I was at the end of my first acting class at William Esper Studios my teacher, Terry Knickerbocker, pulled me aside and said something to the effect of, “Acting requires vulnerability.”
To which I responded with, in all seriousness, “What!? No one told me!” Oblivious.
To which Terry said gently, “Have you considered counseling?” How dare he, is all I could think.
I was 21 and in the first week of my two-year acting conservatory in New York City when I first learned that experiencing emotions and feelings are a “good thing.”
It sounds counterintuitive but looking back now, I prided myself on how emotion-less I was. In fact, my college boyfriend used to call me the “Ice Queen” during fights, because I was just that - numb. I didn’t experience joy, but I didn’t experience sadness. You couldn’t hurt me behind the Great Wall of China surrounding my heart. Instead, I was efficient, I was deft. And, I was very proud of that thankyouverymuch.
I pretended like I was doing OK, but, if I’m being honest, deep down, I was just coping. I didn’t want to acknowledge my shame, grief, guilt, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety – there was just so much! And, I didn’t want to be just another number, or statistic. Owning up to my pain felt like I had failed at life or that somehow my abusers had won. Besides, I already survived all of that. The last thing I wanted to do was go backward.
I didn’t realize it then, but sometimes the only way to move forward is to go back to the beginning. I had no idea how my unaddressed trauma was impacting my life outside of the obvious – limiting my true thespian abilities from really shining.
Trauma is loosely defined as an exceptionally overwhelming experience that exceeds our capacities and what traumatic for one person isn’t necessarily traumatic for another person. There are many different types of situations, isolated or repeated, that can leave a lasting mark on us.
But, you’re not alone. Thanks to the work of the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, a ten-point scale for measuring childhood trauma including neglect, verbal, physical and sexual abuse- we know that approximately 90% of Americans have experienced some form of trauma that hinders their day-to-day productivity. And, because of our experiences, we may have learned how to protect ourselves from the pain we were experiencing, or witnessing and formed survival mechanisms. The only thing is, what helped us survive then, may be limiting our ability to thrive now.
And here’s the good news, if any part of your story is like mine; it is entirely possible to recover. Healing is possible. You can learn, and you can heal. Science tells us so. Just like when we cut ourselves, and our white blood cells rush to your wounds, immediately after we experience a traumatic stressor, our brains and body begin to self-heal. As humans, we are hard-wired for resiliency, sometimes we just may need a little help getting there.
So why would you want to consider seeking care? There are many reasons, and each one is unique to you. For me, I wanted to heal the parts of myself that need a little tender loving care, and be freed from the things that held me back.
How do we find care?
Finding mental health care and support can be a little tricky depending on where you live. Thankfully there are a lot of ways to find the right support.
1) If you feel are in crisis, feel threatened or afraid of someone else, call 911.
2) University or medical school-afflicted programs may offer inpatient and outpatient treatment. If you are a student, you may also be eligible for free care from your school or university. Contact your local campus and find out.
3) Visit the website of your state or country government and search for the health services department. There you will find resources in your area and community.
4) Call helplines: Helplines are operated by trained volunteers and provide the caller with someone you can talk to in the event of crises or when you need someone to talk to during a stressful time and they can provide mental health information and resources in your area.
5) Explore online and text interventions and support. Online counseling has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety for patients. There are a lot of reputable companies offering this video talk therapy and text mental health care support. Some of our favorites are included in this issue.
6) Contact your healthcare insurance provider. Practitioners lists in health care plans can provide mental health professionals that participate with your plan.
7) Ask friends and family members for recommendations: Finding the right care is sometimes alike dating because you want to work with someone that you can trust enough to talk about the intimate parts of your story that are holding you back. Asking friends and family for people they have worked with in the past is a great place to start. If you don’t feel right with one counselor, or practitioner, then look for another one until you do.
Recovering from something isn’t easy but it is totally possible. I’ve learned that just like learning a new skill, taking care of your body, heart and mind takes time. You can’t be perfectionists when it comes to getting better from experiences like domestic violence, child abuse, or any other kind of traumatic experience.
One of my mentors explained it like this,
“Healing is like going up a mountain, you pass something, and then you pass it again except this time you’ve got a better view.”
The struggle is real, yes, but so is hope, so is redemption, and so is healing. So, go first, accept your past, commit to healing, embrace your journey, live boldly and celebrate. Because this isn’t the end of your story, it’s just the beginning.