Happy New Year everyone!
A lot has happened in the last few weeks, it has been the beginning of a lot of changes and self-realizations. I suppose it started a couple weeks ago when I hit rock-bottom emotionally. Since moving home, I have slowly fallen into a depression, similar to those I have experienced in the past. This time, however, I decided I just couldn’t keep letting myself feel this way, that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep doing this alone. So I decided to start going to therapy, and it was absolutely the best decision I have made.
Now I debated on whether or not I wanted to openly write about this journey and about my mental health, afraid I was exposing too much and fearing that I would be judged harshly for not being enough. Then, through some reading I have been doing lately, I came to the realisation that in order for me to heal and become stronger as a person I needed to live in vulnerability, I need to own my imperfections and not be ashamed by them. So that is why I am writing, to stand tall and transparent and believe that I deserve to be here.
I should probably give some context although I would like to be sensitive about this part because I do not want to hurt anyone, especially my family, by my openness. I want to preface this by saying that I think both of my parents are good people and that I think they did the best they could with who they were when I was growing up. That being said, my childhood was turbulent and dysfunctional. Due to some pretty bad events in my past, experiences of neglect, abandonment, and verbal abuse caused me, at a really young age, to grow up and face things that no child should have to face. As a result, I have become a perfectionist plagued by anxiety and sometimes depression. I have come to realise that I internalise criticism and often fall into shame. And I am tired of feeling useless.
So as I said before, I have started therapy. It is actually a pretty interesting kind of therapy. Instead of your typical talk therapy (which I have tried before and was fairly disappointed with because I need more than just introspection) I have decided to undergo trauma therapy, which focuses intently on desensitising trigger memories and emotions. So basically the way I understand it is when we experience events in our life our brain processes those memories two ways, it processes the actual event (the facts and details of what happened) and it also processes the emotions associated with that event. When we experience a trauma, however, and trauma doesn’t have to be some big catastrophic event most often it is something small, our brains have a tendency not to process the information correctly. Instead of processing both the event and the emotions, our brains process the emotion disconnected from the associated event. In this way when we get something that subconsciously triggers that event, we experience all of those emotions without being able to recall that they are stemming from that event. So we just feel all these bad things and are not always aware why. When you have multiple traumas it creates this string of disconnected emotions causing our neurological system to essentially go haywire for no reason. The trauma therapy, in essence, forces us to reassociate those events with said emotions, desensitising them and essentially re-sorting the information in our brains. This type of therapy has been seen to be highly effective in people with PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression. I also like it because it’s constructed in a way where I hopefully won’t have to turn to medication which I have always been reluctant to try.
So I just started this and already it has been incredibly insightful. One of the first sessions we went trough my family tree and talked about all the different relationships and issues present. It was incredibly helpful to see that I am just part of a long process of dysfunction. I know that may sound weird, but given my family background, it is no wonder I am facing issues. Not to say that that is an excuse to not take responsibility for my own actions, it just makes me feel like I am a little bit less crazy.
After the family tree, we are now beginning to establish all of my traumas. This may sound depressing, but I have to go through and make a timeline of my life and write down everything bad that has ever happened to me. So that is what I am working on at the moment.
I was also given some reading to do, and both of these books have been so incredibly helpful in shifting the way I think about my mental health. The first is Parenting From the Inside Out: How Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children That Thrive, it is definitely a book that everyone should read before they have kids, but it is also extremely useful for those people that had dysfunctional childhoods and need to learn to re-parent themselves. It also is really helping me understand my own parents and understand where the hurt comes from. I have learned that it has nothing to do with me, I was just an innocent bystander caught in the fire of uncontrollable emotional baggage. Again, this is not to make excuses, but to understand that my self-worth is not tied to my childhood.
The second book I am reading is a lot more empowering. It is called I Thought It Was Just (Me But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What Will People Think’ to ‘I am Enough” By Brene Brown (I have also been listening to some podcasts by her) Brene’s writing is incredibly powerful. She discusses shame, which was not a way I would have previously described the way I felt and what I was experiencing, but after reading it, I think it is spot on. She defines shame as:
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore, unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Shame is not guilt. The difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between ‘I am bad’ (shame) and ‘I did something bad’ (guilt)’
It is not really fun realising you feel this way about yourself, but I definitely do feel this way in certain aspects of my life. I truly believe now that shame is the basis for all of the anxiety and depression I feel. So I suppose the question then is, how do we overcome? From what I understand, there are three things we can do to be more resilient to shame.
One of the most interesting concepts Berne talks about is the idea that joy is the most difficult emotion to feel because in order to truly experience joy we must be in place of complete vulnerability. Think about it, how many times in your life have you started to feel joyful about something and then got scared and felt threatened because you were waiting for the other shoe to drop. In order to be fully emersed in joy, we must abandon fear and be completely open to the possibility that we might lose that joy. That is why we, or at least, I choose instead to live in disappointment, I would rather stay at a constant level of disappointment than risk being disappointed. It’s like beating the bad shit to the punch, it can’t hurt you if you expect it and wait for it to happen. But we all know this is not the best way to live, we miss out on life’s greatest moments because we are too busy battening down the hatches for a storm that may or may not come. I will give you a perfect example of this from my life. When I was with my ex every time we would have a special day planned, a birthday, anniversary, or vacation, I would always end up being in a bad mood or picking a ‘fight’ (we never actually fought per say, but our version of it) and it would just ruin the day. For the longest time, I could not figure out what I felt so compelled to do this until recently I realised it was because I was beating disappointment to the punch. I really wanted those days and events to be special but I was so afraid to be let down that I showed up with an attitude that ensured we were going to have an unenjoyable time. I look back now and realise how sad it is that I was not able to be more vulnerable and open myself to the possibility of joy (as well as rejection) in those moments.
Actively Practice Gratitude
The second factor in becoming more resilient to shame is by actively practicing gratitude daily. This is also extremely important when attempting to be more vulnerable as well. When we actively practice gratitude, when we take time out of our day to really dwell on what we are thankful for, potential disappointment is not as threatening. The most important aspect of this is to ACTIVELY practice gratitude. That means writing it down, talking about it or expressing what makes you grateful daily. This is one of my intentions for the new year, to actively practice gratitude daily through this blog as well as my daily planner. I feel like expressing it in both these forums allows for me to express it openly as well as show personal gratitude for those things that are more personal and intimate in my life.
Know Your Body In Shame
This final step has been one of the most interesting for me. I mean we have all been told how important it is to eat well, exercise regularly and blah blah to maintain our mental health, but I have always had a tendency to disregard this. I think that a lot of women and men, but particularly women, struggle with issues of shame around body image. This is actually one area in which I feel pretty secure and confident about. I like the way I look and am happy with all of my body’s imperfections. That being the case I have really had little regard for paying much attention to what I eat and how much exercise I get. That is until my therapist made me realize that when you suffer from anxiety your body is extremely susceptible to outside AND inside stimuli. What we eat, how much sleep, and how much exercise we get impacts our mental health. I mean duh. But in order to become more resilient to shame, we must go beyond just eating healthy and exercising, we must understand how our bodies react in shame. So I have been trying to really be conscious of how my body reacts and feels throughout the day. When I start to feel anxious what does by body do? My stomach turns and my nervous system heightened, my chest feels tight and I feel like I am suffocating, my body feels like it is vibrating a different frequency than the rest of the world. By understanding the initial feeling, that stomach turning chest tightening feeling I can then be more aware of when I am going into shame and anxiety. By understanding the initial physical symptoms, we can take action through awareness.
These are some of the things that I have started to learn about myself and about this process of self-healing. I hope to write more about this process in the coming weeks and months as writing is very cathartic for me and perhaps my journey might be relatable to someone else and it is nice to not feel alone. Emotional isolation is one of the most dangerous things, and depression should not (and probably cannot) be dealt with alone. So that is one of my intentions, as well as the actively practicing gratitude daily. Along with this, I wanted to write down some other intentions or focuses for the year. These are not resolutions per say, but instead, areas of my life I would like to focus on in order to bring more joy and develop further as a person.
Spend more time in nature
Two years ago when I came home from traveling I fell into a similar depression. What helped me pull myself out of it was connecting with nature, being in nature. Hiking, camping, climbing are some of the things I love most in life, but I rarely do them. They take effort and time and intention. I know this is an area I need to devote more time too. I feel most grounded when I am connected with the earth. Out there life is simple and it is easy to be in the moment. So my intention for the year is to spend more time in nature, maybe even set a goal of trying to get out of doors every week or every other week. I don’t want to be too rigid with my goals and plans because I am trying to step away from perfectionism and planning and embrace living in the moment. With that being said NATURE will be a major focus this year.
Have an attitude of exploration
I contemplated writing travel, but that does not really encompass what I want to focus one. Instead, I would like to focus on having an attitude or curiosity everywhere I go. Part of the problem with reverse culture shock is it makes you feel like you have come home to boring monotony. This is fucking depressing. I actively go into situations with less enthusiasm because they are familiar and I have associated familiar with suffocating and boring. Again, not the best way to live. So it is my intention this year to approach situations with curiosity, to play the tourist even at home, to have an attitude of exploration about every new experience.
Embrace sensuality, sexuality, and self-love
It is my intention this year to embrace my sensual self, to further expand my sexual desires, and to actively practice self-love. I follow this woman Ev’Yan on Instagram who write exclusively on these topics and I absolutely love her unashamed and uninhibited attitude towards her body and herself in sensuality. This means masturbating more, experimenting and pushing sexual limits and actively loving and worshiping yourself. I enjoy sex and consider myself a very sexual person, but I want to see where that can take me, I would like to be uninhibited, empowered, and radiant in my sensuality. Embracing self-love, vulnerability, and openness in this area are vital to that.
Focus on wellness, meditation, and healing
Part of this intention is to continue to work through therapy and to devote time and attention to treating my mind, body, and soul with love and attention. This includes meditating regularly and showing gratitude to my body through meditation. Sensual stretching/yoga to help combat my anxiety and to help my body be more open to new experiences. It means eating well and having an awareness of how what I choose to put in my body impacts my mental and physical well-being. Drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. These all seem simple, but that I think is the key for me this year, simplicity and gratitude.
This has become an incredibly long post and it is a very vulnerable one. I hope to continue to write more on these topics and to do so in an authentic and genuine way. But for now, I will end this here.
Wishing everyone the happiest of new years!