It’s September 2014. I am on the phone. It’s a beautiful summer day, which is why I have chosen to make this important call outdoors, with the sun on my face and mother earth beneath my feet. It is a discovery session with a Spiritual Psychotherapist.
The therapist explains that the intention for the call is for each of us to determine if there is a good fit for us to work together. She asks me to tell her my story. I begin by telling her that I’ve experienced over 6 major depressive episodes since 1988, my last one being 8 years ago; I have been off medication for almost a year now and my intention is to work with her so that I do not sink into depression ever again. I continue to matter-of-factly recount the events that occurred in the 6 months immediately following my first major psychotic break in 1988. My father, only 50 years old, took his life; I was 3 months pregnant with my first child and the day before we laid my father to rest I was in danger of miscarrying my child; I followed doctors’ orders and rested for 3 weeks after the funeral and the day before I was to return to work a termination letter from my employer was delivered to my door by a cab driver and a couple weeks after that my house was broken into.
The therapist pauses and then responds with “These experiences are deeply traumatic experiences for any human being to process and they all happened to you within a short, 6 month period. How did you process them at the time, or get through them since then?” My answer “I just kept going”.
I had never paused to think about what had happened to me. More importantly I never questioned that to “just keep going” wasn’t the only way to get through the deep challenges of my Life. My focus, at that deeply painful time of my father’s death, was to keep myself and my unborn baby protected from all of the pain. Somehow I thought that by not acknowledging the pain, it could not harm us but as the therapist pointed out in her question, trauma requires processing. I had not processed any of this nor did I process any of the traumatic experiences that continued over the next 24 years of my life with mental illness. Until this phone call with a therapist my deep faith kept me ploughing through it all because I did not know any better.
As I said the words “I just kept going”, it’s as if every fiber of my being in that second understood how ridiculous my answer was. It was the first time the possibility surfaced that maybe mental illness was not who I was and it was actually just something that I experienced as a result of untreated, unprocessed trauma. That possibility liberated my deepest fears that mental illness was a life sentence. It was, in light bulb moment terms, a neon bulb!
Today after 4 years of commitment to various transpersonal therapies, I know that ploughing through the pain contributed to my mental and physical un-wellness. The pattern of ignoring/burying emotions and feelings were the at the heart of my mental illness and my physical dis-ease that brewed in my chronic physical pain manifesting as major depression, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia for the past 3 decades.
I am grateful for the medications, treatments and the doctors who administered them. These stabilized my symptoms so I could have a liveable existence. I don’t know that I or my family would have made it this far without them.
I am grateful to the knowing inside of me who at the 24 year mark, realized that the danger of my symptoms (emotional overwhelm) had dissipated and nudged me to create a support structure for myself so that I could excavate the root cause of my symptoms.
Equally, are the Teachers of self-awareness and healing who showed in response to that nudge (a Life Coach, a Spiritual Psychotherapist & a Conscious Coach for Entrepatheurs TM). To these professionals, I owe a lifetime of gratitude. It was through their methodologies that I uncovered my unresolved and when my recovery from trauma began. to a meaningful, joy filled life that I now enjoy, free from deep depression and chronic physical dis-ease.
The emergence of the Life Coach, Spiritual Psychotherapist and the Conscious Coach on my path was, as all things in life are, synchronistic. These teachers showed up when the student was ready. I was ready and open to an alternative to the numbing effect of anti-depressants that provided a manageable and livable existence. My desire to change the behaviors I could no longer tolerate in myself and my life lead me to them. The work I did and continue to do with them to understand my behaviors’ inextricable link to unresolved trauma was and remains life changing.
What follows is the story of my journey navigating through the modalities and practices these teachers offered; what they taught me and how they transformed me. This work is what I have adopted as my support structure for personal growth and expansion. This work continues to transform the many layers of my wounds, trauma and behaviours. This work keeps me mentally and physically healthy. I offer this for those of you who are also seeking and ready to navigate your way, from a path of numb existence to a path of connection, meaning and joy-filled living. (For those of you who want more details, click here for my personal reference list of books, treatments and practices that I’ve adopted as my support structure on my healing journey.)
My first teacher, a life coach helped me understand behaviour and communication. She taught me that “blaming” was a powerless place and that “ownership” of my behaviours and the consequences they created in my life was the place of personal power, growth and good emotional health. She gave me insight into the “why” that was behind the behaviours I was unable to change on my own. The invaluable tool I learned was to live in curiosity with my negative self-talk; to question my limiting beliefs and to look for the facts that disprove both.
A strategic advisor/business coach was my second teacher. She offered me modalities to help with the emotional components that surfaced from underneath the tasks at hand in my business. “Parts work” as it’s known in transformational healing circles is based on the premise that we are not a single thing, but rather a compilation of many “parts” or “voices”. Dialoguing with our parts, through a process called Active Imagination, dates back to Carl Jung (early twentieth century psychiatrist) who came upon this methodology while exploring his own subconscious. It’s based on an understanding that a healthy personality is made up of many sub-personalities or parts. And when we begin to make our parts conscious, they no longer rule our lives from the unconscious. The Parts Work revealed truths that I supressed and in some cases completely disowned in order for me to survive my life experiences. I continue to work with her and practice Parts work and it ensures that all parts of me are seen and heard without judgement so their purpose that served me in my past can be accepted, understood and then transformed into a valid purpose for the present.
The other body of work I do with my strategic advisor/business coach is Purpose Work (using the True Purpose Process® created by Tim Kelly). This deepens my connection to the collective consciousness and supports my ascension for the higher purpose of my soul’s journey. Both Parts Work and Purpose Work have been pivotal in showing me how to create a life of conscious choices. These practices allow me to respond to my experiences rather than react to my experiences which I later regret. I have the ability now to stop, breathe, think and regulate myself in the face of an oncoming, unconscious reaction, into a responsible and conscious response. I continue to work with her on Mi Calling as I walk the path that lies before me paved with my life’s work/purpose “to change how we see and treat mental illness”.
Teacher number 3 was my Spiritual Psychotherapist. I saw her once a week for a year and then on an as-needed basis. I worked through my challenges, pain, trauma and my sadness. I began to understand them and where they came from. I learned the tools and skills necessary to build and maintain my emotional strength and resiliency. One layer at a time, I worked through the numbness to the deeper, more painful sadness that I did not even know was there. Not the surface kind but the sadness pushed so deep, from so long ago that I was unconscious of it. At its peak, this sadness completely paralyzed me with deep clinical depression. Today I know beyond any doubt that clinical depression was the symptom, and unresolved trauma was the cause of my depression. The biggest lesson I have learned from psychotherapy is that when we avoid or ignore the processing of emotional experiences, we inflict emotional damage on ourselves that literally severs the life force within us, robs us of our vitality and buries our joy.
Having worked through my underlying pain, sadness and trauma that I experienced in my lifetime, I was now ready to explore the inherited ancestral trauma of my family tree through Family Constellations facilitation with my therapist. Family Constellations is a psycho-spiritual body of work developed by Bert Hellinger and continues at The Family Constellation Institute, The Inherited Trauma Institute, and the Hellinger Institute of Northern California under the direction of Mark Wolynn. The Systemic Family Constellations theory suggests that there is an inter-generational transference of beliefs, behaviors, energies and traumas that are unconscious, emotional, psychological as well as physical. These inherited characteristics and energies can be the invisible root of disturbances and imbalances in an individual’s life that can sabotage health and well-being. This therapeutic process can be effective in breaking destructive family patterns of unhappiness, illness, failure and addiction. The results are often immediate and life-changing. The Family Constellation approach is becoming one of the most rapidly expanding forms of therapy in the world and is practiced in more than 35 countries.
My therapist explained that the positive effects of psycho-spiritual healing with Family Constellation facilitation was big work that would benefit not only my present family, as all healing does, but also the 7 generations before me and after me. Wow! I was ready to be the one to create a family legacy of healing past traumas or as my therapist put it “changing my family history”. I was ready to do the big work of changing our family history forever by healing not only my trauma but also the unconscious trauma of my ancestors that I unknowingly had been carrying within me. I was ready to put a stop to the unhealthy behaviours and suffering that plagued my family tree for generations.
The Family Constellations facilitation looked at 3 generations of trauma in my family tree; the roles various people played in them; the family dynamics that played out and the suffering they endured. Understanding the ancestral traumas; having empathy for my ancestors’ suffering and forgiving them were the groundwork for healing my ancestors and myself. In fact the understanding of the roles and dynamics had me realize that there were actual, predictable reasons why mental illness had continued for at least 3 generations that I was aware of. This healing work revealed the inherited unconscious patterns that kept me stuck, suffering and unhealthy. The realization of how the ancestral trauma and behaviors were running my life at an unconscious level was astounding; a gift that cannot be measured.
If Family Constellations resonates with you then I highly suggest Mark Wolynn’s book IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU-How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle. This book is a fascinating read that explains inherited family trauma and gives tools to tap into the unconscious inherited family trauma within us.
For me Spiritual Psychotherapy was a journey to know myself and where I came from on deeper levels of awareness in order to expand and thrive in the present. It created in me a scholar in the study of myself, my ancestors and the consciousness of our family tree. This work was painful and it took my deepest commitment to keep showing up. It took trust that there was knowledge and healing on the other side of the revelation of the pain that was piled high atop my joy. The joy that depression buried with sadness and that anti-depressants indefinitely kept buried was able to surface. You see the thing about the subconscious is that whatever we place there stays there, until we retrieve it and release it.
Life Coaching, Parts Work, Purpose Work, Spiritual Psychotherapy and Family Constellation facilitation were the keys to my transformational process of healing, expanding and strengthening my spiritual connection. The teachers and modalities were the bridges to self-awareness that empowered and supported me to learn how to rewire my brain to emotionally self-regulate so that medication was no longer necessary and an authentic, balanced and joy-filled life could emerge. These methodologies and practices have kept me free of depression for over 12 years.
Today I am unrecognizable to myself. My life has joy, meaning and every moment is a miracle of emotional connection. I am no longer afraid of what might be lurking underneath the numbness because I’ve learned to recognize when something has affected me and I have the inner resources now to process it in real-time. I have created a deeply feeling and compassionate life that I feel worthy to experience. I believe this is possible for everyone living with Mental Illness.
- What if I had been offered other treatments along with the medication?
- What if my treatment had included keeping the deep sadness at a manageable and liveable state until I was able to focus on the root cause of the sadness that was not visible and buried underneath the obvious depths of darkness that I had spiralled into?
- What if my clinical depression could have been seen as a symptom of an underlying and unconscious trauma that I was unaware of?
- What if my treatment had created a safe place to recognize, acknowledge and see the trauma as the cause of the symptom?
These are the questions running through my mind. And it is from standing in these questions that I can vision a different future for those suffering with and affected by mental illness:
- Where mental illness is experienced as a transformational process.
- Where treatment includes the whole person (conscious and unconscious aspects).
- Where emotions are a tool to improve the quality of our connections with self and other.
Mi Vision for the future of mental illness is that:
- The role of unresolved trauma in mental illness is understood and excavated.
- We see those suffering with mental illness as people who have been through and were unable to process unthinkable experiences.
- Treatment for mental illness is seen through the eyes of an archeologist who studies the patient’s history to excavate and analyze unresolved traumas.
- Those suffering have access to a broader range of professionals trained in trauma modalities as mandatory components in the mental illness treatment protocol.
This is what I hold in my heart and what I believe will be the end of suffering and the end of mental illness as we know it.
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