Meet Julie Ann - Fierce Advocate & Ms. Pac-Man-Obsessed. Lover of All Things Iceland & Greyhound Mom
The idea of going through rather than getting over truly resonates with me. As a survivor of childhood trauma, I consider myself a fierce advocate whose personal experience with the impact of gender-based violence has translated into a lifelong goal of listening to, and then advocating for, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
I believe I "went through" rather than "got over" various childhood experiences with trauma and those experiences shaped the person I am today as well as the profession I chose. They also provided me the resilience to "go through" instead of "get over" my mother's passing and then, almost a year to the day, my own brush with death when I found myself in the ICU awaiting heart surgery. We still have no idea if my heart was damaged from virus settling in my heart or if the grief of losing my mother, and heroine, was literally breaking my heart.
I say heroine, because my mother was exactly that despite her own experiences with gender-based violence. She also lived with the diagnosis of schizophrenia and with that endured the stigmas attached with a psychiatric disability. Through my mother's experience, I learned how to be an advocate.
When I think back at what led me to the work I do now, I am reminded of a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. After graduating with a Journalism degree in the mid-90’s, I quickly realized that my heart wasn’t in it as I had initially hoped it would be, so I began soul searching to decide what I was going to do with my life.
Also at that time, I was trying to figure out how to get my mother access to a new drug that was being touted as a “miracle drug” for people living with schizophrenia. She was living with her parents in a rural community that had little to no mental health services, let alone access to cutting edge medications. Through weeks of advocacy and relationship building and a dose of perfect timing, the next time she was hospitalized I was able to get approval to have her transferred to a psychiatric facility that had the drug and was willing to take her on as a patient.
The level of treatment and support she received was above and beyond what she had had the past 30 years of her life. My mother’s courage in moving to a large facility where she knew no one and had no guarantee that she’d actually get better was inspiring. And my ability to successfully advocate on her behalf with psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, etc. as a young woman without means or a medical background was humbling as well as energizing.
I vividly remember leaving the facility after helping my mother move in. In that moment, I recognized the seemingly insurmountable challenge we had overcome by getting her access to this drug and a stellar psychiatric team. I wondered if my ability to advocate for my mother and her needs could help others that otherwise didn’t have a voice. In order to be sure, I decided to try volunteering for an advocacy organization before making the leap to a new profession. I chose to volunteer for a local nonprofit that focused on supporting survivors of gender-based violence. My mother was not only living with the diagnosis of a serious mental illness, she also survived intimate partner violence, so I knew I wanted to volunteer for an organization that supported survivors.
After taking my first crisis hotline call, I made the swift decision to apply for the next available full-time position. I had discovered my inherent purpose.
"What is something you are actively going through?"
I'm actively going through a professional transition as the new, and first, Executive Director for the nonprofit The Army of Survivors (TAOS). TAOS's mission is to bring awareness, accountability, & transparency to sexual violence against athletes at all levels.
While growing up, athletics and team sports were a positive distraction for me. They helped me survive several traumatic experiences and I found safety, support and self-confidence through my teammates and coaches. They helped me build resiliency as well as a lifelong commitment to physical movement to help counter the negative mental health impacts of childhood trauma. Unfortunately, for many children and youth this is not the case.
Instead, they are betrayed by coaches and other adults affiliated with their sport of choice. Frankly, when I learned that 7% of student athletes are victims of sexual assault through their participation in sport, with elite athletes having higher rates of sexual assault than lower-level athletes, I felt moved to apply for the position. Then, once I began researching the issue and learning more about TAOS’s roots, I was motivated to be part of the solution to end sexual assault against child and youth athletes. For example, on TAOS’s website there is a quote by our Founder, Grace French. She says, “We will continue as survivors to fund advocacy across the nation, to make sure these bills get passed, to make sure we have a voice that we are empowering survivors and changing the conversation around sexual assault.” With leadership like that, mixed with my newfound knowledge of the issue, I was inspired to become involved with The Army of Survivors.
"What motivates you most?"
I have a few motivations. First, the ever-present support and love of my lifelong partner, Matthew. His support and encouragement continues to motivate me as well as the many passionate advocates and courageous survivors I’ve had the privilege to learn from over years. Advocates’ persistent drive to create violence-free communities and survivors’ strength in sharing their stories no matter the consequence…they motivate me to remain steadfast in my determination to continue doing the work to end domestic violence and sexual assault.
And, of course, my mother.
"Anything else you want others to know?"
I've been asked how I remain positive and how I make the best of things I having witnessed my mother's pain. The answer is: I'm free from mental institutions, I'm free from violence, I escaped my mother's fate of being heavily drugged from psychosis brought on or exacerbated by trauma...the list goes on. I realize I'm blessed and fortunate to have the resilience I have. My mother wasn't as lucky. It's my responsibility to savor what I have when I know firsthand what life could have been as a result of the traumas I've endured and my mother had tried to protect me from. I'm grateful to her and her efforts. I am in awe at the strength she had despite so much stacked against her. I can only hope to live the rest of my days aspiring to embody her strength, courage and wit, as well as her hopeful spirit despite tremendous odds.
Inspired by Julie Ann's story & want to connect? Follow along with her journey here: