Tag: trauma

Jerrald H Zeigler Jr

What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

I am a three-time suicide attempt survivor. Due to a military sexual assault and two molestations shortly after, I got PTSD and felt I couldn’t live with myself. My first attempt cost me my military career. My second attempt cost me my first marriage. My third attempt cost me my family for a long time. After that, I worked on my trauma through therapy and support groups. I am now co-founder and president of Empire Mental Health Support here in Sioux Falls. I owe it to the VA for understanding PTSD and military sexual trauma. Today I want to live. I have grandchildren I want to see grow up, graduate, get married, and have children of their own. Suicide is the furthest idea from my mind. I am worthy, therefore I must live! 


What resources have helped you to address this challenge?

SMART Recovery, NAMI, and Empire Mental Health Support. 


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?

Using mental illness against criminals during mass shootings instead of criminal behavior. The truth is people with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves rather than harm others. 

What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

That people can never just “get over it”! 



Elaina Houser

What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

When I was only 4 years old, I lost my father to cancer. Following the loss, my grandpa sexually assaulted me until the age of 12 when I came forward with what was happening. About a year and a half later, one of my best friends attempted suicide. After seeing how that affected everyone around us, it really opened my eyes to how important it is to go to therapy regularly and talk about your problems and thoughts. At the age of 22, I was raped by someone I considered a good friend. Ever since the traumas I have been through, I have struggled with mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.



What resources have helped you to address this challenge?


Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?

Be very open with your past and the battles you are fighting. No one can help you when you stay to yourself and bottle your emotions up.


What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

Make your mental health a priority. You matter.

Shastin Gerbracht

What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?   

On January 6, 2022, I was at work with a client. I had my Apple Watch on so I could feel that my phone was ringing repeatedly. This was unusual, so I checked my watch and saw that it had been my husband. I excused myself to check my phone and received a text from my husband that my 19-year-old son, Collin, texted into his place of work that he was not coming in because he was going to kill himself. My husband was already on his way to my son’s house. I left work immediately and began to drive toward it, thinking that we would get Collin, take him to hospital for some help and maybe have him move back home. As I got closer and closer, the fear of the worst gripped me. When I turned on his road, I saw the ambulance. There are not words to describe this terror. My husband came running out and met me outside. Through my screaming I realized he was gone. He had died by suicide.

I have experienced trauma before, as I served in the military for 20 years. This was like nothing I could have imagined. It was like a sharp cut through the fabric of what my life was. It impacted every realm of my life. I felt heavier, physically and emotionally crushed, changed forever.

As I move forward down this new path, I try to carry both the grief and hope. My hope is that I find new purpose in this life to use my wonderful son’s memory to help others through this, or more importantly, to help in the prevention. 


What resources have helped you to address this challenge? 

When I was still at my son’s house on the day of his death, Bridget from the Front Porch was there with support and resources. I attend the Front Porch support group and try to attend other gatherings with people who have experienced the same thing. This has been critical in helping me see beyond my present moment to how it might look for me after a few years. This support is essential to the hope that I carry.

I went to see a mental health counselor as soon as I could get in and continue with this as well. Through therapy we discovered that it was important that I continue to engage and say “yes” to opportunities and activities that might eventually bring joy, connection, or relief. This can be something like agreeing to go hiking with a friend or agreeing to submit my story here. Along with this mental health care, I also see my provider for medication to help me with the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

I reached out to friends, and I continue to call on them when I need to. I have requested from everyone I am close to that we talk about Collin as much as we can.

I focus on self-care a lot. I feel a lot better when I am able to work out, journal, read, and spend time with my dogs daily. My most important self-care goal is getting enough sleep. I can see a big difference in my coping skills when I am tired versus when I am well-rested.

I am working toward getting involved with helping others, as this can be very healing.


Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges? 

I think the sooner we build support for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities the better off we are. So that when someone does start to feel down, alone, or unsafe, they have people to reach out to AND feel comfortable doing so. The more wellness that exists upstream of a crisis, the better. 


What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand? 

It is possible to carry pain, grief, etc., while also carrying hope and joy. We can live fulfilling, meaningful lives without feeling like we need to “fix” these difficult parts of us. And there is support out there. Reach out! 

Mary Ellen Wolfe

What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

I lost a loved one to suicide 17 years ago. Since this loss, I’ve found myself struggling, too, with bouts of anxiety, depression and complicated grief—even suicidality. The feelings of abandonment and fear are intense when you lose a loved one, especially with lingering questions and no forewarning. After my loved one died, I struggled with nearly constant fear the rug would get yanked out from under me again. The world no longer seemed safe anymore.

But the last few years I’ve come to a place of greater peace. While the process involves regular self-care, I’ve also had a few changes of mind that were pivotal leaps forward.

One pivotal moment was when I realized I could heal myself. There was a stretch when not a single person—not even mental health professionals—seemed to offer consolation or understanding. I’d never felt so much despair. All alone one night, I sat in this space between life and death, a moment of choice. I felt an overwhelming temptation to take my life. Death was right there, so close. It seemed almost simpler to die than to live. But I remembered how it felt to lose my loved one to suicide and decided I couldn’t inflict the same pain on others. I said “No” inside to death.

I was crying so hard, nearly hysterical, when suddenly I felt peace come over me. I began talking to myself, out loud, in the midst of crying: “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna make it. You’re strong. Even if you’re all alone, I’m here for you.” As I was saying this to myself, I was thinking of other people who were depressed or suicidal, too. I could almost feel the collective pain of others. And the compassion I felt for others, in that moment, I felt finally for myself, too.

I still suffer moments of intense despair when I feel entirely alone. But I’m training myself to pause and draw on this peace and comfort as a constant. I offer myself hope by creating a safe space inside to fall apart.

These moments usually precede some great step forward. Life’s journey has hard stretches, but if you refuse to accept death and open your mind to life, you, too, can offer yourself peace and comfort in these dark moments of life.



What resources have helped you to address this challenge?

There are so many different types of care, including, of course, counseling.

I’ve found cognitive behavioral therapy a valuable way to open your mind to new patterns of thinking. I’ve come to see my mind was very narrow and closed in certain areas. A shift in mindset literally can change your life.

If you have recurrent fears and anxiety, even if you haven’t been outright abused or suffered what we consider a typical “trauma,” I highly recommend a person consider trauma counseling. A person can develop complex PTSD from emotional neglect or emotional abuse or even from dysfunctional families or communities.

I’ve found the trauma therapy tools nearly miraculous. It helped release me recurring, intrusive fears through what seemed pretty straightforward techniques. It takes a while to build up the personal trust to get into the frame of mind to use the trauma healing tools, but it is worth it. I cannot say enough positives about trauma therapy.

Creativity is a surprising and profound healing outlet. I was never a “creative kid” growing up. I never received much nurturing or notice in this area. But one day I decided to write down the story of losing my loved one to suicide. It helped me lay down the past and find peace. And I paint out all the madness and intensity when I can’t figure out how to say it with words. I first paint anger or sadness or frustration or fear and then over top of that I paint peace or loved or joy. I’ve learned literally to paint my way to peace.


Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?

I’m going to be very honest here. I think we live in a repressed community. There is so much left “unsaid.” Highly sensitive people often sense the underlying tension, stress or resentment or even judgment. What is unsaid is just as, or more, harmful than what is said.

I speak with many people every day who feel scared to express their real selves. They feel unsafe sharing their pain or doubts. There is such a pervasive pressure in this community to appear successful and to appear in control. Many young people need a safe space to fall apart or to fail. Failure is so integral to learning and future success, but there seems to be so much pressure on young people to perform. They also need a safe space to let it out—–to get angry or express frustration or despair or need. We need adults—we need parents—we need community leaders, who lead by example and can handle the needs of youth in this regard.

There is a real need in our community for empathetic listening. There is a need for people who have learned to converse on depression or anxiety or suicidality without fear or without fix-it optimism. There is a need for people who have walked through their own pain and feel comfortable conversing on the topic.

We live in a community that needs a greater awareness of boundaries. When people say, in the context or family, community or religion, that they love you, yet don’t accept you as you are and try to change you into their mold of what is ideal, the confusion is so damaging, especially to young people.

When people say they love you, yet deny or minimize your feelings, or make fun of you for seeking therapy, or mess with your head and put you down one moment then praise you the next, or treat you as less-than because you won’t let them control you—this is damaging.

In short, we need to learn how to love people without control or repression—we need to create a safe space for people to give voice to less-than-perfect feelings.


What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

There is great peace in letting yourself fail and believing you will be OK even if you have to go it alone.

Bridget Swier

What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share? 

The moonlight reflected off the still water, and all I could think as I sat alone on the beach in the dark with a giant bottle of whiskey was, “I want to feel the kind of stillness and peace the moon and the water have. Maybe if I walk out into the water, let it consume me and not fight it, this unbearable pain in my chest and heart will be gone.” I was exhausted from carrying a heaviness in my chest, heart, and soul for most of my life.  

 Looking back, I can see this as a warning sign of the danger I would soon be in because a few short months after that night, I would try to end my life.  

The pain I had been carrying from a lifetime of unresolved trauma was taking complete control over my life. I had tried everything to escape facing the excruciating feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, rejection, and agony associated with surviving every form of abuse possible over my 35 years of life. Nothing I tried was healthy or worked long-term, and many of the unhealthy coping skills led to more trauma created by my own choices. I used drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. I felt so unlovable I searched for validation in risky sexual behavior outside of my marriage. I overate, over-exercised, overworked, furthered my education, and tried to put on the mask of a perfect wife and mother. It was only a matter of time before all those vices stopped serving their numbing and escaping purpose and presented a whole other set of problems for me to face. The consequences of my poor coping skills became so great I only caused myself more pain and shame.  

I was so good at hiding my suffering from almost everyone around me. Those who knew me from the outside didn’t see all the ugly I felt inside. Many people referred to me as a “success” given all the trauma I experienced. My perspective was the polar opposite. I knew I had always been a fighter, resourceful, and did what I needed to do to survive, but I was tired of just surviving life. I didn’t want to continue to feel that life was only about surviving; I wanted to feel internal peace, happiness, and joy, which had always eluded me. I didn’t have the energy to keep fighting to find it anymore. The force of the knockout punch from life was just around the corner and would be the lowest point in my life.   

After chasing another hollow relationship with a man filled with false promises and no foundation, I had filed for divorce. The relationship would be my next quick fix to find the happiness I longed for, but I felt conflicted about walking away from a marriage with so much time invested in it. My soon-to-be ex-husband of 17 years saw me spiraling out of control. 

On the night of my suicide attempt, I drank heavily and came home after the bars closed. I imagine in his frustration; my husband threatened to take full custody of the children. The thought of this was more than I could bear. In my eyes, they were the lifeline I had clung to for so long, and he just threatened to rip them away from me. Mid-fight, I walked into our bedroom and tried to end my life. He came back to our room, saw what I was doing, moved to stop me, and immediately called 911. 

I don’t remember much after he called 911. But I do recall my four children standing in the doorway of their rooms, crying as they watched their mom roll down the hallway on a stretcher to the ambulance. Days later, when I woke up, I remember their father sitting beside my hospital bed clutching photos of our children and with tears streaming down his face begging me to live for them. The guilt and shame I carried from that night and what my ex-husband and children witnessed would haunt me for several years. 

I had mixed feelings immediately following my suicide attempt. I was angry and embarrassed because I had failed to end my pain. I was worried about what people would think of me when they found out. I was in so much pain before, and it felt so much worse after I woke up. Surviving confirmed all the worst beliefs I had about myself. I couldn’t even get dying right. Yet, I didn’t necessarily want to die, but I desperately wanted the anguish to die. How was I going to pick myself up this time? Where do I go for help if I don’t want to die? My life felt so out of control with no idea how to gain some sense of composure, find a will to live and keep fighting.  

It was a slow and tedious process to find the path of recovery that worked and fit for me. It was painful as hell to face all I had been trying to escape for so long, but it was the only way I wouldn’t find myself right back fighting myself for my life. I realized I needed to put as much, if not more effort, into healing from the inside out as I had in finding ways to avoid the pain.  

Complex trauma meant complex treatment combinations. I needed medication to help stabilize my mood and emotions. I couldn’t deal with my PTSD and severe depression without helping my brain manage it with medication. I found a personal counselor who was well trained in complex trauma and met weekly for two years. Over time, my therapy planted the seed of hope that it might be possible to find my way out of the darkness and into the light. I started to dig deep to find out who I was, not who I told myself I was because of the violation’s others had committed against me. I had to learn to combat the negative self-talk that crept into my mind. Slowly, I gained strength, and my courage to keep facing the heartache increased. 

Five years after my attempt, I felt strong enough to use my story to help others, and I began a career in suicide prevention and working with families who have lost a loved one to suicide. Never in a million years did I think everything I went through would serve a greater mission, and my story would be the driving force for a passion in letting others know they are not alone.  

It has been eight years since I tried to take my life, and I still am mindful of my mental health. I still take medications, have weekly counseling sessions, learn about self-care, and enriching healthy relationships. I continue to learn about shame, release it, and discover who I am again as an empty nester and a loving wife. Life’s hardships can still be overwhelming to balance, but today I feel far more equipped to manage them in a healthy, productive way. There are still times where the residual effects of trauma rear their ugly head. I now know I am strong enough to thrive through those moments and am reassured, knowing they are just for a moment.  


What resources have helped you to address this challenge? 

At the time of my attempt, I did not feel like there were many resources aside from psychiatry, counseling, and close trusted friends. I utilized advice from my psychiatrist for medication recommendations to find the right combination of medicine that would make my PTSD and depression more manageable. I utilized a counselor who was very knowledgeable in trauma, leaned on my trusted friends, and explored my faith beliefs to find a church who offered other kinds of support groups. When I attempted there were no suicide attempt support groups to attend.  


Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges? 

Yes, mental wellness is an individual’s responsibility, but it is not something to be done alone. As a community, we need to gather around and embrace those struggling and reinforce the reassurance no one has to go through hardships alone. Judgment serves only the purpose of shaming and guilt; it serves no positive purpose and causes additional harm. One may not understand the suffering an individual is going through, but a conversation built on the foundation of understanding, compassion, and empathy can make an enormous difference. It is everyone’s responsibility to be educated about suicide and offer support. It is dangerous to think, “this doesn’t or won’t affect me, so why get involved until it impacts my life?” Sadly, it can be too late by then. Take advantage of classes and workshops offered on how to hold the hard conversation about suicide. You could save a life by knowing how to address it properly and where to get someone, or yourself, help.  


What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand? 

Anyone can be affected by mental health challenges and suicide. Suicide does not care about social status, employment, income, education, race, gender, age, or religion.