Just two years earlier, we had moved from California where I had close friends and family who knew me at my core and accepted every bit of what made me, me. After the move to Colorado, I became distinctly aware of my differences. I dressed like an odd white version of Steve Erkel from the 1990s sitcom Family Matters. The combination of my pants up around my chest, my braces, my glasses, my clumsiness, my sensitivity, and my awkwardness garnered me a lot of attention. Unwanted attention. Yes, I wanted to be seen, but not in the way that singled me out and humiliated me on a daily basis.
The bullying (or abuse, as it should be named) began the last semester of my fifth-grade year and began to escalate the last semester of my sixth-grade year. Three new boys had joined our school and I became their personal target for ridicule and cruelty. The bullying started out as teasing, name calling, and intentional embarrassment. After they saw the impact of their actions and my physical and emotional response, the bullying turned physical. I was shoved hard into lockers, pushed into trash cans, on occasion they would turn me upside down and give me a swirly in the toilet.
Some of what I experienced can almost seem comical. We watch countless tv shows or movies where “boys will be boys”. In a proverbial 1950s viewpoint, the cool, tough kids target the scrawny, nerdy kid. It is the classic rite of passage for our childhood as it has been called. The experience makes you tough, stronger and able to handle the difficulties life will throw at you. Or does it? We all laugh as the nerdy kid gets a wedgie and shoved into a locker…until that scene becomes our own reality.
From my experience, the torture did not make me tough, strong or provide wisdom to handle life’s difficulties. As classroom paraphernalia was thrown at me and I was knocked to the ground and shoved under a desk, the teacher was oblivious. My fear of being invisible was validated and shame overwhelmed my heart. I was subjected to the entire class’ ridicule and used for a good laugh.
I began to curl up in my soul and I believed the lies spoken over me. The slander and smears became my reality and truth. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the humiliation of being pantsed. One of the boys pulled down my pants in front of the entire class, underwear and all. Luckily, my shirt was long enough to cover me up, but the damage was done.
Being an adolescent, I was still developing the cognitive skills I needed to process my pain and humiliation. I did not know how to communicate with my parents about my abuse so, instead, I continued to turned inward. Attending school, alone, produced so much anxiety and stress that I can remember the sensation of feeling as if my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Then, the migraine headaches set in.
The Breaking Point
My migraines started promptly after Christmas break of my 6th grade year. The headaches developed quickly and grew in enormity so much to the point that I could not function or attend my classes at school. My parents, in their concern, took me to the doctor’s office and, after medical assessment, I was given a prescription for migraine medication. Unfortunately, my pain was at an untouchable level. We saw many specialists who checked my blood for toxins, performed spinal tap tests to check my spinal fluid for disease, and scanned my brain via an MRI and electroencephalogram. All the tests provided little to no information on the cause of my headaches.
On an April night, during my Spring semester, the pain grew to the point that I decided to handle it myself. I was overwhelmed with the weariness of being poked and prodded and taking medication that was completely pointless. I was tired of the sheer panic and relentless anxiety that was my daily companion. I made a plan to end my pain.
I waited until everyone went to bed until I raided the medicine cabinet and proceeded to swallow every pill that what was left in the bottle of acetaminophen. Did I actively want to die, or did I just want the pain to end? I’m not 100% sure of that answer. Either way, as a 12 ½ year old boy, I attempted to end my life. After completing my plan, I went back to bed with the expectations that I would not to wake up the next morning. However, the shock of stabbing stomach pains hit 10 to 15 minutes later. My dad found me rolling around on the floor in agony and my parents rushed me to the emergency room where I was forced to drink a horrible concoction that numbed my mouth and throat. Eventually, that liquid forced the overdosed medicine out of my body, and I vomited out everything in my stomach.
That night provided a moment when we all began to realize that my battle was more than just headaches. The migraines were a physical representation of my internal distress. That next week, I began to see a wonderful counselor understood my trauma and its physical, spiritual and emotional affects. He helped me see my value and we began to work through my chaos and the complexities of my story. I started to find healing. I was finally seen and validated as the person I was, not the identity I had formed inside my experience.
Not until years later did I begin to understand my purpose in all my pain. The summer between my ninth and tenth grade year, I had the opportunity to go on a life-changing mission trip to a reservation in Wyoming. During our week there, I was put in charge of working with third, fourth, and fifth grade students in our Vacation Bible School. It was in those moments that I heard God whisper in my ear that my purpose was to care for others.
Fast forward six years and I had become a youth and family pastor in the mountains of Colorado. Daily, I found joy in caring for middle school and high school students in my youth group. I was given the privilege of helping the students there understand their purpose in life. All of my personal experience helped build in me empathy and compassion in a place where I may not have had those things if I had not walked through my own version of Hell. I understood and could recognize lies and circumstances surrounding my students’ personal stories. However, even though my own experience provided understanding, I was not trained to handle what was to come.
As I worked in my office, studying for a typical Wednesday night in youth group, the phone rang. A teenager who had visited our youth group had chosen to take her life. I was completely shocked. What do I do with this information? What do I say? How do I help this small community make sense of this tragedy? I was at a loss and it deeply bothered me. I continued to lead my youth group to the best of my ability but still felt a void that I lacked what I needed to properly care for my kids.
Another year passed. I married my best friend and two short months later, we were surprised to find that we were going to be parents! I felt that I was being given all I dreamed for in my life. Still working as a youth pastor, I carried a heaviness in my heart and could not shake what had happened a year earlier. So, after many hours spent in prayer, my wife, Sarah, and I felt it was time to follow God’s calling to go back to school. I wanted to make a difference, a chance to make the world a little better.
The counselor that, years ago, had helped me navigate my story, made an impression on my young heart. I knew that counseling would be my tool so that I could walk with people to help them rediscover their identity and purpose. Two years later, I received my Master of Arts in Counseling from Denver Seminary and then went on to receive my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision from Walden University. During the completion of my PhD, our, now family of four with the addition of our second child, decided to move to Colorado Springs and in 2015, Mayfield Counseling Centers was born.
Purpose Poured Out
The vision for Mayfield Counseling Centers came about in an unexpected way. By 2014, I had been in the counseling field for four years. During that time, Sarah realized her need for a mentally healthy lifestyle and had begun the journey to find a counselor who would be the right fit. We researched many local counselors and made multiple phone calls. To our disappointment and frustration, not a single counselor called us back. The lack of response sparked a question in me, “What is the current quality and accessibility of counseling in Colorado Springs?” If Sarah’s experience was typical, then other people seeking mental health support must be experiencing similar angst. Sarah and I wanted to respond to the need we saw before us.
After careful planning and collaboration, Mayfield Counseling opened its doors in July 2015. We started with five counselors and have grown to fourteen counselors in under two years. Each of our counselors brings unique life experience and counseling expertise to Mayfield Counseling. Our staff, both therapists and supporting staff, work as a team to provide the best quality care for our clients. We respond to phone calls within 2 to 12 hours of the initial inquiry and generally schedule intake appointments within the same week. We provide a safe, welcoming environment for our clients, treating them with dignity and respect as their unique stories unfold.
Throughout 2016 and into 2017, a new awareness of mental health needs in our community grew. In response to those needs, Mayfield Counseling re-incorporated into a 501C3 non-profit and rebranded as Mayfield Counseling Centers in March 2017. Our vision—to encourage and empower clients to enjoy life and grow toward their full potential—is coupled with exceptional care as we continue seeking ways to expand our availability and presence in neighborhoods throughout our community. Currently, Mayfield Counseling Centers is responding to the epidemic of teen and adult suicides by opening a counseling center in the Northgate/Flying Horse area of northern Colorado Springs. Our north center focuses on partnering with local schools and churches, in addition to the surrounding neighborhoods.