Lifelong Journey to Mental Health Resiliency
By Lee Locke-Hardy, they/them/theirs, C4 Innovations
Writing my story makes me want to throw up. Teasing out tendrils of trauma from my chest, around my lungs, it leaves me breathless.
Flightless feelings apply pressure until I stretch and crack my sternum most mornings.
I am hypermobile. Knuckles, jaw, back, any joint you choose. Look away for a second, and it’s all too easy for the pendulum to swing to the painful, to risk dislocation. Tension unbound, yes, but to what end?
I am broken and breaking open every damn day, anew.
There is strength in the vulnerability, feeling how far you can flex before the freedom becomes a fissure or tear. I spent many years of my youth pushing at the limits, finding extremes, walking up to the edge just to peer over it at the yawning chasm below.
It was a wild ride, but now I much prefer the quiet movement of a walk in the woods and tracking animal prints in the snow. Reading Mary Oliver, watching for signs of incremental growth and seeking out the same in myself.
Resilience is not dramatic, isn’t given the Euphoria treatment, but therein lies the art, the balance. Getting up every day and taking my meds is boring, staying hydrated is tedious. There is no self-destructive glamor in the mundane, and that is a truth I accept, no matter how frustrated it makes me.
It took 28 years for me to get regular treatment for my mental health. Along with being a member of the LGBTQIA “alphabet mafia” I have a whole list of acronyms to my name: GAD, OCD, ED, CPTSD, the list goes on. I was running an afterschool program with a daily attendance of 65 kids from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and while I gave my all to them, I didn’t know how to extend the same care and compassion to myself.
That’s when I cracked open, bit by bit, and admitted that I was not “Emily” the woman whose life I had been living up until that point. When I spoke to my students about this change, about being non-binary and using they/them pronouns they were so kind and surprised me with their compassion, but the fallout in my professional life was immediate. I spent my final months at the school attempting to keep it all together while being actively “managed out”, taking pauses for plenty of panic attacks in the staff bathroom.
I knew I couldn’t survive the daily routine of breaking myself into digestible fragments for other people’s comfort. When I finally left, the school told parents I was moving, and I became a ghost, haunting the aisles of the grocery store in town, hoping I wouldn’t see any families I knew.
Around this same time, I started therapy and medication to combat the devastation and anxiety. I knew it was time to do the work, to care for myself-there was simply nothing else to do. It was incredibly boring, but I was building myself back up, leaning into the discomfort and flexing creaky joints, listening to the song of movement and progress.
Resilience is not picture-perfect. Recovery is not linear. It’s been 5 years since I left that job, and in that time, I moved, built a house, and adopted two dogs. I was sure I had a tight grip on my well-being, until my dad died suddenly. Traveling through the swirling chaos of grief, I learned yet again that there is no one path or road through the mess. All we have is our own movement, each day from sunrise to sunset.
I am broken and breaking open every day, anew.