Friday, December 14, 2018

"I'm fine" and other lies

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You never know what someone else is going through. Be kind. Always.” That is truly now my mantra. You have no idea what is going on with anyone else. And, I am probably a poster child for that. For as prolific as I’ve been in the past documenting my kids’ milestones, funny stories, and even challenges in parenting, turns out I am actually intensely private when it comes to the deep stuff. The stuff that makes you vulnerable. The stuff that makes you real. That I kept hidden deep inside and didn’t share with anyone.

So, here goes: I am divorced. That is literally the first time I’ve typed that out. But, it’s my truth. I know a lot of people were shocked when I told them that it was happening. People tried to convince me to do something different. To try something to fix my marriage. They admitted that they wished we would get back together. To them it was a shock, and they couldn’t wrap their minds around it. But for me, it was the last step in a years-long process of introspection, work, depression, despair, sadness, and ultimately acceptance. I was enormously hurt by this reaction. I was hurt that people would think that we hadn’t thought this through, that we hadn’t tried, that we hadn’t considered the consequences. But, then, was I partly to blame? I kept all that inside, all the while smiling to people at school events, church and anywhere else. Putting on a happy face for the girls and the rest of the world, meanwhile, inside I was planning my own suicide.

It’s hard to even write that, but it is also my truth. I fell down into a hole of depression so deep that I literally couldn’t imagine having to make it through a day. I couldn’t comprehend the “it gets better” statement that is being peddled around as a suicide prevention phrase because I couldn’t fathom surviving through even a few more hours in that much pain. One day, I was so low, I made a plan. I had pills. The only thing that stopped me was the realization that the girls would be the ones to find me when they came home from school. And, I couldn’t burden them with that, even when I was planning to leave them behind.

It took months before I opened up even the smallest bit to my parents, who immediately got me into counseling. Because one problem is, when you need the most help, it is the hardest to get. I knew I was in a bad way, but I didn’t feel like I deserved any help, and then, even if I wanted it, I couldn’t go through the process of researching and finding a mental health professional because I could barely function through normal activities. The thought of the enormous effort it would take to find and schedule help was too overwhelming. So, I continued to suffer silently until I had a breakdown and was essentially taken by hand for help.

Counseling was not an easy process. I struggled with my identity, who I was at my core if I didn’t do everything in life perfectly. How could I even be worth anything if I failed? The problems I’m guessing lots of people experience when their identities are wrapped up in being a “good girl.” I spent most of every early session crying until my eyes swelled shut. Meanwhile, I smiled for the girls and smiled when I went to school events, church and anywhere in public.

During this whole process, I lost weight. A lot of weight. I simply could not eat. I couldn’t put food in my mouth. I was never hungry and the thought of eating usually made me sick to my stomach. If I ate anything, I often threw it right back up. It wasn’t intentional. It was physiological. People started commenting on it. Telling me I either looked great or that I needed to eat a hamburger. And, I replied that I was running more or that it wasn’t really anything. "I'm fine," I would say. I didn’t dare tell anyone why I was now at the lowest weight of my entire adulthood and had to buy new pants because mine were falling to the floor.

I stopped doing things. I stopped reading. I stopped watching tv. I stopped going to events with people. I couldn’t focus on anything, and I didn’t have the emotional energy required to interact with others. I withdrew from everyone when I actually needed close friends the most. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t trust that people would still love me when they found out I had problems. I didn’t want to hear advice from a million voices.

After several months of counseling, it was suggested that I go to my doctor to get on antidepressants. I had wondered about this for a while, but again, felt like asking about it would mean I was trying to say my problems were important enough for medical help, and I felt like that seemed like I was trying to make myself more important than I was. So again, I waited until someone took me by the hand for help.

I was put on meds. They helped control the incessant crying. They helped me focus on tasks. They helped me find energy again. (Though, the emotionally devastating car accident, physically devastating bike accident, and unexpected cancer scare over the past year were challenges I had not anticipated having to navigate during this process.) Slowly, with medication and intense counseling, I began to come out of my fog of depression. It was not easy, and it was not quick. It took more introspective thought than I had ever done in my entire life. Ultimately, Cory and I decided that a divorce was the best option for either of us to find happiness again.

I did have a few people who pushed through my behavior and asked and asked and showed up until I finally opened up. I am forever grateful to those people. Because what I needed, which I couldn’t see at the time, was someone to listen. Not to compare problems. Not to judge my actions. Not to tell me how this impacted them. Not to try to put themselves in my shoes and tell me what they would do. I just needed someone to listen and tell me they loved me because I was me, not because of anything I do or don’t do. Just because I am me.

I know that now, of course, with the power of retrospect. But I was in no shape to articulate it or ask for it at the time. That is the trouble with depression. At least mine. I couldn’t ask for what I needed, even though I’m sure if I had, many people would’ve genuinely wanted to help.

I bring all this up because it is my truth. And, I have to own it. But, also, because someone commented on my weight the other day. I’m sure it was meant to be an innocuous statement. But, it didn’t feel innocuous. Because through everything that happened, my weight was an outward sign of my inner turmoil. And, yes, I’ve gained a lot of the weight I lost back. But, I still struggle. In fact, I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I've been dreading the holidays. I haven’t been able to stop crying. I have been having trouble focusing. I started having panic attacks. I saw myself going down the same path as before, so, I went to my doctor to get back on medication. Because at least this time I knew where to find the tools to work to stop that progression.

I have learned so much about myself during all this. I still get overwhelmed and sad. I hate not having my girls all the time. But, I no longer contemplate suicide. And, I trust a lot more people. It's safe to say, I am still a work in progress.

So, the next time you’re tempted to comment on or judge someone’s weight, behavior, quietness, lack of interaction or interest, or the fact that they are getting a divorce, stop. Think. Consider. There could be a lot more going on behind the scenes than you could have ever imagined. 

I tell my girls every day as they leave for school: "Have fun. Learn a lot. Be kind." I think that works for all of us, too. 

P.S. This is my truth and mine alone. And, I'm clearly not completely comfortable sharing to the wide world, because I have no intention of sharing this link around. But, at least it's out there now.