My Mental Health Story
by Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW
[Editor's Note: The New Social Worker's book club will join Kristin Battista-Frazee for an online discussion of issues covered in her memoir, The Pornographer's Daughter, and the writing process, via a Twitter chat on May 20 from 9-10 p.m. Eastern Time. This article provides some background for those interested in the chat, as well as the #MyMentalHealthStory campaign.]
A song, a movie scene, or book can trigger memories both good and bad. These recollections are fragments of our stories, which in many cases have brought us to the social work profession. In your life, you may have encountered a situation that changes your perspective forever or gives you that fire in your gut to do something meaningful—to right all the wrongs in the world. Given the prevalence of mental illness, most likely you or someone close to you may have suffered from a tragedy or mental health disorder. These events are a powerful call to action, and how you harness your unique story makes a difference.
I’ve thought a great deal about my own history and how it has influenced me. My story is intertwined with the taboo subject of pornography. My father distributed the classic adult film Deep Throat in the 1970s and was prosecuted by the federal government on obscenity charges. Chaos ensued in my family after dad’s indictment. My mother suffered from depression and attempted suicide. We all survived and eventually thrived, and my family’s experience culminated in the publication of my memoir, The Pornographer’s Daughter.
These early experiences left an indelible impression and shaped my opinions about women’s rights, mental health, free speech, and many other causes. And as much as my story shaped my desire to pursue social work, the social work profession guided and molded me, too.
As I moved forward in my social work career, I realized that my family’s coping with my mother’s mental health challenges was similar to that of other families. The stigma and shame around my mother’s hospitalization in the 1970s were just as hard to talk about openly as my father’s career in pornography. I came to quickly learn neither topic was ever a reason to feel ashamed. As you get to know me better, you’ll find I have no misgivings about my father’s career, either.
So in writing my memoir, my mother’s mental health story was just as important as the details of my father facing federal charges and the salacious details about the early days of the adult industry. And throughout my career, it became evident how important the stories about mental illness are to normalizing how mental health is viewed in our society. The recoveries and tragedies, and in fact, all stories that illustrate an injustice need to be told.
So what’s your story, and how can you make the most of it? Acknowledging and giving life to your history is the first step in thinking about how it influences your life and day-to-day work. It can serve as a lesson learned, inspire others to heal and take action, or provide someone comfort and support.
Join my #MyMentalHealthStory campaign every Friday on Twitter and Facebook to continue the ongoing conversation about mental health. Share your own mental health story; the stories featured on other great campaigns dedicated to breaking the stigma against mental illness; or share articles, movies, videos or books that you find will motivate good mental health discussions. In time my hope is that #MyMentalHealthStory will provide a steady stream of poignant stories that can easily be found on social media.
Writing my book helped me examine my story, and it has given me a rare gift. I gained insight and understanding as to who I am and use my narrative as a guide to improve my life and work. Be true to your story and embrace it. You’ll find it can teach you wonderful things.
Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW, is a social worker, author, and marketing professional. She graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and Columbia University with a Master of Science in Social Work Degree. To learn more about her, visit www.kristinbattistafrazee.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.