The story I am about to tell you is not a story. It’s my life. I haven’t told anyone outside of my family, with the exception of a few very close friends. In December of 2011, I stood on the ledge of life and death, contemplating the pros of cons of each choice. I was never the person who suffered from mental health issues, and I’m still not. However, there I was just the same, standing on the ledge ready to free-fall out of this world.
As many of my readers know, I grew up on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in Western North Dakota. I am not Native American. Oftentimes, my thoughts would wander back to the days of my youth. I remembered the struggles of some of the families, most of whom the children were my friends. I remembered hearing the hopes and dreams for the future. In 2009, I was elated because an opportunity to truly make a difference presented itself. It didn’t happen by magic. We worked hard for that grant. Excitement filled the air and a renewed energy infiltrated the little nonprofit. It was going to be fantastic!
Nonetheless, I found myself in a battle of ethics and humanity. I put on my battle gear of Integrity, Loyalty, Honesty and Compassion. Little did I know, I was fighting a battle I could not win, because I was fighting alone. It wasn’t until I wandered in the aftermath, that I recognized that this was the same feeling of demoralization the Native Americans I knew and loved had felt their entire lives, and throughout the history of our nation.
From 2009 to mid-2011, our lives were filled with threats and intimidation, unlike I have ever experienced in my whole life. I’ve seen some ugly things in my lifetime, but nothing that compared to the demon of hate-mongering, racism, and greed all rolled into one. The saddest part was that all this terror came from within the organization itself.
I sat in several meetings where lie after lie was told about what the grant was for and how the money was supposed to be spent. I watched as benefits that were to be afforded to the new staff of the organization were somehow swept aside and denied to those who deserved them. (Sound familiar?)
Each time, I spoke up about the untruths; my voice was harshly silenced through threats and intimidation. I had never felt so powerless in my entire life. I had tried so hard to make those who were in power listen to what I had to say, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone was scared. Everyone was trying to survive the day without getting fired or blamed for things they weren’t even aware happened – if in fact they had happened at all. Truth slowly melded into paranoia and insanity. Fear was the ruler of the day, and haunted each of us in the silence of the night. The fear grew into the bitterness of betrayal. Those tasked with the stewardship of the grant had turned their backs on us, and soon after the inevitable implosion came.
When the truth of most things did come to light, through a written complaint to the board of directors, soon after (July 2011), my position was eliminated in the nonprofit. I fought the good fight. At least that’s what I told myself. I fought the good fight and lost. Game over.
One would think that once out of the fire, the heat would be gone. That is not the case with toxic stress. I jumped at the chance to start a new job, even though I could have kept the one I had until December. It was a new job, in another city. I had been running a thousand miles an hour for almost two years, in self-protection mode. The mistake that I made was not giving myself a chance to decompress, before starting something new. Not to mention moving to a community where I knew absolutely no one.
Not-so-funny side story. In my new job, there was a strict expectation of recognizing the signs of suicide. No one recognized the signs I was exhibiting.
Only one person recognized that I was in trouble, and a lot of it. He was a pastor who didn’t even know me. He knew it right away, and had the guts to say so. He couldn’t do anything about it himself, except wield the sword of truth. He will always be a hero of sorts in my book. (No pun intended.)
In December of 2011, I took the scariest step in my life. I asked for help. I reached out to a therapist I had found on-line in the town where I lived. I faced the fear of being ridiculed or labeled as crazy, and got the help I needed at the time. Looking back, this was the greatest fear that I had – being labeled by others who didn’t know my story. Didn’t understand what I had been through.
If you are struggling today, tonight or anytime, please recognize your inner-strength and just get help. It does get better. I am happier now than I have been in years. I am not crazy. I am not weird or lesser than anyone else. I am not weak. One of the greatest signs of strength is knowing when to ask for help, and then doing it. You are not alone.