collective trauma

MEND Season 3 - Episode 58

Facing Tragedy. Finding Hope. with Leah Harris.


It was early last Friday morning and I started getting texts from some of my friends who teach to high school students.

No specifics were mentioned.

But the request. - Prayers.  Thoughts and love.

I need to hold space in a very big way today.

There is some major processing to unfold.  

And so I sent them some words of love and encouragement and some emoji hearts and held them in my thoughts for a moment or so.

Over the course of the next few hours, it would be revealed what had happened.

A student in our local area - a teenager, no older than sophomore year - had ended his life - late Thursday night - at the McKinleyville high school quad.  

And our grief.  And our confusion. And our dismay and our overwhelm and our tears - are only still beginning to pour forth.  

And so I wanted to take a minute today to share some tools and information how best I could, by enlisting a friend of mine who works in this world.

My guest today is Leah Harris.  

Leah is a transformation and storytelling coach, trauma-healing specialist, and activist.  She’s spent the last 20 years of her life devoted to learning everything she can about caring for and navigating her own  wounds, to survive, heal, and more fully share her work with the world.

Leah was born to a single mother, a creative artist with a powerful spirit who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her mother cycled in and out of state hospitals, wandering the streets, hearing voices. And eventually died at the age of 46,  & in Leah’s words, as if often the case of those affected by adversity and mental illness - “She was a brilliant light that was lost far too soon.”

Her father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his youth. He died suddenly at age 63, dealing yet another devastating blow to her family.

As a teenager, Leah was often told that she would be likely to suffer a similar fate to her parents.  And the few places that were available to her for support offered her little more than a system of blame, labeling and heavy medication.  

When she was in her mid twenties, Leah joined up with "survivors and ex-patients," a international human rights and social justice movement that has existed largely on the margins of mainstream attention. For the first time, she met a group of people who understood her experience and shared their own version. She finally felt a part of something larger than herself, a movement for change. This broke down the shame and silence that she had lived with, and was the beginning of reclaiming her own  voice & cultivating her ability to empower and hold space for others navigating their own path through trauma, as well.

This discovery set Leah on a journey of nearly twenty years to discover everything she could about trauma and the various mind-body pathways to healing.

Her mission - as a transformational coach, speaker, writer & advocate - is something we dip into at the end of our talk, and words worth sticking around for.  

Leah is a nationally-recognized trainer and curriculum developer with the  National Center for Trauma-Informed Care. She is also a storytelling mentor, a Life Stories Institute-certified facilitator and a teaching artist in-training with Story District.

You can read more about all of this on her website - which I’ll link to in the show notes.

She also has a page of resources for those coping with trauma, suicidal ideation and those looking for a more holistic, human and empowering approach to grappling with what we call mental illness.  

I wanted to share the voice of this wise and compassionate woman with you today as a way to provide tools, comfort & sage advice for a troubling time.  

Inside this talk, you’ll hear ways to move from dis-empowerment and overwhelm when confronted with trauma.  The best ways to hold space for those who are in the throes of grief or dealing with their own suicidal thoughts.  And why trauma & suicide is so MUCH MORE than just an individual problem - and how we can begin to re-work the narrative around these issues - so that those amongst us who are suffering - the most vulnerable - can find their rightful place inside the healing fold once more.  

First, let me say to the family who is reeling from this.  

I am so deeply sorry.

Words cannot convey.  

May you be surrounded and uplifted and loved and tended during this horrible time.  

May we - your community - provide whatever we can - as far as time, listening, food, childcare, money - whatever it is - so that you may be aided during this very dark moment in your life.  

Let not just our prayers and hearts go with you - but our actions too.  

May we meet you with love - that is active and strong enough to meet you in your need.

To the child who no longer wished to be a part of this world - my darling - my darling - I never knew you.  

But my heart aches for you.

I pray you rest in freedom in this moment.

I pray that -wherever you are - you know joy, and peace, and a deep, felt sense of belonging and LOVE - that this world was unable to provide you.  

I pray - and trust - that you are now released from the ties that bound you in this life.

And to us - who may not know how to show up inside this difficult moment - with all the other problems facing us - both individually - and as a culture - as a planet….  

This is not isolated.

This is not just a malfunctioning of brain chemistry or an individual incident.

This is an opportunity to do better.

To move that one step closer to creating a culture where the most vulnerable and sensitive among us do not want to leave.  

I have been that vulnerable child.

I have been that person contemplating an early exit strategy - on more than one occasion.

And more than likely, you know someone who struggles to live inside this world, as well.

So, let this mark a turning point for us today.

To gather our love.

To gather our resources.

Our energy - our vision - our skills and our time - to enter into brave & compassionate space and conversation with one another - around difficult topics.  

Ready to to difficult things.

In order to make this world a more just, loving & inhabitable one - for us all.