What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
I was assaulted by a superior in the workforce, leading to suicidal ideation that resulted in forming suicide plans and a brief moment when I considered acting on those plans. Because of the hope and resiliency offered by colleagues, family, and my therapist, I utilized my safety plan. For those who have not heard of a safety plan, it is a plan formulated for folks for whom suicidal ideation is a reoccurring happening. A safety plan allows the person suffering from ideation to reach out to a safe individual who will talk them through things or intervene in supportive, lifesaving ways.
For me, this was a conversation with my spouse about my ideation that ended with the understanding that I was not in a place to take action regarding the assault. Eventually, I was encouraged by the people offering me support to take action as a way to facilitate healing from the incident. That action, in this instance, was informing the denominational leaders (this was a church leader) of the incident, writing a full report of what had happened (this was a painful but important step in my healing), and then naming my expectations in regard to what systemic accountability might look like. At the start of this reporting, I thought that some form of education for the perpetrator and an apology would help me feel some form of resolution. After a year of journaling, therapy, and other healing practices, I’ve come to believe that only I can create the internal resolution that will help me continue taking steps forward.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
Some of the things that I have used to begin healing from the assault are talk therapy, safety planning, somatic healing, and grounding. I’m what’s considered an internal processor, meaning I typically think all my thoughts and let them run through my mind until I feel comfortable sharing them…but after the trauma of assault that was not a helpful mode, and so I began talk therapy, allowing space for my thoughts to happen and then leave. I also began using two intentional somatic healing practices, massage therapy and touch therapy. It is true that our bodies, as well as our minds, hold on to the experiences we have in life, and I was triggered regularly after my assault because my spouse looks very similar to the perpetrator, so my body was in a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or faint leading me to seek out a massage therapist regularly to work the muscles as well as asking my husband to engage in touch therapy, which is a form of non-sexual touching that allows my brain and body to gain understanding that I’m not in danger when this human is near.
On my own, I also utilized the practice of grounding as a way to help with the healing process. My spiritual director is trained in forest therapy and offered instruction as well as education on the benefits that come with grounding oneself in nature. I made it a daily practice, before my journaling, to pour myself a cup of coffee and step out onto my backyard barefoot so that I could be physically reminded that the world is vast, and while my experience of assault matters, there is more to life and more to me than that experience.
Think about the system that affects our mental health in our society, including aspects of it that are damaging to mental health and aspects of the system that improve mental health. Based on your experience, how might we improve that system to build resilience and better address the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities?
Following this assault, I benefitted by having the full support of my boss and colleague, and it was with their encouragement that I gained the courage to report the assault. The system that negatively affected my mental health the most was the ways in which the denomination lays out a policy of reporting. There was a lack of trauma-informed individuals to host the eventual interviews (I spoke twice with a committee that was tasked with investigating the report of assault). These individuals questioned my character to the point that they asked one of my character references if I had ever talked about or cheated on my spouse before. They consistently blamed me throughout the interview, asking what I was wearing, if I had been drinking, and ways that I could have spoken differently to make the perpetrator not want to assault me. The interviewers were seeking out the intention behind the assault rather than understanding that the actions themselves were harmful, regardless of the intent.
Reflecting back on the situation, I can also see that I needed support to report the incident because I have been assaulted and harassed in previous stages of my life and have not been believed. Even now, there is a sort of helplessness in me, due to the fact that nothing was done in regard to the report of assault after the investigation. It is a challenge to endure assault in the workplace, made even more difficult by companies and organizations that don’t have clearly laid out plans of action. And to take that thought and expand it to the impact on mental health, organizations and workplaces that can’t offer mental health days, refuse to offer them, or that create a culture that stigmatizes what they may offer can be deadly to the people who are in need of time away from the place where they experienced trauma.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
Even when, especially when, you can’t see someone struggling…they are.