Hello light beams,
Today’s post was written by Sandra Thomas, wife, mother and human resources executive who in her own words shares her unavoidable tryst with her mental health. Having done everything right for years, she was pretty much a textbook case of ‘high-functioning depression’ – something that shocked many and re-introduced her to herself. She will be a regular columnist here on my blog, and I’m honoured she chose my platform to aid in raising awareness about this very serious issue. Read on to learn more about her experience and the valuable lessons she’s learned on her journey.
Love, light and blessings,
“Who are you?” was the question my therapist posed one day in the Summer of 2015. A seemingly innocent one, but she might as well have asked “What is the capital of Equatorial Guinea?” I am not sure what bothered me more in that moment- my annoyance at such a ‘stupid’ question or the fact that I did not know the answer. Seeing the look on my face, she took mercy on me and told me to take some time to think on it. I left her office with a range of emotions, pondering this simple question that would haunt me for a very long time.
How it all began
As the elder of two children, the only girl and a child to divorced parents, I automatically assumed the role of “adult” very early and it would continue this way for a very long time. After the dust from their divorce settled, my dad and I settled into what became our new normal. He taught me that mediocrity is never an option and there is no ‘halfway’, it is either excellence or nothing. I ascribed this philosophy to all aspects of my life and it resulted in my becoming a competitive, over achieving know-it-all who handled disappointments poorly.
Though I’d experience frequent bouts of inexplicable sadness, it was repeatedly explained away as being spoilt or seeking attention, so I sought solace in books and, over time, became reserved and to an extent, withdrawn. Making friends was awkward and I’d be deathly nervous in any situation that shone the spotlight on me, yet, funnily enough, I was still able to put on a magnificent display of being the happy go lucky social butterfly who always had her shit together. My father, sensing that all was “not right”, made many attempts to enrol me in personal development seminars. These admittedly helped, but the desolation never left… Not even with extensive counselling or being assigned a mentor to offer guidance. My little blue friend (invisible to others) always remained.
Fast forward many years later, I continued being the “vibes-master” of any group. I met someone, built a relationship, had children and with that came many fun and trying experiences, but through it all, there was always a deep sense of emptiness and turmoil within. I’d often feel as though I was in the middle of a tornado and entertained suicidal thoughts because I never felt my life had a true sense of direction, purpose or stability.
It was like I was just here killing time and going with the flow, until I suffered a “mental break” that summer (2015) one day in my car. In a moment of desperation, I found myself at rock bottom trying to end it all. I was tired. There was always too much to be done for everyone else and it had to be perfect.
When news of my breakdown got out, the most common response was, “Wow! I would never have known. She always seems so together, so on top of things, always smiling.” Little did they know behind this, there were feelings of self-hate and low self-esteem. I was woefully unhappy with everything — my life, my job, my husband, my kids— because, for the most part, I never truly believed I deserved to be happy, so whenever I was, I convinced myself it wouldn’t last and made no sense to enjoy it or get used to it.
As a mother, my ‘friend’ was an eager companion in my daily life. I’d ensure everything was in place at home… cleaned till ungodly hours of the night on a Sunday, despite having work the next day and my ankles crying out from sheer exhaustion, (admittedly, I am still guilty of this). Pressed myself to capacity and beyond in everything I did, because anything less than was unacceptable, and asking for help was out of the question – in fact, it never even crossed my mind.
I neglected spending money on myself because I didn’t think I was worth it, and occupied every waking minute with thinking of something I could do for someone else, as that was the only way I thought I mattered. I loved my kids fiercely, but pushed myself to be perfect and if I failed just a smidgen, I’d plunge into an abyss. Some days the self-loathing was so much that it took great effort to get through the day and I thought my children would be better off without me.
‘Blue’ was also an unwelcome passenger in my relationship. Though I loved my husband, we argued constantly and it only got worse when I was pregnant with my second child. He’d say I was acting crazy and always needed to feel miserable or unhappy, I contended that I gave so much and did not feel duly compensated in return. In retrospect, I realise I gave so much of myself that it was impossible for him to measure up. I needed to find my own happiness before I could find it in ‘us’.
That summer, after a complete psychiatric evaluation, I learned that I suffered from depression. Though I wasn’t completely surprised at this diagnosis, I was relieved to now have a name for what I felt, and the focus from this point on was getting better. As part of my recovery, I had to rediscover my worth and accept who I was. For a long time, I defined my identity as the roles I played— sister, daughter, wife, mother etc. and forgot how essential having “me” time was.
I had to shed a lot of baggage and it was hard, because without it, who was I? I had to learn to approach problems differently and drastically change my mindset, which takes conscious effort every day, learn that seeking perfection is futile. Not completing a task or making a mistake is not the end of the world, but a reminder to allow myself to accept the support of others. It was humbling, because for the first time in thirty years, I could truly see myself.
Several therapy sessions later, after many battles fought within, with family, and a foray into the world of anti-depressants (which I very quickly realised weren’t for me), I’m proud to now be in a better place… Not “cured” by any means, but having taken a good, hard look at my life, I am more comfortable with who I am, can vocalise what I like about myself and fully understand my worth. There is a sense of peace now that I never had before.Yes, there are times when I still feel the tornado, but now when I look up amidst the darkness and turmoil, I can make out a small light.
Sometimes a sloppy kiss from my two-year-old or a dramatic recount of the day from my eight-year-old is just enough to heal a dark day. Sometimes I am scared because I see so much of myself in my eight-year-old, the same competitive spirit and the need to be right, or the constant spirited behavior of my two-year-old… but I know now that it’s okay to not have it all together or figured out. Some days it is easy, other days, it feels impossible. I still struggle with the concept of “me time” and letting things go, but making positive moves in the right direction. I love my kids and husband, but now there’s space in my heart to love me too.
The journey to self-acceptance
In my own struggle with mental health challenges, I’ve come to hate the term “mental illness”, because like so many of society’s labels, its main purpose is to put us warriors in the typical one-size-fits-all box. Having done extensive reading on mental illnesses and the many ways one can become affected by hereditary, chemical, hormonal, traumatic experiences, I think as individuals, we need to be more accepting of one another’s thought processes. Based on our experiences or genetic makeup, we will learn differently, feel differently, process things differently and think differently. For some of us, it is a learning curve and we can stumble, but it doesn’t make us ‘less than’.
As with many other illnesses or medical conditions, rehabilitation sometimes means learning to accept your affliction, understand the affected parts differently or a change in lifestyle all together… I had to re-learn how to use my mind and see me and everyone around me differently. Today, my greatest role of all the hats I wear is still ‘mummy’, but at least now, I know the first “M” in mummy stands for me.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or worthless, hopeless feelings (or suspect the same of someone you know), please know that you are not alone. Click here for help.