As a child, Teresa Butler found herself overwhelmed with fear, anxieties and worries that a 4 year old shouldn’t have to face. These worries eventually became a part of her that she didn’t know how to deal with. On another hand she also faced abuses from her alcoholic father. Today, Teresa is a warrior for those suffering from mental illness. It was my pleasure to get to know this amazing woman and capture her strength through this interview.
SWH: What is your current diagnosis?
Teresa: Bipolar Disorder type 2, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Complex PTSD isn’t recognized in the DSM, but my old therapist and I worked a lot around my trauma history and she always, always, always said that my trauma is complex and developed over a long period of time, and that it still has big effects on me to this day. And she’s right.
SWH: Did your father’s psychotic break provide you with any insight on yourself?
Teresa: Yes. That event, and the very difficult weeks that followed, let me know that I was done with sacrificing myself to try to keep him happy. It let me know that I was done walking on eggshells like I had for my entire life until that point. It let me know that I was done, once and for all, with believing him when he said he was going to do better, going to get help, going to do it right this time, never going to let it happen again, and on and on.
I’d been through hearing those same words every time he quit drinking only to start again a few weeks later, after he actually quit drinking and continued to have mood problems (without seeking help, mind you), after he began abusing his pain meds, and after he was in the hospital. A person can only handle so much when it comes to regular emotional manipulation, empty promises, and attempts to be kept close by any means necessary, including via abuse (that last one is courtesy of his Borderline Personality Disorder).
It taught me that I need to put myself first, bottom line. It taught me to trust my gut. It taught me that I didn’t have to feel like I was responsible for his feelings or actions, or those of anyone else, for that matter. It taught me that I don’t have to feel guilty for not including him, or any other toxic people, in my life, regardless of whether they’re related to me or not.
SWH: What did witnessing your father battling his own demons teach your on your journey to recovery?
Teresa:The hardest-hitting lesson that I learned from my father regarding mental health and personal demons was the fact that if I don’t take care of myself from an early age, I could end up like him- suicidal, psychotic, breaking down, in the psychiatric unit at 58, terribly addicted to several substances, falling down a black hole of mental illness. There were so many opportunities for him to get help at a much earlier age, but he refused. I will not follow in his footsteps.
I’m getting help. I’m working on bettering myself. I’m trying not to let the nature of the mental illness beast get the best of me. I’m trying to keep my head above water. And, even if I do end up feeling suicidal and land myself in the psychiatric unit, at least I know it won’t be too late to help. At least I’ll know that I’ve done my best to keep myself healthy instead of ignoring myself and letting my demons get the best of me.
SWH: How is your relationship with your father today?
Teresa: No contact. None whatsoever. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since Christmas, 2012. As horrible as this may sound to some, I couldn’t be happier with it. I don’t have any plans to contact him any time soon. I’m gone, and I’m not looking back. I refuse to get caught in his toxic web again.
SWH: How are you in your recovery?
Teresa: Doing fairly well, I think. I feel like I can work again, have a social life again, love my boyfriend the way I think he deserves to be loved without my illnesses getting in the way, and get some sleep at night. There are good days and bad days, but everyone has those. I’m just happy I can function again. I’m happy that I can feel regular emotions without riding the mood swing roller coaster. I’m happy that I’m able to go through this winter without being depressed, as I’ve done every winter for the last ten years. I guess you could say I’m moving forward still, and I’m happy with my progress.
SWH: What is the most important thing you learned on this journey to recovery?
Teresa: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
To me, that means that I have nothing to be embarrassed about. Nothing to be ashamed of. If someone else minds, they don’t matter. I don’t need their toxic negativity in my life. Those who don’t mind definitely matter. They’re the ones who will be there to pick you up off the floor after you’ve turned into a snotty-nosed, sobbing, hot, depressed mess. They’re the ones who will be there in silence, just to be there so your demons don’t get the best of you in difficult times. They’re the ones who will always be there to forgive you, reassure you, and wait for you with open arms every single time you need it, without question.