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  • Writer's pictureTara Pohlkotte

Continuation: Karen * Voices of our Mental Health Community

We have been sharing some of the stories after-the-story if you will, of some of our tellers of our Storycatchers: Voices of the Mental Health Community event in March. For Mental Health awareness month, and because it is important to us that we continue telling our changing stories we've asked our tellers if they would be willing to share some of their experience with us.

Karen is no stranger to sharing her story and to building mental health support in our community. We were so grateful for her lending her voice, her perspective, and letting us into her life experience.


Why did you decide to tell your mental health story?

One of the most powerful gift I've received from others is the sharing of their stories. I have received support from many others along this journey, and this was a way to give back. I was connecting with a friend the other day and we both were on the same "page" that the sharing of stories is the most powerful way to bridge the divide - of understanding, compassion, and connecting our humanity. Sharing my mental health story is also healing for me, it reminds me of my journey and how much I've learned.

Was getting up in front of a packed audience scary, exciting...both? How did you calm yourself? Explain how you felt while you were telling your story. And after you heard all of the stories.

Yes, all of those :) I'm an experienced public speaker (I actually LOVE being in front of an audience!) and so the idea of being in front of people speaking is generally not intimidating. This time, I was a bit nervous because the telling of my story was through a different lens and perspective that I haven't shared in public before. As a kid, my Dad always told me to "take three deep breaths" before doing something scary, intimidating, or important. I used to roll my eyes as he constantly dispensed this advice. Turns out my Dad is right, those three deep breaths are a powerful tool! As I've learned from yoga practice, deep breathing calms the central nervous system, improves focus, and also is extremely calming. So, as I walked up to the microphone, I took my deep breaths. I learned through my yoga practice that I can do ANYTHING for one breath, and I used that during times at the event that hit my "hot spots." My hot spots (some people refer to these as triggers) often evoke strong feelings and emotion, and I've learned to breathe through them and acknowledge what I'm feeling. I definitely used that before, during, and after telling my story as well as listening to the powerful stories of others. Also, my "pre-game" support from you Tara (including some awesome Saved by the Bell memes) was a fantastic tool in managing the jitters!

What most surprised you about sharing your story?

This event and sharing my story simultaneously cracked me open and healed me at the same time. Every time I share my story (or am the receiver of someone else sharing their journey) this happens, so I'm not sure why I was surprised that it happened again...but it did! This sharing of my story was different than other times I've shared my story publicly. I was hoping to help create a greater shift in how we view what we call "mental illness" - hoping to shift it out of "something wrong with YOUR BRAIN" to something that is influenced by our culture, relationships, our trauma, and what it means to be human.

Since you've told your story, what has changed? What has stayed the same?

Once, when complimenting my son on an idea he had, he said "I'm full of great ideas!" (He is! That inquisitive five year old brain is amazing!) Maybe he takes after his Mom because I often feel "full" with ideas as well (I can't comment on if they are all "great.") The event inspired some ideas about how to continue to offer this opportunity to people with lived experience with trauma, mental health, substance use, extreme states, emotional distress, etc. I hope to partner with Storycatchers to create opportunities for individuals to learn how to share their stories - without "format" or a prescribed idea of what it should look like. The Storycatchers sharing was so diverse, so real, so vulnerable and really captured the essence of each person in their sharing. I hope to support more opportunities for people to draft their stories and to create forums for sharing (if that makes sense for them!).

Has telling your story opened any new doors/possibilities for you?

Sharing my story has definitely opened new doors to friendships with some of the tellers I hadn't met before! I also have been reflecting on writing my story (and started doing so!). This event inspired me to stop talking about it and DO IT!

Would you tell your story again?


What advice would you give someone else who is considering sharing their story?

Be real, be you! The most powerful stories are the ones that capture glimpses of your experience. What were you seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, experiencing in some of the intense moments of your lived experience. Think about ways to transport the listener to that experience. When we share our stories in real, vulnerable, open ways, it offers an opportunity for deep connection with our experiences.

Why do you think telling your story matters?

I love the Maya Angelou quote that says, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." The sharing of our stories offers an opportunity for healing. By sharing our stories, we can take back some of our power (many who have experienced mental health/substance uses/trauma often feel like some of their power was taken). It's also an opportunity to connect with others with lived experience and show that recovery is REAL and POSSIBLE for everyone! For me, sharing my story is an opportunity to lift up my experiences - reminding myself of my survival, reminding myself of personal power, reminding myself of the many people who have lifted me up on my journey, and reminding myself of my gratitude for each and every day I've been gifted. By sharing some of the darkness, and revisiting it time to time, I really have a greater appreciation for the light.

Listen to Karen tell her story HERE

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