Clinical counsellor and coach, Jordon Iorio, interviews Brittany Beach, a 34 year old Brantford, Ontario resident who is currently winning her battle against cancer. I hope it inspires and provides perspective to everyone reading this who is having a hard time managing their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
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When I began working on this series, one thing I really wanted to convey was that mental health issues do not discriminate. Mental health disorders do not care what gender, ethnicity or religion you are, or even what job you have. Today’s story perfectly demonstrates the power and prevalence of mental health disorders and how we do not have the ability to always see it for ourselves, even when we work within the mental health field. This should make us realize more than ever, that it is the responsibility of our communities to look out for, support and protect one another. Jodie, is married and a mother to a 3-year-old daughter, and she is a mental health professional herself. She has been in the counselling and treatment field for around 14 years and has worked with people experiencing, grief, eating disorders, sexual abuse, trauma and more. Despite her extensive knowledge in the field of mental health, when she experienced a traumatic and life altering event, she began to show signs and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that impacted her life greatly. A self-confessed “empath” or “highly sensitive person,” Jodie speaks about her love for her chosen profession and her passion for helping others is evident in the way she speaks. She also acknowledges that being a counsellor has its own challenges. “It can be a very tough job, especially with burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma,” said Jodie. “This is ok in your younger years when you haven’t necessarily experienced a lot of your own trauma, but it can really affect or impact the compassion you can give to other people when you start to have some of these experiences for yourself.” Jodie and her husband experienced a parent’s worst nightmare just after their daughter’s first birthday. This chain of events would change their lives forever and Jodie even admits that she still feels the after effects of the event 2 years later. “Our daughter had just turned one and she got sick and spiked a fever very quickly. She had a febrile seizure and went unconscious,” explains Jodie. “She was foaming at the mouth in my husband’s arms, right in front of me, she shook, her eyes rolled back and she went limp and unconscious.” As a result of her losing consciousness, she started to turn blue. Jodie dialed 911 while her husband immediately started performing CPR on their daughter. In the mental health profession, a lot of discussion takes place over each individual’s fight or flight response when faced with a traumatic event. Jodie says she experienced the flight response. “I could not bear seeing that picture that I could not undo in my head. I actually ran outside and started yelling for help and for someone to come and save my dead baby.” She explains how she sat on the front lawn, in tears, on the phone with 911 dispatch. At that point a neighbour ran over and went into the house to help [...]
In the last article, I mentioned how essential it is for those suffering from mental health disorders to have a supportive community surrounding them. This community can be friends, coworkers, neighbours, but most often it is the immediate family that step up to support and guide. When this doesn’t happen, it can create an even more dire situation for the person suffering. Without feeling loved, supported and understood, the person can fall into a deeper depression and could easily feel as though there is no reason to go on. Today’s article tells the heartbreaking story of a wife and mother who has had to go on a mental health journey without the support of her husband. This story is in no way designed to criticize her husband, but to show how the caregivers need to be educated and supported too, as they take on the daunting task of helping someone they love. Often when we are thrust into the role of caregiver, we struggle with our own insecurities and wonder how we can possibly help someone in need. This interviewee has chosen to remain anonymous; names have been changed and certain details changed or omitted to protect the identities of those involved. When I sat down to meet with Sarah, she came across as a softly spoken, well put together woman in her 50’s. Her nails were impeccably painted red and she held her hands tightly in her lap, nervous and reserved. I started the interview the same way I always do, asking them if they would mind taking me back to the beginning, back to their childhood. “I grew up in a dysfunctional and unstable home as a child,” Sarah explains. “Mom and Dad were together, but my father had a really bad temper.” She recalls never feeling secure as child, or loved. “I have three older brothers, they experienced physical abuse from my father, I never remember being hit, but there was a lot of verbal abuse directed at me,” she said. She describes growing up in poverty, and explained how there were times where there wasn’t food in the home. Sarah talks about visiting neighbours homes and feeling the disconnect between her life and their lives, “I would go to their house and they would have pretty things and nice lunches,” she remembers, “It seemed so special, they had pretty homes, ours was ragged.” Growing up in a family where her father controlled most aspects of their life she said she always felt like something wasn’t right and couldn’t turn to her mother for help or support. “Mom was very docile, and she allowed Dad to behave the way he did,” she explains, “She wasn’t much help, I didn’t feel protected by her as a child.” Sarah as an adult has been able to better understand the behaviour of her parents and the dynamic of the household, “My parents desperately needed help, but they couldn’t help me, they couldn’t even help themselves.” We went on to [...]
We hear about trauma a lot. As our understanding of mental health disorders evolves, we have learned that trauma doesn’t just happen to those serving in combat, or even those who are in life threatening situations, trauma is our own personal reaction to a situation that we find distressing and unable to cope with (put very simply!) When we hear that someone has experienced “trauma” we automatically think of PTSD. Again, this is a diagnosis that we are starting to wrap our heads around and when someone tells us they are experiencing PTSD we can kind of understand what that means. But there are many ways that we cope with trauma, and one of those ways is through dissociation. These disorders involve experiencing a disconnection from thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. This is detachment from reality, but not a loss of reality like you would see in psychosis. Dissociation is not something many of us will have heard of, or understand, and it is a complex reaction to trauma. As with most mental health disorders, no two people will experience dissociation in the exact same way, the story I share with you today is one person’s experience with this. As I explained, dissociative disorders usually develop as a way to cope with trauma, this often develops in early childhood as a reaction to abuse, or living in a frightening or unpredictable environment. In order to keep difficult memories at bay a child may continue to dissociate as a response to stressful situations throughout life. When I sat down to interview Angela, I will be honest, I did not picture her as someone with this type of disorder. She is a nurturing, cool, calm and collected highly intelligent woman who works in healthcare, and that right there, is the whole problem with the perception of mental health. Even when we think we don’t have these pictures in our minds of who experiences mental health issues, we are all conditioned to assume that someone successful and well respected couldn’t possibly have a mental health disorder. I often begin these meetings asking people what motivated them to share their story now, and Angela explained to me that she wants to be a mental wellness advocate. She then went on to mirror my initial thoughts, “I’m not someone you would look at and say “she has mental health problems.” Mental health problems are a fact of life. They’re a part of the human condition, and they teach us so that we can grow.” Growing up in a small town in Eastern Canada, she explains the complex dynamics of her childhood and community, “There was a lot of passive aggressive bullying behavior, nothing overly violent, though I was bracing myself quite a bit,” she said, “There was a lot of putting people down. It didn’t help that I was a sensitive kid, an exquisite empath. I felt the pain and vulnerability of the person who was being targeted, and I felt the delight [...]
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