I opened the door and there she stood, knife in hand. Immediately, she began screaming and grabbing at me. Though we struggled for a bit, I was eventually able to calm her down through talking. This client had a mental illness; and while we were sitting on the floor together, I couldn’t help but wonder if how my client breaking down was how people saw me when I broke down.
Like this client, I suffer from bipolar disorder and chronic depression, both of which I take medication for. And like this client, I have struggled with these illnesses. There have been times I had to quit my jobs, because I couldn’t maintain my professional responsibilities and deal with these illnesses. At one point, I even came close to dropping out of high school. When I tell others I work with abuse survivors with mental illnesses, I am disappointed by the reply, “Oh, you work with crazies.” It’s easy to judge and joke when you don’t have these challenges. But, we each have a unique story and case, and should be treated accordingly. My story is just one example.
For years, I would wet my bed from nightmares of my father kidnapping me as a child to bait my mother to return to him. When she would return, he would go back to beating her as he always did. My stepfather was no better. He would emotionally, verbally and physically abuse both my mom and me. Although the abuse angered me, what upset me most was that my mother never defended me. If she had, she would have been beaten and lost my stepfather’s financial support.
With my past exposure to abuse, some may find it odd that I would become a social worker to help other victims of sexual abuse overcome their struggles. But to me, becoming a social worker was the most natural thing possible. I find relief in my work, in helping people of different age groups and in hearing their stories. Storytelling connects us together and reassures us that, “It’s not just you. We all make it out.” Through storytelling, we validate and help each other learn from our experiences. We are reminded that we are all survivors.
When I leave graduate school next spring, I aspire to work with college students on issues of sexual assault and campus rape, two issues that need critical advocacy. It’s important that everyone knows that sexual abuse happens and can happen to each of us. We need to do more about it. And, to let more survivors know that hope is there to help you stand on your feet.
(as told to Marianelli Agbulos)
Image Source: Lisa Carmen