I am sorry that I wouldn’t acknowledge you before this healing journey began. I didn’t want you to see me, because I was ashamed and scared. I remember you as a curious and fearless little girl. You loved hugs and wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. Let me be the first to remind you every day: You are so precious and a beautiful little girl. You are worthy of being cherished, loved, and celebrated. You are amazing. Chase your goals. Laugh freely. Live out loud. Some people won’t appreciate you while they have you. Let them go. Keep living, learning, and doing your thing!
I remember all the times that you were frightened, like when you learned to ride a bike a few days after surgery. And the fear each time we moved to a new place because Mom got orders. Or when you experienced repeated sexual abuse, but didn’t have the right words to explain what was going on to your parents. Forgive them with love. You didn’t know what to say, and your parents were doing their best to provide you with a life they never had. You learned not to trust them or yourself in that time. Here’s good news. We continue to trust and love hard regardless of what happened to us so many times. We remained kind, gentle, and sweet instead of becoming bitter and hardening against the world.
For years you will think that you don’t deserve love or happiness because of all the things you went through, even into adulthood. But you’re surrounded by love. Your brothers share an inexplicably close bond with you. You learned how men should treat you because you had your brothers. You protected and defended each other. You have love, because you are loved. I love you forever, little girl. Don’t ever forget that either.
Life will get hard, but it has its moments. You’ll make mistakes, and have successes. There will be times that you laugh so hard that you cry, and you go into silent giggle mode, clapping like some sort of drunken sea lion. There will be times that you cry so hard that you can’t breathe, and no sound comes out, because a silent wail is all you have to express the grief and pain. You’ll get lost, then think you’ve found yourself, only to become more lost. But it’s all part of the journey. One day you’ll be 31 and some things will make sense and others won’t. You’ll have given up plenty of times leading up to 31, and each time you give up, you survive. I’ll make a promise. I won’t give up on us. I promise to keep trying every day, because you refused to give up as a child. We are here for reason, even if we haven’t quite figured it out yet. We’ll know in time.
Precious little girl, hold on to your light. You are someone that I’m so proud of each day. What a sweet little girl. You deserve everything that you set your mind to and more. I remember that once you decided on something, you put your whole being into making it happen. I might’ve lost that along the way, but I know I can do it again. I am still you, fearless and dedicated. Now that I’m older, I have some more knowledge and wisdom under my belt. We will make it to whatever goals we decide on, and we will flourish. I’ve worked hard putting so many of our monsters and inner demons to rest. My hope is that you are proud of me for conquering the bad and embracing the good finally. I’m still fighting each day. We did it, and we did it together.
Before asking for help, I got overwhelmed and hit a wall. I hit a point where I knew no matter how much work I did on my own, I was flailing at best. I tried everything I could, and many of those things were not working out. It was very discouraging, because the more positive I tried to be, the worse things got. I hit my breaking point near Christmas time.
Going to a VA hospital was out of the question, because I actually wanted to get better. I wanted to be more than stable and feel alive, instead of feeling so overwhelmed that I wanted to die. Yes, I was suicidal. No, I’m not afraid to admit it. It wasn’t because I wanted to hurt anyone; I wanted to stop my pain. I had been through too much, and I couldn’t go through anymore. A quick Google search for Trauma Treatment Centers led my to a place called The Refuge. It seemed like the best place to go, because treatments were trauma focused. Although I had kind of dealt with my traumas over the years, I understood there was much more going on that had never been addressed.
I was admitted December 22 and discharged March 26. A separate hospitalization also happened during January and February so I could receive Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). After the fourth round, I did something I hadn’t done in months: I smiled. It was hard work and digging through my past to learn about my extensive history of unresolved traumas, the roots of my anxiety, and battling bout after bout of severe depression throughout the process. I even remembered bits of a huge event that happened while I was in the Air Force that my mind had totally blocked out to protect me.
All that stereotypical, “It gets worse before it gets better,” stuff was very true in my case. I have another suicide attempt under my belt, because of all the pain that came up during treatment. Turns out I was traumatized mere weeks into my life, and it caused major issues in my future. I also learned that I had over 80 traumas since I was about 3 or 4 years old. It’s been a life time of trauma, but I am healing and ready to leave all of that behind.
Asking for help is one of the bravest things I have ever done. I am not cured, because depression is a disease that doesn’t go away. It gets managed, and for right now, I’m on the right medications and continuing ECT. But I am counting my blessings that I decided to get help, even though I tried to harm myself in the process. I came out tougher, happier, and more compassionate than before, which I didn’t think was possible. Now I really understand that you never really know what’s going on with people. I didn’t know what was going on with myself! I learned an important lesson:
“The world tests those who are going to contribute the greatest gifts.” A kind stranger on the internet said this to me when my whole world was imploding this past week. The words touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I am taking a hiatus from blogging, because well…
I have been going through it this week. It’s just been a rough few days. Actually I don’t want to sugarcoat it. It’s been a rough few months. The most recent problem solved itself with the help of many kind strangers reaching out, and a therapist that was determined to help me reduce my stress level. Even with the help, I became overwhelmed. I’m beginning to understand that I am struggling with carrying what life is handing me.
I think it would be incredibly wrong of me to ignore what I need. My posts preach self-care and loving yourself. This is the best way I know how to show that I love myself enough to do what is necessary to heal. I’m taking a hiatus from blogging, because it’s time to ask for help.
I don’t know how long I will be gone, but I hope with every heart beat, that I will get the help that I need. I’m going to a safe place where I can heal with help from professionals. After receiving help, something great will happen, and my life will turn the corner toward happiness and peace that lasts. To me, asking for help is a sign of strength and courage.
Asking for help is my refusal to accept that pain and heart ache are my destiny. There has to be more to life than pain, failure, and uncertainty. This is me saying, “I won’t give up.”
Although I am taking a hiatus from blogging, it has been wonderful to go on this journey, and meet such kindness, empathy and encouragement. I felt like I was making a difference with this blog. This is the only time in my life that I haven’t felt completely alone and misunderstood. I have connected with wonderful people and learned so much. I am grateful for everything anyone has done to help me, whether is was just saying something positive or sending a meme. It helped immensely. I’m not used to receiving kindness, but the small and large acts made a world of difference to me. Thank you for helping me feel seen and understood.
I had a breakthrough in therapy this week! I reached a point of understanding what my toxic cycle is! Now that I have the information, I am ending my toxic cycle this year.
When I was in high school, the only thing that motivated me was getting away from my parents. It was literally the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning. It motivated me to become Student Council President of my high school, chase high grades, and get involved in after school activities and sports. Any second I could spend away from home was a second of relief. My only goal was to get the hell away from them and never be terrorized again. I applied to colleges in London, Australia, and even Colorado, because I wanted so bad to be in places that they would never find me.
Of course that didn’t work out, and I was the last of my siblings to leave the house. I’m also the only sibling that keeps returning. The day that I decided to tell my parents that I was moving out, because I couldn’t take it anymore, was a few days before Christmas in 2010. I was 21 and in college in San Antonio at the time. My younger brother gave me a pep talk, saying that everything would be fine. He went to school in Florida but was visiting for Christmas. My anxiety was visible, even though I had a solid plan. He assured me with, “Just go downstairs and tell them. Nothing bad’s gonna happen.”
He was wrong.
My narcissist father punched me in the face as soon as the words left my lips. I had my glasses on at the time, and was left with a large welt on my cheekbone. My brother got between us and pushed him away from me, but I started sobbing immediately. My mom just looked on without reacting. You’d never know it if you met us in public, but that’s our normal dynamic. It’s horrible. That’s not the first time he’s attacked me as an adult, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Since then, I jumped from relationship to relationship looking for a way away from them. I ended up dating a sociopath, which sent me running back to my parents’ home after six months of being isolated, beaten, and violated every day. From there, I began a toxic career in the Air Force, that resulted in sexual assaults, mental breakdowns, and multiple hospitalizations. When I was medically retired, I ended up back in my parents’ house. I dated a number of toxic guys, ending up in bad situations all because I was looking for an escape from my parents. Each time I ended up back in my parents’ house.
Then I met my ex, and he did not seem toxic in any way shape or form. He was actually kind and honest. I felt something with him I had never felt before. Safety. Feeling safe for the first time in my life caused such a transformation. Suddenly, I believed in myself, and I felt like things could be different. I was genuinely happy, instead of working hard to make people believe that I was. With him, I cleaned up my life, got my career back, and eventually moved. When we broke up unexpectedly, guess where I ended up again? Back at my parents’ house. Shocker.
This is my cycle. I go from a toxic environment back to the initial environment that harmed me, year in and year out. The only difference was in Guam, I felt safe for a time. I blossomed before a bad situation veered my life back into toxicity again. Recovering from that was so hard, because I had finally had safety, and it was yanked away by a different narcissist’s addiction to chaos and drama. It fucked me up for months, because I thought I had broken the cycle. I hadn’t. Instead I found it in different people. The depressive episode after that realization lasted several debilitating months.
So the cycle continued in Guam. My mental health took a complete nosedive. In that situation, I was confronted with and could not avoid the very trauma I thought I had finally escaped. It was extremely hard on me. I lost about 20 pounds in several weeks, and my mental health crumbled under the stress. I pinged back and forth between mania, depression, and crippling anxiety attacks. I barely slept or slept all the time, bouncing between paranoia and fear at all times. It was exhausting.
When we moved away from that situation, the safety came back. I created a calm, quiet, and inviting space in our new home. It was so peaceful, and I loved being at home. I healed and completely distanced myself from the people that caused my decline. I stopped hanging out without saying anything to anyone. I could breathe again and my mental health settled down, because I didn’t feel stressed. I started doing healthy things, went back to a healthy weight, and stopped drinking, much like how I taking care of myself now.
How am I ending this cycle now that I recognize and understand it? The same way. Cutting ties and No Contact. I might not be in a place financially to live on my own, but in order to break this cycle, I need to go. I have to do what scares me. There are a whole lot of factors that I either have no options available or scarcity, but I’ll have to deal with it. Another problem presented itself with my little car accident last week. That resulted in the total loss of my car. I just have to add that to my growing problem pile and find a solution.
This same question has presented itself numerous times in my life. Stay in a toxic situation and make the best of it, or leave and try to make it in uncertain circumstances? Each time, I always stayed out of fear of the unknown. I can’t do that this time. I can’t allow this cycle to perpetuate itself any longer.
My understanding is this: there’s a reason it keeps happening. It’s solely life (or the universe) telling me to make a different decision. I’m listening this time. This is the decade of making different choices and ending the cycle that has plagued me for far too long. My main goal now? Putting my full trust in every decision I make, and not letting anyone or anxiety talk me out of what I know is right for me.
When my life took an extremely painful and unexpected detour, I went looking for answers and advice on how to know if I should move on, how to stop the pain, and how to create a life that made me happy. I needed to learn the qualities of a truly healthy relationship. New habits needed to be instilled while old ones needed to be broken. I wanted to heal in a real way, not just the “Look at me, I’m doing better now” fake facade that most people post on social media. Most importantly, I wanted to make permanent positive changes. I understand most that staying the same will result in the same problems. I won’t allow that any longer. Here’s a list of podcasts and blogs that have helped me the most:
Therapy for Black Girls The wonderful Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a clinical psychologist based out of Atlanta, is my hero for creating this podcast and website. Mental health is still kind of taboo in the African-American community, but she and her interviewees are working hard to change the stigma. The topics discussed are everything from relationships, work-life balance, trauma, and so much more. The episodes “Taking Care of Yourself After a Breakup”, “Finding Your People”, and “Reimagining Single Life” gave me perspective, tools, and a calm that I don’t think I would’ve had otherwise. They assured that no matter how things worked out, I would be okay.
Girl Be Free Siobhan Sudberry actually reached out on Instagram and told me about her online community the Be Free Family. She is so inspiring and has such a calm, but powerful voice. The first episode I listened to “Forgive Yourself” made me cry. I’m not avoiding my emotions anymore, so if tears come, they fall, I understand and appreciate them and move forward from them. I’m trying out these new things called grace, self-awareness, and self-compassion instead of being hard on myself which was the part of the core message of that episode. Siobhan and I had a whole conversation on Instagram, and she sent me a guide called“101 Resources That Every Woman Needs To Live Her Best Life”. A cool lesson that keeps making itself known is that kind people with clear intent to help keep showing up unexpectedly, but it’s exactly when I need them.
HER – Healthy Empowered Relationships Imagine my surprise when I found out that Barry Price’s podcasts laid out the very framework of what a healthy relationship looks like. After a few episodes, I realized that I haven’t had very healthy romantic relationships, but that was partly because I didn’t have a very healthy relationship with myself. It was an upsetting, but necessary realization. The episode that caused a breakthrough was “Is This Relationship Worth Saving?”. I answered each question in the episode out loud and honestly, which prompted me to look at the situation with forgiveness instead of sadness or anger. One thing I needed to do was apologize and forgive the pain. The first part was hard to do, but the second part is taking time. I honestly think that’s a good thing.
My Seven Chakras AJ is all about self-healing and bringing people onto his show to help listeners get in touch with their energy. The podcast features thought provoking books and interesting guests. I finally understood that I kept attracting the same kind of men, because my negative and insecure energy beckoned them. I didn’t feel good about myself, and attracted those that felt the same or preyed upon it. The episode that opened my eyes was “Uplifting and Fulfilling Relationships with Guy Finley”. Guy spoke passionately about love, pain, fighting, and blame in ways I’ve never heard. His books The Secret of Letting Go and Relationship Together: Waking Up Together are on my upcoming reading lists.
Post Male Syndrome Natasha Adamo and her team of bloggers are so insightful about heartbreak, self-doubt, and relationships, which are all things that I needed help with. Many of the posts deal with narcissists, selfish, and emotionally closed off men, and the trauma they inflict on women. Reading these posts had to come from a place of forgiveness instead of blame, because they hit very close to home with a number of my past relationships. The posts “How to Respect Yourself When You Have No Self-Respect” and “How To Get Over Someone Who Broke Your Heart” taught me about boundaries and embracing the pain by using it to create actions and goals that give pain purpose. I have never once considered pain as a tool for growth, because I avoided it at all costs. I am still wrestling with pain, because I’m using it to become my best self. I’m spending a lot of time reading the self-improvement category at the moment. Natasha also recently got engaged, and I couldn’t be happier for her!
Afam Uche This blog is everything I needed to find some direction and really get to know myself. Afam Uche has shared so much about her life, written poetry, and even made personal development tools. The thing I want the most for myself is commitment to permanent positive change instead of commitment to another relationship. I found what I was looking for in this blog to really begin healing. The post “Important Steps to Take In Order To Change Your Life” was the gentle nudge I needed. I am prone to getting deeply depressed and discouraged when things don’t go the way I think they should. Because I wasn’t finding happiness the exact way I wanted it, I wasn’t open to all the other ways it could be found. I have to let go of those negative habits to embrace what else is out there.
What I’m trying to accomplish is hard, but I’m committing to positive change, instead of committing to continued pain and heart ache. I know made great strides in the last month, but it’s going to take much more time. I’m treating myself with honesty and forgiveness, while also being realistic about how long this process may take. Small changes are my goal for each day. Each decision I make comes from a place of love and trust. I’m caring for my body by exercising, not drinking excessively, and doing kind things for myself. I’m doing what feels right for me. Whether it’s going to bed early or having an extra cup of water, I’m doing it. I’m taking responsibility for my happiness, my future, and everything in between. I feel empowered. My healing journey is far from complete, but things will get better from here on out.
Leave a comment below to share blogs and podcasts you follow for self-care, advice, and personal growth.
Music is such a great way to process emotions, which is probably why I avoided it like the plague. I started listening to EDM a few years ago, because all the beeps, bops, and drops didn’t make me think. I didn’t have to connect to it and feel anything. There’s few emotions in music without lyrics. It was an escape. I just moved my body, and that was that.
Since I’ve been on this healing journey, I’ve started listening to something else. I’ve been acknowledging my feelings and thoughts. In doing so, I’m opening the door to forgiveness. Here’s what I’ve been listening to for introspection:
Soulmate by Lizzo “I know I’m a queen but I don’t need no crown Look up in the mirror like damn she the one”
Lizzo is an absolute goddess. I love her. She is unapologetically herself, no matter what anyone says. It’s empowering to watch her move through life doing what makes her happy and fulfilled. She deserves every award and accolade coming her way. This song was such inspiration for me really embrace myself and appreciate everything great about myself. I’m kind, sweet, and funny, and damn it if I don’t absolutely enjoy that every day.
Sorry by Beyonce “Today I regret the night I put that ring on He always got them fucking excuses”
Oh Queen B. What is there to say about this woman that hasn’t been said already. She is unstoppable. I’ve never been a huge Beyonce fan, but her album Lemonade captured every feeling, thought, and question that’s run through my mind in the last couple months. This song in particular helped me work through my anger, betrayal, and shame in a healthier way. This one comes on every time I’m stretching and warming up to run.
Worthy by India.Arie “Worthy of love, worthy of life Worthy of saying no when something don’t feel right”
India.Arie has the most beautiful soul. This woman is everything I aspire to be in terms of being inspirational, loving, and true to myself. I look up to her so much. Her latest album Worthy is everything someone with a broken heart needs to hear. Every song feels like she’s handing the listener a little brick of self-esteem to stack until their shaky foundation is steadier. This album has caused a lot of tears, but also smiles and nods.
I listen to this one every morning. This is the first song I listen to as soon as I get up. There is something about Nina Simone. It’s sadness in her voice. It resonates with me. I feel like we share the same soul at times. Each time I listen to this song, I feel like I let go of some of the pain that I’ve held onto for so long.
Y’all, when I say this song is POWERFUL. It is everything. Alicia Keys has been a part of my life since middle school. Her ups and downs were my ups and downs, even when I was 13 and didn’t know nothing about nothing. This is the anthem for my healing journey. I have changed, and what hurt me neither matters to me or controls me any longer. A metamorphosis is happening. You can either help in that process or get the hell out of my way. Queen Alicia reigns supreme.
These artists reached into my mind, heart and soul. Their music gave me all the strength, kindness, and love that I needed to really feel my emotions. Their words provided understanding and a feeling of being understood. I think that’s was the worst part of having a broken heart. Feeling so damn misunderstood when I was trying so hard to be seen, heard, and loved by the one I was seeing, hearing , and loving with ease.
The best part of healing, is of course, beginning to understand myself. I have clarity about who I am, what I want and need, and who I need to be around to feel safe, happy, and inspired. I feel safe and whole on my own. Finally, I don’t feel as lost and confused as I did this whole year.
What music helps you connect with your emotions? I’d love to start a playlist to share! Let me know in the comments. And as always, connect with me on social media! The links are below.
My struggle with borderline personality disorder has mostly been under the surface. Usually when people hear “Borderline Personality Disorder”, they react like someone peed in their cereal. Disgust or anger that crosses their faces as they begin to talk a particular ex or the movie Gone Girl or Girl, Interrupted. Things I’ve heard about borderlines?
“Those girls are absolutely insane.” “They’re the worst people on the planet.” “They are crazy, but they’re the best in bed.” “Attention whores with extreme daddy issues.” “Oh, you mean strippers?” “If you don’t want to get stabbed or murdered, don’t date one of them.” “They deserve to be locked up and kept away from normal people.”
The people that said those things didn’t realize they were speaking to a person with that personality disorder. Do I fit their criteria? Nope. Am I mostly in control of my actions, reactions, and emotions? Yeah, but it depends on my stress level and environment.
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.
Yep, I check most those boxes or did at one point. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that. Thankfully, therapy and medication has given me a reprieve from my own intensity. That’s something I’ve gotten used to being described as: intense. But it’s the truth. When I fly high, I am intoxicating and everything you could ever want in a human being. When I feel sad, I crawl into this dark hole that I can’t get out of then initiate self-destruction sequences. One small word or action can send my day into a tail spin. I live on a roller coaster. I’ve had to unlearn a lot. Taking a breath before speaking has become a life saver. I typically withdraw until I’m ready to speak rationally. I’ve also got some meds that have evened me out a ton.
I lashed out a lot in my early twenties while I was still undiagnosed. Here’s a huge and necessary, I’m truly sorry for how I behaved toward you, to every guy I dated in that time period. I was not the person I am now, and it’s okay if you still hate me. I hated me then, too.
The best portrayal of Borderline Personality Disorder, in my opinion, is Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. What would the horse from Horsin’ Around know about BPD? Quite a bit. He’s self-destructive, impulsive, and looks for approval in everyone around him while simultaneously pushing them away. BoJack’s very intelligent, quick-witted, but mean and sarcastic as a defense mechanism. He engages in risky sex, binge drinking and driving, and drug abuse. All of his self-sabotaging decisions, his desire to get away from himself, and his absolute need to be loved ring so true with me. I adore BoJack, because I don’t feel so alone. He is the male version of me. It’s also refreshing to see a depiction of a male borderline, because I feel like the media ignores them completely.
You could say I’m high functioning now. I don’t necessarily act like BoJack anymore. There’s evidence that borderlines actually grow out of these behaviors by their 30’s or 40’s. I’m working hard at changing, but I am also much less intense than I was at 23. How come? Time and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It was created by Marsha Linehan. She’s a doctor that actually has borderline personality disorder, but created a method to challenge all the thoughts that tell me I’m worthless or that I should harm myself. DBT helped me learn how to tolerate distress and practice mindfulness.
The only time the techniques fail me is breakups. They are uniquely hard for me, because of my fear of abandonment. Even if I’m the one that initiates the break up, I react as if I’m the one broken up with. And if I’m actually the one broken up with, my whole world collapses. It brings up the worst emotions. Everything I was afraid of during the relationship, in other relationships, as a little girl comes straight to the surface. My internal struggle with borderline personality disorder becomes very visible. It’s like a volcano erupts.
When I lived in Destin, I swear, my group of friends used to look forward to my frequent breakups, because I would go wild afterward. Feral might even be a better word to describe an out of control and hurting Rachelle. I would go off my meds completely, and party hard, doing the most ridiculous shit. It was entertainment for them, but I was destroying myself. Without caring about the consequences, I threw myself to the wind many times, because I felt that no one loved me. Somehow I’ve avoided STDS, DUI’s, and death. I consider myself very lucky. Other people going through the same pain were not so fortunate.
Right now is probably the best I’ve ever reacted to heart break. I was frantic initially, yes, but I calmed down in a day or two. I resisted drinking, or theatrical sobbing midnight phone calls, or getting naked with any guy that smiled in my direction. Risky or impulsive decisions were not an option. I needed to end the cycle of abusing and punishing myself. I’m not really a self-harmer, but I didn’t have any suicidal ideations which is a huge sign of progress for me. I don’t know what caused it, but I told myself that I would not treat myself that way this time.
Even though every brain cell is shouting to do the opposite, I’m controlling my impulses. I’m exercising every day and doing productive things instead of self-destructing. Dancing terribly the living room until I feel better is a daily occurrence, because it makes me laugh. Sure I cry, but I make sure that’s accompanied with writing down exactly what was going on in my head and heart. I get it out instead of letting sad or angry thoughts bounce back and forth in my mind. I also go to therapy and coaching. I’m staying on my medications and hugging my giant teddy bear whenever I get down. My soul searching trip empowered me and influenced this very level-headed and rational approach to healing. You might even say I’ve matured through this process.
This makes me inexplicably proud of myself. I’m sure 19 to 27 year old me is doing backflips and cheering. You can’t heal in the environment that harmed you, but you also can’t heal while harming yourself. Somehow that clicked in my mind without words this year. I wish that I had been able to do this for myself sooner, like maybe when I was 23 or 24. But I am grateful that I get to learn this lesson and heal myself at all.
What I’ve learned from living with BPD? I am not alone. I am worthy of love, respect, kindness and security. There is hope. There is genuine love and understanding out there for people like me. There is the possibility of change and recovery. Each day is a second chance. I can accomplish healing.
What does it feel like to be so low that you can’t leave your bed, yet at the same time your mind’s going a million miles per hour freaking out about everything you’re not doing? I’m changing my outlook with affirmations, but I also want to share my experience with mental illness.
I’ve experienced depression since grade school. I vividly recall walking through Wal-Mart with my mom and younger brother after school when I was seven years old. Partially quoting Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I looked up at her and said, “Mom, I’m only seven and I’m tired of living.”
A strange look crossed her face when she shushed me, telling me not to talk like that. “You don’t say things like that.”
That statement should have led to a trip to a doctor, but it was another lesson on how I should not be honest about my feelings. I was told to stop exaggerating. So I wasn’t honest about how I felt inside. I began smiling like crazy when I got my braces off. The sadness got pushed down. I tried hard to be like everyone else, while dying inside. As an adult, my days became muddled by this inexplicable fog. I got to the point of suicidal ideations and plans many, many times. Thankfully, I’m still here.
Anxiety feels like when you’re in seventh grade. You’re gawky and awkward, and your hands and feet are too big for your body. You’re standing at the front of the class for your book report. Your heart’s racing, and you’re shaking a little. You start sweating, and eyes bore into you. This is what I like to call my default setting, because I feel this way all the time. The best depiction of anxiety in a movie was how Miles felt in Into the Spiderverse when he first started having Spidey Sense. “Who’s Morales?” had me on the floor, because anxiety has made me say some really dumb stuff without fail. “It’s a puberty thing.” LOL!
I started having anxiety in 5th grade. My bullies were extra cruel then, and I had a very mean, dismissive teacher. Prior to developing anxiety, I was a straight A student. Without warning, I started failing math and science, two subjects that never gave me trouble before. Still there was never any mention of going to a doctor or a tutor. Instead my dad used the tried and true method of most West Indian (and so I’m told African) parents for homework. It was yelling first, slamming a hand or fist on the table, then beatings with a belt or sometimes fists, if I did not understand, got a question wrong, or the worst sin of all… forgot my homework at school. Prior to these after school abuse sessions, I never forgot my homework in the previous four years of school.
I became anxiety-ridden to the point that I could not function because of a sense of dread and impending doom. It’s a terrible feeling. Usually I was on the verge of tears or all keyed up for seemingly no reason. Frequent stomach aches and strep throat plagued me around that age. Anxiety attacks became these internal events that I got used to after a while. I still recoil from loud noises from fireworks and thunderstorms to people yelling unexpectedly or slamming things. When people make fists around me, I automatically get nervous. Getting slapped on the butt playfully also induces panic. It shakes me to my core by taking me back to a place where I felt very unsafe and terrified.
This is why my relationship with my parents is strained. I feared them, instead of trusting them with my safety and well-being. It’s something we’re working on now, I’m happy to say.
Therapy and medication helped immensely. In therapy, I learned several breathing techniques and how to ground myself. My go-to is counting all the legs on a chair and name all the colors that I see. I like the breathing technique where you take a deep 4 second breath, hold it 7 seconds, then exhale slowly. It effectively reduces my heart rate. The medication does some magic in my brain that makes me noticeably less anxious. My hands don’t shake as bad.
Honestly, I wrestle with depression daily. I might have to for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t scare me anymore. The best depiction I’ve seen of depression in a TV show was on Big Mouth on Netflix. There is a weird comfort that I feel in giving in to the fog and sadness. They showed that comfort, something I have struggled to explain to others in the past, flawlessly. The trick for me is finding one small positive reason to get out of bed. Sometimes it’s simply brushing my teeth for my mega-watt smile. One things I won’t do is bully myself out of bed or bully myself for staying in bed. I am nicer to myself nowadays, and somehow one foot follows the other.
My biggest success so far is that I am honest with myself and others about how I feel at any given moment. I don’t push my truth down. If my answer makes other uncomfortable, I don’t care. I won’t lie to myself anymore. That’s progress.
If you have either anxiety or depression, I hope you find the strength or courage to tell someone that will really listen to you and understands you. Neither of these illness mean that you’re weak, or damaged goods, or any of the other mean things we say to ourselves. Take the time to do something nice for yourself once you calm down after an anxiety attack. They’re embarrassing and awful, but it’s not your fault. I used to eat ice cream afterward, but now I eat pickles and watch Disney movies. Those movies are an important part of my calming process, I’m not ashamed to admit. They remind me of times I felt safe and happy. Say something nice to yourself instead of blaming yourself. Do whatever brings you to a happy place! It’s not dumb if it works.
And most importantly? Remember to love yourself. Depression or anxiety aside, brain chemicals that you have no control over don’t stop you from being amazing and worthy. I’ve learned and internalized this recently. I hope you do, too.
During my trip to the Bahamas, I dug deep and figured out what was important to me. I felt left behind in life’s Important Milestones: going to college directly after high school, finding a career, finding a spouse, starting a family, and so on and so forth. I became unhappy and discouraged with my life. I felt like I was doing something wrong, and that I’d never catch up.
During and after college, I scrolled through many friends, acquaintances, and strangers flashing their engagement rings with their fiancé looking adoringly at them. It was a daily occurrence of seeing other lives move forward in a way that mine wasn’t. I blocked, deleted, or unfollowed countless friends when they got engaged, and when they had beautiful weddings, or for simply changing their relationship status. I hated bachelorette party pictures, because it was a reminder of the close group of girlfriends that I didn’t have. I secretly seethed while liking, commenting, or sharing Facebook or Instagram posts. While they were experiencing love and excitement, I was somehow unloveable and bitter. It was like each post whispered, “You’re not good enough.”
That problematic whisper echoed in my mind, causing a pattern in all of my relationships. I catch a guy’s interest. I make him the center of my world in about a week. I imagine the rest of our lives together in less than a month. I am surprised Pikachu when it doesn’t work out or I find myself in a toxic situation. That sounds crazy, but I didn’t know how healthy relationships worked. I felt valuable when a guy liked me, because I did not value myself. I didn’t know what boundaries were, and low self-esteem, ignorance, and desperation made my choices. I’d say about 90% of the time, I’d date an abusive or narcissistic guy that reaped the benefits of my insecurities. The other 10% were normal guys that bolted, because I got depressed that I wasn’t checking a box fast enough.
I finally saw the problem I kept creating for myself and found solutions. – I need to stop backing men into corners in pursuit of checked boxes. – I need to stop comparing and rushing. – I need to stop chasing what I was told to want.
So I asked myself a seemingly simple question:
What do YOU want?
I want what I think everyone wants. Happiness.
But that wasn’t enough. I needed more than a one word abstract concept. What does happiness look like to me specifically? Thus, my new milestones were born. My milestones don’t have to be accomplished in any particular order. They are also not set in stone. They are fluid, and can change as I change. My current milestones are:
Creating an engaging blog that both inspires and validates women, giving them a space to be vulnerable and feel less alone
Writing a memoir about being a military child that analyzes how it impacted my life as an adult
Spending one day each weekend volunteering to make the world a better place
Finding a job that makes me feel like I am making a difference, regardless of the pay
Finishing my master’s degree, not to prove that I am smart, but to gain a tool to further my future career
Becoming a certified life coach to help those that feel stuck or like they don’t measure up
Attending therapy sessions with my parents to heal the trauma and abuse and reach a place of forgiveness
Getting to a place where my inner-critic has been replaced by an inner-supporter
Having a service dog for the days or times that PTSD or anxiety may become overwhelming
Running a 10K, since I’ve never gone farther than a 5K
There you have it, my milestones. For me, happiness isn’t in keeping up with everyone else. That’s misery dressed in designer clothes. What was most surprising to me is that none of my milestones included a man in my life. The one thing I rabidly chased after is actually not important to me at all. Imagine that. Now when I see my peers getting to the next point on the Life Script, I can just be happy for them and not feel that I like I don’t belong, or like I’m doing something wrong.
It’s okay to be different. There is freedom in not belonging. It’s okay to have different goals, desires, and needs. Go after your version of happiness whatever it may be.
On to the healing! Armed with a pen, journal, and a self-help book, I worked on myself. I prioritized moments that were purely for me and my well-being. I took advice from one of the greatest Disney movies ever made. I let go of everything. Past hurts, traumas, feeling used, confusion and anger at being lied to for so long, and not getting what I know I earned. I let it go.
During my trip, I analyzed and began to understand why I’ve always felt so insecure and depressed. I was bullied for my looks, being a nerd, and very neglected emotionally as a kid and teen. I didn’t have many close friends, because the military uprooted my family every few years. That impacted how I interact and trust as an adult. Our relationships with others are vital, and I’m not sure I ever understood how they’re supposed to work.
A sad fact about me is that I survived continuous sexual, emotional, and physical abuse as a child, teenager, and as an adult. I’ve carried that guilt and shame for as long as I can remember. I have complex PTSD (C-PTSD) meaning I’ve experienced trauma from multiple events over years, rather than a single event. Due to this, I’ve never truly felt safe or like I belonged anywhere. I lived in fear and uncertainty most of my life. I recall feeling unwanted or like a waste of space as far back as pre-school. My mom was ruthlessly critical of my body. My dad was a fan of angry, long winded tirades about how life wasn’t fair. I was certain that both my parents hated me for simply existing, and their words and actions did not prove otherwise. At an early age, I drew the conclusion that some people didn’t deserve love, and that I was one of them.
I felt like I lagged behind in “The Important Milestones”. Like graduating college, making a group of lifelong friends, having a career, getting engaged, having a wedding, and all the other Kodak moments. This unhealthy thought process developed because my parents constantly negatively compared my brothers and I to other kids or each other. Nothing was good enough. “I’m proud of you” or “You did great” were two things I did not hear growing up. I learned to treat myself with harshness instead of forgiveness, and hatred instead of love and acceptance. As I got older and reached any important milestone, it wasn’t good enough. It seemed like everyone in my age group had already done it. Then inevitably, it would fall apart. I couldn’t seem to get it together when everyone else already had. My broken engagement is the most recent example of this self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve consistently felt like an unlovable, damaged and unworthy outsider that couldn’t do anything right no matter how hard I tried.
This is my truth: I am not any of those things. I deserve love. I am loving, beautiful, kind, and I care deeply about myself and others. I deserve honesty and respect from the people that I love. I am brave when I feel fearful. I am strongest when I feel weak. I ask for help when I need it. I embody the love, kindness, and empathy that I have not received from the people I trusted and needed it from the most. I give away what I never got. My heart never hardened, and I stayed selfless and compassionate. I let people in and help, because I don’t want anyone to feel as bad as I have at various points in life. Instead of vindictively replicating my pain in others, I actively try to create love and comfort. I don’t assume the worst about others. I hope for the best in them. I am a once in a lifetime kind of woman. This is what I learned about myself as I stood in the sun.
I’ve chosen new personal milestones that I’ve decided are important. Other stuff will fall into place when it’s supposed to. There’s no shame in that. One day I’ll cross paths with someone as filled with light and love as I am and have the healthy, supportive, and loving relationship that was meant for me. That person will appreciate me and everything I do to make them feel special, and won’t think twice about doing the exact same for me. His words and actions will match. With him, I’ll never feel the pain of being taken for granted again. One day, my special someone won’t be able to wait any longer and will propose to me, making sure it’s the most special unforgettable surprise of my life. I will have people in my life that want to celebrate happiness with me. My person and I won’t be perfect, but we’ll be worth it. One day, I’ll get everything I have ever deserved and won’t wonder any longer. But until that happens, I am leaving the past behind and focusing on myself and my new milestones.
This trip was so beneficial in so many ways. I met so many amazing people in Nassau. I met a guy that came to the Bahamas to help rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, because he felt compelled to. I met the quality of people I couldn’t find in Guam, the kind of people that I needed to be around to grow. Finding real and unique people who know what they want and where they are going had such an impact on me. If you’re not where you want to be or don’t know the kinds of people you think you need, try a change of scenery. They’re out there! I received a lot of great advice from men and women alike. The men told me not to go back to the past and get hurt again, and to not make time for second chances. The women told me not to diminish and exhaust myself or sacrifice the way I had before. Sacrifice and compromise are not the same thing. They encouraged me to move on and told me not to lose hope. The past won’t change, but the future has plenty of time and a plan for me. I’m doing the right thing by taking charge of my life, taking an honest look at myself, changing what I can, and doing it all with a smile on my face. I’m listening to those older and wiser than me. They know better, so I’m not looking or going back. They shared the lessons I needed to heal.
The most poignant line for me in You Are A Badass said, “If something negative happens in your life, feel it, learn from it, let it go and get back to focusing on the life you’re excited to live.” I’ve been doing that in my own way without realizing it.
By the end of my trip, I became aware of my power. I made what I wanted happen without letting anything or anyone (including myself) stand in my way. I went to a music festival. I got the car I’ve always wanted. I traveled alone for the first time. I swam with a group of sea turtles. I learned new things, while making worthwhile and interesting friends from all over the world. That is powerful. All I needed was a chance and the most painful experience of my life to create the opportunity. Nothing can shake the absolute confidence and trust I have in myself right now.I make things happen. I am powerful. I will repeat that to myself every day.
What makes me happiest in this moment, is that my growth isn’t stemming from wanting to be a better person for someone else to accept me. I want to be a better person for me. I don’t want to keep struggling with the weight of pain anymore. I’ve had enough pain. I want joy. I don’t want pain to keep me stuck in the gloomy past while I miss out on the endless possibilities of the present and future. I lost someone important to me, but I found someone even more important: myself.I accept myself. I accept what happened to me. I accept that I can’t change the past. I’ve embraced all that is me, good, bad, and ugly. I’ve given my scared and lonely inner-child a big hug and told her that I’m proud of her. I am ready to move on with my life. It’s time.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
This was my favorite song when I was a little girl, next to “Thriller” and “Waterfalls” by TLC. It popped in my head as I thought about what my friend had said when we reconnected. He said, “You have a light.” Although my light has flickered and sputtered more times than I care to count, it’s never gone out because I’ve never truly given up. My light’s still shining through the darkness, and so will I. I’m using my light to look forward and find what’s meant for me.
Have you gone on a trip to get to know yourself? Leave a comment below & share your experience!