Trill Talk: Iris McAlpin
Iris McAlpin discusses mental health, eating disorders, and breaking cycles of trauma.
Q: Here at Trill we like to keep it True and Real, so give us the scoop, Iris. Who are you?
A: Great, I love that! So, I’m a certified trauma coach, and I specialize in eating disorders, complex trauma, and self-sabotage. I work with clients privately, and I also have a group program called Bloom, where I work with people to heal self-sabotage over the course of seven weeks. During the pandemic, I’ve been working more than ever, which is great because I love my work. When I’m not working, my husband and I like to go camping, go to the river with friends, or hang out by the pool. I also have a dog who’s like the love of my life [laughs].
Q: What has been your personal experience of mental health?
A: For me, things started taking a turn for the worse when I was about nine years old. Before that, I experienced some sexual trauma, which was really difficult. I was too scared and ashamed to talk to anybody about it, so I kept it to myself, and over the next couple of years, my mental health started to deteriorate. By the time I was twelve, I was dieting and started taking my stress out on my body, and after a few years of doing that, I developed bulimia. I struggled with depression and bulimia until my mid-20s. Part of that was because I was unwilling to talk about some of the things that happened to me. That shame and guilt stayed within me. I sought professional help, but I wasn’t fully taking advantage of the help because I wasn’t talking about my experiences.
After a while, even though I tried many different things and various therapies, nothing seemed to be moving the needle for me. So I became very interested in studying trauma, and I’ve been doing that for the last six years. In the last few years, I’ve gotten some really specialized training in complex trauma, which has been a game-changer. Understanding trauma and what happens in the body, brain, and the nervous system has completely changed my life, so that’s why I focus on trauma now. Really at the root of the symptoms I was experiencing was trauma.
Q: You have mentioned that you are passionate about erasing the stigma behind talking about mental health. What would you say to our users who might feel afraid of the stigmatization around mental health?
A: I mean, the stigma is real, and so it’s something to consider when you’re talking about it. I hate that I have to say that. I wish I could stay “go shout from the rooftops everything you’ve ever experienced,” but there are some real ramifications if you want to pursue certain types of work. For me, I decided that I wanted to make my career about mental health, which meant carving my own path and sharing openly about my experiences. I didn’t want to pursue a career that didn’t allow me to do that, but I understand that’s not going to be the case for everyone. I was aware of the stigma. I knew that I might be judged, and I’m sure people still judge me all the time. Still, I’ve gotten to this place where I’ve decided that it’s more important to share my story for those who can’t, and for the people who feel like for work or family reasons that they can’t share openly on social media.
I hope that seeing people like me (and many others like me) sharing our stories will let others know that they’re not alone, there is a possibility of recovery, and that there are people who have done it before.
Q: How did you find the bravery to both take steps towards recovery as well as go through that journey and showcase that journey on the internet?
A: It was a long journey from recognizing that I needed to take my recovery seriously to finally sharing my story, but I think I kind of hit rock bottom when I was 19. I was really self-destructive. I was partying way too much, putting myself in harm’s way. I cheated on a partner who was a wonderful guy and seeing this sort of wreckage that I was leaving behind me made me realize that if I didn’t take this seriously, I would keep hurting people. I didn’t want that. That’s when I put a stake in the ground and said “okay it’s time for me to start taking therapy seriously, it’s time for me to start doing my research and understanding what’s going on with me in a deeper way” so I did and it was a slow process for me.
I think partially because the trauma field was a bit obscure, and there weren’t many therapists who were properly trained in trauma, I didn’t have the kind of support that I needed. A lot of therapists still unfortunately aren’t properly trained in complex trauma. As I progressed through my recovery, I started realizing that every time I went on social media, people posted pictures from their most fun activities, in their best outfits with their best makeup and their best hair and I was doing the same thing. I started thinking about it and realized that this is not real life. This is not what’s really happening. I actually got some encouragement to share from a stranger I met on an airplane. We got into this great conversation about mental health, and he was like, “you should talk about this stuff on Instagram.” It sounded terrifying to me to do that, but I thought about it for a week and just decided to pull the ripcord and do it, and I’ve been doing it ever since. That was five years ago now.
Q: We have noticed that you always make an effort to be accessible to your fans, have there been any special fan interactions that you remember?
A: There have been some wonderful ones. This may not be directly answering your question, but what stands out to me is that I’ve gotten to have conversations with people all over the world. Kuwait, Israel, the Philippines, France, Germany, Australia…Just learning about their lives, hearing about their stories, and having them trust me with their stories is always an honor. It’s a little tricky here. I can’t provide coaching via Instagram or serve as a care provider through social media, but it’s wonderful to see so many people from so many different parts of the world starting to take an interest in mental health. It’s great that people are wanting resources to help them understand themselves, and wanting to take on recovery. That, for me, is very hopeful.
Q: What steps did you take personally to navigate your mental health issues? How did you break the cycle of trauma?
A: It was a lot of trial-and-error, to be honest. It took me a long time to find the right trauma-specific care providers that were helpful to me, but it’s not like everything I did before that was a waste of time. I learned about myself with all of the different therapies and each therapist and coach that I saw. Each step brought me closer to finding the right thing, so I really relate to it all as being valuable.
I still see a trauma coach because I think it’s important for people in the mental health field to have support. She’s older and more experienced than me, which has felt very supportive. I will always be working with somebody, so I think the biggest factors for me today for taking care of my mental health are seeing my trauma coach, doing regular meditation, and getting proper sleep. That may sound basic but taking care of mental health doesn’t have to be complicated. A lot of it is just doing the daily practice of taking care of myself the way I would want to take care of a best friend or somebody I love.
Q: Anything you would like to say to the Trill community?
A: I think for me, I would want to tell them first and foremost it gets better. If you continue to show up for yourself and seek support, it does get better. So much better. Be curious about yourself and your experiences. There’s so much information for you to learn about yourself, how you operate, and what makes you tick even when you’re in a dark place. Bring curiosity to your experience and use all of the twists and turns of life as a learning opportunity. When it’s all for learning, there are no mistakes only lessons.
Q: Where can we find out more about Iris? How can we support you and your work?
A: You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @irismcalpin. You can also visit my website https://irismcalpin.com.
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