Have you ever stopped to reflect on your past self and how far you’ve come?
Living with a Mental Health Illness
“The only person with whom you have to compare yourself is you in the past.”
Have you ever stopped to reflect on your past self and how far you’ve come? When I think about personal growth, I think about how much my life has changed in the past two years. In 2018, I completed my Master of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Nova Southeastern University. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was an intern therapist practicing equine-assisted therapy, reading all sorts of psychology articles, and writing research papers. Since walking across the stage with my diploma, I have moved out of Florida, somehow wound up back here again, made progress, fallen off the wagon, and gotten back up.
The Quell Foundation has been such a blessing in my growth as an individual and mental health professional. If it were not for the scholarship awarded to me as a grad student, I would not have been able to take a class I needed to be certified in Equine Assisted Therapy through NSU. My passion and dreams still lie with having my own therapy practice, where I can utilize equine-assisted therapy to help individuals, couples, and families. The Foundation has allowed me to continue to chase my dream, and more importantly, they have allowed me to realize I also have a passion for talking about and educating on mental health.
I serve as the President of their Junior Board of Directors, which has connected me with people who are inspired to combat the stigmas of mental health. I am also working on gaining my clinical hours for licensure in the state of Florida. A year ago, I began working as a clinician at a non-profit agency in Naples, where I work on the Community Action Team (CAT). CAT teams are grant-funded programs that provide therapeutic services to high-risk youth in the county. They are typically home and school-based services. Each client in our program gets to work with a multidisciplinary team, including a clinician, therapeutic mentor, case manager, nurse, and psychiatric provider. This type of work is not easy. However, I have grown so much as a therapist in my work with these teens and their families. My experience with various issues has increased as I’ve worked with individuals struggling with suicidal ideations, teens who engage in self-harm, and clients who are in the juvenile justice system. Through the CAT team, I have been fortunate enough to learn and practice Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).
My work with the CAT team, paired with my involvement with The Foundation, has reinforced the importance of shining a light on mental health. Quite often, I find myself providing psychoeducation to parents around their child’s diagnosis, all while creating a space for an open dialogue about it. Judgment-free conversations around mental health are prevalent today, yet there are still so many conversations to be had. The mission of The Quell Foundation is for individuals to share their stories and to increase mental health services across the country. My journey has been a roller coaster ride, and I have been able to use both my experience with Quell and my job as a therapist to remember to prioritize my mental health and well-being. The old me would have never talked about what I have difficulties with. Compare grad student Alyssa to the Alyssa today, and I’ve gotten more comfortable sharing my story with others by genuinely embodying the mission of Quell and finding my voice. I have learned to be okay with not being okay, and I want to continue building on my progress.
Opening up about your struggles takes courage. If anyone who reads this finds the strength to tell their story, I know that people are willing to listen and people ready to help. Quell has a fantastic network of individuals who support their mission and who are just as passionate about mental health awareness. The only comparison we should be making to our past selves is to highlight the progress we’ve made. Whether in giant leaps or small steps, progress is progress, and that’s worth celebrating. While no two people will have the same experience or reaction, I would like everyone to know your thoughts, feelings, and mental health are valid, meaningful, and matter. Let’s keep these conversations going!
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