Focus on the present moment and understand that the feeling of loss or challenge is not forever. Acceptance is critical when we are faced with situations that are scary or difficult. I wasn’t able to transform my relationship with my daughter and her mental illness until I accepted it. Once I accepted it, I viewed her and her illness in a new light. There was still pain and fear, but I was better able to manage the challenges that come with raising a child with mental illness.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Trevett.
Tanya Trevett, M.Ed., is a Best-Selling Author, Speaker, Parent Coach, Mental Health Advocate, and Former K-5 Special Education Teacher. Tanya uses her 15 years of experience working with children with mental illness, including her own daughter, to help bridge the gap between mental health and education. She is the author of, Help, I’m Failing as a Mom, The Survival Guide to Raising a Child With a Mood Disorder, and the creator of the 8-Step WELLNESS Process. Tanya helps parents reclaim their emotional health and transform their relationship with their child and their illness. https://tanyatrevett.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” We all have stories from life’s challenges, triumphs, major events, illnesses, and trauma. Our stories can transform lives if we are brave enough to share them. My story began 17 years ago when I became a mom to my first of three daughters. Throughout my journey of raising three daughters, one with a serious mental illness, I went from keeping my story to myself so my friends and outsiders wouldn’t judge me, to sharing my story with the world in my book and on social media platforms. I did this to help other parents who are raising children with mental illness feel less alone and more supported. Raising a child with a mental illness is lonely, frightening, heartbreaking, and exhausting. It requires a village to support the child and family. I knew as a teacher and a mother, I had to share my story to help the children who were not getting the help they desperately needed. I also knew I had to help other parents, who felt as lost and sad as I felt, as they tried to navigate mental health at home and in school. Today, I am a single mother of 3 teen daughters, parent coach, and mental health advocate for NAMI and other organizations, sharing my message of hope and healing, and fighting to change policies in our country to improve our mental health system. I was able to transform my relationship with my daughter and her illness and reclaim my emotional health and I help other parents do the same.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
As a mother raising a daughter with a mental illness, I had empathy for students who were labeled “bad” by other teachers and administration. I also had empathy for their parents because I knew all too well that the parents were probably doing the best they knew how. Children who behave “badly” in school need support and empathy, but when I was a teacher, students with behavior issues were put in “time-outs” in an emptied out supply closet with an adult supervising them. My breaking point came when one of my 2nd grade students was suspended for hitting me. That was the day I decided that teaching was not for me and not because I was hit, but because how administration chose to deal with the situation. I learned that my values and vision for my students did not align with administration’s vision. I left teaching because I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. Students like that little boy who was suspended for hitting me needed more love and support. He didn’t need to be sent home. He needed to develop the skills to deal with his frustrations or his anger, but my administration did not understand that. Teaching taught me many lessons and one of the greatest lessons it taught me was to follow my gut. If something doesn’t feel right don’t compromise your values. I was taught to live with integrity and honesty and teaching was a profession that didn’t allow me to do this. I wish every parent had to opportunity to see what was happening behind closed doors at our schools. Our children deserve more and our teachers deserve more.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have the unique background of working with children with mental health problems from a teacher’s perspective as well as a mother to a daughter with mental illness. Due to my unique background, I am able to support teachers, students, and parents on my journey of bridging the gap between mental health and education. We all know that our mental health system needs major revamping. It is not working. Our schools also need to change and adapt to the world we are today, post-quarantine. Schools were not equipped to handle mental health issues prior to the pandemic. We have to change the way we are approaching mental health in homes and at schools. My vision for the changes that need to happen have developed because of my perspective as a teacher and a mother. I have lived it inside of school, as well as in my own home. We must collectively decide that mental health in our children and in future generations is a priority. We have to increase school budgets to allow schools to put a system in place that will improve the mental health of our teachers and students. Not taking action will be detrimental to education. Our teachers’ mental health also needs to be addressed and supported. They are the pillars of the school. Teachers need to be cared for and supported emotionally, financially, and physically.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would not be where I am today without the support of my parents, especially my step-father (aka my dad). From a young age, my dad instilled in me resiliency and a growth mindset. I remember long days at the library doing research for term papers in high school. Most of my friends chose the easiest topics, but my father insisted I chose a topic that would push me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to grow and learn. I remember feeling angry, exhausted and frustrated, but he helped me push through until the last word was written on the term paper. I was always so proud of my progress and the lessons that I learned. From a young age he taught me to have a growth mindset; to embrace a challenge with fear in the passenger seat, and continue to push myself through the discomfort. Challenges were not failures, but opportunities to grow and learn. It is the greatest gift from my childhood and a gift that I have passed down to my children and the students I taught.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
As a former educator, I taught my students that resilience is the ability to overcome adversity or hardship despite being afraid. We all face difficult life events, such as illnesses, traumatic events, death of a loved one, or bullying. Resiliency means using skills to work though the emotional pain with fear as your passenger, as you overcome the challenge and continue to move forward.
Resilient people are confident and have excellent communication skills and the ability to ask for help and support when needed. They also have developed effective skills to cope with adverse situations and emotional stress. People who are resilient have optimism and a growth mindset. They believe that challenges in life are opportunities for growth and learning. They don’t see the challenges as failures and they don’t see fear as an enemy. They won’t let fear stop them from making progress. They acknowledge the fear and take fear along with them for the ride. I taught my youngest students to have grit and a growth mindset and to embrace fear. This was probably the most important lesson they learned from me that they will carry with them for a lifetime. We have to teach our youngest students and children to have grit, a growth mindset, and to always work to build resiliency.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Resiliency is looking fear in the face, embracing it, and taking it along with you on the journey as your partner in crime while you take courageous steps to face an opportunity or a challenge. Despite being afraid you keep taking the steps. As a teacher, I taught children that fear is not bad. Sometimes we are taught not to be afraid, but that is giving our children the wrong message. We should teach our children that when fear shows up we know we have an opportunity for growth and we need to embrace the fear and do difficult things. That is resiliency. Courage, on the other hand, is facing a situation without fear or it can also be facing a situation despite fear. Resiliency is like a muscle that needs to be built and it requires ongoing practice.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Without a doubt, the most resilient person I know is my 17 year old daughter who has struggled with mental illness. My daughter has spent the past 3 years in residential treatment for her mental illness, away from family, friends, her animals and her home. When she was just 13 years old she was first hospitalized for her mental illness. Walking into the psychiatric hospital was terrifying for me. The walls and floors were filthy, kids looking unkept and unhealthy lined the hallway, and everything felt cold. I can only imagine how terrifying it was for my 13 year old daughter. I wanted to run out of there with her, but she stayed, as scared as she was, and she embraced fear and got the help she needed that night.
After 2 months of being in the hospital the assistant principal told her that he would tell the other students that she was away on a trip. My daughter looked at him and said, “Why would you say that when I was in the mental hospital getting treatment?” She wasn’t afraid of what others would think of her. She lost friends because adults judged her and our family, but she overcame this difficult time in her young life by being resilient and brave. Her resiliency has carried her every day since the first hospitalization. She had two more hospitalizations, two residential schools, and more therapy than most adults have in a lifetime. She has learned skills to cope with anxiety, anger, disappointment, hardships, and the most challenging life events. She has missed out on proms, school dances, football games, homecomings, and dating and lives 2,360 miles away from her family and friends. She truly defines resiliency as do the other children struggling with mental health illness in this country.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
There have been so many times in my life when people told me I couldn’t do something. When people tell me something I believe I can do is impossible, I make it my mission to prove to myself that I can do it. I did just that when I was finishing my M.Ed in Special Education. My three daughters were ages five and under and I was working part-time with little help at home. My mom was dying from ovarian cancer and I was told that if I missed time from my student teaching or graduate classes, I would not be eligible to graduate. As hard as it was, juggling the stress and sadness from my mom’s illness, as well as the stress from having three young children and a graduate program, I made it happen. I graduated on time and knew that I could overcome any obstacle that came into my life.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A cancer diagnosis is scary enough, but I also was supporting my ten year old daughter through a serious medical illness that can quickly cause blindness. On top of that, my oldest daughter was struggling with her mental health. It was a scary, stressful, and overwhelming time in my life. My mother had died several years earlier from ovarian cancer, so a cancer diagnosis was very real to me. The day of my mastectomy my daughter was scheduled for her first IV infusion to treat her illness. I remember the night before my mastectomy like it was yesterday. I didn’t want my daughters to be afraid of my cancer, but I also wanted to teach them that fear is a natural response to illness and challenges. I also wanted them to learn that fear is our partner in life. We can still face challenges with fear and when we do, we grow and learn from our experiences. I allowed myself to have two minute pity parties (my mom taught me this on her cancer journey), but I used positive affirmations when I was feeling overwhelmed. My mindset carried me through my illness and my daughter’s illness. I knew if I focused on the present I would be better able to handle big emotions that would come my way. People frequently told me they didn’t know how I was managing. Thinking back to that time, it seems surreal. I am amazed at how courageous my young daughter was. There’s no doubt about it, we were warriors. I look back at that time with gratitude now because it made us stronger than ever and allowed us to build resiliency. There is nothing that will come our way that we can’t overcome. Yes, we will have fear and we will feel pain, life is full of ups and downs, but there is nothing that we can’t get through.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I grew up in a divorced family in the 70s and 80s when divorce wasn’t common and it was stigmatized. It was very difficult being the only kid amongst my friends with divorced parents. My biological father was an alcoholic and not healthy. Back then, therapy wasn’t common so we dealt with our challenges privately. I was fortunate to have a wonderful step-father and a strong mother who helped me build resiliency throughout that period.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Five steps to become more resilient:
- Focus on the present moment and understand that the feeling of loss or challenge is not forever. Acceptance is critical when we are faced with situations that are scary or difficult. I wasn’t able to transform my relationship with my daughter and her mental illness until I accepted it. Once I accepted it, I viewed her and her illness in a new light. There was still pain and fear, but I was better able to manage the challenges that come with raising a child with mental illness.
- Be kind to yourself. Life is full of challenges and we won’t always have the outcome we want. Rather than thinking of this as a failure, I view it as an opportunity for growth. I frequently taught this to my students. When they got frustrated for not grasping a math concept or frustrated when they couldn’t read as fast as other students, I would talk to them about being kind to themselves and explain that they are growing, not failing. When we are resilient we are growing. Focus on the growth and the learning, rather than the negatives, and it will change the way you view challenges.
- Increase your self-confidence and understand that you have the power within to to decide how you will handle a situation. My daughter’s mental illness has been challenging for her and me. We could have just thrown in the towel and given up and reached out to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Instead we chose to look within ourselves and work really hard through therapy to have a healthier outcome.
- Improve your overall wellness. Manage your stress levels, use coping skills, eat healthier, get adequate sleep. Choosing healthy coping mechanisms rather than turning to drugs or alcohol will help us become more resilient. This is critical. We all have challenges in life but those who choose to handle the challenges in healthier ways will become more resilient and ultimately happier. It is so important to teach our children healthy coping skills. This will serve them well throughout their lives.
- Practice makes perfect. We have to build resiliency the same way we build a muscle. Building a muscle requires adapting a habit of exercising. The more you make healthier choices habits, the more resilient you will become. Nobody wants to hear that you have to work hard to build resiliency. Unfortunately, you are not born with it and you have to continue to build it. It is worth the effort as you will be better able to handle anything that life throws your way when you are resilient.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am inspiring a movement and that movement will change mental health in our country starting at the birth of our children. We will no longer worry about the stigma of mental health because it will be a conversation that is started at birth, with support for our children from their very first day. Schools will be better equipped to handle mental illness and mental health will be normalized. The past two years have opened all of our eyes to the needs of mental health reform in our country. We can no longer ignore it as it impacts the lives of all of us. Our schools must have the resources to successfully address the growing needs of our children. I have a plan that will change mental health in our schools. I will also continue to work towards changing policies to improve the lives of our children and future generations at home and in school.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
What I have learned is that it takes a village to make changes to our mental health system so I would choose to have lunch with Glen Close, Anderson Cooper, Demi Lovato, Kristen Bell, and Simone Biles, who advocate to reduce the stigma of mental health and improve our mental health system. As a mother raising a child with a mental illness, and as a former teacher who taught students with mental illness, I am grateful for the work these individuals have done to help make changes. I am especially grateful for their vulnerability in sharing their personal stories so people like me are inspired to share their own stories. Telling our stories will help to end the stigma and will help expose a failed mental health system. I often wonder what changes could be made if mental health advocates joined forces as one rather than separate entities. Mental health needs a loud voice right now. We must come together for our children and future generations to end the stigma and fix a broken system.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
http://tanyatrevett.com instagram: @hopeandhealingtogether
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!