By Jeanne Neuwirth, LCSW, Pathways Clinician
An auditorium buzzing with teenagers quieted to an attentive audience as Kristen Harootunian shared her journey through a painful childhood to now being in a mentally positive place as a young adult.
Kristen works with Minding Your Mind, an organization whose mission is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. She was invited to Carteret High School as a guest of the school’s Pathways School Based Youth Services Program.
Kristen shared that her struggles grew out of her mother’s years of alcoholism and devastating loss to suicide. While students may or may not have been touched by those particular struggles, most people have experienced times when they “felt alone, felt scared...one thing we all have in common is feelings, and you may identify with those feelings,” she said.
Throughout her teenage years, she struggled with anxiety and depression, which worsened because she did not know how to ask for help. “I thought I was a bad person, I told myself I wasn’t good enough.” And so she began isolating and her grades dropped, and when people asked her how she was, she would say, “I’m fine.”
Kristen challenged the CHS audience to define what “I’m fine” means to them. Students offered, “Leave me alone,” and “I’m not really fine.” Kristen responded, “For me, ‘I’m fine’ meant I was drowning inside.” She added that “I’m fine” also comes from a societal misconception that it’s “weak” to ask for help, and this is something she and Minding Your Mind encourage students to help change.
Negative thoughts about herself turned into negative ways of coping with her pain through isolation, self-harm, and substance abuse--and at age 17 she was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and dropped out of high school. She described this as her “rock bottom.”
Over her teenage years, Kristen “went through about nine therapists” before finding the one she eventually opened up to. She shared that opening up involved, in part, finding a person she clicked with, “but also it’s your responsibility to put work into it” by meeting the therapist half way. The therapist who she connected with, gave her a journal and challenged her to write her feelings, and she said her emotions flooded out onto paper--she wrote what she experienced and felt over the years. She described this as “feeling free for the first time in 17 years.”
That was the beginning of a journey to mental wellness, in which she worked to develop positive self-talk. “I took control over my thoughts. Taking care of your mental health happens over time and takes consistency.” She also developed positive coping methods, which have included ongoing journaling, working out, and time with her pets. She added that finding positive ways to cope will be unique for every person, it’s about finding what brings you joy--it can be running, reading, playing an instrument, anything that is healthy and helps you feel better.
Kristen advised students to spend time with people who positively influence them, “the people you surround yourself with are the people you become.”
Her final advice to students?
• Be aware of what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling.
• Always tell the truth
• Identify 3 trusted adults and ask them for help early and often.
With the tools and support she received, Kristen has been clean from drugs and alcohol for 4 years, she graduated from high school, and is a full time college student. She delivered an important message about the power of positive coping—and what’s most impactful is that she’s not just speaking about it, she’s living it.
Pathways School Based Youth Services Program provides counseling to students of Carteret High School. Pathways also provides counseling services to the students of Carteret Middle School. Students are encouraged to seek services for any issues causing distress in their lives.
#Pathways #mindingyourmind #mentalhealth #positivecoping #CarteretHighSchool
Kristen is one of the best, most qualified people I know to carry this simple message: That an addict, any addict, can stop using, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live. The message is hope and the promise is freedom. Love you, Kristen.