Life is About Creating Yourself

Stories of Hope: An Interview with Cynthia Dudley

This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked peer support program administrator and mental health advocate Cynthia Dudley about her history of 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?

CD: At 12 years old I realized I was very different than my peers. I thought differently and couldn’t feel alive the way in which I noticed my friends did. I also remember consciously realizing it was going to take some work to undo what had been done to me in my childhood. I fantasized that work would occur in a romantic relationship. I knew I was a mess. By age 12, most of the sexual abuse was over but I still literally lived in terror and attempted to become invisible so I wouldn’t trigger my mother’s rage.

DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?

CD: In my early 20’s, I had a relationship that I cared about but it was severely dysfunctional. I came from an abusive family and my boyfriend clearly did not. His family was loving and supportive. There were so many differences in the way we faced the world but we did love each other. We talked about couples counseling. Right at the same time, I was robbed at gunpoint at my job. The trauma from the robbery opened a floodgate of memories and I couldn’t find a way to be ok. I quickly sought out a therapist and got to work on myself.

DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?

CD: Diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depersonalization disorder and depression, talk therapy seemed the right path for me. At the time I was not aware of any medications which would help control the PTSD or depersonalization symptoms. My psychologist specialized in PTSD. She quickly became my champion and we faced my trauma one at a time together.

DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?

CD: It took a long time and a lot of work. My life came together, finally, in my late 30’s. All the pieces finally popped into place and my symptoms are now easily managed with effective coping skills. I have learned what my symptoms look like when they first begin and what to do about them before I get carried away back into the abyss.

If I am anxious I listen to music. If I start to ‘check out,’ I take an internal inventory and see what I need to do, such as get more rest, talk with a friend, do something fun, get some fresh air, whatever it takes to get back to me.

My job is very stressful. I have to make sure I am taking care of me so I can focus on the work I love. Every single day I am critically aware of how blessed I am to still be alive and I am grateful to be able to help others. I get to see evidence of mental health miracles.

DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities. 

CD: My job is running a Peer Support Center in Virginia. I and my staff get to help about 40 people every day learn how to manage their mental illness and learn coping skills. We get to remind people of their own voice and encourage self-esteem.

We are very active in reaching out to our local, state and Federal politicians to talk about mental health recovery.

Mental health advocacy runs in my veins. I do everything I can to talk as much as I can to raise awareness. When something else comes up I dig a little deeper and find ways to get it done. Mental illness is hell. Mental health recovery is possible.

My job is mental health recovery and in my off hours I share words of wisdom written by others on my social media pages. Insight is a powerful thing and I try to put stuff out that may touch people at just the right moment when they need to hear it. With this in mind I literally have ‘HOPE’ on my license plate. I have a lot of it. And share it wherever I can.

DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery? 

CD: Perhaps my cluelessness about life and living tripped me up a bit. And it kept me stuck in the darkness when I didn’t need to be there. I honestly thought I had to heal everything that had been done to me. Taking myself apart piece by piece in order to get to ME.

 George Bernard Shaw said: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Finally I realize I have created a pretty amazing self. But I know I lost way too many years and way too much living in order to finally merely live life. I should have gotten to creating much earlier. And learned effective coping skills that could help me live a more fulfilled life much sooner.

About Cynthia

Cynthia Dudley is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Trillium Drop-In Center, Inc. in Woodbridge, VA. Trillium provides peer-support for people living with serious mental illness. Since 2007, she has created a dynamic award-winning program which focuses on mental health recovery, self-determination, and improving self-esteem. With over 3000 members, Trillium offers supportive, recreational and educational activities twelve hours a day, six days a week. Cynthia also created the Prince William Mental Health Coalition with over 500 members and she is a State Certified Trainer for Peer Recovery Specialists. Cynthia is the recipient of the Voice of Recovery Award and was honored to present at the United Nations NGO Conference. You can connect with Cynthia via Twitter, Facebook or through the Trillium Drop-In Center website.

Thanks so much to Cynthia for her inspiring story of hope!

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. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!


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