The power of ‘testimony’
Sharing her story about mental illness helps Sylvia deal with her depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She believes it can also help others.
I felt the more I didn’t talk about my mental illness, the worse it was for me. Talking about it helps. If you cannot share your experience with other people, you cannot help yourself or anyone else. Talking about it benefits me, and it could benefit other people if they can learn anything about my experience.
Sylvia has a unique opportunity to tell her story. An ordained minister and peer counselor, she draws on her personal experiences in her work. Also, she is a member of the Engagement Committee of Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit group that promotes mental health as a part of overall wellness. In this position, Sylvia shares her experiences and “collaborates to bring forth creative ideas for the community.”
I share my life story in every role that I’m in. We call it ‘testimony.’ I give my testimony from childhood through the rest of my life. I talk about all the things that have happened to me that I have overcome. It is something within me that I never gave up.
Sylvia has been dealing with mental health issues for most of her life. She was abused as a child and endured sexual assault as a young adult. Her mother had schizophrenia and was placed in a state mental hospital. Sylvia’s mother died when she was in her mid-30s. Also, Sylvia has faced domestic violence in her relationships and has been in and out of several mental health programs.
She took part in a clubhouse day program that allowed her “to fix things that needed fixing.” Participation in this program led to her work as a peer counselor.
I spent many years in psychotherapy, taking medications, and going through different programs. All of these things have been major factors in getting me where I’m at today.
Where Sylvia is today is a positive place, a place where she can control her symptoms and use her hard-earned experience to educate and inspire others. Two areas that Sylvia is particularly passionate about are childhood trauma and PTSD.
Trauma can affect your entire life. It doesn’t go away. There is a kind of residue of trauma because anything, in just a split second, can remind you of what you went through. I don’t think a lot of people understand that, but more people are beginning to.
Sylvia hopes that telling her story—in church, in her work as a peer counselor, and through her volunteer efforts—will encourage people to take steps to address their mental illnesses, no matter what their diagnosis is.
I was in denial about my mental illness for too long. I could have spared myself a lot of agony if I had gotten help sooner. If you don’t feel right, the best thing you can do is get treatment. Mental health will affect all aspects of your life. If you get your mental health stable, it will help your overall health.