Two people from different walks of life share how they stay optimistic in their daily lives
Sensitive content warning: This article discusses mental health and suicide.
In the past few years, everyone in the United States has experienced a cascade of stressors largely out of our control — a pandemic, a rise in violent crimes, mass shootings, high inflation, ongoing tension around social and political issues, and more. Chances are you’ve felt stressed, anxious or unsafe at some point, whether you consider yourself part of a vulnerable group or not. In fact, 47% of people feel worried about their safety every single day, with more than a quarter of adults saying that most days they are so stressed they can’t function.
Many people are feeling more anxious than ever before, but the good news is more than 70% of adults remain hopeful about the future. In our ongoing mission to understand how we can help make the world a safer place for all, we asked two people from different walks of life what their stressors are and how they stay optimistic for the future. Their stories offer a distinctive perspective on safety, support and how to remain hopeful in the face of adversity.
Finding freedom after paralysis
An estimated 25.5 million Americans have disabilities that make getting in the driver’s seat and traveling outside the home difficult. Springfield, Virginia, resident Joanna Bonilla knows this all too well. In 2012, she was paralyzed due to a complication from lupus.
“My first three years of being paralyzed, I was pretty much in bed,” Joanna says. “I worried about missing out on life and how I was going to live independently again... I was always a really active person, so as soon as my physical therapist told me I could regain strength to do things like driving again, there was no looking back.”
After three months of physical therapy, Joanna learned how to drive using a modified vehicle, but it took some time to gain full confidence behind the wheel.
“People make it seem like it’s weak to be cautious, but what I’ve learned is that my best days are when I ask for help, plan ahead and let my family know where I’m at, just in case,” she says. “For example, if I run errands or go grocery shopping, I’m cautious by letting someone in my family know they should contact me if I’m not back by a certain time.”
Today, Joanna feels freest in the driver’s seat and is grateful for her physical therapist, who opened her eyes to her fullest potential. The number one recommendation she has for anyone in a similar situation is to become comfortable advocating for yourself.
“Different opportunities start to open up when you start to learn the verbiage that you can use to get your point across,” Joanna says. “Life after paralysis doesn’t mean your life is over. It just means you must constantly work on yourself in many ways. It’s an ongoing journey of doing physical therapy, learning to let your guard down and knowing it’s OK to ask for help by advocating for yourself. And saying ‘This is not safe for me’ or ‘I need help’ is so important.”
In addition to advocating for what you can do physically, Joanna says don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions when you’re with a doctor, employer or anyone else.
Parenting a transgender child
Every parent wants their child to feel safe. For Lori L., a human resource professional in Michigan, this couldn’t be more true. Lori is mother to 21-year-old trans man Logan, who began his transition journey seven years ago. “Being the mother of a transgender child is the most rewarding experience I could ever ask for,” she says.
Lori says Logan had a typical upbringing, but she always knew her child was a little bit different. As he got older, there were hints at his true identity. For example, Logan stopped wearing dresses. Lori remembers saying, “I don’t care where we buy your back-to-school clothes. We’ll shop in the boys’ department... just be you. Just be comfortable.”
Right before Logan started middle school, he came out as gay, and the family fully supported him. However, a few years later when Logan was 14 years old, Lori got a phone call from the high school telling her she needed to pick up Logan. That’s when she found out he had been having suicidal thoughts and sent some disturbing text messages to friends about harming himself.
“Thankfully, that friend called the school... to express their concerns, so when I got there in the counselor’s office, that’s when my son came out to me as trans, as his authentic self,” Lori says. “I knew in that moment that acceptance for him was a life-or-death decision.”
Logan is not alone. An overwhelming 50% of members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community report feeling intense levels of stress on most days, compared to 33% of people who are not part of this group. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 — and LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
“I never felt sad like I lost a daughter, and I never felt sad that I lost something,” Lori says. “I gained my son. I gained him, and I would have lost him entirely if we hadn’t accepted him, so that was my first concern, was just keeping him safe, keeping him alive.”
Over time, Logan has felt more supported by going to therapy, building a tight-knit community he trusts and finding safe places where diversity and open communication are welcome.
Today, Logan openly discusses his pronouns and is thriving taking business classes and working full-time.
“Seeing my child’s transition has been a beautiful experience,” Lori says. “It is so important to build a community around you that can be there for you when you need them; that you can reach out to for help, for support; that is there to cheer with you, to celebrate life with you, celebrate your successes, lift you up when you need it. Community is so important for having a safe space.”