In Sept 2016 I realized I was actively suicidal. I had never been actively suicidal in my adult life.
A large reason why I got to this place was because I was in massage school and it was too much bodywork (massage) that brought up too much trauma over and over with no change...this is what happens when we bring up trauma without having the tools to recognize it and engage the mind AND the body together.
I asked my instructors if it was normal throughout the program. I asked for my experience with abuse to be in my file so all staff would know in case it
came up (it wasn't). I did all my regular practices that usually helped. They did not respond, they sent me to talk to other students, or they brushed it off. They didn't know how to respond to me (or perhaps they were scared).
This may sound melodramatic to you, but I am surprised in many ways that I survived that experience; nine months of engaging emotions that were the most painful I have experienced. I numbed out a lot of school; I don't remember some of it even.
I went to massage school to learn more about how the body and mind work together. I did that very well. It wasn't because the school taught it, however, it was because I experienced it myself with almost no support. I received from the universe what I asked for.
I don't believe in complaining without thinking of solutions, so I told the school when I graduated. I told them I was suicidal at the end and it was too much bodywork. I said I was worried for other students who had less experience or resources than I did. Nobody contacted me to talk about it.
I do not give up on the things I believe will help my community, so I offered a Mental Health First Aid course at-cost for all the staff and any of my colleagues. I contacted them separately to simply leave the school out of it, after all, they had not responded to me. I did this so there would be a more compassionate and educated response to students when they described what I had during my time there. I didn't want someone to actually attempt suicide when there were people who could help if they just knew how.
Several people cancelled at the last minute to come to the class. I didn't understand. They had said they wanted to come. Later I found out not only did the school ignore my concerns, they actively discouraged their staff to attend my class on their own time.
I want to be clear in case you don't know, Mental Health First Aid is a nationally recognized and evidence-based program, so there is no reason a educational facility should doubt it's efficacy. If you are teaching bodywork and are knowledgeable, you also understand the bodywork will bring up an emotional response in your clients, almost certainly after nine months. I was not the only person struggling, but those are their stories. I was distraught that an educational organization would act in a way that felt so out of integrity.
A year later, I emailed the school's owner again and directly asked to talk about the program and my experience. He ignored me. I sent the email again to the administration and asked that they let me know he got it. They did let me know and to this day, he has not responded.
I felt shocked and sick that a place that was doing some good, where people were coming expecting to learn in a safe place, would also choose to ignore a situation that is so potentially harmful. I felt annoyed and sad that my experience at their organization didn't matter to them. I thought, "If I ran a school, I would want to know this."
I am grateful for integrity; that when we say something like people, like health, like our clients are valuable and important we do what it takes to keep them safe. We honor the education we provide so much that we make sure it's the best we can offer. We do our absolute best to do no harm, as we are teaching. Where was this?
My best guess is they didn't want liability. As if I was going to sue them. I can't say why, though, just as they don't know my story or my ideas because they wouldn't listen, I never got to ask for theirs.
Sometimes love is rejected because it's hard. I see this situation this way. It was harder to listen to me and take action than to ignore my experience and hope nobody is harmed. Bureaucracy means paperwork and difficult creativity, so we don't press on, we just turn our heads to look the other way.
And in similar ways I had a choice to give up, turn my head and look the other way, or to keep going in alignment with my integrity that if we give the gift of bodywork we need to be prepared to recognize emotional responses and understand what a window of tolerance is physically and mentally.
So there I was with a choice to make. I was mad. I was mad like a mama bear and there was a reason. I had already experienced talking about something that was hurtful to me before and been ignored when I was very small. The beginning of probably the same trauma that was still deep in my body was being sexually abused as a child. The same feelings of people who were close to me not doing anything seeped from my body as if it was marrow from my bones. I felt insignificant, invaluable, and deserving of pain. A part of me felt like this was the Hell I would never escape from in my life and it would continue to happen in different forms over and over.
That was the old me, though, the little girl who was helpless. I had worked through those feelings and cognitively I knew they were lies. I was now a woman who was not helpless and quite fierce. I wanted to march into the school like a mother walking into the principal's office after her daughter had been bullied, ask them how on earth they could teach an ethics class where they taught, “do no harm,” and how they could promote teaching a body-mind program when they ignored the connected experience I had while there completely. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cuss. I wanted to stop anyone else from ever going there again. This is how we feel as complex humans and I honor the little helpless girl and the pissed off mother parts of me. A third part was also there; the one who is smart and dedicated to creating healthcare that serves the whole person.
I have a strong mindfulness practice that keeps me discerning my best move and I know [now] that raging was not going to get what I wanted. I also knew I simply felt disappointed to the point of anger and I wasn't going to be able to do good while I was escalated. So the first choice I made was to tell my friends I was mad and be witnessed, then do nothing but feel it. I felt it for a full year.
After that year, I finally said, “Okay, Sierra, if changing our health care and how we serve the whole person is your mission, who is going to listen to you?” I didn't have an answer for that and it wasn't going to stop me from talking. I got Colorado's licensing agency to confirm that massage therapists can use their hours from taking the course Mental Health First Aid toward their license, therefore, any organization teaching hours for a license could include it as hours. I went to the next school I knew taught massage and emailed until I got a response, which surprisingly did not take long. I got the VP of education to sit down with me and listen. And she did. She didn't know me, she had never heard of Mental Health First Aid, and she still cleared her schedule to hear me.
“Yay!” my little girl was smiling and eating ice cream.
“That's better,” my mama bear was braiding her hair.
I was my mindful, present self, creating a list of talking points that I thought would get this woman to find this impactful and important.
This new-to-me woman listened and agreed. She told me the program was comprehensive, I made good points, they had experience with these situations, and we brainstormed our next step.
I may still have hoops to jump through and it may not look perfect, but I am not giving up. I know there are people out there who see past paperwork and bureaucracy and want to do their work with integrity, wholeness, and love. I know that the most important change rarely comes without resistance.
I am grateful for the pain that caused me to know how to feel my rage without giving revenge. I am grateful for the experiences that fuel me to continue this work that I know is the most loving action. I am grateful that I am complex and recognize the human experience as such. I am grateful for the woman who is listening and willing to do the paperwork with me.
I see you out there trying to love your best and sometimes being resisted. I am here to tell you and to show you that your story, your passion, and the change you want to make matters. Keep talking. Keep raging. Keep discerning how to get to the most loving action you can.
If you are a bodyworker, yoga teacher, breath work facilitator, coach, etc who wants to make sure you are serving your clients WHOLE selves with the most love, I am creating a simple and accessible program for you. Comment below or email email@example.com and say 'I'm in!' and I will get you the details ASAP.✌️