I was raised in a very conservative religious culture that placed a high premium on image. Women in particular were expected to be self-sacrificial, submissive and people pleasing. How I presented to the world was a big deal. Failure to behave in accordance with expectations was an embarrassment and considered rebellious, a threat to my eternal soul. Instead of being taught that my value is inherent, I learned that I must perform to stay out of the hot seat. The moment I stepped out of line I was admonished, shamed, punished and ultimately silenced.
My depression began to manifest when I was a teenager. By my second year of college, I was in a nearly chronic depressive state. I did not understand my disease and it had become so entangled in the context through which I viewed life that to me normal was a depleted, despairing existence sprinkled with suicidal fantasies.
By the time I was an adult, I was completely oblivious to my true emotional needs. I had never been taught that I had those, much less how to identify, communicate and meet them.
And thus, I continued to live as a performer. I buckled down and focused on building an image of success. I thought that if I could “have it all” (whatever that means) maybe someday I would feel good enough. I landed in a lucrative, competitive sales role, and quickly gained traction, trained as I was to people-please. My success fed my need for external validation. I accumulated stuff to show others that I was to be taken seriously, having no sense of my intrinsic value. The needy energy I put out attracted men who preyed on my insecurities and soon enough I was performing for them so they would not leave me.
The longer the show went on, the emptier I became. With my self-worth hinging on the fickle persuasions of mercurial people, I felt increasingly worthless. For awhile, drinking buddies and blackouts every weekend felt like an escape. But the depressive effects of excessive alcohol coupled with the emotional depletion of toxic relationships had me practically suicidal come Sunday night, when I found myself alone facing another looming week.
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”
~ Jack Kornfield
No two stories are the same for people suffering in depression and the root causes vary, be it trauma, genetics or chemical imbalance. But within our control are external factors we allow to occupy space in our inner world such as relationships, habits, thought patterns and beliefs. The choices we make serve to either lift us up or pull us deeper down.
Eventually, I found my way to therapy and began to open up to some safe people in my life. Living from the intention to nurture and heal myself was a new concept. I had to learn to love myself enough to set and keep healthy boundaries. I had to learn to let go of relationships that were harmful. I had to learn that I get to choose who and what takes up space in my life.
And I took my power back.
Some relationships ended. Others shifted. Many were not accepting of the changes I was making and the rejection was painful at times. But like a tree that has stopped bearing fruit, this pruning was an intentional act of self-love, opening up space for new life to spring.
Managing my mental health is an ongoing, daily process. Just this week I took a drastic step back from a lifelong relationship where my boundaries were regularly bulldozed. Though it is difficult, coming out of it I feel like I can physically breathe deeper, empowered at standing for myself, piece by piece breaking down the victim mentality that kept me trapped and small.
It is bittersweet to let go and within this contradiction lies the magic. We experience both euphoria and grief. Freedom and emptiness. Weightlessness and hollowness. It is in these moments of light and dark, yin and yang, that we can allow ourselves to expand into the emptiness. To lean in to the pain which is the only way we can truly appreciate the beauty.
Make no mistake, magical living is not for the faint of heart. It requires courage in areas where we want to let things be. It requires releasing what we are resisting. It requires honoring the call of the soul and its cries to be seen. It requires saying no. And a lot of scary yeses. It requires space. Some uncomfortable silence. Getting to know that small voice within that is so familiar but so unacknowledged.
But just as when you open your hand to let go of something you have clenched in your fist, suddenly there is space for you to hold anything of your choosing.
I choose inner peace.
For the healing of all,