By Andrea Lawful Sanders
Felicia Roche is a gentle soul with deep, soulful and haunting eyes.At first impression, she seems quiet and reserved, but always has a smile and the willingness to help anyone in need. What many who know her are not aware of, are the deep scars of life that left her institutionalized time and again with a dissociative personality disorder, among other diagnoses.
In the midst of all of this, she managed to raise a beautiful baby into adulthood who is kind, thoughtful and inspirational. Roche recently wrote a memoir entitled “Unravel: Breaking the Cycle of Family Trauma” which leaves readers gasping for air, setting the book aside to cry, and rejoicing in the redemption of a soul that was crushed time and again by people who were supposed to love and take care of her, coupled with a family history of mental illness that was passed on to her.
The book made it to Amazon’s top 10 best sellers list for first time authors, and is a must read for anyone and everyone.
So many adults failed Felicia and her sister before they turned 5 years old, but their resiliency kept them afloat and clinging to each other when many others would have drowned.
I met Felicia at a community event some years ago. She walked over at the end and asked if we could have coffee. All I saw was this gorgeous young lady who could’ve easily passed for a movie star. When I asked her what she would like to meet about, she simply replied, “I need a mentor, and I think you can help me.”
I felt her deep sadness then beneath the smile on her face, but even I was not aware of what that simple statement would mean — years of intentional listening without judgement and allowing her to show up without pretenses.
I knew in one pivotal moment that she was hanging on by a thread, and while I had no idea then of how I would be able to help her, what I did know was that I was not walking away from her. I learned that giving her room to share without judgement and showing up consistently was the best thing I could have done in her process.
There began our journey from that day until she wrote her memoir. I asked her a series of questions in an effort to help readers understand just what mental illness is about, and that it isn’t something that you can snap your fingers and make better.
AS: What is your earliest memory that something was going on mentally with you?
FR: In terms of memory, the answer to that is in retrospect. I know now that right around when I started seeing things other people didn’t see is when I began having psychotic breaks or symptoms of PTSD. That began around 5-years-old. I describe in the book the things I started seeing around that age and throughout my adolescence. But I did not discover this was mental illness until my mid 20’s, when I began learning about psychology and when I began seeking help.
AS: What made you write this book?
FR: To be honest, the process began because I was encouraged by others to do it. I wrote the book because other people kept telling me I had a story to tell. I had no real desire to share my journey, until people would express how hearing just small parts of it inspired them. Once I learned that others are inspired by real, raw and authentic stories of healing and triumph, I decided to start the process of writing it all out. The hope was that some parts would resonate with survivors of trauma and we all would feel less alone. I know I’ve always desired to meet people who have experienced some of what I’ve been through, because it helps to know it’s not just you. I decided this could be my small contribution to the world in terms of helping others.
As the process continued, I realized that my personal mental health journey may offer insight and support to people who might have someone in their life that lives with mental illness, to better understand what might be going on in them.
Finally, I learned in the process of writing that it was also very therapeutic, and that’s what helped me continue to write and finish the memoir. I got a lot of healing, perspective and answers to questions that tortured me for a long time. It took years to write the book because I had to dig deep and face a lot of things that still scared me. It wasn’t easy. But it was definitely worth it. Very rewarding.
AS: What has kept you going despite everything that has happened to you?
FR: Another transparent moment here — I live with suicide ideation, and so to be honest, the thing that keeps me here is a promise I made to my daughter and a vow I made to my Creator. I promised my daughter a long time ago that I would stay on Earth as long as God allowed. Then, I made a vow to God and myself that I would see this journey to the end. Meaning, I know it will all end one day anyway, so I will keep putting one foot in front of the other until then. In turn, I have the promise that one day my pain will end. It doesn’t sound very inspiring or desirable to live like that, but it’s my truth. I have survived a lot of trauma and I will always feel pain and sadness about that. But God has shown me that even living in constant pain, this life is a gift. I want to get all it has to offer and do what I can to contribute to that while I have the time. I am proud of myself for taking such a vow to live despite my pain and mental illness. I have found self-love in that and it makes living better everyday. Sometimes (especially if you live with suicide ideation) you have to live for others until you can live for yourself. I think I am now finally living for myself. And it feels like a gift.
AS: What brings you light and joy?
FR: Exactly what I just mentioned- being proud of myself for doing the work to heal and finding self-love. Self-love — real self-love — feels amazing! I finally, truly understand and believe that my mental illness is not my fault. I do not have to live with shame for what happened to me anymore. I’ve learned to embrace myself just the way I am. I’ve learned to let other people love me, too. I used to think I was a burden to others because of how much I require to simply be ok. But now, I know that’s not my fault. I didn’t cause my trauma. I deserve to heal, I deserve to be cared for. So now that I get that extra care from myself and my loved ones, I feel good!
I am unapologetic about my needs and I take good care of myself. I no longer offend my soul and I spread that same light and love to those around me, which also is very fulfilling. I find joy in self-love and in knowing my creator truly loves me and takes care of me; that is what keeps me in the light.
AS: What do you want people to know about mental illness as someone who lives with it?
FR: The entire last chapter in my book is an extended answer to this question. But in short, my memoir gives a firsthand account of what it’s like to live with mental illness and how it is presented through behavior. The entire book is dedicated to being as open, honest and transparent as I can possibly be about “my crazy”, and I want to help the world to understand why people who live with mental illness behave the way they do, ways in which mental illness presents itself, and how we can begin to break those cycles.
When someone is sick, they cannot be better simply because they want to be better — they need medicine, they need healing, they need medical attention and they need support. It’s the same with mental illness. I want people to really respect the illness, learn the psychology and begin to understand the science of it all.
I recently heard someone say that mental illness is not an excuse to be an asshole. My response to that is that it’s not an excuse, but it certainly is a reason. Our society has to gain the understanding that undesirable behaviors are a direct result of mental illness. So when [we] see people “acting a fool,” our knee-jerk response should immediately be to examine their mental health status. I think we are so used to the language of mental health and mental illness only being associated with depression and anxiety-mood disorders. But most times when people have uncontrollable urges, are unable to self-regulate, or engage in risky or self-sabotaging behaviors — their mental health needs to be assessed and support is needed. Ultimately, this can lead to enough self-awareness to begin to heal and the likelihood for peace and self-freedom emerges. Healthier and more desirable behaviors will follow. We have to be honest about what’s happening inside of us if we are ever going to heal and recover from trauma. Especially Black people in America. We live with so much trauma and are not afforded the space needed to process and recover. That, if nothing else, is my mission in life — to help create spaces for people to process and begin healing from trauma.
AS: How can we find your book?
FR: “Unravel: Breaking the Cycle of Family Trauma” is available at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books, Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. You can also order a copy through my website at: https://www.therochepost.com/.
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