Stories of Hope: An Interview with Kelly Davis
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, mental health advocate Kelly Davis graciously offered to share about her personal mental health challenges and her current activities. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
KD: My story is pretty messy, which I think is a lot more common than it might seem. I first started becoming aware of concerns related to my mental health around age 7. I felt like something was wrong but at the time could not make any sense of it.
My feelings felt too big, I felt like I didn’t belong, and I had a lot of urges around self-harm and disordered eating. Eventually after talking about killing myself to people at school in fifth grade, I began treatment and have been in treatment more often than not since then.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
KD: Treatment was a relative constant in my life, and a large part of my identity revolved around being “sick.” During high school, I was in extensive treatment around depression, trauma, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, substance use and suicide attempts. It was large cycle of crisis and fighting my way back and crisis again.
College became a time of serious transformation for me. I no longer wanted to be in treatment. I got into my dream school and thought it would be a new place, new me, no more symptoms. I stopped all treatment, some of which without telling anyone.
The lack of structure, substance use, and toxic environment that resulted brought me into more crises during college. I made horrible choices, couldn’t keep healthy relationships, and was giving little thought to my schoolwork or future. I had extended periods of what I can only describe as chaos and extended periods of severe depression, which resulted in my ultimate diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
At the end of my sophomore year, I was ready to drop out of school, had destroyed relationships with friends and family, and saw no future in sight. It was at this rock bottom that I realized that if I did not make the decision to fully commit to treatment that this might be the rest of my life and all of the things I wanted and that had kept me pushing through treatment before might be gone.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
KD: The most influential idea in my recovery has been exposure to the idea of recovery. I had internalized that I was a sick person and people who are sick like me can only focus on symptom management, not the things they want. The hope that, even though I sometimes struggle, I can do the things I want changed my life. Learning more and more that people live with and through these things and go on to help others and to find meaning in their lives made me believe that I could as well.
In more concrete terms, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), yoga, and group therapy were especially helpful. I also spent a lot of time listening to Tony Robbins and researching skills for self-improvement. I got very honest with the people around me, and, as scary as it seemed at first, I was able to meet many people who not only had similar experiences but who also became tremendous sources of love and support.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
KD: I am much better today, even when I struggle. While I will be the first one to tell you the darkest details of my experiences and the list of diagnoses that people gave me over time, I no longer confine myself to a single or primary identity of “sick.” I have had these experiences, but they are not who I am.
I have become mindful of my warning signs that I might not be doing so well, and I have also become mindful of the things that I can do to support myself, including reaching out for support. I know and remind myself that I have made it through all of the times I did not think I could survive and that all of the intense feelings I have ever had ultimately end at some point.
DS: Tell us about your current work and advocacy activities.
KD: I currently work in Federal policy and programs for a mental health nonprofit, and I speak in public and private circles about my experience. Social media has been a large tool I’ve used in telling my story. I am also a group fitness instructor and training yoga teacher, both areas that were immensely important in my recovery. My goal is to combine the programs and ideas that have been most effective in my recovery into one program for youth and adolescents.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
KD: There are people out there who love you and want to support you—even if you don’t know them yet. As a kid (and even as an “adult”), when I feel alone I remind myself that statistically there has got to be at least a few other people like me out there who feel really big and don’t really understand the world as it is. The older I get and the more I step into that vulnerable space, the more people I find who are like me and the less alone I feel.
You are not alone, and you do not always have to feel the way you feel right now. These things and experiences are not your fault and don’t make you a bad person. There is hope, and recovery is real, even when it’s hard and messy.
Kelly Davis is a mental health advocate, group fitness instructor, and yoga teacher-in-training. Her dream is to work to promote empowerment among struggling youth and adolescents. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
Thanks so much to Kelly for sharing her inspiring story of hope!
Here’s a question: Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!