Something happened, gradually at first, like tiny pinpricks I wasn’t even sure were real. Then, over time, the pricks got stronger and more painful — so much so that the anguish began to impede my life in all the big and small ways; the debilitating anxiety that I’d worked so hard to quell (and had successfully done so, for the most part), came rushing back stronger than it had ever been.
Looking back, I’m so sick about this — I let someone else get the better of me; I reacted deeply to someone else’s “stuff”, and I let that “stuff” affect me and even shift my view of myself.
I let this person, their perception and consequent treatment of me, sink deep into my soul.
Sadly, it wasn’t just me who suffered. It was all those around me: my friends, who got a duller, more anxious, lesser version of me; my husband, who spent countless days and nights holding me through tears and talking relentlessly about it all; and worst of all, my kids, who were stuck with a mom who was never truly present, because I was always “dealing with it” and managing my confusion and anxiety. I was in an endless cycle that I had the power to stop… but was too terrified to do so.
By the end, the mental and physical anguish became too much to bear: the panic attacks, migraines, upset stomach. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep… I simply couldn’t function.
But when it finally ended, the calm and relief were instant. Within minutes, I once again remembered that I had a voice and that I was strong and worthy.
In the days, weeks and months that have passed, I’ve spent a lot of time questioning my own self, and why I would allow myself to feel so inferior and ashamed for so long. What was it in me that made me give my power away so willingly? And why was I so scared to yank it back?
I have anxiety, it’s true. But I also work very hard to manage it. Over the course of my life, there’s been some key instances when it has spiked to extreme levels: when I suffered a brain bleed and almost died, when my father passed away, after the birth of all my children when I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety… and then throughout this situation.
I crawled my way back to the light after each of those harrowing experiences, yet the difference between those circumstances and this is that this one was preventable. Along the way there signs, and they got bigger, bolder and more obtrusive. I could have — and should have — stood up for myself, and the family I wanted so badly to have the confidence to lead, shape and nourish.
And that’s just it… I didn’t have the confidence. I didn’t trust myself — how could I? It wasn’t long ago I was in the pit of despair, willing myself to make it just another day. I was sure the only way I or my family would survive would be to have help — support.
But what happens when that support turns toxic and leads you right back where you started?
Instead, I found myself entangled in someone else’s narrative, and managed to became the villain in that story — a story I never had any business being a part of.
The person writing these words today is much too strong for all of that. I’ve reclaimed my life, and finally live without the pain of judgement and shame for all the choices I make (and don’t make), the paralyzing fear of unintentionally angering and offending, the discomfort of walking on eggshells in my own space, and the constant exhaustion of trying to overcompensate and please.
I am back to the real, true me once again. The me that knows I’m a good, yet also imperfect person who makes mistakes; who realizes it’s up to me and my partner to make choices about our children and family — and even if they are the wrong choices, we make them in LOVE and together learn from our mistakes and foster resilience and flexibility in our kids and ourselves; the me who knows I sincerely care about others, and would do just about anything to do right by people; the me who knows this is my domain, and that, from now on, those who disrespect this safe haven I call home — and the people in it (including myself) — are not welcome to stay.
In the end, though incredibly painful, this experience has taught me so much about myself, my insecurities, my triggers, my capabilities and my worth. That’s the positive. I vow to myself, and all those who have stood by me, to never, ever lose myself this way again — even if I feel desperate; even if I feel scared. It’s okay to ask for help, but it’s not alright to hand over the car keys and allow someone to drive you off the cliff.
I can happily say that, despite the chaos in the world, after several years, I feel hopeful and joyful once again. Now I realize (and am wholly confident in the fact) that together, my husband, children and I are the ones who get to author and shape our family’s life and experiences. Just as we love honoring, supporting and being part of all of our friends’ stories, we, too, welcome our loved ones’ to share in our journeys.
And that’s the healthy, beautiful boundary — we don’t make those we love feel “less than”, like they’re making poor choices or that we could do a better job of leading their lives than they could. Rather, we cheer them on, we relish in their successes, we stand by them through their losses and we offer loving guidance when needed, without wishing for credit in return. We make those we love feel strong and worthy, because they are.
And after it all, I can say with confidence that I too am strong and worthy.