It's easy to hide our shame and hurt in the shadows as we grow accustomed to wearing masks to convince others that we're "fine." All the while, we're carrying pasts of abuse, suicidal thoughts, and mental illness. But Ka'Lyn Coghill isn't silencing her pain any longer. In fact, she's been telling her story for years as a spoken word artist. Her advocacy continues to grow through her writing, speaking engagements, and work with NAMI. She took the opportunity to share her healing journey with us.
What made you start writing about your story of abuse & mental illness?
“Well, I’ve always been a writer. I used to be a spoken word artist and a lot of my poetry back then was talking about my own battle with depression or things that I was seeing happening around me in my community…I felt like if I put it on a public platform and people actually engaged w/ me… it would make me more motivated to continue to go [to therapy]. It kinda held me accountable because people are depending on me to tell my story.”
"I knew I wasn’t alone…but I always felt lonely. No matter what, I always felt lonely."
Where did that loneliness come from?
"I feel like my loneliness came more so from trauma from my childhood, directly related to my mother. A lot of my depression and a lot of my loneliness comes from my relationship with my mother and how her suffering from bipolar disorder without getting any type of therapy or refusing to seek treatment kind of affected and impacted my life… At a young age, I had to take care of her and take care of myself. I never got the chance to build friendships that weren’t based on me 'mothering' someone."
How was your writing received?
"...It was very difficult because I didn’t want to upset anybody, especially in my family. I’d make sure it was so vague and general that they wouldn’t know it was about any abuse I had been impacted by those in my family.
...But when it came to sexual abuse, um, a lot of them were shocked. When it came to me being suicidal, a lot of them were shocked. In my head I’m thinking, “You can’t be surprised because you know it happened.” It really baffled me and I was upset for a long time with a “the world is against me” type of mindset for a while. Once I started going back to therapy and writing about my journey, I realized that a lot of my family became supportive but a lot of family was in denial. I had a lot of family members block me on social media...refuse to come to wedding... I feel like once they started seeing my writing, some were very supportive… and some were saying 'defamation'... but I have receipts!"
How were you able to set boundaries with unhealthy family members?
“I thought I didn’t have a choice to set boundaries... When I met my husband, one of the first things he said to me when we first started dating was, 'You don’t know how to tell people ‘no’, you don’t know how to set boundaries.' And I was like 'OK' [insert eyeroll]. I didn’t realize he was making a good point until later on when I started to recognize that because I didn’t set boundaries with my family, I don’t set boundaries with my friends… and I can put myself in situations to be taken advantage of… But I have control over that... I really just bend with the wind.
Bend with the wind so it doesn’t break you.
That affirmation has kinda been my thing... and I try to let stuff roll off my back and just focus on being my best self. That’s what keeps me alive."
How did the abuse & family denial affect you?
"There’s a poem called 'We Wear Masks' and that was me."
"I realize that [mask] pushed me to take my life several times."
Ka'Lyn’s partner at the time, now husband, encouraged her to seek mental health treatment and get support.
"When I first felt suicidal and tried to go through with it, I was 16. The response from my family was so weird. It was like, 'Well, you can’t listen to what people say about you. Why would you want to do that? Other people are around, you could make them uncomfortable.' So it wasn’t like, 'Are you okay? You should go see a therapist,' because no one talks about it.
The other times that I felt suicidal, um, I really didn’t have anyone to talk to. I self harmed until I was about 22/23. And self harming for me was a way to train myself not to cry...If I felt sad, I would self harm to stop myself from crying because I would always hear 'fix your face.'
It’s been a journey and a battle. You know you can get into a rhythm of things and start saying '... vibes.. positive vibes… love and light.' But sometimes you forget... girl, there’s darkness in that light too sometimes."
What’s been the most helpful in your healing journey?
"Besides therapy… because I’m 'obsessed' with my therapist… I love her so much.
For me, what’s really helped me is learning to heal myself spiritually...Who I was in high school, regardless of battling my depression, is who I am now and I find it beautiful. I have the power within myself to make sure that I’m okay… that’s been the best thing ever.
But also, being able to be a chameleon in my healing journey. Being able to try different things, experience different things. I’ve been on medication, I’ve gone to psychiatrists, I’ve done therapy… I’ve tried group therapy (didn’t really like it). Some of them were beneficial, some of them were ‘meh’... But being able to be open minded to whatever my therapist suggests. If it works, it works.. if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something different."
What advice would you give someone on their healing journey?
“I have Bipolar II and I also suffer from PTSD…. For me, I know that emotions are fleeing. That’s something that I constantly have to remind myself, especially with having bipolar disorder. I can feel an array of emotions every 3-4 months. I feel mania. I feel a lot of things I can’t explain. But the moment that you can understand and grasp the fact that emotions are fleeing and this is not where you’ll be 2-3 months from now is when you can really start living… and that’s the best advice I can give anybody because that’s the advice I give myself...It’s also okay to seek therapy."
"Practice self care, not escapism."
"I really think it’s important, especially for women of color, especially with the [political] climate we’re in right now… to really focus on finding ways to take care of themselves mentally, physically, and definitely spiritually...