Self care Sunday
I have been told time and time again, “It is always darkest just before the dawn.” In past years, I would just roll my eyes, annoyed at the cliché. I have never been much for clichés. During those moments, I could never have known how relevant this saying would become to my life.
Humans are a lot like animals. We find comfort in the light of day. Things have a certain predictability. Resources for survival are easier to come by, such as food, human interaction, warmth, and the like. For some people, smiles and sunshine come as naturally as the breath they take.
Most of my life has been spent in a state of shadows. The darkness, for me, began at six years old when I experienced my first panic attack. At the time, my mom explained to me I was possessed by the devil and I internalized that label so deeply it became an extension of my soul. The demon’s grip on my sense of self smothered every last bit of my self-worth and withered any will to fight.
As a result of my undiagnosed, untreated, and largely unrecognized anxiety disorder, I spent most of my childhood cycling between depression, avoidance, anxiety, and fear.
By the time I was a pre-teen, I had perfected the art of shutting out the world and becoming a chameleon in my environment. Most kids between the ages of 10 and 15 years old are beginning to emerge as mentally healthy independent human beings with a focus on maintaining a vibrant social life. I attempted to conform to these expectations of “normal childhood development”, but my tormented mind made it hard to focus on anything besides my survival. Instead of dreaming about who I was going to be when I grew up, I spent nights crying myself to sleep, terrified of the future and believing I was too stupid to ever accomplish anything. My hatred of myself and my demons simmered below the surface of my stony gaze.
One good thing about living in the darkness is the blessing of clear and calm starry nights. At least there are shadows and the twinkle of the stars to signal a small flame of hope. My teenage years blurred into a chaotic mix of avoiding pain and an extreme need to be accepted, but I was grateful for a brief respite from panic and anxiety and clung to the dim light of the stars and shadows during those clear nights.
My mental “night” has been a slow agonizing landslide into mental illness characterized by panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety, major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. Throughout young adult life, I struggled to find the balance between sanity and survival. I was so tired and emotionally depleted, the constant bombardment of my own expectations compounded on my fragile, distorted sense of self. My lack of self-worth was portrayed in many forms of self-destructive behavior, including casual unprotected sex, alcoholism, prescription medication addictions, and abusive relationships.
At 32 years old, my emotional pain became so dark there were no shadows, no stars of hope, and my fear and desperation threatened me from every side. I was so broken there was no fixing. My mental night became so dark, there was nothing to see. There was no way out. I couldn’t see my children waiting for me in the light. I couldn’t envision my college graduation. I couldn’t take any steps forward. I hit my rock bottom in a pit so dark and deep, suicide was my only escape. I lost custody of my two children because of my attempts to put an end to the darkness. I quit college. I quit friends and support. I gave up on everything and stopped caring, striving, or attempting to reach for help.
In the year following my suicide attempt, I wrestled with evil daily. I couldn’t see anything in the darkness of my depression and I battled demons larger than I had ever encountered before. Anger, guilt, grief, and emotional agony defined the core of who I was. For me, I was convinced there was no dawn and I hated those who claimed there was.
As I lay in that pit of despair, a concept started to take shape in my heart. If I couldn’t succeed in moving forward out of my darkness, what if I could go backwards to the light? Back to my roots and become who I was meant to be. What if I could strip myself of all my preconceived notions, false beliefs, unrealistic expectations, and feelings of self-loathing? What if I could learn to love myself from the inside out?
With every ounce of strength left in the deepest parts of me, I began to claw my way up the sheer walls of my rock bottom, towards a destination I could not see. Over the next 2 years, I fought to regain custody of my children, quit drinking, returned to college and graduated. With a dim light ahead, I continued to forge a path to somewhere unknown. Blindly moving forward on what I now call my journey of “becoming.”
It has taken many years of soul searching to even begin to know how to free myself from my demons and darkness. There are somedays, shadows loom dark and heavy and there are some nights, the stars don’t seem to shine, but I continue to work on strengthening the foundation of who I am on a daily basis.
On an outward basis, maintaining my mental health comes in the form of diet, exercise, proper sleep, meditation, gratefulness, and nurturing relationships with my children (two new ones joined the pack not long after I began my climb out of hell). It takes a careful, mindful, and loving balance of self-care, self-respect, and self-discipline to keep me centered and in the light of dawn.
However, the most important part of my becoming journey, my healing, and learning self-love, is the inner work. Being vulnerable enough to tell my story to others in a raw transparent authentic way has opened my heart to painful emotions, I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see and process. Having the bravery to face and speak of my insecurities, mistakes, weaknesses, and struggles keeps me centered and on the path of learning how to forgive myself. Writing has allowed me to search the depths of who I am and what I have been through and come out with hope.
They say, “It is always darkest just before the dawn.” I don’t roll my eyes anymore because now I know what true darkness really is. I still don’t care for clichés, but I also believe with all my heart there is a dawn for everyone. Whether or not it can be seen, felt, anticipated, or hoped for, the dawn is there. When the stars go out and the shadows disappear, there is light coming. When the blackness pushes in from every side, please don’t give up. I promise the dawn is waiting for you and will, eventually, come.
You can follow Liz on her blog Becomingliz.com where she shares her personal experiences with depression and anxiety and how she was able to overcome it.
every Sunday we share real-life stories on Depression and anxiety, tips and guides on how To live above it.