To Myself, When Recovery From Depression Is ‘Sink or Swim’
I have been struggling with mental illness my entire life. Just recently, I began writing and speaking out about my struggles with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well. I’ve been shouting from the mountaintops to anyone who could hear, hoping not only to help others understand but to battle the stigma attached to mental illness, as well. When I was approached by another author to write a segment for his upcoming book about depression and recovery, naturally, I jumped at the chance.
You see, when my world fell apart, I had two choices: It was either sink or swim, live or die. Though a large part of me wanted more than anything to surrender in order for the pain stop, there was this little kernel inside of me screaming to never give up, never give in. I mustered every ounce of strength I possessed and began to fight like I’ve never fought before. I began to write about all I’ve been through. I wrote like my life depended on it because in so many ways it did. By pulling my demons out into the light and exposing them, I felt I was finally able to begin to heal. I had found my voice. Writing had become my passion, my life blood.
I published a book about my life. I began blogging, as well, hoping to reach out to those struggling with depression themselves so they would know they were not alone. I found myself writing to help others understand mental illness and to speak for those without a voice. With each new piece I published, I hoped to start a dialogue and reduce the stigma. While I found some healing in trying to help others through my writing, the focus had shifted off of myself. I was no longer writing for myself; I was writing for a cause.
When a fellow author asked me to contribute something to his project, a book set to be published next year, it was enormously huge for me. He wanted me to write a letter to someone out there struggling. To let them know I understand. To give them encouragement and inspiration to hold on, be brave, be strong and continue to fight on. The idea of such a letter struck a chord with me. Everyone deserves something like that. Unfortunately, though, what you deserve and what you get are sometimes entirely different things. I could wait a lifetime and never receive such a letter from anyone else. So I decided to write one to myself.
Today, I go full circle and return to where I first began, first found my voice. I shift my focus inward and once again make myself a priority. It is so much easier to reach out to others with encouragement than to face my own nightmares. The truth, however, is I must face my own demons if I have any hope of slaying them. Once again, it is sink or swim time, live or die. While it terrifies me to look inward, I am not ready to surrender quite yet. I have too much living still to do. I deserve to matter. I deserve encouragement. I deserve hope. And so I write to myself:
I know you are scared. You’ve been through so much in life and are so tired of fighting, of struggling and of hurting, but you have to be brave and hold on. You’re so much stronger than you know. You’ve come so far in life. So many people have tried to break you, yet here you still are, still surviving, still holding on.
All your life, you’ve had people saying you were unwanted, unlovable, broken, damaged and a waste of space. You’ve let other people define you and determine your worth. You’ve bought into every cruel word they’ve spoken, believed every lie. You need to stop listening to others and begin listening to yourself. Listen with your heart.
All your life, you’ve faced abuse from others. People have laid their hands on you in anger, treating you like a punching bag instead of a person. Men and boys have touched you in ways a little girl should never be touched. Their abuses have stolen your identity, broken your will until you felt more like an object for others to use and abuse than as a person. You never deserved that.
Everyone you’ve allowed yourself to love has torn your heart out and stomped on it. You’ve begun to believe that love and pain go hand in hand, and sooner or later, everyone leaves. They’ve made you feel like you’re not enough so often that you’ve begun to believe it. You internalize their actions, always blaming yourself for never measuring up. Even when they’ve cheated, you believe somehow you’re at fault. You’re not. You never were.
You were taught young to put up walls. Never let anyone see what hurts you because it makes it that much easier for them to hurt you next time. Never let anyone in. Never be vulnerable. You are so terrified of letting yourself be hurt that you walk around numb, afraid to feel anything at all.
You’re so used to hurting inside that you’re not sure how to feel anything else. Though you paint on a smile so others don’t worry, you’re always crying inside. You’re not even sure what happiness is most days. You’re afraid of letting it in because it’s always fleeting. Happiness never seems to last. You greet it with wary suspicion because you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Though others have abused you and broken your spirit more times than you can count, you’ve picked up where they left off. You need to own that sweetie. You’re harder on yourself than anyone else has ever been. You’ve let them all convince you that you’re worthless so you treat yourself as such. You beat yourself up for everything, regardless of whether or not it was even your fault. While you’re able to accept the flaws and mistakes of others, you tear yourself down for every misstep and every defect. You never give yourself any breaks. You need to stop that. You’re slowly killing bits of yourself every bit as much as all their abuses have. Please, be kind to yourself.
In so many ways, you’ve surrendered to your depression. You’ve accepted that this is just how your life shall always be. You’ve begun thinking of it as something familiar, akin to a friend. Your depression is not your friend sweetie. It is not there to comfort you or help you. Your depression speaks in lies. It wants to beat you, to break you, to tear you into little pieces, shattering you so badly you can never recover. You need to stop being polite and welcoming it in. You need to stop accepting it as your reality, your lot in life and fight it. It only has power and control over you if you let it.
I know you’re terrified of life, of letting anyone else in and of being hurt again. You’re scared to death that you’re not strong enough. So many times you’ve cried out, “No more! No mas!” positive you could not survive anymore heartache, sure that any more abuse would kill you. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to be vulnerable, but never let your fear keep you from fighting.
Whenever you’re not feeling strong enough, you need to remind yourself of everything you’ve survived in life. Keep reminding yourself of your strength. You are a hurricane, a tornado, a force to be reckoned with. You’ve been battling monsters and demons for more than 40 years now, and you’re still going strong. There is not anything you cannot overcome.
I know you’re scared, too, of putting your heart out there again and that is OK. Love will come again in time. Don’t give up on it. Don’t let the actions of a few bad apples make you jaded or close off your heart. Love is a beautiful thing, and you deserve it in your life. You deserve to be loved and cherished with as much fervor as you have always given everyone else. Just make sure to learn from your mistakes next time. Never again settle.
You need to let go of all those negative labels others have used to define you because none of them are even remotely true. You are fierce. You are beautiful. You are smart. You are strong. You are a warrior. You are a survivor. You are an incredible person Beth. You have such a warm, loving heart. No matter how much other people have broken it, you always manage to reach out to help others. You have so much to give to the world, Beth, and to yourself. You are a blessing.
Stay strong. Always keep fighting. Never give up. The world needs you in it. Your children need you. You need yourself.
With all the love you deserve in this world,
Image via Thinkstock.
This post originally appeared on Unlovable.