Dedication: To my sister Jeni who never gave up on me and always supported me through my challenges in life.
Counseling has the potential to change the world; this belief resonates deep within me. I am a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX studying Mental Health Counseling. My long-term goal is to open a non-profit organization called Grace2Fight. Where I will provide counseling services, psychoeducation, and career development skills and education opportunities to populations in need. This goal is derived from my own life experiences as I have rebuilt my entire life. My journey began in my childhood; at age eleven I was placed into the foster care system separated from my siblings. This was a major challenge in my life as I struggled to adapt to the system. I often ran away and did not attend school. I was on my own at sixteen-years-old when my birth parents found me; I went to live with them in another state. They were living with my aunt and uncle in Tennessee. My aunt was an amazing role model to me and pushed for me to obtain my GED, which was a major blessing in my life. Despite my wrong choices she always saw a light in me that I could not see for myself. After graduating from high school with a GED, I became pregnant with my first son at seventeen-years-old. By the time I was nineteen I had two children and no way to support them. My sons’ father and I were married very young and his alcoholism made him extremely abusive. Most often I found myself with two kids and nowhere safe to go. Their paternal grandparents pushed for me to allow them to adopt them and give them a life they deserved with the promise that I could always be in their lives. This decision became the foundation to which my drug addiction was born. My downward spiral continued for approximately six years as I was in and out of jails and institutions a few years later I had another child named Kaylee. For the most part, she stayed with her paternal grandmother. This continued until I became pregnant with my fifth child Grace and Kaylee was just a year-old. I found myself in Houston, TX with my life in shambles having children I was not raising and one more on the way. On July 23rd, 2010, I went to a rehab in Houston called the Volunteers of America and the journey of healing finally began. I set out to rebuild my life one brick at a time; a year later I had full custody of both of my daughters and started to restore my relationship with my sons. I met my husband in a church in 2011, for the first time in my life I experienced what love and acceptance felt like. A year later my three siblings came from all over the United States to build a new life with me in Houston; my family was being pieced back together. My journey does not end there however, in 2015 I began battling suicidal ideation; I had always struggled with mental illness. This was caused by trauma in my childhood and the genetic component of mental illness as my maternal grandmother and both my parents have various conditions. I went to see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar 1, I had received this diagnosis at sixteen as well while in a state-funded group home. I knew there was so much about me that still needed to change, I wanted to be a better mother, wife, sister, and friend. I sought to change my thoughts and behaviors using techniques from cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy. I began treatment in 2015 and still to this day see the same psychiatrist and remained on medication. As I grew that year I wanted to help others do the same. At age 29 I registered for college at Post University, a university where I am from in Connecticut. I began to study psychology and for the first time in my life, I truly felt I found my purpose. When I was younger, I struggled academically in school. I attribute this to not attending enough and not being on the right medications. The first year at Post was the hardest, I had to push myself while receiving a lot of extra help from my professor’s and the disability department. However, by the second year at Post, I began to see my intelligence, my strengths in writing, and my ability to persevere through any challenges that stood in my way. Competing in my undergrad with a 3.4 GPA was a major accomplishment in my life. Before graduation I started applying for graduate schools. I knew there was a possibility I would not get in, to be honest, I have a background that may hinder me, and I knew this. However, I applied to the University of St. Thomas and was one of the forty accepted into their program. I just completed my first semester there with all A’s in my classes; I have a 4.0 GPA. I intend on pursuing my doctorate in psychology and will be taking classes this summer to prepare me for it. I have overcome so much in my life; abuse and trauma in childhood, foster care, addictions, incarcerations, homelessness, and mental illness. I know I can help other people overcome their adversity as well. The theory of existentialism is founded on the idea that our past does not define our future, that we can make choices today that impact our lives tomorrow. Existential therapy will be my foundation, I will build my non-profit helping one person at a time. I will share my story with others to help them find hope; hope in something different for tomorrow. I will impact society by helping the ones who need it the most. I believe there is a purpose in pain, a strength can be found in all of us. I want to help others discover their strengths, purpose, and resilience. I currently run a blog, www.grace2fight, where I have posted my journey of living with bipolar disorder, I also run social media platforms to spread hope and encouragement. I volunteer for the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), I also volunteer at group homes with at-risk foster youth; I share with them the mistakes I have made and how much easier my life would have been had I just stayed on the right path; I could have done so much more. I also go into the local rehabs in Houston, in addition to the prisons to share my recovery story and show them that anything is possible. I am a student, a wife to an incredible, supportive husband and a mother to eight amazing children. I am Jessica Rodriguez, and this is my story.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of storyteller.