Story of Hope: Meet Kayla
December 08, 2022
Family History of Mental Health
There is a history of mental illness on both sides of my family. My maternal grandmother had Bipolar Disorder and struggled with drug addiction. Hearing my mom’s experience growing up impacted me a lot. She didn’t have access to healthy coping mechanisms. There also wasn’t a lot of mental health awareness or advocacy in the black community. “Go to church and pray your way through it" was an implicit message.
Mental Health Misconceptions
Growing up, I thought I was just a moody person. Looking back, I was definitely experiencing depression from the fourth grade on but didn’t realize it. I was always afraid of going to therapy and being told something was wrong with me or being medicated. I thought that was the worst thing that could happen, so I somehow struggled along until senior year of college when I reached my lowest point. I could not go to class, avoided friends and couldn’t get out of bed. I began thinking about suicide.
Prior to HopeWay
Everyone, including me, was so used to my untreated depression that I had to get to a dire place in order to reach out for help. I was diagnosed with depression and tried a couple of different medications, but daily functioning was still not going well. My primary care doctor recommended something more intensive. My mom reached out to her good friend, Kathy Izard, who was involved in building HopeWay. When my parents suggested HopeWay, I was very apprehensive. It felt like an admission that something was wrong with me, but at that point I was willing to try anything.
HopeWay Treatment Programs
I attended the Intensive Outpatient Program (3-days-a-week) for five months. During the first group session I was very anxious, but found great comfort as I listened to others tell their experiences. I am not the only one, I thought. It is easy to think you are the only one when you are struggling with your mental health because we all walk around with our masks and facades and get so good at it.
HopeWay was my very first experience with therapy. I basically had an empty mental health tool box when I started. I learned so much and still keep the binder they gave me handy. One of the most transformative things in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) was learning to “put my thoughts on trial,” which means breaking thoughts down to facts, rather than feelings or perception. These are things we should be taught early in life! When I could manage my emotions independently, and when I could give myself grace and utilize what I had learned, I knew I was making progress.
Life After HopeWay
Before finally getting help, I never thought I would be able to live the way I do now. I process my emotions instead of feeling anxious from the moment I wake up. Everyone who knows me can tell a difference. It’s been three years since I left HopeWay. Today, I have graduated from college and am out in the working world with a great job. I’m healthy. I still work with the individual therapist HopeWay referred me to. There are days when I kind of feel like I used to and I wonder how I lived like that for twenty-something years. Whereas anxiety used to consume me, now I bounce back pretty easily and move forward with my day.
Being around people with so many different experiences really, really opened my eyes to the fact that you never know what people are going through. It made me more empathetic. It’s important to lead with kindness. Now this is part of how I operate.
I’ve been open about my journey because I want to be a mental health advocate for others. I’m trying to be that person I needed. Nothing is wrong with you, I tell others, you should not feel shame. You are human. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. At the core we’re all humans with emotions.
Every time a person joins a group at HopeWay, they are asked to share their story. And when someone leaves, they can share parting thoughts. Before HopeWay, I had never shared my singing with anyone until I participated in music therapy. On my last day in group, my parting thoughts were through song. HopeWay literally helped me find my voice, and I was on my way to better days.
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