February 09, 2017
When I arrived at Skyland Trail, my emotional and professional goals were very different than they are today. The biggest difference being that before Skyland Trail, I had none.
I take pride in my past accomplishments. I graduated from college. I spent time volunteering abroad. I was a teacher. But then came A LOT of therapeutic, psychiatric, and psychopharmacological attempts to treat a diagnosis that was ultimately proven incorrect.
After a terrible two month stay at a rehabilitation facility, I’d lost all my momentum. I spent a year secluded in my home with my dog. Arriving in Atlanta I was apathetic and I had no hope. Nevertheless, I decided to try again and put my burnt-out brain in the care of professionals who quite literally saved my life. The ‘me’ before treatment at Skyland Trail, the ‘me’ with little hope and no momentum, would not believe where I am now.
I feel obligated to write that it has not been easy. I suppose nothing ever is for those who struggle with mental illness – the progress graph is NEVER a straight line up. For me, discovering that my formal diagnosis was major depressive disorder was not as important to my recovery as understanding what my symptoms meant, and most of all feeling that they were validated. The Skyland team patiently led me to a place where I could accept myself and enabled me to move forward knowing I had just as much of a right as anyone else to pursue the recovery, the relationships, and the jobs that would be meaningful to me.
During my third month at Skyland Trail, I decided to take my professional goals seriously. It was hard to start over after I had lost all ambition, and I felt emotionally exhausted from all the work (and yes it definitely is work) I was doing in therapy. I had been embarrassed to share with anyone that I held a secret aspiration: I wanted to become a rabbi.
I felt so much shame about the condition of my mind that I thought I was unfit for the career path. I was finally able to just SAY out-loud in Matthew’s office, “I want to go to rabbinical school and become a rabbi”. [Matthew is the vocational coordinator at Skyland Trail.] I finally was ready to come clean that I had hopes and dreams for myself. After graduating from Skyland Trail’s DBT program, I continued participating in Skyland Trail’s vocational services program. I began to pursue this goal of becoming a rabbi.
Eventually I sat before a board of rabbis to discuss why I thought I would be a good rabbi. It was difficult, but I did it. Days passed, and then I heard back from the board. They deferred my candidacy for two years, pending my continued professional development and additional experience in several areas.
I was and am discouraged, and it has been difficult not to fall into my old thought patterns. I continue to battle thoughts that I am not good enough, that I am not fit for this pursuit, that I should give up because I wasn’t admitted the first time. Yet each day I push hard to reapply myself, to plan and strategize to satisfy the conditions of the deferment, and to cultivate personal, spiritual, and professional supportive networks in my community.
We all must work for what we want in life, and despite all the challenges that come with mental illness, we are not an exception to this. If Matthew helped me explore one thing, it is this: recovery from mental illness is an upward battle, but I can get to where I want to go and I deserve the right to work toward my goals as much as anybody else. We living with mental illness might have to do it with a fuller backpack of problems than others around us, but we can do it all the same.
I also now know that there are others who want me to succeed as much, if not more, than I do. So, if I have any advice to give about all I have learned, it is to just do it. You won’t want to, but do it anyway. Sit down, even if it is at first alone with yourself, and say out loud what you want to be, where you want to go and how you want to do it. And you will need to keep saying it. I still need to do it all the time, but it will become real. You will wake up one morning (well more like over a series of mornings) and be able to not only say it, but see it as well.
- written by Skyland Trail alumni