My name is Clara. I’m a crisis hotline counselor; a writer; an author; and I have bipolar disorder and PTSD. I was diagnosed with PTSD when I medically retired from the US Army, at the age of 24; I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after having a psychotic breakdown, at the age of 26. My condition makes it hard for me to work. I have lost more jobs than I can count, or quit them; the ups and downs of bipolar disorder, combined with the hypervigilance of PTSD, makes it almost impossible to keep the jobs I find.
I like to joke that I write to get the voices out of my head, but it’s not really a joke. I DO. But after two hospitalizations, intense outpatient therapy, and attending a partial hospitalization program, I like to think I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. I’ve also learned far, far more from the people I work with on the crisis hotline than I ever realized I would.
Realize you are worthy.
There’s this idea that you’re only ‘worthwhile’ if you DO things. I defined myself, for years, as an Army Soldier. Losing that piece of my identity nearly shattered me. Then I got a job as a Sexual Assault Specialist, at a local nonprofit: that identity, the knowledge that I did Good Work, gave me a sense of purpose.
Then… I had my psychotic breakdown, while on the job. I was hospitalized, fired, and lost. I realized that, without my work, without knowing that I did Good Work, I didn’t know who I was.
A good friend, a nurse practitioner, pointed out to me that I was worthy without having to earn it. Just by being human, she said, you’re worthy of dignity and respect. That realization was earth shattering. I had stopped seeing myself as a human being, and instead saw myself as a collection of actions. I was so much more!
Don’t define yourself by your limitations.
Realize that you have them; but instead of letting them define you, see them as guidelines. I realized, after losing my ninth job, that I would always have difficulty maintaining a constant 9-to-5 schedule. I would have to work within that limitation. I also realized that, perhaps, I had more strengths than I realized! I started working with the crisis hotline, during the irregular hours most people couldn’t manage. I also started freelance writing, using my feel-good hours to their advantage, and sleeping when I needed to sleep.
Have social supports!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, through painful lived experience and the accounts of people on the crisis hotline, it’s that social support matters. It doesn’t make you strong to strike out alone and try to handle it all by yourself. Reaching out for help, to family, friends, the community, your pet, whatever makes you strong.
It is HARD to ask for help!
One of the hardest things I ever did was go to the Emergency Room, accompanied by my mother, and tell the nurse there i had a plan for dying by suicide. It was humiliating! But I also realized that my first hospitalization, which was involuntary, was far worse. Have the courage to ask for help before you reach the crisis point. I didn’t, that first time… and I ended up escorted to the hospital in handcuffs.
You matter. Please, don’t forget that. You’re worthy, and you matter – and if you can’t believe that now, I’ll believe it for you until you’re ready.