Valley Life for All column: Meet Christie Henderson, redefining the perception of challenge | PostIndependent.com

Valley Life for All column: Meet Christie Henderson, redefining the perception of challenge

Debbie Wilde
Special to the Post Independent

Editor's note: The Post Independent, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities. Twenty-seven percent of Americans experience some disability. One hundred percent are a part of our community. Each has a story.

Meet Christie Henderson

She is the outreach coordinator for the Aspen Hope Center. She adopts older dogs to give them their best golden years. She finds her serenity in the outdoors. Christie has a diagnosis of bipolar 1, defined as manic highs and depression lows. She knows how to manage her illness and does not let it define her.

Her voice will change you.

Here's Christie's story

Everyone goes through hard times and faces challenges. The more we share and talk about our struggles, the more we will change the perception of looking at our hardships as a weakness. I think this is especially true for mental health.

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For years I hid my depression. I didn't want people to know how I was really feeling. It began in high school, and I masked my feelings with drugs and alcohol. Suicidal thoughts became part of my norm. Eventually the highs became too extreme and the lows too dark. Six years ago, a friend called the Aspen Hope Center, and I finally was ready to ask for help. I acknowledge them for saving my life.

It is a relief to now be able to say that I'm having a bad day instead of pretending otherwise. My life isn't full of rainbows and unicorns, but I am happy. Instead of asking "why me," I have learned to embrace my illness, and I am better because of that. I had to dig deep and make the choice that I wanted to live. Mental wellness comes first in my life; I take my medications daily, see my therapist regularly, have an amazing support system and have learned what tools and techniques that work to keep me balanced.

We all get wrapped up in our lives; work, loved ones, friends, putting others first or taking on too much. It took me a long, long time to realize I had to put my well-being first. I have a tattoo of a semi-colon on my wrist which represents suicide awareness and that we all need to pause. It reminds me to slow down every day and just take at least a minute to myself, whether it is hugging my dog, looking at the beauty around us or just taking a few deep breaths.

I encourage everyone to reach out and share their stories of loss, struggles and stories of hope. The more people do, those who are struggling will know it is OK to reach out. Over the years of burying my depression it built up to such excruciating and consuming mental and physical pain I just wanted it to be over. But I found H.O.P.E. Hold On Pain Ends.

Whether you have a diagnosis or not, mental wellness needs to be one's top priority. And you don't have to figure that out on your own. One of the things we say at the Hope Center is "We Can Talk." One conversation can save a life. I know that one conversation saved me.

Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Request a training or join the conversation at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or #voicability4all. Help us redefine the perception of challenge.