Silence Is Golden

I didn’t want to die; I just wanted to disappear.  I remember staring out of my bedroom window, looking down at the snow and imagining myself falling into it, sinking deep beneath the vast whiteness, until I was completely covered over, frozen and blissfully numb.  I wanted to feel nothing because every emotion that I did feel was just too intense to bear. 

That desire to turn off my emotions stayed with me for most of my adult life—for nearly twenty years.  I took all the pain of fake friends (the “cornflake girls” or “mean girls”) and bad, meaningless relationships, including a sexual assault that I blamed myself for, and shoved it down as far as I could.  I became the very thing that I hated—a liar.  I hid my true self behind a mask every day because I was desperate to conceal the turmoil inside me.  I spent an excessive amount of money and time on expensive clothes I couldn’t afford and on perfecting my outward appearance because I was determined that no one would see what was really going on with me.  That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  If you feel bad, you’re supposed to just suck it up and get over it.  When someone asks how you’re doing, you’re supposed to say “OK” or “good” or some other positive word regardless of whether you’re genuinely feeling that way.  I put up walls to protect myself, to stop anyone hurting me again, to keep people from seeing through the carefully crafted facade, and to keep myself from feeling for them because the last thing I wanted was to feel someone else’s pain on top of my own.  

Despite my efforts, I could never completely turn off my emotions, even when I tried to drown them in alcohol.  All of the negative thoughts and feelings that I kept locked up inevitably escaped, often in the form of anger or tears. 

Depression is a secret, silent predator because it strikes from within.  It eats you alive.  Depression coupled with anxiety is absolutely paralyzing, like screaming in silence.  The longer conditions like these are left untreated, the worse they get.  You become stuck in quicksand and you can’t even move or try to pull yourself out because you just sink deeper and faster.  It took having panic attacks at work to scare me into finally talking to my doctor and then a therapist and a psychiatrist about what I was going through.  

That was five years ago. I’m still seeing a psychiatrist and have been through a series of reiki healing sessions, but am proud to say that thanks to other changes that I’ve been able to make in my life, including a complete rehaul of my diet and beginning an exercise regimen, my medication dosage has been stepped down to the lowest level. Allow me to pause here to say that taking medication to ameliorate symptoms of a mental health condition is not a bad thing. In my case, my doctor, my therapist, and my psychiatrist all agreed that my specific depression and anxiety were situational, that in order to really battle them, I had to be able to change my lifestyle. I couldn’t have done that without the immensely helpful boost that medication gave me. But not all mental health conditions are the same; causes as well as treatments are unique to the individual, so needing medication or higher doses of it should not be seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of progress. What I’ve learned in my recovery process is that there are two things that are vital for all of us to have good mental health: self-care and a supportive environment.

Self-care means taking care of yourself on all levels—nourishing your mind, body, and soul. I didn’t really start doing that until a year and a half ago. When I did, it kicked my healing into overdrive. Things that have helped me are eating healthier, exercising daily, meditating, spending time in nature, finding a good work-life balance, and making time for things that I enjoy doing like writing. For me, maintaining that creative outlet is essential.

Apart from taking care of yourself, you also have to surround yourself with genuinely supportive people who have your best interests in mind, ones who aren’t deaf and blind to your pain or contribute to it, but recognize when something is off and encourage you to talk openly about whatever you are feeling.  They will do seemingly little but incredibly meaningful things like say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you seem down/stressed?  Tell me what’s going on” or “How can I help?”  For a long time, I lacked those sort of relationships or kept myself from having them out of fear of incurring further pain.  Now that I do have them, I foster and cherish them.

There is one other thing that I believe is essential to coping with and changing the perception of mental health conditions and that is to talk openly about them and encourage others to do the same. There is still such a tremendous stigma attached to mental health conditions, but we can collectively change that. If those of us who have experienced these issues share our stories, first with each other and then with the world at large, then we can tear up the labels that ignorant, insensitive souls want to assign us. There will be no more screaming in silence but a chorus of voices too loud and beautiful to ignore.


Go Your Own Way

My path is not your path [. . .] The way is within us [. . .] If you live your life according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself? So live yourselves [. . .] May each go his own way.

— Carl Gustav Jung

We all know someone with that “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality (maybe you are one of those people?), but that approach is ignorant to all of the other valid choices that are possible. Your way might be the correct one—for you. That doesn’t make it the only possible way nor does that mean that it’s the only path that others can take.

I’m with Jung; I believe that there isn’t just one way to reach a particular destination but rather a unique path for each of us. We must forge it as we go. You might prefer to make a road that will get you to your destination the fastest with the fewest obstacles or stops along the way or you might opt for a scenic route past rivers and mountains or along the beach. Perhaps your path is hidden or you’re on a road but don’t know where you’re going yet. All of those things are OK.

What Jung said wasn’t necessarily a new idea, but it’s one that resonates with me because it’s another way of saying live for your soul, which has become my motto. I don’t think Jung was necessarily rejecting the idea of having a mentor or learning from others. It’s more the act of trying too hard be like someone else or relying too much on another that he was advising against. If you constantly need direction from someone or something else, engaging in no critical thinking or self-exploration of your own, then who are you but a poor copy of that other? You essentially have no self. While I am immensely grateful for the people who have mentored me and helped me over the years, super-nerd that I am, I’ve also really enjoyed discovering things on my own. Jung seems to advocate just that—figuring out who you are, what your soul desires, nourishing that soul, and allowing that to guide you. Put another, simpler way, what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. Maybe you and that person aren’t even trying to get to the same place, so if you try to follow their route, you’ll just get horribly lost.

The other notion that comes to mind for me as I think about this is that there may not even be just one path for you. As you forge ahead, you may take a wrong turn (although we can also debate whether or not it’s really a wrong turn) or encounter detours and other roadblocks along the way. If you hang on to the belief that there’s only one way to get where you want to, that sort of rigid thinking not only inhibits growth and change but also causes you to become stuck so that when you come to one of those blocks or detours, you get angry, frustrated, and distraught because you’re unable to (or perhaps refuse to) see the many other possible avenues that are before you. You can stubbornly try to push on through the muck, sinking deeper into it in the process, but at some point, you need to ask yourself if maybe there isn’t another way to get where you’re going. If you can be flexible, then instead of getting mired where you stand, you can turn around and find a different path instead. Whatever way you go, it’s not wrong as long as it’s your own.


Break On Through

For those who knew the previous version of me—that meek, neurotic, broken soul who floated through life like a specter—I recognize that you’d gotten so used to seeing and interacting with her that the radical transformation that’s taken place in me over the past four or five years and, particularly, the last two, has no doubt had your head spinning.  You look at the person I’m becoming and go “Who’s that woman?”  I get it.  I’ve been asking myself the same question and the answer that I’ve come up with is that she is me—the real me, the person I was always meant to be.  That other woman you knew for so long was lost, stuck, dead inside.  She was everybody else’s girl, doing what they wanted, being who they wanted, allowing things to happen to her instead of making them happen herself.  This is how life is when you become so mired in depression and anxiety that you can’t function normally.  It’s paralyzing.  You can’t make decisions, can’t take action—not even to help pull yourself out of it—and life is overwhelming.  Over the past several years, as I’ve begun to heal myself, I’ve started to figure out who I am, to be my own person.  But I know that watching me go through this awakening, or rebirth as I’ve come to view it, from the other side must be like watching a zebra shed its stripes for giraffe spots.  Some of you don’t like this new me; others of you aren’t sure yet.  You’re getting to know her and I guess it really is like meeting a new person; I certainly feel like a different person.  Maybe that’s the best way for us to approach the change—pretend, if we can, that we haven’t known each other for the length of time that we have, put aside the thoughts, feelings, and opinions you had about the old me, the way that our relationship functioned in the past, and I will aim to do the same because there is no going back, only forward. 


Beginning to See the Light

There are those who will tell you that refusing to sacrifice yourself for others is selfish. I will tell you that it’s necessary. Your dreams don’t have to die so that others can live out theirs. If you spend your life living for someone or something else, then what’s left when those things are gone?  Many of us sacrifice ourselves to our jobs, our families, to a partner, to all of those things and more.  I’m not saying don’t live for others, but honor yourself first.  If you can’t nourish your own soul, you can’t possibly feed others and have no business trying to.

The problem is, many of us are stuck. We’re stuck waiting for someone or something else to come along and save us because we don’t believe we have the courage or the means to save ourselves. We’ve been playing dead for so long we’ve come to believe that we can’t come back.  But being your own hero doesn’t have to mean going it alone. Sometimes we need someone else to believe in us first, to see the strength within and show us what we’re capable of. Sometimes we need to ask for help or just be willing to accept help when it’s offered. Trust is key to building a genuine support network. That can be difficult to manage when you’ve known so little of it.  It’s a huge risk, but ultimately worth it.  A single spark. That’s all it takes to ignite the fire of courage, to believe in yourself and in the kindness and love of others.

For the longest time, the only thing keeping me alive was my son, but it was a half-life.  I was a ghost.  Over the past year, I have learned to love myself and, moreover, to understand that if I don’t value that self enough to genuinely nurture it, I’m sending the wrong message to my son.  To truly live for him, I have to live for me.  That means listening to my soul and trusting that intuition, faith, and love will guide me.  For those of you reading this for whom it resonates, know that you don’t have to stay dead either.  You can come back like I did, but do it for yourself.  Live for you.