It’s hard to know where to start when telling my story and it’s even more difficult deciding what parts to include and what parts to leave out. Life is so complicated.
I was born into a good family. My basic needs for food and shelter were always taken care of. Emotionally, I often felt alone. Because of that, sometimes I made bad choices in hopes that I would be noticed. I just wanted people to love me. Everyone to love me, all the time. At the same time I was painfully shy and anxious and when people noticed me it was scary. In kindergarten and first grade I remember sitting at my desk with a extremely full bladder waiting for the teacher to be done with her instruction so I could get up and go to the bathroom. I was not able to interrupt the teacher. I thought I would get in trouble. Adults held a certain weight in my life and were not to be disturbed or made angry. I peed my pants, numerous times, because the teacher just kept on talking and talking.
As time progressed I tried to be more brave but that usually came across through sarcasm, which got me in trouble, or down right meanness. Then came the lying. In 3rd or 4th grade I was on the playground with a friend when we found a toy by the swings. It was a cool toy so we decided to play with it. We were approached by some boys who asked to have the toy because it belonged to them. I would not give it up. The boys told the on duty recess teacher and she asked me to give it back. I concocted this ridiculous story about the toy being left in my coat by one of my brothers and that I had found it in my pocket. The teacher called my mom and asked her about the toy. I then had to give it back to its rightful owner. When I got home from school and my mom questioned me about the incident, I told her that my friend made me do it. I even cried and told her that I wanted to tell the truth but my friend told me not to. I was SO afraid to get in trouble that lying became a really important part of my life.
By 7th grade the need to be liked became a quest to be skinny and have the right clothes. I was intensely aware of my second hand clothes and my fuzzy hair. I tried to borrow a “cool” outfit from one of my friends but the pants were a little too tight. For weeks after that I cut my portion sizes way down. It was my first foray into disordered eating and fighting the hunger was hard, for a while. Then it made me feel powerful. And when I could finally button those pants, I felt victorious. In 8th grade there was a very particular pair of shoes that were super popular. Black adidas with three white stripes.
I knew that if I could just get a pair of those shoes, everyone would notice me, maybe I could even become popular. I couldn’t afford a pair though. My younger brother got some, maybe for Christmas, I don’t remember. I begged and begged him to let me wear them. He finally said yes and even though they were at least a size too big I felt on top of the world that day. I was CERTAIN that all the popular kids were noticing me and wanted to be my friend. Because of the shoes.
With high school came dating and the beginning of my willingness to date guys who didn’t treat me well, or that I didn’t even like, just to have someone who would pay attention to me. After high school I had a steady boyfriend. My parents didn’t like that I spent so much time with him but I didn’t care. He actually treated me well, one of the few guys I dated that did, and he loved me and respected me. When he left to serve a two year mission for our church I was devastated. He had become such a big part of my life and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when he left. I was living at home and I didn’t feel like my family liked me because I had ditched them so many times to hang out with my boyfriend. I wasn’t attending college at the time because I’d had some health issues (which I now know were more anxiety and depression than anything else) and for a while I didn’t have a job. By the time I got a job I was desperate for friends. At this point I made some of the worst dating decisions ever. I was incredibly naive and trying to jump into the world of dating as an adult. I wasn’t cautious or choosy about who I dated and, I cringe to say this, I dated a guy who was married. He told me he was almost divorced and I believed him because I just wanted him to like me, to pay attention to me. He was 20 years older than me and, with the knowledge and perspective I have now, I am pretty certain he was a sex addict and serial cheater. I was simply one of his conquests. At the time though I didn’t know or care.
That fall I went back to college and had my first string of college boyfriends. Just before I graduated with my associates degree I spent a six week summer term living with my boyfriend’s family. His younger brother snuck into my room at night and sexually abused me because he thought I would sleep through it. I woke up to him touching me and I just lay as still as possible and pretended to be sleeping. I was terrified. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I didn’t think I was worth standing up for. I didn’t want to upset him or make him mad. He continued to sneak into my room a few more times before I moved out. I confided in my boyfriend about what had happened and he suggested that I confront his brother about what had happened. I was terrified but I saw the brother sitting on the couch a few days later and I looked him in the eye and said “I know what you did”. That was the extent of the confrontation. I have not seen him since then. A while later while on a camping trip my boyfriend raped me while I was asleep, the same boyfriend that I had confided in and felt protected by when his brother violated me. I didn’t feel the need to tell anyone. We broke up a few weeks later.
Shortly after that I met my husband Donnie. We had a whirlwind courtship and marriage and our first daughter Mandy was born 11 months after we were married. Our marriage was rocky from the beginning. We had both been bullied as kids. We’d both learned to stand up for ourselves in unproductive ways. We both had unhealthy views about sex and marriage. Our relationship was a mess.
For the first 13 years we followed the abuse cycle in our marriage. The good times seemed great but always ended in a big blow up. To the outside world we looked happy, like the perfect little family. On the inside we were both struggling.
Donnie was struggling with his anger and inability to control the outcome of everything. He grew up being picked on for his size and around people who were prone to angry outbursts. He felt the need to have everything go smoothly all the time and when it didn’t he always blamed himself. His concept of self worth was non-existent and he often took it out on me and the kids by being moody, angry, or withdrawn and by having unreasonable expectations for us.
I was also broken. I grew up feeling like I needed to be perfect to be loved. When things didn’t go well, or when Donnie wasn’t happy, I knew that I needed to just try a little harder and be a little more kind. When that didn’t work, I punished myself with exercise and restricting food. I wanted to be the perfect wife and I was certain that as soon as I was, he would love me. I wasn’t happy and pretended to be anyway. I lied and when I couldn’t do that anymore I just stopped caring.
This combination led to a lot of heartache and unhappiness for both of us. Before we crumbled under the pressure and loneliness we decided to try some counseling. Best. Decision. Ever. The first 6 months of counseling were pure torture. All the feelings came out. We were finally being honest with each other..and it sucked! I hated it, and I loved it. Telling the truth was so difficult and so freeing! One day I finally looked Donnie in the face and told him I didn’t love him and that I wouldn’t say “I love you” to him ever again unless I meant it. For me, that was when I reached “rock bottom”. I had finally put it all out there. I was being completely true to myself for the first time, ever. It felt awful and terrifying and strangely peaceful.
From that place we started over. We came together hurt and broken and honest and we started to build a real relationship.
A relationship built on honesty. A relationship where saying NO is ok. A relationship where we truly love each other through the good and the bad. A relationship where we can disagree (which we actually don’t do much anymore, turns out we are SUPER compatible). A relationship full of trust. A relationship with tears and laughter. A relationship where it’s ok for me to have depression and be recovering from an eating disorder. A relationship where it’s ok for Donnie to ask me for advice on how to talk to the kids. A real relationship, a rewarding relationship.
And now…I love Donnie. I love him so so much. He is amazing and so kind and incredibly humble. He is a good man, a patient father (most of the time!), and the best husband in the whole world. The thing I love the most now is that we are in this together. We aren’t competing anymore, sitting on opposite sides of the bed waiting for the other person to back down. We are in love. And it’s a most wonderful place to be.
Through all of the turmoil and chaos, depression and anxiety were my constant companions. Here are some things I’ve written about them:
A while ago I read a news article about a girl who had committed suicide. Her family’s reaction was the same as most I’ve read about. Shocked. They could not believe that she’d been that sad. She’d been out earlier that day doing totally normal things. And then BAM…she was dead, jumped off a building.
You guys. There’s a reason that people are most often blind sided when someone commits suicide. Depression is not what most people think, not for me anyway. At least I’m starting to realize that. How do I know? Because I am depressed a lot. I’ve been depressed for large portions of my life. And I have very few friends/family who realize it.
For me, depression is like a fog. I live in a place that is foggy quite a bit. Some mornings when I go out walking, it’s so foggy that I can’t see the bottom of my street. I know it’s there because I’ve seen it before, but the fog is so thick that I can only see the small portion of the road right in front of me. When depression sets in, that’s how I feel. I know my life is still stretching out in front of me, I just can’t see it. I can get up, do an intense workout, get my kids off to school, eat breakfast, clean my house, visit with other moms, make a nice dinner, go on a date with Donnie..I can do all of that and not really feel any of it. The fog is thick. So thick that all I can see is my own mind. I feel isolated and trapped there. The events going on around me are beyond the fog, covered by the haze of depression. I can even laugh and joke but the emotions stay on the corner of my lips, they don’t reach my heart, my soul.
I can go through an entire day or week or month and get to the end and wonder what exactly I did to pass the time. When I feel that way, dying does not seem scary or out of the question…it just feels like taking that step into the fog and letting it surround me. It’s not comforting to think of doing that, it just feels like something I could do. And since I’ve planned out my death so many times, it wouldn’t take much forethought or effort.
I’m not writing this to scare anyone. Since starting going through therapy and getting on good meds, I am feeling much more powerful and able to hold on while the fog surrounds me and then dissipates. I just think it’s important to realize that depression doesn’t always look sad or angry or come with tears. For me depression looks very similar to not feeling depressed, one just feels terribly different than the other. When the fog lifts, my actions are more intentional. I’m more connected to those around me, and to myself. My mind and heart are more free. I can do all of the same things in a day, workout, clean, make meals, go out with friends, and at the end feel fulfilled and loved. Depression robs me of those feelings.
Another really important thing to understand about the depression I experience…it is not always or even most of the time, caused by tough situations or trying life events. For instance, a while back I got to spend a week with my sister Shannon. She is one of my most favorite people in the whole world, for reals. One afternoon while I was there, we were hanging out in her kitchen laughing and joking while we cleaned up lunch when I felt depression wash over me. There was nothing happening at that moment that was sad or scary or stressful. The chemicals in my body changed. Simple as that. Because I feel safe with Shannon and I know she understands, we talked about it and I was able to keep being social even though I wanted to immediately head home and be alone.
I’ve often heard people say that ‘if they had only known’ they would have done something to help their depressed friend/family member. I think that sometimes it’s just so hard to know. I would never fault anyone for the things I feel or do, especially when I’m covered with depression. Because, depression looks a lot like happiness sometimes, and only I know how I’m feeling.”
It’s something I deal with every day. Every day. And I just realized it. Yesterday.
When I was a teenager I started feeling short of breath for days at a time. Because I had problems with acid reflux the doctors surmised that the breathing issues were related to that. When I was 19 I had surgery to correct the acid reflux. The shortness of breath did not go away. I then thought it must be allergies. So I took allergy medication. The allergy meds helped with my runny nose and itchy eyes, the shortness of breath, not so much.
I remember, a few years back, in a fit of frustration because I was SO tired of feeling like I couldn’t breathe, I googled it. Article after article about anxiety popped up and I thought “oh, that’s not me, anxiety is something that other people experience…people who can’t function, people who can’t leave the house…I’m fine.”
Guys, I’m not fine. I am constantly overcome by anxiety.
This last week I accepted some new responsibilities at church. I accepted them without even thinking about how I was going to accomplish them. Then, when I started thinking about how I would actually do them…and thinking about it…and thinking about it…I could barely breathe, my heart felt like it would beat out of my chest. I cried. And then I spent two full days doing nothing. I didn’t feel, I didn’t accomplish, I looked at a lot of facebook. And I couldn’t breathe.
That’s when the lightbulb finally came on. Let’s see…last week I could breathe just fine. No breathing problems. This week. Breathing problems. What happened? As I played back the days in my mind, I remembered the articles, the ones that google wanted me to read, the ones about anxiety that didn’t pertain to me. And then I knew. Anxiety is such a huge part of my life. Anxiety calls the shots, a lot.
I feel anxiety about driving, even though I live in a tiny town and I’ve been on every street. There is some construction going on and some days when I need to go into town, because I can’t predict which roads will be closed off and how I will have to go around them, I stay home. Once, when book group was held at a friends house that I’d never been to before I almost didn’t go…because I wasn’t sure where I would park. I only finally decided I could manage it after looking up her house on google earth, walking by it in street view, and then driving by it a few days later and scoping out a parking spot. I was still nervous on the way over.
I feel anxiety about visiting people (which is something we are expected to do a lot as members of my church). It’s not easy for me, ever. I wonder if I will say the wrong thing, or if there will be awkward silences, or if I will say something offensive, or if they will say something that I don’t agree with, or, heaven forbid, they will ask me to do something that I either don’t want to or don’t think is important and I will have to say Yes….because saying no is so scary.
I feel anxiety about money. Donnie has been so helpful with this one because he now takes care of our finances completely. We tried all the other ways…me taking care of them, us taking care of them together. I would do ok for a while and then I would have a complete meltdown…and then I would do ok for a while and then I would have a complete meltdown. Now, when I start to fret about money, I tell myself over and over again that Donnie is taking care of it and I can let it go. It’s so difficult. Sometimes I still have meltdowns and Donnie holds me and assures me that everything is going to be okay. Money freaks me out.
I feel anxiety about email and phone calls and text messages and voicemails, don’t even get me started on voicemails (do I really have to call someone back)! Because if someone asks me to do something then I’m going to say yes and then I’m going to have to do it. If I answer the phone when you call, it was an overt act of bravery for me. Seriously. Earlier today I heard the chime that alerts me of a text message. My phone was in the other room and I stood frozen for a minute debating whether I should go see who the text was from or just ignore it and pretend like it didn’t happen. I finally talked myself into just looking at the text by telling myself that I did not have to answer, I just had to read it. Thank goodness it was just a simple recipe question that was easy and totally not scary to answer.
I could go on and on.
So, if I’ve ever screened your call (which, if you’ve tried to call me, it has most likely happened), or not shown up to visit you, or seemed distant, or unhelpful, or any of those things…know that it’s not because I don’t like you, it’s not because I don’t like to help people, it’s not because I’m selfish or lazy or a bad person. It’s because I’m fighting a battle to like myself enough to get out and face all of the scary things that happen when I leave the house.”
And this, this story, these parts of me…is why I draw. Toward the end of my year and a half of therapy I did my zentangle self portrait. To remind me that I’m loved. Drawing helps me remember how important I am. Drawing helps me remember how important other people are. Drawing helps me slow down and breathe. Drawing helps me refocus and along with being a wife and a mother, it also helps me to feel like I have a purpose.