The sharing we present to you today is told through the eyes of Neitcha Thomsen, a part-time MSW student at the University of Georgia (Gwinnette campus) clinical program who just completed her second semester of studies. By sharing her story (as scary as it may be to tell it), Neitcha hopes that it will somehow help others. We truly thank Neitcha for taking the time to share (and embrace) this opportunity, her courage and resilience are heard loud and clear as she gives and receives!
Writing this brings feelings of anxiety. Maybe it is fear of judgment or a sense of shame that still lingers. My daughter had her first psychotic break at the end of her freshman year of college. After many different diagnosis; different medications;several hospitalizations; dealing with a 1013; an attempted suicide and various treatment tracks, I am happy to say she is stable as she finds purpose, joy, independence and love in her life. It took a long time and much courage on her part to reach this moment.
At the time of her suicide attempt I felt many emotions. Some of these were due to me being her mother and others were from my own suicide attempt around her same age. I was saddened knowing that she had felt such pain and desperation and saw suicide as the solution. I felt like a failure for not having seen the signs or to have sought help for her sooner. I understood what one has to feel in order to reach that moment that death seems like a good option. I struggled with sharing my experience with her, and I think that came from my lingering feelings of shame surrounding suicide. Eventually, I shared it with her and she said my opening up made her feel not so alone or like such a failure. Even my closest friends do not know this part of my history.
While struggling with my daughter’s illness I began to reach a place of hopelessness and anxiety. This led to the return of my depression and suicidal ideations. After a friend in a support group shared with me her decision to reach out for counseling and how it had helped her, I realized that I needed this same type of professional help. My therapist helped me to identify my feelings while recognizing my lack of boundaries and unhealthy coping skills that had arisen while dealing with the impact of mental illness on my family. I learned to pay attention to my needs and put in place self care. I set goals for myself such as entering graduate school while working on my feelings of low self esteem and lack of confidence. I was able to have enough hope in order to reach for my dreams.
I volunteer with NAMI. When I share my experience or volunteer to bring information and support to others, I feel as if I have taken one more step on my path of healing. Sharing this story in a more public way is one more step. I look back on these experiences and know that even though they came with pain and crisis, they also brought to me opportunities. I have shared the part of my story about my daughter with some of my fellow MSW students in hopes that it will allow them to maybe see the family from a different perspective. I found that sharing it with them was scary due to my fears of being judged by my fellow mental health professional students. This fear has prevented me from sharing the whole story... Finding ways to share our stories in appropriate settings will aid us in recognizing our own possible triggers and bias, while helping to support our practice as we work with clients in the future.
Outside of her MSW studies, Neitcha volunteers with NAMI Northside Atlanta where she has taught the Family to Family curriculum, been captain of the NAMI walk team and served as a chair for their mental health fair for two years now. Neitcha has found further opportunity to advocate (sharing her story and its learned experience) at family orientations for Skyland Trail (a treatment facility in Atlanta, Ga) supporting families who have a loved one entering treatment for major mental health illnesses. Prior to her path in the field of social work, she worked as a Spanish Interpreter for the Dekalb School System for 12 years.