TW: suicidal ideation
There was much of my life where hope seemed very much out of reach. I felt that way because of the experiences that I had over the years. I had lived through trauma after trauma, starting when I was a very young child and lasting well into my early adulthood. I used to think of happiness as existing in mere moments, certainly not in long and sustained periods of time. That had not been my experience anyway.
I felt very much stuck in a paradox of desperately wanting my life and my circumstances to get better but not really believing it would, and I certainly did not know how to go about changing it. It was like trying to find your way out of a swamp densely cloaked in fog. I would try putting one foot in front of the other but could hardly find a dry place to put my foot, had no idea which direction to go and was struggling to motivate myself to keep on moving forward. And here I stand today, in front of you all. I survived it. I found my way forward, found that oh, so elusive sustained happiness, and because I have come through it, I know you all can too.
I am not here to tell you it was easy, because that was not my journey. It was hard. It was arduous. It was terrifying, and at many points I came close to giving up and ending my own life, but I am so glad I did not. I am so glad that on the occasions when I crumbled and couldn’t keep going, I had people to lift me up and push me on. Because I survived, I have had the experience of meeting and marrying my husband. Because I survived, I have a career I love. Because I survived, I have bought my first home. Because I survived, I have traveled across the country and across the ocean. Because I survived, I have gotten to feel love, and joy, and comfort, and peace. Because I survived, I can stand up here and talk to you all (despite my feeling very afraid to do so) about how to get through, how to make it possible, how to hope for a better life despite not necessarily knowing how to make it happen.
So, how did I get from where I was to where I am? For me it took accepting the things I could not change, like my past, and having the courage to change the things I could. It took therapy. It took medication. It took finding my tribe and my purpose. It took having a diverse set of wellness tools that I could use in a variety of circumstances. It took having a defined self-care practice that I choose to use on a daily basis: things as simple as taking a few slow deep breaths, grounding myself with my senses, using worry stones and letting them carry the weight of my worry. I use cold water, splashing it on my face, to bring myself back from the darkness of my past.
I taught others what worked for me, and I was taught by others what worked for them. I learned that I was strong. Sometimes I still struggle to recognize my own strength, but when I examine the evidence it is clear that I am so very strong. I use that strength to support others when they are weary. I put myself in the path of beauty. I hug my loved ones and I do not let go until I am ready. I pet my lovely pets. I go for long walks.
My recovery is on me, it is my responsibility, and only I can achieve it for myself. No one else can do it for me. There are still days or weeks, even months, where I struggle. Recovery to me doesn’t mean I don’t struggle, but I have learned how to recognize when things are hard, and I have learned how to respond to those hard times.
On good days, you probably wouldn’t know that I have mental health challenges. I am skilled at my job. I am relatively successful. I have a husband and a house, and I am living the dream. I usually look pretty put together and I manage pretty well.
But there are bad days, too, when the stress overwhelms me. When I can’t get off the couch, when if I do get off the couch, I can’t pick out the clothes I want to wear, and I change them 5 times because they don’t feel right. There are days I sit in my office and cry. There are days when I miss my mom so much that it feels easier to die so I can see her again than to live another day without her. There are days when I wake up from nightmares at 3am crying and afraid, days where I am consumed by flashbacks, chronic pain and overwhelming fatigue. Days where despite that overwhelming fatigue I can’t keep my mind from spinning so fast it makes sleeping impossible, so instead, I stare at the walls and see spiders appear, spiders that other people don’t see. These are my warning signs. It has taken me a while to recognize these signs and figure out how to respond to them.
I know that therapy helps. I know that the love, compassion and support of my husband helps. I know the tools I need to use to bring myself back to who I want to be and how I want to be. Time has passed and change is constant. Even things that seem permanent, like the loss of my mom (who was also my best friend), has changed. It has changed me, and, somehow, I am grateful. I am grateful for who I am, for what I have experienced, even the really, really, painful bits. I am a beautiful person, not despite the pain but because of it. And now all that pain has purpose.