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How I Began to Learn and Heal From 40 Years of Accumulated Depression

I had done it 2,080 times before — woken up on a Monday. But this Monday was different. Devastatingly different. April 3, 2017 — four days into my 40th year.

The sun refused to expose itself, leaving a chill in the air, and the rain tapping on the roof. As I lay in bed, unable to move and writhing in pain, I wept loudly, uncontrollably.

This was a deep, dark, aggressive, infectious pain. Experience had told me it started with the misfiring of my synapses, but during the previous four days, it crept silently through my body, encasing my heart and entangling my soul. The pain, so intense; every inch of my body, devoid of joy, filled with sorrow.

My mind flickered over the images I had seen. The hundreds of photographs documenting a life seemingly well-lived. The droves of people who arrived to celebrate the milestone of this girl. And I continued to weep. I wept for this girl I did not know. I wept for this girl who did not ask for this life. Any life.

For 96 hours I wept in the confines of my bedroom, unable to focus on anything but the deep dark emptiness within. But Friday came. Just as it had 2,080 times before. And when the sun rose, so did I.

The fog of my mind had slowly begun to lift. The human instinct of fight or flight arrived. And I had a choice to make: I would fight.

And so began my journey.

We all have an inner voice. Do you hear it? What does it tell you? Is it kind? Does it tell you you’re beautiful and capable? Or does it fill you with self-doubt? Fear? Hatred?

I began to hear my inner voice, my nemesis, my very own Mr. Hyde. This voice that had been silently speaking to me, guiding my beliefs and my choices. This voice inside of me with only one clear message: you are not lovable.

Desperately searching for answers, guidance, an anecdote for the pain that had become so deeply entrenched in my being, I turned to the comfort I had always known: Books. The written word has always been able to reach me, to speak to me, to bring order to my otherwise chaotic mind.

I happened upon a quote by Pema Chodron that resonated with me: “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” So simple, yet filled with such truth. And so that beckoned the question, “What is there and what do I so desperately need to learn?”

We are all a sum of our experiences. Our experiences, positive or negative, silently creep into our psyche and bury themselves. Oh, how deeply they bury themselves into our subconscious — the words that have been spoken to us, the issues left unresolved — and they become our truth. We allow them to reside there, comfortably, without challenge. They then speak to us, through our inner voice, and guide our thoughts, our choices, our beliefs. And we let them.

To release pain, we must identify the pain. We must relive the pain, and painful it is. Memories flooded me, And I was transported back to these times. And whether I was 5, 8, 12, 21, 32 or 38, I realized the accumulated pain was very much alive and contently dwelling within. These moments, these memories, had an agenda I had not realized. They were my teachers and it was time for me to become their student.

I began to have visions of the wild-eyed, idealistic dreamer I was as a small child, writing story after fantastical story at my grandmother’s kitchen table. I could feel the comfort of the small, safe room, the cushion slipping off the hard chair, the laughter of my grandfather from the adjacent room, and I could taste the hot cocoa and buttered toast being served. And I could remember possibilities. Possibilities of being anything I dreamed I could be. What happened to that girl?

Outside the confines of that safe two-family flat was a cruel world — a world that would teach me I was average, I was not pretty, I had an unfortunate nose, I was awkward, I was overweight. A world that would teach me that people who are supposed to love you do not always, or are incapable of showing it. A world where these people will abandon you, time after time. A world of heartbreak. A world that will harden you. A world that will not celebrate the life you have been given. A world where you are one of 7 billion people on this planet, and there is nothing particularly special about you.

I developed an incessant need for control, for order. Control was my protector. I would carefully enter into arrangements where I knew the outcome. No surprises. My relationships were superficial because people and their behaviors were unpredictable. And if people knew me, the real me, they would learn what I already knew — that I simply was not good enough.

As control was my protector, food was my comforter. Food can temporarily fill a void. And as that void continues to deepen, the solution is simple; keep eating. But the vastness of that void continues and you become entwined in a dangerous relationship. And your secret becomes exposed as your body begins to swell and becomes your fortress. It is a consuming relationship, yet a safety net and a barrier to real feelings. It tells you it is acceptable if people do not like you because of your outward appearance, you haven’t let them in and they are not rejecting who you are fundamentally. They have not seen past your surface, a surface you have carefully orchestrated.

Humor, my deflector. A bold, brash, witty girl, with a well-timed joke and a boisterous laugh, is welcomed company by most. An invitation to lunches, dinner parties; an invitation to the center stage, albeit fabricated. And self-deprecating humor… well, that is the finest deflector of all. A proactive tactic; I will belittle myself before you can.

And there is the running and chasing. The never-ending game of running from someone who is trying to enter your fortress, to put a chink in your armor that you have designed for protection. Because vulnerability is a feeling you cannot physically tolerate. And the chasing of something, someone, anything, to bring you a semblance of comfort.

This led to the awakening of an overweight 40-year-old woman who did not know herself, did not like herself. A 40-year-old woman who knew this would be the end of her path, or the beginning of a new one.

The work is hard. It’s brutal. Gut-wrenching. The peeling back of 40 years of layers, but there was no other choice. My goal became a healthy mind and body.

Because we live in a scientific society, there are truths we know but ignore. Simple truths, such as a body in motion stays in motion, and in order to do so, we must provide our bodies with the proper fuel. It isn’t rocket science, yet a terribly hard truth to accept.

I began to exercise. I was breathless, had limited mobility and it was physically painful. Over time and with persistence, the physical pain began to ease and my body began to move in a way I didn’t know it was capable. This would not alone work. I was still relying on food for comfort and my inner voice was still badgering me with negative thoughts as it always had.

I needed to address the food, my beloved partner, my longtime companion. And as I began to do things, such as only eat when I was physically hungry, I cried. I mean, I sobbed. Without excessive food, I was exposed and raw. I was overwhelmed by emotional pain I had long buried, and without my food pacifier, it was rearing its ugly head. I needed help.

Therapy. Weekly, I would sit in a room, with a stranger, and divulge the ugliest parts of me. He assured me time and again, “Change your thoughts, change your behavior.” This is much easier said than done. I had to forgive. I had to forgive people who hurt me, and mostly, I had to forgive myself. I wrote letters. I furiously put pen to paper documenting all my hurt, in the most hateful ways imaginable. How incredibly cathartic. I read the letters, and re-read the letters until I was satisfied. And then I burned them. And as the fire started slowly in the corners of the pages and the smoke began to rise, a deep burden began to lift from my soul.

I continued to fuel my body properly, to exercise, attend therapy, and I encountered many extremely difficult days. In fact, months of extremely difficult days. The pain was rising to the surface at an alarming rate and I had to make a decision. I had to decide to move forward. I had to embrace the pain, feel it in its entirety, nurture it, give it the attention it had long deserved, and then release it. I began to consistently hear my inner voice, and I began to challenge it — fight back, tell that voice it was wrong.

I started to become physically healthy. My body was becoming strong and powerful and my mind was slowly following suit. As the weight began to drop off, I developed a mantra of how I wanted to feel, and every day said aloud to myself: “I am free, light and confident.” And low and behold, someone new started to emerge.

Someone I daresay I liked. Someone who was strong and kind and humorous and daring and independent. Someone who had gone through the fire and was reborn. Someone who would live her next 40 years very differently than the first. Someone who was indeed lovable because she now loved herself.

As the 42nd anniversary of my birth is impending, I will celebrate. I will celebrate the joy, the laughter, the pain and the tears. And I will embrace all of it, as they are all the beautiful byproducts of life. And I will continue my journey knowing, “I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my soul.”

Photo by Cheron James on Unsplash