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Loss & Found

I’m a Skyland Trail alumni, and this is my story.

Loss and Found
This Skyland Trail alumna is a recent graduate of the RESPECT Institute, an organization that helps participants organize, construct, and customize their personal stories of recovery and independent living to share in diverse settings like management meetings, legislative meetings, employee orientations, university classrooms, civic meetings, and continuing education programs.

I had a great start. A couple of kids, engineering majors in college, fell in love with God and then fell in love with each other. They got married and had a little girl one year to the day. Yep, I was born on my parents’ first anniversary—their child of promise.

I demonstrated unusual capabilities at an early age: walking at 6 months old, reading at the age of one with no formal training—just grandma reading the Bible to me. I was regarded by some as a child prodigy and was even interviewed by local reporters, filmed spelling long words and spouting scientific facts I picked up through one of my favorite pastimes of reading my grandma’s encyclopedias. Not only was I smart, but I was well-behaved. When my little sister and baby brother came along, my mom often joked that she never should’ve spanked me because she had no idea how bad “real” children were until they hit the scene! I loved being a big sister. I was naturally responsible. My father became a minister and my mom taught Sunday school. I adored them and would do anything to please them. We had the perfect little family. 

But things change. Our church community became toxic and we left. The years after were difficult. My father struggled in his career after leaving ministry. My mother excelled in hers. There was tension then infidelity then abuse. Brutal abuse. At the age of seven I decided that we shouldn’t bother my parents. They had their own problems. I began taking care of my siblings as much as I could. I remember always planning ways to make things right. Even planning a secret counseling session for my parents—employing my own eight years of biblical wisdom. It didn’t go well.

School was my haven. I excelled easily and attaining recognition became medication. I was adamant about perfection, confronting teachers for every point short of 100. My parents divorced when I was 12 years old and it wasn’t pretty. My mom suffered tremendously mentally and financially. I was terrified as she experienced a nervous breakdown at the age of 34. I was 14. She was hospitalized for a few days, then proceeded to move on with her life as single mom and entrepreneur—never skipping a beat. She was so strong. She was perfect. 

My high school resume was perfect—a long list of extracurricular activities and great grades. I was awkward and isolated but still popular because I dressed nice and kept my hair fancy. I was prom queen, homecoming queen, and graduated top 10 in my class. It was perfect. 

Starting college, I wrote a lengthy, personal “constitution” with all my rules to live by—because I loved rules! Of course, I immediately met a guy that hated rules. I wound up in a secret relationship with him, against my better judgment. One night, during our usual rendezvous, he raped me. I cherished my virginity. I planned to save it until I was married. My identity was bound to it. A part of me went silent. 

I decided I could fix it. I will marry him. Make it work. It can still be perfect—like this never happened.

I became a different person. Rebellious. Vulgar. Rude. Faithless. Three years later, he raped me again. I realized I hadn’t made it up, and found the strength to leave eventually. 

I graduated, got a good job, joined a church, and met a great guy. Things were perfect. 

We got married, had our first child, a beautiful baby girl. It was not perfect—I had actually planned to have a baby boy first—and I grieved for my sweet daughter, remembering how life could be hard for an oldest girl.

My life was full. I was now a wife, mother, on several church committees, singing in the choir, started my own nonprofit, plus my full-time job as an industrial engineer. My husband and I had planned three children and marked the calendar to start trying for our second. It would’ve been perfect, except I miscarried. Twice. I was devastated. I struggled with flashbacks and became terrified of my own mind, locking myself in the bathroom at work daily to fight through the terror. Miraculously, a friend prayed for me, somehow knowing intimately what I was dealing with even though I had never told ANYONE. I was free again. 

Then came my rainbow baby. My pregnancy was tough and 2014 had been a tough year. My stepdad of 20 years left my mom, and my Godson passed away tragically at the age of two. Every week of my pregnancy brought new fears and anxieties. My husband, an entertainer, was performing and touring. I began dealing with intrusive thoughts of him leaving me because I was too fat and pregnant. One day, on my way to the office, I went too far. I pictured it like a movie: a young woman seducing him, divorce papers, crying as he walked away. Before I knew it I was screaming at the top of my lungs and I couldn’t stop. Pulling over, I sat terrified, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I suddenly remembered my mom’s breakdown. And I was the exact same age in that moment as she was then.

I reached for my phone. I called a coworker. I asked for help. I had my first counseling session that day.

I learned so much in counseling. I became a mental health advocate in the faith community. The Generalized Anxiety Disorder was now under control. Everything was perfect again! I was promoted at work and thriving.

And then, I found out I was pregnant again! I KNEW it would be a boy. I was anxious every doctor visit but each ultrasound showed that he was just perfect! After 16 weeks I breathed a sigh of relief. Out of the woods for miscarriage. Perfect. We made our announcement at 18 weeks on our 10 year wedding anniversary. It was perfect! At 20 weeks my water broke. My son was born two hours later without breath. There was nothing doctors could do for him.

My checklist: self-care, therapy, church attendance, and prayer. Subconsciously, I’d set a goal. Get over the grief quickly—as a good Christian can and should.

Six months after my son was born, I experienced true breakthrough—in the form of a breakdown. I had a heart attack. It was actually the most ferocious, physically debilitating anxiety attack that I’d ever experienced. I began having flashbacks afterward—oddly, not of the birth as I had before, but of being raped, and of my dad beating my mom. These were followed by a major depressive episode. I was in constant pain and could not leave my home. Sometimes I couldn’t leave my bed. A beautiful friend, who’s also a therapist, checked on me. She had seen where I was headed long before I got there when I still thought everything was perfect. She suggested I enroll in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and scoped some out for me. I landed at Skyland Trail. And here I suffered another devastating loss. My lifelong pursuit of perfection died. But as soon as she died, I began to live.

I was dedicated to my recovery. I turned on my excellent student vibe and dug in. I listened to caregivers, bared my soul in groups, and did scary things like exposure therapy, finally understanding that anxiety didn’t have the authority to take my life.

At Skyland Trail, I began to see that it’s not only about what you’ve lost, but what you have left. Every problem, every challenge—even loss—has a gift for you if you’re brave enough to look for it.

In the loss of my faith, I found a deeper relationship with God. In the debilitating loss of capacity through anxiety, I found the courage to address my past. I lost the masks that protected me from rejection and found authenticity that lead to intimate connections I never imagined I could have. I have found compassion in suffering. Patience in frustration. I found the bravery to say no—a luxury I never thought I could afford.

The “failures” that fueled my depression have empowered me to live an authentic, whole-hearted life on my terms. 

I’m still on my journey. Still overcoming. Even so, I’m not defined by my problems. It’s not just Post Traumatic Stress, but Post Traumatic Resilience. I grieve my loss, but embrace what I’ve found with gratitude.

In closing, I’d like to share some wisdom from my lived experience.

To my peers:

  1. Embrace your imperfections. You can honor your perfect picture that you had of your life, and even grieve it as you put it away. But please begin to gaze at the life you have and find the gifts.
  2. Ask for help. It is not weak, but one of the most powerful and courageous things you can do.
  3. Check on your “strong ones”—friends, coworkers, and family members. Many assume they don’t need help because they’re “perfect” at everything. Everyone needs help or support. The affair with presenting strength at all times can be toxic. Conversely, the shame surrounding vulnerability must be extinguished. Perfection is a myth that can rob you of your life, health, and happiness. 

To leaders of behavioral health systems:

  1. Please make the intake process easier. The paperwork was overwhelming in my depressed state. If not for my awesome support team, I may have given up.
  2. Listen to clients and aspire to be world-class askers of thoughtful questions. My providers and friends excelled in this. It was key to my success.

This is my story. Thank you.