“Before the breakdown, I was sweeter — judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside — but sweeter on the outside. Today, I think I’m genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental and resentful and way more serious about boundaries. I have no idea what this looks combination looks like on the outside, but it feels pretty powerful on the inside.” – Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Been kind of a crazy past few months in terms of my personal growth and journey.
Spent September through December-ish of 2015
trying to hide living with some of the worst depression and anxiety I’ve ever experienced in my life. Yuck, yuck, yuck. It sucked.
I still have my days where it’s a bit of a challenge, but mostly I’m doing much better than I have been.
Half my battle was just how confused I felt. I didn’t understand why I was experiencing such a lowness in spirit. I thought I was pretty mentally healthy and lived a relatively healthy life. But I’ve come to realize (and continue to realize more and more) that I have spent the majority of my life living co-dependently. I’ve lived without a central core of fully knowing and relying on my own self-worth. I’ve always looked outside of myself for approval, acceptance, and value.
If I annoyed someone accidentally, I was bad. If I got someone a good gift for their birthday, I was good. If I cussed too much, I was a bad Christian from my assumed perspective of other Christians. If I stood my ground and acted in a way that felt true to my conscience, I was naive, dumb, or even “hateful” to those with an opposing view. If I didn’t keep a clean home, I was lazy. If I did, I was a good wife. If I didn’t like a band that everyone else did, I was lame. If I liked a band that other people did, I was “in”. If I cooked good food, I was worth something. If what I made tasted off because of my changing dietary needs, I should be ashamed of myself.
I was both too much and too little depending on who I randomly believed needed to determine my worth.
I sucked at saying “no” or disagreeing. I used to sometimes go hours without eating, drinking, or using the bathroom if I was in the company of others because I was too scared to interrupt the fun or “impose” my needs on them. Or I just forgot paying attention to myself altogether (something which I still do, almost like I’m addicted to ignoring myself). I constantly let myself be invalidated by stronger personalities that thought my preferences or needs were less important than theirs. And I felt angry almost all the time because I was constantly, and mindlessly, committing myself to things that I didn’t actually want to do. I became resentful of all the ways I bent over backwards to help, “rescue”, or accommodate others, while they weren’t giving a second thought to what mattered to me.
What finally exposed all this internal rubbish was our time in India. (Yes, God. I’m still going on about that.)
I still have days, moments even, when I wish we would have never gone to India. Truly. I have wept who knows how many times thinking about how much it has cost me, Michael, and our marriage. Then I have other moments, when I can clearly see who I am today and I know India was God’s way of healing me. India was the refining fire and I was the gold. And God spent nearly two years melting me down and bringing all my impurities to the surface to finally be dealt with and removed — because He works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) AND he will complete the work He started in me (Philippians 1:6).
But it took me almost 3 years to finally face my fears and allow myself to acknowledge those impurities and the process God had already started. I resisted it.
After we got back from India that I started experiencing really debilitating digestive issues and joint pain. I went to the doctors. I did the tests. I changed my diet. I took the supplements. But it didn’t get any better. Meanwhile, emotionally I initially felt relieved and happy to be home. I was living again. I had occasional nighttime anxiety, but overall I felt in control of my life once again and like I could take on the world.
But after a while the temporary distraction of being back home wore off. I started to not want to leave our apartment as much. I started to avoid talking to people. I didn’t want to volunteer anymore. I dreaded phone calls. I started to have days where I didn’t really want to do anything at all. I noticed I was growing horizontal “stress dents” across the tops of my nails even though I didn’t think I had real reason to feel stress. My hair was thinning. I had heart palpitations routinely. I was having anxiety attacks more frequently at night. I’d wake up feeling like my life had no purpose. I just wanted to lay in bed and cry.
And then I’d buck up, find some new project or vacation to focus on and it would kick the funk for a little while. But it never lasted. For the last few years it’s been kind of a roller-coaster of depression dragging me down and me hitting the snooze button on it because I didn’t want to deal with it. But what was bubbling under the surface wasn’t something to be ignored. It never went away.
I felt ashamed of it honestly. And shame only has power over you when you’re isolated. And I very much wanted to be left alone until I could get my shit together. I wanted to continue being perceived as the creative, productive, organized, and nice little Ashley who never said “no”. I hated being in a position where I didn’t understand what my own problems were.
I imagined how it left the door open to all sorts of judgement and unsolicited advice: “Well have you tried this?”, “Oh you just need to try this!”, “Cheer up, it’s not that bad!”, “Have you considered that maybe you’re [fill in the blank with various mental illnesses]?”, “Well, you know, you probably wouldn’t feel this way if you’d get an actual job.”, “You kind of did this to yourself. You should try harder.”, “You only have yourself to blame. If it really bothered you, you should have done something about it.”
So I didn’t really reach out to anyone for practically four months during nearly one of darkest and scariest time of my life. By the time I did, I had been to see two other therapists and I was having on average 5-6 panic attacks a day.
That was in December, shortly before my 30th birthday.
After some visits with an old and cherished therapist of mine, I eventually celebrated the big 3-0 by going to JoAnn and shopping their clearance Christmas decorations. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what sounded fun to me. And it was. Michael and I came back home and spent the evening listening to Christmas music and decorating the apartment. It felt right. And it felt good to finally do what was right for me and not worry what other people would think about it.
And I had a realization: Jesus was also 30 when he stepped out and said, “Okay world, here I am. I am going to live the life publicly that I was called to live.” I was encouraged by that. I saw that it wasn’t too late for me to start living my own life in the way I was designed to live, regardless of how it may end up looking to those around me.
I’ve decided my next 30 years are going to be much different than the first 30. I’ve decided I’m going to learn a lot about Ashley and learn to like her for her. I think she’s worth it, even other folks disagree. I’ve decided I’m going to learn to be free and fully accept the ME that God has loved all along.