Dec 5, 2012

On being me

Hello, my name is Heidi and I regularly pay someone to color my hair.  This is what that looks like.

So this morning I was telling my therapist (yeah, you heard me, now let's just move on) that I feel like I'm meeting myself for the first time.  As she helps me work through the mostly-self-imposed drama in my life, I'm slowly uncovering the real me...the girl who hasn't seen the light of day in a long time.  In the process I'm learning a few things.

Numero Uno: It's OK to just be me.  I love that in Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, her first strategy for having a happy life is to accept herself for who she is.  I feel more comfortable being myself on this blog than I do anywhere else.  I am not really sure why.  Is it the online medium?  The act of writing out my thoughts?  The feedback from all of you?  

You all definitely get my real life right here.  I don't share everything (like I've been seeing a mental health professional for seven months and precious few of you had any idea, right?), but I try to share the universal ups and downs of my life.  I'm not perfect, and I never will be, and my kids never will be, and my life never will be (and this sentence never will be, because I'm pretty sure it shouldn't end with "be").  My house and van and purse and fridge will probably always be messy.  And it's all OK.

Secondly, I'm not totally sure who "me" is.  My mom bought me some clothes when she visited recently.  I was completely astonished at the girl in the mirror wearing cute, trendy clothes that actually fit her figure.  I felt like sticking my arm through the mirror and shaking that girl's hand.  "Nice to meet you.  Come sit a while and tell me about yourself. What are your hopes and dreams?  Not for your kids or your husband...but for YOU? Aside from where you got those fabulous boots, that's what I really want to know." Because I don't know that about myself.  And I didn't know it until recently.  What do I want for MY life?  I'm not sure.

The third thing is that it's OK to have opinions and ideas and feelings and desires that aren't 100% selfless.  My little soul is like a cup, and things like good health and lots of rest and exercise and meaningful relationships and spiritual things are all drops that fill the cup.  When my cup is full, it is easier for me to share myself and do for others.  But when my cup is so bone dry that the ceramic itself is cracking, then I just don't have anything to give.  So doing things that fill my cup--and no one else's--is not selfish.  It's necessary.  This is kind of like the night I drove my van with the "empty" light on until the vehicle started to shudder and sputter.  I was too busy to stop at the gas station until I was nearly stranded on the side of the road.  The parallel to my life was painfully clear.

Number four: I love to GIVE a surprise gift, but I don't love receiving surprises.  I like the predictable, the linear, the safe, the comfortable.  Maybe that means I'm not spontaneous and carefree, but I am super reliable.  We all have different talents.

The sixth thing I have learned is that the standards I set for myself are generally much higher and certainly less realistic than standards anyone else might set for me.  (I know I skipped Thing Five; let's just embrace imperfection here.)  This goes back to Brene' Brown's thoughts on shame and perceptions.  I want my family to perceive the Christmas season, for example, as magical and fun, service-oriented, and rich with tradition.  And in my mind, to achieve those standards, my family must engage in several specific annual rituals, buy/give/receive certain kinds of gifts, eat like kings, participate in meaningful acts of service, focus on Christ instead of Santa Claus, wear matching church clothes, give the kids beautiful ornaments and pajamas on Christmas Eve, mail clever and witty and honest and positive-but-not-boastful [read: impossible to write] family update letters to our 100 closest friends, and, of course, take gobs of gorgeous pictures to document the entire season. None of these things are bad; in fact, many are wonderful and truly fun. That doesn't mean I need to feel pressure from all of them. In reality, my kids want lots of presents, and maybe to frost cookies and play in the snow. Everything else is a) invented by me; b) expected by me and me only; and c) carried out almost entirely by--you guessed it--me.  It doesn't have to be this way.

Lesson Seven: People can't read my mind.  If I want them to know how I feel, I have to open my mouth.  This has been an unbelievably difficult step for me.

The eighth and probably most important thing I have learned is that depression is not a character flaw.  I do not feel like this because I'm not trying hard enough.  I am not less of a person because I don't see sunshine and roses everywhere I look.  I don't really like (OK...I really don't like) that I need medication (yep) and therapy.  But I do.  There's no shame in getting physical therapy for an injured leg, and there's no shame in getting psychotherapy for the treatment-resistant depression that colors my life.  I'm tired of this part of my life being an ugly, shameful secret.  I have totally come to terms with it.  Well, that's not completely true. I really have accepted that this is part of my life, but that doesn't mean I have embraced it as a wonderful addition.

Now.  I imagine that many of you are shocked by my frankness and will feel awkward the next time we encounter each other.  But I also think that a lot of you are walking along the very same road and feel like you're the only traveler in that dark and abysmal place.  To all of you I say this: You're not alone, and if you want to talk about it, I'm here for you.

Editor's note: Two weeks after writing this post, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.  It's a whole different animal than depression.  It has a totally different treatment plan, has a different prognosis, and definitely a different stigma attached.  Ten months later, I have not fully come to terms with this part of my life, even though it has been part of my life for all of my life, even though I didn't know it.  It's been a rocky year, with many medication experiments failures.  Fortunately the roller coaster does find a level stretch now and then.  I guess the goal is for the hills and valleys to be less extreme and farther apart.  Until then, I'm holding on tight and grateful for those willing to ride along with me.  <October 6, 2013>
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