3/17/19 #SameHere Hero: Jennifer

Today’s #SameHere🤙Hero: Jennifer
Jen has an incredible story – one that she’s still in the throes of…& she chose to share it now, even anonymously before she’s ready to be more public about it, in the hopes it will help others, as much of it is very relatable.
This story is one of compounded trauma that’s led to some extremely challenging MH symptoms. Jen has parents who fought mercifully, & a father with narcissistic tendencies who cheated countless times on her mom.  She & her sister would hide as they’d fight in the house, given how much it scared them. Then, she, her sister, & her mom were involved in a terrible car wreck where her mom was pronounced dead on the scene, but later revived at the hospital. Despite her mother surviving, life would never be the same.
With her parents spilt, & both dealing with their own challenges, Jen felt abandoned & unloved. As a young model, she chose to go to school in & arnd NYC, & party her way out of the terrible lingering feelings she had, taking trips with whomever would offer, but it left her still feeling hurt & alone. The partying was only a temporary band-aid.
She’d meet a man early in life (22), she fell in love with, & all the love she felt like she was missing from her own fam, she found in him. However, bc they were married so young, there were many life decisions they didn’t discuss…decisions that have put a tremendous strain on her & their marriage, currently.
She’s channeled all of these experiences & has used it to give back to the world through the creation of a deck of cards called ‘Conscious Conversations.’ Its a set of conversation starters that cover alternative topics from everything like spirituality, personal successes/losses, death, reality, to intimate childhood memories & favorite books. Given our own platform of encouraging others to open up & share more, I love how her program is helping folks to do that – in a way that gets the conversations started, & I look forward to the potential of working with her & her company in the near future. Jen’s full story is below.
“I currently suffer from clinical depression & derealization disorder. Though we all face something, & disorder labels aren’t always helpful, in my case, with the unique symptoms that come w derealization, I thought I’d share in the hopes of helping any who can relate.
I believe my MH issues initially started after my parents got divorced at age 12, & have been slowly manifesting themselves ever since.
Overall, I had a typical childhood before the divorce. My dad would coach my sister & I in all our sports. My mother was a homemaker & was always there for us. I had tons of friends & I was generally a pretty happy kid. My mother was overall great & very loving. But, she suffered from PTSD & bipolar disorder. (Her conditions stem from her mother beating her as a child &, out of the 9 children she had, only disowning my mother, which left a pretty severe emotional scar).
My mother’s condition was very hard for my father to deal with as he was borderline narcissistic, self-centered & ultimately did not have the capability of being empathetic towards her. They would fight constantly almost on a daily basis, with my sister & I hiding in our room until either the fighting stopped or we both fell asleep. Even still, I was capable of handling the stress for the most part. Until one day, life decided that it was finally my time to see just how much I could handle.
I was in a major car accident at the age of 11. My mother was pronounced dead at the scene, but was revived & airlifted to Mass General Hospital. I had a bad concussion & was knocked out along with severe bruising of both my knees. My sister, who was in the back seat, was generally untouched except for some weird blue stuff that got in her hair that – till today, we still have no idea what it was – it’s become sort of a running joke in our family trying to guess the mystery substance 🙂
My mother would remain hospitalized for the next three months, due to the severity of her condition. Her life would never be the same again, unfortunately, & she still suffers from mental & physical complications 20 years later. While she was in the hospital, I was at home recovering. One day, while I was scavenging for spare change in my dad’s car for the ice cream truck that was coming down the street, I saw it: This yellow receipt thrown on the floor of the passenger side. It was a receipt for flowers. ‘To Brenda’ it said. My mother’s name was not Brenda. I suddenly felt my entire world crumble. I came to learn that my father was & is a serial cheater & has been unfaithful to every woman he has ever been with, my mother included. After finding that note, my mother filed for divorce. I saw her struggle with homelessness, physical disability, poverty, & ultimately, getting her kids get taken away from her.
All she ever wanted in life was to be a mother. My heart broke for her constantly & it still does to this day. It felt like the beginning of the end. I felt myself changing inside. I was constantly filled with rage over what was happening to my family & total disgust for how my mother had been treated by my father. My mother had to move to NJ to live with her sister due to finances, & my father got custody of us. Once my mother left, there was no more hiding the damaged relationship that my father had with his kids.
I finally understood why my parents would fight everyday. My father’s ultimate & only concern usually began & ended with himself. I would cry almost everyday & would call my mom asking why she left me. I remember one time, at the age of 16, literally having tears in my eyes, hoping for my father to tell me that he loved me, only to be met with a  blank stare while I curled up in a ball, inconsolable, on the floor. At some point, I ended up feeling abandoned by both my parents. The family that I once knew had disappeared & I was left with nowhere to turn. I had vowed at that point to never have a family of my own in order to avoid the repeat pain.
I couldn’t wait to leave once I hit 18. I moved to NYC for college & started partying like crazy. It was incredibly thrilling & definitely helped me fill a void. I started modeling, dated men much older than me, dabbled in drugs, & lost myself in the haze of it all. I became addicted to traveling. I would travel anywhere with anyone (literally anyone who would buy me a plane ticket &, for a model in NYC, those offers came somewhat frequently). It became sort of like a game. I realize now just how dangerous those situations were that I had put myself in, &, that along with being a right of passage into becoming my own human, my actions were also my way of escaping my deep unhappiness. It would give me a brief high, followed by the crushing feeling of being totally alone.
Looking back, I have felt alone since the divorce, even among friends & family, always an outsider & never really part of anything. That is, until I met my husband at the age of 22. Falling in love with him felt like everything I had ever lost come back to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had found my home. The first 6 years were pure bliss. We traveled, laughed, cuddled endlessly, & were simply smitten 24/7. I barely spoke to my mother or father at this point, because they both felt incredibly toxic to me. But they also didn’t really try to keep me in their life, so I suppose the feeling was mutual.
Then life started getting a little crazy, we moved countries, & starting having fights about money & whether or not to have kids. I was terrified of having kids & he wanted three. We never spoke about this before getting married, & I realize now what a huge mistake that was. I am positive my childhood contributed greatly to my fear of having children, but the fear is embedded so deeply in me that I don’t know if I can ever overcome it.
Since kids were a non-negotiable for him, he put the option of divorce on the table. My world literally collapsed…again. The dreadful feeling of being abandoned constantly tormented me & my stress level was a constant 10/10. It felt like my nervous system was actually shutting down. The threat of losing all that I loved genuinely felt like I was dying. That’s how my brain perceived it, as a threat to my life. My energy was shot, depression soared, I could not handle being left & unloved again by someone that I considered precious family.
The stressful events continued to pile up. My nervous system just couldn’t handle anymore until one day, I woke up & the world seemed off, almost unreal, like I was in a video game. It felt like maybe I was going psychotic or losing my mind, but later I would come to learn that this is the one of the body’s possible responses to immense stress & that I was in fact experiencing derealization.
Anyone who has experienced this knows what an absolute nightmare it can be. Terrifying doesn’t even come close to describing the mental hell that this condition creates. It has been 2.5 years now & I have lived in a dream-like state every day since. Have you ever felt really hungover, groggy, dizzy, & just totally spaced out before? Imagine that, but twice as bad, & the feeling never goes away.
However there were a few good things that came, & continue to come, from this entire experience. First of all, I have discovered a strength in me that I didn’t know existed. I have experienced darkness so deep & so overwhelming, I was sure it would swallow me whole. But it didn’t & I’m still here, determined to win.
Initially, when this all started, I was embarrassed to ask for help from others for fear of being judged & (in my mind) potentially abandoned by my community. But once I started opening up about my issues, I was met with nothing but love & compassion. More than that, it turned out that my own vulnerability inadvertently gave permission to others to feel free to express their own problems. This is where I learned the power of vulnerability. (Brene Brown has a wonderful Ted Talk on this which I highly recommend everyone check out).
Before this experience, I used to be one of those people who believed that everyone else had their shit together & that I was the only one struggling. But eventually I recognized just how similar we all are in our challenges. I saw the shared need people have for deep connection & for a way to express themselves safely without fear of judgement. So I decided to do something about it. In September of 2018, I created something called ‘Conscious Conversations.’ Its a set of conversation starters that cover alternative topics from everything like spirituality, personal successes/losses, death, reality, to intimate childhood memories & favorite books. It can be used as an ice breaker game, a way to connect deeply with people already close to you, or some even use them as journal prompts. The feedback I have received so far has been incredible.
I was thanked many times for my unabashed openness, for providing people a way to speak freely & openly, & for providing such a safe space to do so. I have been approached by executive coaches, therapists, CEOs, & various other leaders to help create custom decks for their own people. The need for intimate connection was higher than I had ever expected & I have now made it my mission to provide platforms for people to connect to each other in deeper, more meaningful ways.
I am now in the process of creating two more decks with different themes & am so excited to see what the future holds. But if there was one lesson that I have learned from my situation it is this: we are never alone, ever. More people care than we even know, & if we ever need help, there is absolutely no shame in asking for it. Because at the end of the day, we are all a little crazy… #samehere!”

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