Looking back at my life I see diversity within diversity. I have always been 'a bit of this and a bit of that' but not completely. Often the various roles of my life are in antagonism. My birth was unplanned and not welcomed. My mother was a teenager. My father in the army. Grew up in Greece but my parents had embraced a protestant faith. Grew up feeling 'different', culturally, spiritually, religiously, socially, and sexually. A minority within minorities. This deeply engraved in me feelings of shame, guilt, fear, void and a sense of not-belonging. An abusive childhood, migration as a teen, attempts to 'fit in' by getting married, later falling in love with someone of the same sex and 'coming out' in my mid thirties, divorcing, bankruptcy, life-limiting illness, death of my partner and having full custody of my child whom I raised are some of the significant elements that shaped my path and perhaps contributed to my depression, anxiety, panic attacks, including night terrors, and mood swings that have tormented me for a number of decades. Entering middle-age as an empty-nester, widower living with chronic illness and as someone not defined by my ethnicity, cultural background or faith and with no family in Australia to support me as I face the challenges of aging, I can say that the thing that gives me hope for the future is that I have always being resilient and bounced-back no matter what the challenge. Traumatic experiences and stigma have forced me to embrace and honor my personal truth and remind me daily of the importance of staying true to myself regardless of how others may view me. My experience can be summarized in three stages: 1) overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, fear and shame and trying to 'hide' from these through denial; 2) compensating, by trying to work hard to neutralize the effects in my life by being more successful etc. in a desperate attempt to forget or soothe my internal pain and endeavor to escape it; 3) cultivating authenticity, by beginning to build a life based upon my own passions and values rather than trying to 'fit in' to cultural or religious norms. Until I was able to re-examine my life, I was not able to realize the undercurrent of shame that has carried me into a life that often wasn't fulfilling. I had to accept myself for the person I am, not the one my community, church or family wished for. I feel honored to be able to share my story and give and receive support through this forum.
Thank you for the opportunity.