I have thought long and hard about this post and I am still not sure I want to share it. Want being the operative word, because I know I should share my vulnerabilities and not just my strengths. Therein lies my dilemma, I take pride in my strength both physical and emotional. I have worked hard on both, and being strong is a huge part of my identity. So I struggle with admitting that I am also weak.
I have never claimed to be perfect, far from it. I rather despise perfection and see it as boring and unimaginative. But I do always try to put my best face forward even in my worst of circumstances. For example when my first marriage collapsed not a single person who knew me, other than my father, had any clue that my marriage was troubled. It was this crisis that led to my first bout of depression.
It wasn’t the separation per se that caused my depression. It was a combination of the emotional stress of a custody battle, destroyed finances and having to finally admit to friends and family that my life was a mess. I was beyond a mess I was emotionally drained.
I dove into work and parenthood and avoided everything else until I had a moment driving home from a week on the road. A moment in which I relished the idea of just driving off the road and dying. I realized in that moment I was not just tired, or stressed, I was suicidal. I needed help. It was not within my ability to fix this part of me. For the first time in my life I opened up and told friends and family what I was really feeling. I knew in that moment that I was going to lose everyone, but I had to ask for help, for my children’s sake if not mine.
And then a funny thing happened…some of my friends rallied around me. We became closer and they made me feel safe. Safe is not something I had ever felt in my life…I was 30 at this point. This was a pivotal moment in my life. It was the point at which I let myself be not okay. I gave myself permission to be myself. I stopped trying to be what I thought everyone else expected and learned to be comfortable in my own flawed skin.
This was my first bout of depression and by far the longest and the worst but not the only one. I had another bout after my fourth child was born. The irony was, that I was essentially happy. I was re-married, we moved to a great neighborhood with a beautiful property, decent house and all the love I could ever imagine in my life. I had never been so complete. Being home with my four children was everything I had always wanted.
Yet I found myself slowly withdrawing from the world. Contact with anyone outside my household became sporadic and when it did happen it was awkward and eventually terrifying. I retreated into a world of my own and avoided the outside world as much as possible. I was not unhappy but I was also not the vibrant happy outgoing person most people knew me to be. This is my darker side. It is a big part of me, one that I don’t usually share with outsiders. I have an ugly monster that lives in my head and some days he wins the battle of who is controlling my life. I have come to accept that this monster is a part of me, but just that; only a piece of what makes me, me.
This is the root of my drive to live a healthy lifestyle. Exercise became my therapy and my life preserver when I was at my lowest. It saved me in many ways, and at one point almost became an obsession. Luckily I have people in my life that care enough and are brave enough to point out the obvious. What is obvious to the observer is sometimes so hard to see when you are standing in the forest. Thus my search for balance, a never ending search that keeps me working hard to live my best life.
So when I advocate health and wellness it is for the mind and body. It is truly about health and not about a size or a weight. Neither of those will grant you automatic happiness. I don’t even strive for happiness per se, instead I would describe my journey as a search for inner peace. An acceptance of my limitations combined with a drive to be a better person and loving myself where I am, flaws and all. Looking better is a by-product of a healthy lifestyle but it should not necessarily be the primary goal.
But above all my biggest lesson learned in all of this was to be vulnerable. To let people see the real me. It was the one of the scariest things I have ever done, and the most freeing. Not everyone will stand by you, but most likely you are better off without the people who run away. Chances are they are running from their own monsters too. In being vulnerable and showing people my darkest self I realized the truest acceptance. Do not mistake this short excerpt as a flower power happily ever after, I wish it was that easy. Nothing has been easy, but it has been worth it. The friends in my life are people I treasure and they know I am not all sunshine and roses yet they love me regardless of my flaws (and there are quite a few). It is a constant reminder to give myself that same love and acceptance.
So today on “Blue Monday” I urge you to take stock of yourself and your friendships and if there is someone you know who might benefit from a friendly ear or a quiet shoulder, be that friend. And if the person in need is you, reach out, truly you are not alone. While no one else may completely understand what you are experiencing, that doesn’t mean you need to be alone. Whether it is a friend or a local help line reach out, because you deserve to be heard, you deserve to love yourself.