Making the Climb with Chrystal
By Chrystal Woodson
Proving the Impossible
Before I was diagnosed with an Axis I mental illness, I took a job working for Outward Bound as an urban outdoor wilderness instructor. I had never camped, rock-climbed or taught anything. This was called “experiential education”; learning by doing.
One day, during my training period, I was told that I was going to have to learn how to climb a 65-foot-tall tower in order to teach youngsters how to do the same. Of course, you can’t tell someone to do something if you haven’t first done it yourself.
I was terrified. But I learned how to harness myself and I learned how to manipulate the rope and ensure that I had enough slack so that I could move forward and how to pull the slack so that I could safely descend. And I learned how to communicate with the belay team so that we could establish trust.
I learned that even though someone is telling you not to look down, doesn’t mean that you’re not going to do it. And maybe looking down is essential at some point to show you how high you’ve gotten. You may learn something by doing what you’re told, but it’s up to you to create a fingerprint and stamp that action to make it your own. You can perfect yourself by learning and interpreting your experience and communicating with others what you need and promoting yourself to others to build their confidence in you that you can get the job done. By the time that summer job was over, I ended up climbing that tower at least four times!
My point is this: You can’t be afraid of doing something you must do simply because you’ve never done it before. Maybe your purpose in growing is to advance so that others may follow in your footsteps. As consumers, we must learn that our progress is not merely ours alone. We must be responsible and lead the way for others who may be lost and struggling because they may not feel empowered to find a way to overcome their illness.
There are those of us who prosper and we must remind our observers (those who are consumers and those who aren’t) that success is possible. We must not be ashamed of who we are, including our diagnosis. We shouldn’t use our illness as a crutch or an excuse for why we feel limited.
I’ve had to learn things the hard way. I’ve been unemployed in my life many times. I’ve quit jobs, been fired, went on unemployment, enlisted in the Navy, 9/11 occurred, I had a breakdown, hospitalized, discharged from the Navy, got on Public Assistance, SSDI and started vocational training, worked as a peer (not certified) and found myself working in mental health agencies now for fourteen years.
There are so many lessons I’ve learned and I feel so blessed that I have the ability now to ask the right questions and find teachers and mentors who will guide me along the way. I have a master’s degree in public administration which I earned in the midst of my recovery process. And my current job is a non-peer clinical position. From time to time I question myself and ask, “What is all my climbing for?” And I realize within my soul that I have an urgent need to prove the impossible. And I remember my first psychiatrist telling me, “You will never work again.” I just had to prove her wrong.
I am proud of my accomplishments and I still strive. Knowing that God will see me through any obstacle and believing that to climb is to cling to the heights of the Earth in an effort to grasp at Heaven and conceptualize the Eternal.
Pullout: “…I question myself and ask, ‘What is all my climbing for?’ And I realize within my soul that I have an urgent need to prove the impossible.”