I’m Paige Reitz and I have lived in northern Virginia almost all of my life. I’m close to my family and moved back to VA after graduate school to watch my nephew (now 3) grow up, to reconnect with my sister and brother, and to be close to my mother and grandmother. I love to read, I adore Harry Potter (enough to go to an annual leadership conference that is HP-themed!), and love advocating for mental health in my free time. I’m a social worker with my Bachelor degree and Master’s degree in social work, from Longwood University and University of Houston respectively. Social work is more than my career: it is how I identify as a person and how I identify my values, and I found social work in large part because of my own mental health struggles.
Mental illness has impacted my life for as long as I can remember, but I first saw a therapist at age 10 when my parents’ divorced, and first consistently saw a therapist at age 15. I’d always been an anxious and shy child, more content in solitude with a good book than out with friends, but I managed in grade school. I was a favorite of my teachers - quiet, intelligent, and never any trouble. It was in high school that things started to spiral out of control. That was when the anxiety and depression became noticeable through lack of hygiene, self-harm, increased isolation behaviors, suicidal ideation, and hyperventilation and panic attacks. Therapy was a help. Hospitalizations were a help. Medication change after medication change after medication change was...well, sometimes a help. And maturing and learning how to manage my feelings helped.
And yet, the self-harm and the self-hate and the anxiety continued. The struggle to self-harm went from daily to weekly to monthly, but it continued. It was always there. And then I was in the middle of graduate school and I had a realization. I could not be a social worker and still self-harm. I could not work with teenagers who cut and tell them that it was not a good coping skill if I wasn’t willing to do the work to quit cutting myself. So I committed. I used therapy for accountability in graduate school and I managed to stop cutting, with only one slip-up in over two years.
So here I am. 28 years old and proud to say that I am a mental health consumer and a mental health provider. I am proud to be in This Is My Brave and reconnect with the consumer side after two years of focusing almost exclusively on the provider side. I have followed This Is My Brave since its Ashburn inception several years ago, and I have toyed with submitting a piece here and there, but the timing never felt right. Then a This Is My Brave Los Angeles alumnus, Rudy Caseres, pointed out this local show and gave me the push I needed; I’m so grateful to have such supportive friends in the mental health advocacy community.
Mental health wellness, or self-care, is a constant challenge and a constant source of strength. I struggle with self-care, but I have learned that I am only an effective helper if I am taking care of myself - when I am putting my own oxygen mask on first. I read, I watch Netflix, I go for long walks, I take hot soaks - all of those things help, but even more important is that I take care of myself. I eat, I make sure I get at least 7 hours of sleep, I do the dishes and shower and declutter. I recognize when I’m becoming unglued and take a day off. I rely on a therapist and a supervisor and my support system. I rely on hope and remembering that, no matter how dark it is today, it gets better. I tell myself what I tell my clients, and what I’ll leave you here with today: I am enough and you are enough and together, we can use storytelling to save lives and end stigma.
Tickets are on sale NOW! Click the button below to order your tickets to meet Paige and more brave storytellers. This is one mental health performance you won't want to miss!
Please share this post with friends and family in the Northern Virginia area. We're all affected by mental health and addiction issues, and the more we can support each other, the easier it will be for people to seek help. This Is My Brave is proof that Storytelling Saves Lives.