need to set boundaries, do we need to communicate our needs.

[Jace]: Boundaries…

[Heather]: Boundaries.

[Jace]: I’ve been in therapy for four years and working in the mental health field and um just made mental health like a part of my daily life, in every aspect and boundaries is still something that I struggle with and I’m very aware of it. Because, before I feel like you start working through this and it’s hard to have those boundaries for other people, because you need to tell someone what’s going on and you won’t stop until someone finally recognizes that you need help. But now I am on the flip side of it where I’ve stopped um demanding other people’s time, I guess, and emotional labor and have gotten to the point where I don’t set limits on my own emotional labor. And I will give people all the time in the world or all the advice that they could ask for even if I am struggling and that’s still something that I have to realize, that I’m allowed to set boundaries and I’m allowed to take a step back, because if you don’t put on your own life mask first – or whatever they say on the airplanes – then you can’t help someone else put theirs on.

[Heather]:cure scale that I’ve been working on personally and especially I mean speaking for myself as a person who has experienced trauma and wants to avoid conflict you want to please people or even like the anxiety of failure or disappointing people it kind of ingrains in you even when you are in a better spot that you know you need to be there to support people you need to do this you need to do that and you know I am much more stable than I ever have been, you know, it still takes a toll on me, to completely without boundaries supporting folks or helping them or hanging out, going out – anything, really, with interaction, when I need rest – and just kind of pushing myself to be there is detrimental. And understanding, especially myself, as an introvert, and my needs to find balance if I’m burnt out I can’t be there for someone in the best way possible so ends up not being as beneficial to the person that you’re interacting with as you might think because you know if you’re not taking care of yourself you can’t give them your best self to support them.

[Jace]: Yeah. That’s hard to accept because if you are someone who is a fixer, or like helping people it’s hard to realize that sometimes taking a step back is the best thing to do ’cause it just feels so wrong.

[Heather]: Yeah and especially coming from fields like substance misuse prevention or mental health or you know working with youth and kids a lot of what we are doing is helping so it almost validates that instinct.

[Jace]: Yep.

[Heather]: it is still important to set that expectation for ourselves for care and rest. Even more so working in fields like that.

[Jace]: For sure. So, seems like our stories have lined up.

[Heather]: (laughing) Pretty similar!

[Jace]: Pretty similarly, which is pretty interesting, all the way through college. So what happened after college?

[Heather]: for me, after college was a very dark period in my life. You know I had this expectation that, “hey, I can finally breathe, school is over, I don’t have to work and go to school, you know, I can finally just concentrate on like, having a job. And then I was surprised when I didn’t feel any better. And if anything, I felt worse because I didn’t have all of the distractions I did before. And I had to actually sit with my emotions. Or, what really ended up happening for me was facing uncontrollable panic attacks that was disrupting my daily life, where there was at work or at home. Even right before work, like OK I’m having a panic attack now I’m calling out because I’m uncontrollably crying and struggling to breathe. And I really hit a spiral of unmotivation and discouragement and just pressure to perform, you know, the after college like, “okay I graduated but I’m still working at a grocery store, what’s wrong with me.” And I just continued to carry that weight on myself, to the point where it was disruptive and you know I came to the realization where I couldn’t keep functioning that way. It wasn’t possible. You know?

[Jace]: And I think that’s something that a lot of young adults deal with, that expectation of who we are supposed to be and when things will get better. That expectation of “oh once I have a degree then I’ll be able to get my dream job and everything will fall into place from there, and then my mental health will be OK.” But it comes to a point where we have to realize that our mental health isn’t going to magically get better based on our accomplishments, and I really dealt with that too after college, because after I had dropped out, um I had been living at home with one of my parents for a little while as well. And I had told myself OK once I am not in college anymore I’ll be able to focus on my mental health and it will get better, but it still wasn’t getting better. And so I came to the realization that in order for it to get better I would have to actively change something about my life, and I had to figure out what that piece was, and for me it was coming out as transgender. I realized that if I wasn’t living authentically then my mental health would just keep spiraling, and so I told myself that once I came out then everything would be better. But after coming out I found myself homeless. And so I told myself OK once I get a house then everything will be better; OK once I get a job that will help me pay these bills then everything will get better; and I kept on setting this benchmark of where everything would get better. But it wasn’t until I realized that it’s a day-to-day process, that nothing would get better, so I had to start putting my mental health first; whether I was homeless, whether I was dealing with rejection, whether I was struggling to find a job that I felt I fit in and I felt passionate about. It wouldn’t matter what benchmark I was meeting until I prioritized my mental health because nothing would ever be good enough to magically wave a wand and have everything go poof and be good. So I had to realize that it was gonna be hard work and it was gonna be like having a second job and it was gonna be something that I had to keep working at every day. Even if one day I slipped and I fell behind where I was the day before I couldn’t let myself get discouraged because I knew that that was all part of the healing process, and I know that healing isn’t linear. I know that it’s not a straight shot to mental Wellness; that it’s going to have ups and downs and I’m going to have to try things like therapy and different medications. I’m going to have to keep trying different things until I find what works for me, you know?

[Heather]: I do (laughs). Again, I’m processing it all. It’s true I mean part of nurturing yourself with or without support is doing the daily check ins, is saying what’s working what’s not, and for me, I mean it I said it before, therapy was a victory point for that. You know, having someone to check in with, having someone to offer options for tools and coping mechanisms, and really for me an integral part of that was medication and it did take me a couple different prescriptions — and even dosages – to figure out the best thing for me and it has made a huge difference, even in therapy, having the mental capacity to approach the topics and challenges that are necessary for my healing, because I wouldn’t be stable the way I am right now without my medication.

[Jace]: and I think even medication is something that’s so stigmatized in our lives. When I was growing up it was almost as if, if you’re taking medication then you’re not OK, and it was always viewed as like the person taking medication is broken and this is what’s fixing them. But as someone who now does take medication, I realized that it’s not that we’re broken and it’s not that this is the solution, it’s that we need support and this is how I’m choosing to support my brain. And so, I know people who have tried medication and no matter what they try it just does not work for them, and it doesn’t seem like something that is going to help, but therapy is something. So realizing that what works for one person might not be what works for another person and taking the time to figure out what it is that works for you without beating yourself up, because I had to go through four different therapists and I don’t even know how many different medications and dosages, like you said Heather; like you got to play around with it. Until I found I was at a point where I was stable enough to work on my mental health in other ways.

[Heather]: I always describe both finding a therapist and finding a medication — it’s like dating you know?

[Jace]: No wonder I didn’t like it! I was never good either!

[Heather]:  you know it’s not a one size fits all you know and the dynamic and balance that works for you, you know, just like a partner, you know, what suits me might not suit Jace or you know any other individual. and offering yourself that flexibility to explore the different options and supports to really finds what serves you best.

[Jace]: and just like dating, sometimes things come up, and you have to work through it. You know I was on a medication for over a year and it was working fine, and then one day it just wasn’t working anymore, and so I had to be honest with myself and communicate that with the people who were trying to support me, whether that be my therapist or psychiatrist. I had to advocate for myself, and as someone with trauma, advocating for myself was so hard. For the longest time I did not know how to ask for help and I kind of resented it. I hated that I had to ask for help, but eventually I realized that everyone has to ask for help at some point in their life and the longer I wait to ask the harder it’s gonna get for me to ask that question.

[Heather]: Yes. I just keep coming back to like, “I relate to that so much.” I can get a little redundant at points. But especially with like the social stigmas that we’ve already touched on half a dozen times; you know the pressure to perform, and show that vulnerability that you need help, whether it’s from your family, your partner, your therapist, your provider. It’s hard and I think typically there’s a perception of shame around doing that, but you know in reality it makes you better, you know, it offers you an opportunity for improvement and growth, and it really, really requires honesty, both with yourself and your supports. Because if you can’t be honest with yourself that you need help or that you need a change, you’re not going to be able to communicate it to others.

[Jace]: so, where are we now? I think now is a good time to kind of jump into that ’cause we’re kind of winding down. What have you learned from your experience with mental illness that has impacted where you are today?

[Heather]: so much! I don’t know where to start. A lot of it has been about boundary setting; being realistic with what I can handle, you know, whether that’s with work or family or friends. You know if you don’t feel mentally or physically up for, you know, doing a visit or a dinner or you know helping somebody move (laughs), being able to say like, “I’m sorry, I want to support you, can I help you another way,” or “can we do this instead” or even altering plans to make it feel more obtainable. Like “no I can’t do dinner but maybe we can grab a coffee or go for a walk.” To try to find — like — meet yourself halfway.

[Jace]: I love that. “Meet yourself halfway.” Not even the other person, but meet yourself halfway. Because you have to manage your expectations of what you should do versus what you actually can do.

[Heather]: Yeah. So that and like, honesty, for me, a lot has been sitting with a lot of parts of myself and my identity and, similar to you, like coming out as queer, exploring my gender identity, realizing I’m nonbinary which is a very, very recent discovery for me; or realization. Because you know even after finding stability there is still things that felt off and felt like didn’t click for me, and through a lot of self-reflection I came to some very helpful conclusions about myself and my needs, which has taken a huge weight off myself, you know? I mean I just, I find life more obtainable, you know, I find myself finding moments of joy, which I can’t say that I had before. Even doing dishes, cleaning the house, you know; it gets done (laughs)! And, you know, I’m always looking for opportunities for growth, whether it’s finding trainings at work to do, finding volunteer opportunities like this, engaging with other LGBTQ folks.

[Jace]: so have you felt like your work has been impacted by your mental illness in a positive way? That’s my question, because earlier you talked about how it has impacted you because you would want to call out but has it ever impacted your work positively?

[Heather]: Oh, that is a spicy question. I mean honestly, yes. I am a more empathetic person; I am a more understanding person. It gives me drive to continue to work and grow in a way I don’t think that I had before. Yeah, it definitely does. I also find myself making sure that I’m engaging with a wide variety of folks in accessible ways, making sure that I’m not neglecting certain demographics within my lessons, or different community engagement opportunities. Like I just really want to make spaces accessible for all so yes, yes it’s definitely affected me in positive ways, though I think that’s hard to reflect on.

[Jace]: I definitely agree. It’s a difficult thing to grasp, because we focus so much on the negative of mental illness, and it’s not something that’s looked at as anything positive. And I’m not saying that by asking these questions we’re going to turn around and all of a sudden our mental illnesses are going to be our superpowers, but with that being said there is a lot more to mental illness than just the bad parts, and I didn’t realize this for myself until I came across a quote that said “be the person you needed when you were younger.” And in that moment, I realized just how important the work that we do is, and just how important it is that we have been where a lot of these kids and young adults and teenagers have been, because I never realized how empathetic I guess I was being in comparison to other colleagues, because I had been there. And every time something was going on in my kids’ lives that others didn’t understand, I always try to put myself in their shoes and would say oh I remember when this happened to me as a kid and I hated it when like a teacher said this to me, or like did that, instead of like trying to help me work through it. So not that having a mental illness is necessarily a good thing all the time, because it can be very heavy, but it can help us learn how to navigate the world in a more kind and caring way.

[Heather]: And I completely agree. Especially when working with youth, they’re in such a vulnerable space and I, I mean I’ve already talked about it, you know, I didn’t always feel welcome and comfortable or heard in spaces when I was young. It really limited my growth and I really, really strive to provide youth with the space that I didn’t have growing up. Like I want them to feel loved, I want them to feel cared for, I want them to feel heard and understand that their individual experience is valid and that their ideas –

[Jace] And even going beyond – sorry — even going beyond just working with youth, your friends, your family; everyone is looking to be understood and sometimes we just need to take the extra moment to really process where they’re coming from.

[Heather]: It can put us in a space to have better relationships to be a better friend, and to be a better support.

[Jace] Yeah. You don’t have to have a degree in therapy or in social work to be a supportive friend, family, community member.

[Heather]: You just need to offer yourself growth when faced with a place where it does need some growth, or maybe, you know, you’re not serving yourself or your relationships in the best way possible analyze what you can do to improve.

[Jace] And just try I your best every single day.

[Heather]: even if your best is you know getting out of bed.

[Jace]: yeah, your best doesn’t have to be the best you’ve ever done. Sometimes your best that day is just taking a shower. getting out of bed. Putting on a fresh pair of underwear.

[Heather]: (laughs) Yes, and being flexible with yourself, and understanding that, even in the process of recovery, you know I say I am the most stable I’ve ever been, but you know I still have those days where dishes feel impossible to get done where you know maybe I would spend 6 hours watching reality TV and it’s OK. Because if that’s what I need that day, that’s what I need. You know, you really need to prioritize yourself.

[Jace]: Meet yourself halfway.

[Heather]: Yes, meet yourself halfway.

[Outro]: Thanks for listening to the 603 Stories Podcast, a monthly podcast made by young adults, for young adults. You can check out 603 Stories on Facebook, or Instagram. Or at our website, 603Stories.org. Just a reminder, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, that is 800-273-TALK. And the Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting 741-741. Remember, you can make connections, get help, and find hope, through 603 Stories.