May is apparently mental health awareness month. It's also something that hits really close to home for me. I've wanted to share this a few times on the blog, but the words never came out right, or it felt like bad timing, but this month I've felt a little voice in my head saying share, share, share... And so I've sat and thought a lot the last couple weeks on what I could possibly say that could benefit someone, or what I could say to be inspiring. As I sit here and write, I honestly don't know where this post is going to take me, but starting is always the hardest part, so here I go.
I've battled with mental illness for the last ten years of my life. Ten years ago there was a little voice in my head that went off and said, "you need to do X, Y, and Z to be better, to be more, to be liked... to be loved." I've had thoughts for what seems like most of my life that I am not enough, that everyone else is better, and that I will never measure up.
In high school this manifested itself as an eating disorder. There is a preface to this that does need to be cleared up though. I was very overweight in middle school and the beginning of high school, and most people think that my eating disorder started as me wanting to lose weight, and that was not the case. Despite being overweight, I was a very active kid. All through middle school I did cheerleading and played soccer, and then in 9th grade I did those same sports, along with track and tennis as well. The very last day of ninth grade, I started my period, puberty began, and then I finally hit a growth spurt. That combined with living a very athletic lifestyle, I slimmed down really fast. Over the course of one summer I'd lost about 20 pounds and grew several inches, and then started at a new high school, and was essentially an entirely different person than I was just a few months prior.
It was after that massive growth spurt, and slimming period though where I felt like I would do anything to never be that overweight person again, and I would do, be, say, try, anything to make sure it didn't happen. It took me a long time just to even realize that I wasn't an overweight kid anymore. Despite being in smaller clothes and being several inches taller, I still thought of myself as the dweeby overweight kid that got picked on a lot. On top of all these thoughts raging through my very limited 16 year old brain, I was at a friend's house one day when a boy from our high school came over to her house, and told my friend that he thought I was fat. So even though I was wearing size zero jeans, I let this kid who I hardly even knew dictate how I felt about myself.
So from there is what started a long period of over exercising, cutting calories, and taking laxatives to make sure that I always stayed in this bubble range of what I thought was an acceptable body or physique to have. I would go to track practice after school having only eaten about 500 calories for the entire day, and then would go home and jog a couple more miles through my neighborhood. On the weekends I would go and hangout with friends, and eat and do whatever they were doing, but then would go home and take a bunch of laxatives to make it seem like the entire weekend never happened.
And so this has been the struggle and battle that I've dealt with on and off for the last 10 years of my life. There have been times where it was worse than others. Probably peaking the most around the time that Derek and I got married, dropping 15 pounds in just a couple months to make sure that I fit in what I thought should be the perfect size for my wedding dress. After we got married things were pretty fine, and we got pregnant (by choice), pretty quickly, and I had no problem gaining weight during my pregnancy, and then I lost the baby weight with minimal effort after delivery, so there really wasn't a problem then either.
Then we moved to North Carolina, Derek was working nights, I was finishing my associates degree and staying home with Jay during the day and things became stressful. That, and feeling threatened in my circle of mommy friends for the "smallest mommy" title began the cycle of running and cutting calories all over again. Then we moved to a new town and I became pregnant with Em, and again had a pretty easy time gaining and loosing the weight and never felt like I had to do anything extreme to lose anything more.
What I wasn't expecting to happen though after having Em was a wave of post partum depression that hit about six months after she was born, and then I never felt like I'd truly snapped out of it until about a year ago. She wasn't sleeping, Derek was doing his MBA, we hated the house that we moved into in Georgia, our landlord was a nightmare, we were dealing with doctors, and therapists, and bills galore, and I truly felt like I was a spectator in my own life. Like I was somehow in a fog, and I could see Derek and the kids having fun and laughing, and having the greatest time ever, and I for the life of me could not laugh. I didn't understand why they were laughing, and I couldn't personally feel happiness, despite how desperately I wanted to.
Then in March of 2016 I went to Time Out For Women in Raleigh with my friend Sammi, and stayed at her house for the weekend. We were driving around in her car, and talking about things and I'd asked, "Do you ever feel like everyone around you is happy, and having an amazing time and laughing, and then you're just standing there watching and for the life of you, you just don't get it?" She'd told me that she'd personally never felt that way and then it hit me that I had post partum depression. I didn't even know I had it, or how long I'd been there, but it was just a culmination of one thing after another and another that I guess just lead up to me finally verbalizing it and realizing what I was feeling for what it truly was.
About a month after that trip to Raleigh, I started to be able to slowly come out of it, but it wasn't an overnight process. Our lives are still stressful, we don't know what one day will bring from the next, but I've slowly been able to find peace, to find rest, and to find refuge in things that bring me joy, and to eliminate the things that don't. My kids are getting older which means that in as much as each passing day brings a stage of life that I won't get back, it means that they're both getting older, they're both communicating more, their needs are being learned, and therefore met a lot more easily. Em isn't as medically fragile as she was in the beginning. She can sit unsupported, which brings my life both ease, and joy. It opens more opportunities for her to learn, grow, and develop faster than she previously could. I find myself hearing my two kids playing together, and the corners of my mouth turning out towards a smile more and more. I was telling Derek just tonight, our kids bring me so much joy. And it feels so good to be able to say that truthfully, and not just as something that I'm supposed to be saying in a cliche Instagram post.
One thing that I've thought about over and over the last several months, where it seems my life is on this perpetual upward track of recovery from mental illness is this: I will always have a mental illness, it is a part of me. I will always have tendencies where I feel threatened and want to revert to old habits and coping mechanisms, but I also have agency, and I have a choice. Every morning I have to make the choice if I'm going to have a mental illness that day or not. I have a choice of whether or not I'm going to eat breakfast. Whether or not I'm going to love my children for who they are, and not for who I want them to be. I have to choose whether I will physically pull myself out of bed, brush my teeth, and get the day going. One thing that I've learned though is that once you choose those things once, it gets easier to choose them again, and again, and again. There is hope, strength, and empowerment that comes with mental illness, but it comes when you're able to make that first step, reach out to that one person, and have them help you to be accountable. And if you don't have someone to be that person for you, you can always reach out to me.