I wanted—at the very least—a quiet, calm, centered life where my voice mattered and made a difference.
I want you to hear me: your voice matters. As a woman, chances are you came—at some point—to believe you didn’t count. That you should be silent. That you were somehow “less than.” If you are a woman who is different in origin, physiology or character (of color, really short, really tall, or large, living with a dis- or dif-ability, perhaps a Muslim wearing Hijab, you know what I mean!).
Your voice is needed. Never, as I was diagnosed with what some feel are life-long sentences from what we call “mental illnesses,” did I expect to become a public advocate. I simply knew that the perspective I was being asked to adopt about myself, and the choices I was told I should make were mostly, well, wrong.
I was expected to fail. To be over-medicated, in-patient every little whipstitch, homeless, helpless, and permanently poor quickly. If I drank that Kool-aid®? Wouldn’t be here. If I believed I had an “incurable” brain disorder? I wouldn’t be here. Like I said when I appeared as a guest on the Montel Williams Show in his very early years (1992), “If you don’t like what I’ve become, you need to not like what happened to me.”
Yes. Overwhelming experiences—that’s what makes something traumatic—change us. We either think it’s only abuse and neglect or the ACEs (learn about the ACEs Study) that cause the kind of challenges in functioning that I had, and it’s not.
There are many things that can overwhelm us: natural disasters, weather events, motor vehicle or work accidents, medical crises like cancer or COVID, crime victimization, relational crises, military or political conflict, and the ACEs. We each carry the impact of whatever has happened in our ancestors’ lives
Flip it. Change the questions, and the answers change. How’s your functioning? That’s the real question my voice asks you to answer in your voice. Functioning is about learning and practice. We learn to function as we do to protect ourselves, and keep some degree of power, safety of all sorts, choice and control. Beginning at birth (so maybe we should look at how we support young mothers and their children) we start to learn how to be and who we be in this world.
Find your voice. Chance are you’ll blow through a lot of relationships finding your voice. You know, too soft, too loud, too offensive, too angry too anything. I hit every one of them, burned so many bridges slathering everyone with the details of my trauma drama. My recommendation? Stop. Just stop telling that story. Let it be fodder for your change. Let it simmer: the mystery of how you develop your power is much more intriguing.
Decide what you want from your voice and act accordingly. I decided my Job is to reduce the time, trauma, and costs of healing for everyone—and so I quit looking to Eurocentric, colonizing perspectives like those in which the field of mental health has been steeped from the beginning. I began to look in other places whose values were more Afrocentric, Indigenous and health based. I looked at what success meant to me. I discovered that I really didn’t enjoy being a victim, thrashing in the slop. I wanted—at the very least—a quit, calm, centered life where my voice mattered and made a difference.
Befriend your voice. One of the truths I’ve discovered along this curious path is this: if you want to create a life with fewer crises and less drama, there is one simple way. That way aligns with the same skills in Emotional Intelligence in adults, which isn’t about mental illness.
The three skills that mattered the most to in reducing the drama turned out to be 1) recognizing those strong inner connections I have, the ones that show up in the pictures in my office, the recipes I cook, the hymns I hum, and clothes that connect me to people (and pets) even when they’re absent from me. I see, smell, taste, remember them by these markers and I am soothed.
2) being able to recognize many different feelings and turn the volume on them up and down at will. Simply put, there are at least 54 words for anger each reflecting a different anger. I knew and could feel 2, now I know and can feel 10. This means my brain hijacks me less.
3) recognizing and owning my worth by factually examining my accomplishments (hey, I’m here and not institutionalized is the baseline…); how I feel on a great day, and the difference people tell me I make. I have a file of “Love letters.”
Use your voice. When you change your story, your life changes. Who do you believe about who you are? It can be exhausting to be a person whose worth is challenged existentially by others, whose feelings and culture are demeaned. It’s downright emotionally colonizing. And you have the ability to be the explorer who charts a course for change for everyone when you choose and use your voice with care for everyone. Take great care with love, and speak to the people who need to hear you. You matter. Your voice matters. Lift it.
Elizabeth Power arrived in Nashville TN as a cobbler–she repaired shoes. Along the way she’s been homeless, diagnosed with PTSD and DID, earned a Master’s degree from Vanderbilt in the process, and built a successful small business. Today she is an internationally respected authority on Trauma-Informed Care and creating Trauma-Responsive systems across societies and an Adjunct Instructor at Georgetown University Medical Center, a homeowner, and an avid gardener growing people, plants and social change.