When Someone Throws You a Lifeline
As the executive director of NAMI Texas, I often get invited to speak and share my personal story. I start almost every story with a definition: “Resilience. Noun. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” I start with this definition because I think it has been an accurate description of my life.
I was diagnosed at 16 with depression. I’ve made two suicide attempts: one at 16 and another at 18. I feel extremely fortunate that my attempts were unsuccessful. At 23, I spent seven weeks in-patient at a psychiatric hospital.
Fast forward over the next 30 years. I had a child, who has grown into an amazing young woman. I spent my career in the nonprofit world. I went in and out of treatment myself, but still felt totally unprepared when my daughter was diagnosed at 13—first with bipolar disorder, then with depression and anxiety.
If only I had known about NAMI then. But I didn’t, so we navigated our way through diagnoses, therapy and medications without the support that we needed. Because we were resilient.
At 52, I found myself back in the dating world and I met that “someone special.” He was a soldier—a combat engineer. I remember wondering how you “engineer combat,” only to find out that combat engineers actually spend a lot of their time blowing things up. And sometimes, getting blown up. Or shot. Or seeing their brothers getting blown up or shot. I learned about deployments, emotional detachment and how much stigma there still is in the military for those who seek treatment for the invisible wounds of war.
Even though we talked about PTSD, he never showed any signs of having it. He told me that he occasionally had symptoms, but he dealt with them on his own. And that seemed to be the case… until it wasn’t. He wouldn’t act like himself. He would get moody: angry at times and withdrawn at others. At one point, we had plans to move in together, but he kept delaying. I saw him less and less, so I offered the option to break up, which made him angrier, saying he needed time to work through it. So, for a year, he continued to spiral.
And one day, he hit bottom. He had spent a year pulling me down, and now, he was leaving me there. Alone. I spent the first few weeks in shock. I felt totally hopeless, helpless and alone. I was too ashamed to reach out for help. But help found me.
See, earlier that same year, I was offered a great job opportunity as the executive director of NAMI Texas. The job seemed like it was meant for me. So, I started learning about all of NAMI’s programs. Looking at my own life, and hearing stories from military spouses and partners about the lack of resources for them, I soon realized they needed NAMI Homefront. And so did I.
I remember logging onto my first NAMI Homefront online class and being completely overcome by emotions. I wasn’t sure I would be able to get through the two hours. But thanks to caring teachers and participants (and the very liberal use of the chat box), I made it. I realized that not only was I not alone, I wasn’t being judged. And neither was my former partner.
My real “a-ha” moment came in Class Three, when I realized that the skills he learned to keep himself and his fellow soldiers safe on the battlefield were the “skills” that had caused so much damage in our relationship. I found myself letting go of some of my hurt and anger. I even contacted him and told him what I was learning; I told him I still cared about him and shared my hope that he would get help.
If you’ve taken a NAMI class, you know how important the concept of “putting on your own oxygen mask first” is. So, I put on my mask, and sought the help of a therapist, one who specialized in treating combat veterans with PTSD. I received support from my graduate school mentor, who helped me get through the end of the semester successfully. I received support from my NAMI Texas family, and of course, from my NAMI Homefront friends.
Fast forward a few months, and my partner and I decided to try dating again. Eventually, we were back in a committed relationship, which continues to this day. I finished my graduate degree and became a NAMI Homefront webinar instructor. I continue to share my story, so others know that there really is help and hope out here.
“Resilience. Adjective. Recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyant.” Me.
Holly Dogget currently serves as the executive director of NAMI Texas. An expereinced nonprofit professional, she holds a B.S. in Psychology, and a Master of Science in Leadership and Management. Doggett has a personal connection to the work she does at NAMI Texas, not only as a peer but as a family member. She is a NAMI Homefront instructor, NAMI Family Support Group facilitator and NAMI Smarts teacher.
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