Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Masks We Wear

I was the kid in high school who probably seemed to have it all together: mostly straight A’s, juggling a job, boyfriend, volleyball and other activities. If sheer will could hold things together, then that’s how I managed for a long time.

I made my way through college with barely a scratch, juggling a full-time job, full-time course load, parties, friends, boyfriends, trying to enjoy whatever I could of life. The cracks were there but hidden and denied, even to myself. I could do this—and if I didn’t admit they were there, then they weren’t.

I kept it together until I no longer could. I learned my grandmother had cancer– my favorite person in the whole world was dying, and there was nothing I could do. I fell apart. Weeks spent crying in my bed for every waking moment that I was not in work, pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, then starving myself and exercising for hours daily until I couldn’t move–running the same diatribe that sounded an awful lot like my mother over and over in my head that I wasn’t good enough and that no one would ever love me.

Eventually I pulled myself out of it and managed to live my life, never really letting myself pull back that curtain for fear of exposing the cracks.

If I didn’t admit the cracks were there, then they weren’t.

My first “rock bottom” was a move to New Jersey for a torrid romance that I was just sure was “the one”, only to learn what was behind his curtains. I believed his story of who he was, and was determined to make the relationship work. I lost a lot of me in the process. I found myself sitting in the middle of an empty living room, barren of any furniture, in my pajamas sobbing as if my life was over. And maybe for that moment, it was.

Depression is not an easy thing to manage, and though it can be triggered by life events, I have found it to be a lifetime event. It ebbs and flows, cycling through life, with a stronger pull at some times than others and a constant struggle to learn how to manage it effectively while minimizing impact and harm to myself and those around me.

Four years ago, I lost both of my first two dogs in the span of 7 months. Bracketed around the second loss was the loss of two close friendships; one more of a drift and one a rather abrupt and painful end. At least I had learned by then when I need to raise the white flag and ask for help, and while it was still a challenging process to pull out of, I managed.

I’ve had other friends write about and publicly post about their mental health challenges, and always admired how brave they are. While I completely recognized that it’s a medical issue, I still struggle with feeling that for myself, it’s a sign of weakness—that I can’t hold things together as I should.

The concept of control.

I have learned that depression is not something to be ashamed of, but is a fact of life. While there may be some seemingly “quick fixes,” it isn’t that easy. I found I needed to do the work, and to really dig into the issues that trigger me. I had to face my childhood, accept, grieve, forgive and choose to move on. I have to communicate and use the coping mechanisms that I have learned that are healthy and don’t do my body harm. I may not be able to control what goes on around me, but I can control me and how I react. It’s a powerful lesson.


Going back to Boston a couple of months ago and stepping through my childhood all of these years later was a major healing for me. Meeting with people that I once was very close to, to both forgive and to be forgiven, with the grace of an adult choosing to move forward with a newly-defined relationship based on the wonderful feelings of friendship continued the path toward healing.

When I began this process, I initially grew angry, feeling I missed out on my childhood and lived for so long with so much sorrow and anger. Now I think how lucky I am that I have my whole life ahead of me to really cherish this gift of perspective that I now have. The rest of my life can be whatever I want it to be and I don’t choose to squander it mourning a past that I cannot change. Instead, I choose to define my future based on who I am at this moment, and who I am becoming instead of who I have been. I have learned to accept and love that person, but I love the me that I am now even more.

When What You Want Doesn’t Work Out

When I was a child, my first career passion that I can remember was to be a marine biologist. I loved watching nature channels with my grandfather, and remember fondly episodes of Jaques Cousteau floating through the water as if he had wings. I remember watching the fish fluttering by, joining him and his crew for quick visits and thinking what a vast and beautiful space the ocean is, alive with glints of blues, greens, golds and flickers of reds, whites, silvers.

I could almost feel the sensation of the fluttering in the water, the flowing of it past my face and the feeling of freedom.

Feeling alive.

I floated in this oasis of happiness every time I’d watch the show—that is, until I saw the movie Jaws. That had nothing to do with the dream I’d developed of the ocean and I almost felt betrayed. My bubble was burst and I decided that I might be better suited for another career.

In a lot of ways, the ocean is a physical representation of life: relationships ebb and flow, birth and death, beauty and ugliness, mystery and knowledge. Its ever-changing landscape can represent a series of learning experiences, and disappointments, depending how you view things.

I recently met a guy I am crazy about. He has a lot of the qualities that I’m looking for and we really connected and enjoy each other. Then he called to say that he decided to revisit his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. He was kind about it and sensitive, sharing that they have a long history and that this had absolutely nothing to do with me. He enjoyed getting to know me, however, he feels their relationship is not over.

I was crushed.

Then I thought about the great opportunity the Universe provided for me to practice some of my new skills. Instead of my usual modus operandi of not eating, over exercising and overall not taking care of myself, I have the opportunity to do something different. To shelve my so-called “coping mechanisms” which do nothing but show a physical manifestation of the emotions boiling inside of me.

I can learn. I can grow. I can change.

Taking Care of my Body

I will not stop eating and will not over exercise. I am recovering from asthmatic bronchitis, and while I’d love nothing more than to run and run my feelings away with adrenaline coursing through my veins, I know that my body cannot handle it now. So instead, I took an extra-long walk with the dogs, enjoying the first cool morning in Phoenix following the summer, the sun on my face and the bouncing of my happy pups. I will listen to my body and do what it needs: eat when I need to, rest when I need to.

“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small.  My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” ~ Kim McMilllen

Taking Care of my Mind

I will allow myself to think about where I’ve been and where I wish to go without judgment. If I find myself judging, I will gently remind myself that it’s ok to feel, and let the judgment go. When my emotions are triggered my brain goes on overdrive, like stepping on the pedal of a Ferrari. My brain springs to life with all of the reasons why and why not and I enter a downward spiral taking my heart and my body with it. In order to grow, I’m learning that I don’t need to control this but to work with it. It’s ok to think and analyze, but not to listen so much to my inner critic. At the end of the day, this situation was absolutely not about me. And I’m learning that many of the things that happen to me in life actually aren’t.

“When we give ourselves compassion, we are opening our hearts in a way that can transform our lives.” ~ Kristin Neff

Taking Care of my Heart

I will allow myself to feel and I will love myself through it. Probably the toughest for me, as I learned at a young age that feelings were dangerous. If I didn’t feel, then I couldn’t hurt and if I didn’t hurt, I would be ok. But it didn’t really work that way and after nursing myself through bouts of depression and eating disorders, I’ve learned that the feelings come out either in emotion or physical manifestations that are not healthy. I will ask my friends for support and lots of hugs, and when they are not around, I will hug one of my dogs or hug myself, wrapping my arms really tight. My love for myself is truly most important.

“Accept yourself. Love yourself as you are. Your finest work, your best movements, your joy, peace, and healing comes when you love yourself. You give a great gift to the world when you do that. You give others permission to do the same: to love themselves. Revel in self-love. Roll in it. Bask in it as you would sunshine.” ~ Melodie Beattie.

Part of this process is learning to better identify my feelings. This is not abandonment that I’m feeling triggering my core childhood wound but disappointment. It’s sadness that the timing didn’t work out, and that I won’t get to explore a new relationship that I was very interested in. I made it through my past and I no longer need to relive it, allowing it to weave through my present until the fabric is so intertwined that the distinction is impossible to notice. Instead, I can choose to recognize the feelings and let them go, learning from them. I’m grateful that I can now see this gift for what it is: a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow.

This time, it wasn’t a shark in the water but a beautiful fish that chose to connect for an instant then flutter away.