Friday, April 25, 2014

My First Speech

Hi all! Sorry...yet again...that I haven't blogged in a while! I have been crazy busy with school. One of the things that I did this week, was participate in a panel discussion about my journey to and through NOVA (my college).

Thought I'd share with you the spiel I gave since it is about my mental health and addiction journey:

My name is Karen Clarke. My journey to and through NOVA is a rather convoluted one. It all began in 1988 – back when NOVA was still on the quarter system! I had just partied myself out of another college, and NOVA was there to catch me.

My first two semesters here went rather well. I had all A’s, and I met my best friend. Then I became pregnant. As a single mom, I quit school and went to work.

I did not entirely give up on the college dream, though. On and off for the next ten years (more off than on) I took a class here and there. My grades, however, were a mixed bag. I either had an A, a W, or an F – much like my grades at my previous college. I had always been a bright underachiever. My A’s were from times when I made it through an entire semester. My W’s were from withdrawing, and my F’s were from failing to withdraw – rather than earned Fs.

Meanwhile, I was job hopping as well. I never spent more than two years in a job. Like my courses, I had always struggled with attendance. When I was on the job, or in class, I was an outstanding employee or student. There were many days, however, when I simply could not get out of bed and face the day; so I would call in sick or skip class.

In 2000, I quit yet another job and returned to school full-time. This time, I managed to do well enough to transfer into George Mason. Life was good. I had an internship at the Smithsonian’s paleobiology lab through my NOVA geology professor, and my grades were great.

Shortly after transferring to Mason in the fall of 2001, things fell apart. September 11 struck; and I found myself on campus so anxious that there would be a terrorist attack – GMU being a large campus in the shadow of Washington. I had always been anxious, though – sitting by the door in all my classes just in case I had to leave, but this was more anxiety than I had ever felt. I also began having panic attacks.

After three semesters of the A, W, F cycle, I was academically suspended from Mason.
I went back to work, but I was miserable. Having panic attacks, the bright underachiever stuck in a dead-end job, unable to do the things I claimed I wanted.

That is when I realized I was incapable of helping myself – that I needed help.

I began seeing a therapist in 2004. I thought I’d be able to quickly root up some childhood incident, disable it, and begin living the life I’d always dreamed.

But it wasn’t quite that simple.

Early on, my therapist began questioning my drinking habits. I tuned it out for the most part – after all, I didn’t have a problem. I was a wine aficionado – not an alcoholic. I never drank before five. I never drank on the job. Never beat my children. I held many volunteer positions – Girl Scouts, PTA – and never drank during those. I just knew the difference between a smooth Merlot and a robust Pinot Noir.

But I had to admit – the panic attacks continued - that nagging, constant anxiety was there. And there was the repeat absenteeism at work and in class. Oh, and my 5 year old saying to me in Giant one day, “boy Mommy, you sure do love wine!” as she glanced over the basket filled with bottles.

Finally in the fall of 2005, I agreed to go to a treatment center for an assessment. After all, I was sure they would tell me I was an abuser – not an addict – and they would teach me how to drink safely.
Well, it didn’t work out that way. I discovered that I was indeed an alcoholic. I entered outpatient treatment in November and it was one of the best things to happen to me.

I thought for sure this time I had hit the nail on the head – that this was the thing that was stopping me up…but it wasn’t.

Though the panic attacks were gone, the absenteeism continued…A…W…F…I remained in therapy, but nothing was changing.

Fast forward to August 2012. My family and I had just returned from a relaxing vacation in Wyoming. My husband and daughter were rested, refreshed, and glad to be home. I was uptight, anxious, and dreaded returning to the stress pit of Washington.

I felt trapped in my life. I was at the end of my rope with myself. I was beginning to think that at age 45, I was not going to change. That I was beyond help. After all, I had been in therapy for 8 years!
Feeling helpless and trapped, I began having fantasies about flying off my DC office building – about what it would feel like to jump onto the Metro tracks. I finally confessed this to my husband because I didn’t trust myself; and I didn’t want to emotionally scar a Metro driver or hurt any passengers. 

That night, I went to the Inova ER. Two days later I was in partial hospitalization – PHP. There I was diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and dysthymia (long term, low grade depression). This too was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I spent a month there, and while I was there, began rethinking my career goals. Much like I was at the recovery center, I found myself in group listening and speaking as a patient and paying attention to the group dynamics. There was one patient in particular who never talked – no matter how they tried to draw her in. I reached out to her though, and one day on break she opened up to me. After that, she participated in group like the rest of us. This incident was pivotal.

For the first time, I began to see my life experience, not as wasted years, but as on-the-job training. I realized then and there that my calling was to be a therapist. I wanted to give back what I had been given in recovery and at PHP.

I quit my job in May 2013, and returned to NOVA full time. I will be graduating this spring with my AS, Social Science, psychology and will be receiving a Substance Abuse Counseling Certificate in December.

NOVA has been a God-send. No matter where I was in the journey, I was always able to turn to NOVA to reinvent.

My goals for the future? To be a psychologist working with dual-diagnosis patients – those with addiction and underlying mental health disorders and I hope to one day open my own wellness center.

About Pink Hi-Top Adventures

The Far Side®, by Gary Larson

For those of you new to this blog, I thought I'd give you a little background. Pink Hi-Top Adventures is my first blog ever! I started it a year ago as a chronicle of my ongoing recovery from depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. 

Eight and a half years ago, I entered treatment for alcohol addiction. At the time, I thought it would resolve whatever it was inside that was stopping me from moving forward in life; however, it only drained the pool and uncovered the disease within.

Though I had been anxious and depressed but functioning for years, I finally imploded a year ago. I spent about three weeks in bed - unable to work, unable to shower, unable to function. My thoughts were turning darker too. I fantasized about death and hurting myself; and for the first time ever, it felt comforting and logical.

When I shared this with my {wonderful!} husband, he reached out to my therapist; and I was admitted to a partial hospitalization treatment program {PHP}. There I was diagnosed with major depression, dysthymia {long-term, low-grade depression}, and generalized anxiety disorder. Fortunately, I was treated by wonderful doctors and therapists; and, though I've experienced periodic set-backs along the way, I've been doing better overall since.

This blog is a chronicle of my continuous recovery and progress toward achieving my goals - one of which is graduating from college with a psychology degree. {I've been in college - on and off - since September 1984; and graduating would be quite an achievement indeed!} I also hope to inspire and inform with personal stories, resources, and a little humor!

The blog title is inspired by my favorite pair of Converse Chuck Taylor’s that I wore when I last felt my happiest and freest. 

And finally, Pink Hi-Top Adventures is a place for you too. Please feel free to comment and discuss - either in the comments section of this blog, or on the blog's Facebook page!

Thanks for reading!


Here is an overview of some of my favorite posts from the past year:


Thoughts from my addiction (2/27/13)
Alcoholic or problem drinker? (3/14/13)
How do you help an addict (6/19/13)
Take me out to the ballgame! (8/12/13)
The Raging River  (3/13/14)


Obstacles (5/22/13)
Social Anxiety (5/29/13)


Notes from the Vortex (2/11/13)
Life (3/7/13)
Lifeline (3/8/13)
Grey veil...again?! (3/16/13)
Overcoming...inertia! (3/19/13)
Can't sleep (4/23/13)
Do the next right thing - part II (4/25/13)
The daily struggle (6/6/13)
Taking down the wall (6/7/13)
Contained emotions (6/13/13)


"Nervous breakdown" (3/6/13)
Depression is not a character defect (3/27/13)


Never underestimate your own power! (2/26/13)
Acceptance (3/1/13)
Recovery step #2: sleep, damn it! (3/5/13)
Rebirth (3/30/13)
Wellness part I: physical (4/26/13)
Change is possible part II (6/27/13)
Seven steps to mental health (8/2/13)
Take me out to the ballgame! (8/12/13)
Climbing back up (8/18/13)