My name is Joe Swafford and I am the Trauma Fighter. You may be wondering “What is a trauma fighter?” The best way for you to know me is for you to experience my story. I own my story, and I am sharing it with the whole world. I have seen it helps others figure out how to find a happy ending in their own stories. I hope you learn from it, and find the strength to tell and own your own story too. I hope that you will be inspired and want to work together so that you too, can become a trauma fighter.
I grew up with an alcoholic mother who had numerous husbands, several of which were abusive to my mother. My father was never involved in my life, and my siblings and I spent our adolescent lives in different homes, different schools, with little clothing and a lot of challenges. I attended 23 schools in a period of 12 years, which caused me to fall behind. My way of reacting to the abuse and neglect was to become aggressive and defiant. I was consistently getting into fights during elementary and junior high school. Having a hard time controlling my anger, wearing give-away clothes and glasses that didn’t fit, and not having many friends made it hard to fit in anywhere. I felt alone, hopeless, and so very angry.
At age 17, I hit a new low when my mother died because of a drunk driving accident. After her death, I just bounced around from house to house of whoever would take me in. It was a very low time in my life, but about nine months after my mother’s death, I met the beautiful woman who would later become my wife. Shortly before Starr and I were married, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and told I would never have children. Now we have a beautiful little 5 year old girl that is nothing short of a miracle.
I first started working at Carolinas HealthCare System in 2004. I got hired to work in the distribution center of a hospital. From there, I got transferred to the role of a patient transporter and eventually as a security guard. With all these roles, I found a way to talk to patients and to offer them whatever comfort and motivation I could. I drew from my personal journey of being a depressed and angry teenager and channeled those emotions into a way to talk directly with patients.
My work as a security guard in one of the busiest emergency departments in the southeast region of the country gave me first-hand experience with a unique type of patient, the behavioral health patient, the patient who was just like me. I knew after seeing the way that behavioral health patients were treated by everyone around them that they needed someone to fight for their rights and to speak up for them when they couldn’t find their voice. That’s what led me to what I do now, a trauma fighter, and one of the first ever Peer Support specialists at the Mindy Ellen Levine Behavioral Health Hospital in Davidson, North Carolina.
As someone who suffered with depression and anger throughout my life, I was tapped to use my experience and knowledge to motivate and assist current patients who are undergoing treatment for behavioral health diagnosis. I work closely with the doctors and give them feedback and observations about the patients. Sometimes patients are uncomfortable talking to doctors about certain issues, but they feel more comfortable talking to a peer, like me.
I have also been able to share my own story both within the hospital and in the community. It is very rewarding to experience how my personal recovery during my adolescence, when I was the most depressed and hostile, can inspire hope and model recovery for the patients and the staff. I know that through my public speaking I am making others aware that mental illness touches countless lives, regardless of a person’s socioeconomic status or their educational background. I also work with my own friends when they are suffering with daily life crutches to motivate them.
So that’s me. I want to work with anyone who is hurting so that they can reach a place of serenity and hope. I believe that YOU matter. Together, we can find your purpose in life and find what makes you happy, and make you a trauma fighter too.