Happy New Year!
After realizing that it was January 3rd and my outdoor Christmas lights were still on, I reluctantly pulled the plug and slowly started the process of un-decorating. It’s been frigid cold here in the Southeast (they are predicting snow in Savannah!!!) and it’s been pajamas for days here in the house. The kids have been sleeping in until 9 am and we’ve all got a serious case of the lazies, which is going to make going back to school tomorrow seem impossible. But, the world keeps turning, and a new year has begun. So it goes.
I haven’t blogged in forever, and it’s been looming over my head like more of a chore than a necessity. Since having both kids in school, I’m not sure what I’ve filled my time with, but I’ve kept myself busy. I’ve missed writing, but haven’t been able to find the inspiration or drive to start typing. My anxiety has been pretty much under control; a quiet, distant memory at least for now, which has meant even less motivation to write. I had all these grand plans for starting an anxiety support group and producing more in-depth blogging to help those struggling with mental illness, but somehow I’ve side-stepped and found myself focused on more mundane efforts (volunteering, organizing the house, workout classes, Christmas perfection coordinator!?!). Life has been moving at a steady, undramatic pace (ok, minus the usual holiday drama).
Last night, however, I felt a shift. I woke up at some odd hour with a pang of longing, an urge to get up and get the words out. I briefly entertained the idea of popping up immediately and opening my computer with wild fervor (like in the movies!) but I decided going back to sleep was more my speed. So here I am, after another pajama day, finally getting down to it.
I got news the other day that a friend of a friend had taken her own life. I didn’t get much of the story, but as I browsed over her obituary on Facebook, took in her beautiful smile and pondered over the sweet words describing her kind spirit, I was struck. She was about my age, married, strikingly beautiful with a successful career. She looked like someone who had it all together. I sent a text expressing my condolonces to my friend; the girls had been good friends in college. She said they had just been in Mexico a couple months ago with a group of friends, but she showed no signs of distress. To gaze upon that picture of her sparkling smile and to know that there was so much silent suffering behind it, that beauty and perfection weren’t enough, was a tragedy.
Her story lit a fire in me, and I knew in that instant that I needed to get back to work. There are too many people out there, quietly struggling with mental illness, to ignore the cause. Too many beautiful souls smiling through their pain. Too many lives that need saving. I can’t sit back and let it go any longer.
Not long after hearing her story, I heard of another young life taken by choice, a close family friend of a friend who’s son had played baseball with hers. He was only 19.
Although there’s no statistical proof that the holidays have an impact of increased suicide rates (this is generally a myth), it can be a hard, lonely time for many. If loneliness isn’t the problem, there is added holiday stress, financial burdens, family issues, and little down time. The self-inflicted perfectionists (guilty as charged!) may not sleep until the last present is wrapped and decoration hung. Top all that off with colder weather and less sunlight and the holidays can be a bit heavy for some.
There is a disconnect in understanding between those who have struggled with anxiety and depression and those who have only heard stories about it. To realize that you are in need of serious help is either too embarassing and hard to accept or simply just too complicated to self-diagnose. I’m fortunate to have had only a small taste of depression (I’ve had more acute struggles with anxiety and panic), but once you’ve had a taste, you will never forget it. It’s a disease that causes your own mind to deceive you, to tell you such enormous lies that you begin to question everything, even your own existance. It is both tragic and infuritating, and it has the potential to affect us all in one way or another. We owe it to ourselves, and to our loved ones, to make an effort to understand and tame this monster. There’s no easy answer here, but compassion and understanding are huge bridges towards healing.
That being said, it’s a two-way street. If someone is unwilling to share, to speak up out of their silence, it will remain that way…silent. You must be vulnerable in your truth. I opened up about my struggles with mental illness and it has granted me such tremendous freedom. It is not a crutch or an excuse or a plea for sympathy, but simply a way out of silent suffering. Ownership and acceptance and transparency can change your life, as scary as it may seem.
Another one of the most freeing things I’ve learned in my journey with anxiety is to give yourself permission to fail. If you always want everything to be perfect, you will most definitely always fall short. The pressure of perfection is suffocating. Forgive yourself. Laugh at yourself. Love yourself no matter what. If you can’t, find the courage to learn how. If it means asking for help to find your courage, that’s okay. Asking for help takes a tremendous amount of courage in itself, even though some may fear perceived weakness.
But listen up, here’s some news for you; if someone calls you weak, guess what? Who gives a shit?!!! (I praise this phrase in one of my previous blog posts, and it still proves to be one of my favorites, although it’s usually just said in my head)!!! Keep on doing whatever you need to become secure in your worthiness. No apologies.
Yes, I still have lots of work to do. We all do in one way or another. But I can’t sit back and watch another tragedy without at least trying to do the best I can to help others. It is my purpose and my duty. I can’t be responsible for each persons journey, but I can help make a positive impact as much as possible. I can lend an ear over a cup of coffee or a walk or a simple phone call. I can take the profound darkness I’ve felt in my past and use it for good. I have ears that hear and a mouth that speaks and a heart that loves.
So this year, if you see me around, or if you think you need to talk, or if you’re not sure if you need to talk but just need to cry or laugh or hug me, my door is open. There is no story too silly or embarassing that will phase me. I’ve been afraid to sit at a stoplight before, I’m still afraid of the dark, and I’ve gone into panic attacks on the most G-rated Disney rides. I still shutter at the thought of being on a subway, in a crowded room or even just driving a car full of people around. I am working hard at being comfortable being uncomfortable, but it is slow going. There is no shame here, people. If it bothers you, it’s legit. You can talk about it. I’m here for you.
Let’s make this year the best ever. Fear and shame and darkness will fall victim to your light. Just let go and let the shade lift, friend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…
You are so worth it.