As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview April Kirkwood is a licensed therapist, author, and speaker Her memoir, Working My Way Back To Me, is an inspirational tale that sheds light on universal struggles involving love, sexuality, addiction, and mental health. She is an advocate for women and early childhood trauma that affects adult romance. Her philosophy and treatment are a refreshing blend identifying the mind, soul, and body connection through practices of awareness and awakening and play therapy. April’s Manual, Guide To NOW will be available spring of 2019.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew in a blue collar family in the Midwest living on a small farm with my mom and her extended family. My childhood was filled with wonderfully strong and crazy women who loved me but modeled some really sad messages about men and women and love. I didn’t realize those messages until I found myself looking back realizing that no matter how I looked, what degrees I had, or social status I arrived to I never could never get it right in the area of her romantic life. I finally hit a dead wall in West Palm where it looked like I had everything any woman would want. Standing gazing into the pool at my “perfect” life I wondered how I got this miserable. Through many tears and soul searching, I finally found the courage to dig deep in the darkest places of my mind and soul and find how and what went wrong. I traveled back to my story and looked at the events from an adult’s vantage point. Each step I forced myself into those parts of our lives and family we never really discuss. There were abortions, affairs, church, parties, divorces, and addictions. I found the multi-generational messages that were innocently imprinted in my being. I spent four years shifting through the rubble of my life and worked my way back until I could do the healing work I needed.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Sad to say, the stigma about mental illness is alive and well. It’s as though society has a preconceived definition of success. According to the American Dream, success is possible to anyone that is willing to work hard and is of good moral character. Failure is considered to be a choice not a matter of luck, lack of education, or mental illness. Our culture sees dependence on drugs, financial ruin, family problems, incarceration, and homelessness as the cause not the effect.
There are thousands upon thousands who are judged as losers for what they’ve done without considering why or how they came to this juncture in life. Eventually unaddressed mental issues overcome the will to live. Self-loathing is reinforced by those who reject them and wonderful people are misunderstood and pushed aside.
At each funeral I go to in these scenarios, I pray for forgiveness for anyone who didn’t see the beauty of this soul with a deeper understanding of the chaos and instability inside they’re being that caused their demise.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
I explain to clients that I do not see them as mentally ill but as someone who is in so much sadness that they have somehow lost their way. Together we will go back and find the root cause of their pain. Together in a safe environment we will look at it and find healing. Together we will create a new end to their story utilizing eclectic strategies incorporating the mind, body, and soul.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
As a graduate student I had the privilege of studying the psychology. I found the research, theories, and therapies incredibly effective. But within myself, there was some parts of me that could not be explained. In a family where spiritual matters were mentioned about as much as the weather forecast, I found that which could not be readily seen but must be felt answered questions psychology could not. The function of the physical body holds within it both mind and soul. Therefore the trinity of three is a necessity in treating someone. After years and years, I found myself in a dark place. It was when I joined all aspects of myself I could wake up with a new awareness that finally helped me come back to my true essence. It is from this experience that I work with others.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Each individual should make it their sole intention each day to learn more about themselves. As they transform into beings of love, their understanding of mental illness will be one of kindness and generosity. This movement will spill over into society and government and a new time will remove the stigma of mental illness as we know it today.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Each morning I realign my chakras for my energy. I hate exercising so I do the Sun Salute if I’m not going to go walking or be out in the yard. This is my way of waking up my body each morning along with a warm drink of water with lemon.
Spiritually I find staying grounded important to me because I have so much flighty energy so when I step out of bed I visualize a circle of purple light that provides me with wisdom to feel secure in my decisions leaning on my intuition as a help mate throughout the day.
With my morning coffee, I think of three things I am grateful for. They could be as simple as my furry friend sitting by my side and something fun I’m planning to do today. I focus on the NOW as it is all I have and I am blessed to have it.
During my day I practice staying awake and seeing both visually and spiritually. This may include checking in on my own emotions and those of others in my personal space.
That is the core of my day…unless I nap. I love napping and find one complete REM cycle is like being reborn even if I’m upset or disappointed.
I love life and I spend as much time outdoors and with animals as possible. I love the little girl inside of me and I let her out to play often.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I love the book, A Woman’s Worth by Marianne Williamson. I also use the book, Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I also love Deepak Chopra and the Universal Laws book. It’s a great reminder that keeps me on track. Spiritually, as I am always getting ready for my next life, I study the books Journey of Souls by Michael Newton.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!