Today we get to know two of our Napa Valley cast members, Michelle Saint-Germain and Rachel McDavid. The show is swiftly approaching - May 6th!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a native Californian but grew up in Washington, DC, San Antonio Texas, and Madrid Spain. I attended universities in Germany and England before graduating from UC Berkeley in 1969. After working for the US Postal Service, the US Passport Office, and the State of California (during Jerry Brown’s first term as Governor) I returned to academia to obtain my doctorate. I taught at five universities in the US as well as two in Mexico and Nicaragua.
As one of the oldest participants, it took me many years to admit the extent of my mental illness. I am now retired. At the age of 64 I began an intensive three-year course of therapy to finally deal with my life-long struggle with PTSD, attachment disorder, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. I continue to work on personal growth and healing. I have also taken up watercolor, bicycling, yoga, meditation, and creative writing.
How has mental illness affected your life?
We didn’t talk about such things when I was growing up in the 1950s. As the oldest child, I took the brunt of my mother’s physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. As a result, I was sure that I was ‘bad’ and ‘irredeemable.’ I knew I was different from other kids, and to me that meant I was a freak, a misfit. I learned to hide this secret self and to stuff my feelings away in an iron box in my mind. It wasn’t until many years later that I was diagnosed with PTSD, attachment disorder, and anxiety. I developed depression and alcoholism as coping mechanisms. I felt I could never be my true self with anyone.
I looked for escape from my home life in reading and playing sports. I did well in academic studies and in my jobs. But inevitably some experience would remind me of my childhood and I would break down. I wrote poetry about suicide and cut my arms with razors. Because I was successful on the outside, psychiatric professionals would just chalk it up to stress or overwork and tell me to take two weeks off. Later, when antidepressants became popular, I’d be given a prescription but there was never any follow-up. I saw a few therapists but they never treated my condition as serious. I had problems all my life with establishing meaningful relationships. I often had to change jobs and move to new communities to attempt to start over and create a new persona. Little did I know that I always carried my illnesses with me, that I couldn’t outrun who I am.
Why do you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
I want to let people know a couple of things. First, if we ignore mental illness it doesn’t just go away. Eventually it catches up to us and we have to deal with it. Second, it’s better to deal with it sooner rather than later. I spent 64 years denying I had a problem. I applaud all the young people who are stepping forward now as part of TIMB. Third, there is hope for people struggling with a mental illness. It may be medication, therapy, an alternative living environment, or combinations of these. Not every approach works for every person. I had to try many different medications and many different types of therapies before I found one that worked for me. Maybe you need an advocate to help you through the process because it can be hard to keep trying with little result. But keep at it. Fourth, I want to encourage people working in professional capacities, such as educators, to be compassionate toward those with mental illness. And fifth, I want to encourage more people to share their stories of how they have been able to cope with mental illness.
What inspires you to get or stay mentally healthy?
What inspired me to get mentally healthy was that I had reached the end of my rope, and it was either do the hard work to get better or else. Getting better is hard, some of the hardest things I have ever done, but well worth it. The rewards of working through therapy inspire me to stay mentally healthy. Plus a stalwart life companion (38 years), a caring psychotherapist, and a small circle of supportive friends. Now I am also inspired by those who are sharing their stories through TIMB. I hope I can also inspire others.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
I want to call on the audience to understand that they encounter people like me every day, maybe the person sitting next to you at a concert or baseball game; a team member on your shift at work; a student in your school or college. I hope people will take away the idea that it is ok to interact with people who are mentally ill, and that there is a need for everyone to advocate for an end to the stigma of mental illness.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Rachael McDavid, I've worked in nonprofits my entire career and am currently the Executive Director of NAMI Sonoma County.
How have mental health issues affected your life?
I've struggled with depression, anxiety and PTSD throughout my adulthood, fighting suicidal thoughts for many years. I ended up hospitalized in my early 20's and have been in therapy for over ten years to heal from early trauma.
Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
To support my friend while also sharing my story in hopes others are inspired to find support and know they are not alone in the darkness.
What inspires you to be mentally healthy?
I have to be mentally healthy in order to survive and live each day with hope rather than simply fear.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the show?
That beauty can come from pain and art and creativity are wonderful friends that help us heal.