Saturday, May 21, 2016

Taking a Mental Health Year... or Two

In light of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I'd break my silence with a confession.

I have been hiding a secret from everyone for years.  I suffer from anxiety and depression and have been dealing with it in silence for most of my life.  I was officially diagnosed with it in my early 20's but I suffered from the age of 11.  Having cancer, losing my hair, my school friends, my mother to alcohol, siblings hating on me and dealing with death every week when someone else I met died. I was too busy surviving to let depression get me. It's one of the side effects of chemotherapy as well.  I certainly was a strong kid.

The depression hit me at it's worst from the age of 21-25. I went through a period of agoraphobia where the thought of being around crowds of people gave me such intense feelings of anxiety, I barely left my apartment for 3 months.  The depression was heavy and dark and I battled suicidal thoughts daily.  It was a very difficult time but when I reached out to my family for help, was told to "snap out of it".  "Life is hard, just deal with it."

So I did and I learnt that I couldn't depend on my family for emotional support.  I saw therapists for years and took medications to help boost my mood. The side effects of the medications were horrible.  I was taking one to counter the effects of another.  I lost my zest for life in every way.  I lost my desire for sex.  I was too young to be messing with my hormones.  No one tells us what the long term effects of taking these drugs are. My body had already been through so much, drugs were not my friend. I sabotaged my relationships, rejecting love so that love didn't reject me.  The hardest years were between 1997-2006.  It's probably no coincidence that I started practising yoga regularly in 2007.

Somehow, I got through it.  It took some extreme life changes - moving across the globe to start a new life in New Zealand was the first step.  Some people thought I was running from my problems but intuitively I knew it was the only way to re-create myself.  I was not free to be my authentic self in my "old" life.  I felt I was living a lie, trying to please everyone else but I didn't have a clue who I was.  The only way for me to get in touch with my purpose and authenticity was to cut ties from my past and re-invent myself.

I was smiling but very unhappy.  I needed a bath.
I caught a glimpse of the person I wanted to become on a three-month solo backpacking tour around Europe and the UK in 1998.  There is something about travel that allows you to escape and you develop the character you want in the book of your life.  Elizabeth Gilbert captured it in her book Eat Pray Love.  My journey of self-discovery was similar... but I'm still working on my ending.

Everything I needed for 3 months
That first solo backpacking journey was the catalyst to my awakening.  It was not all "Yummy Food" (I could only afford to eat bread, beer, cheese and yoghurt.  I was so happy to eat broccoli when I got home!), "God-Consciousness" (I was still very unconscious at the time) and "Unconditional Love" (I didn't even know what that meant, let alone felt like).  It was a heart-wrenching time in my life.

I experienced my first real heartbreak and I had no idea just how badly I broke or how many years it would take to mend (it took 10 years to get over that one).  I tried to heal with new love but it opened "Pandora's Box" and left me searching for more, leaving a trail of broken hearts and years of disconnected self-preservation.  I appeared reckless and heartless.  My mother thought I had an addiction to sex but it was so much deeper than that.  It was an awakening process I needed to have, developing an empowerment I'd never known before.  I was angry, and that powerful energy was a step up from depression.  I wasn't conscious enough to understand it at the time.  I was simply going on a strong survival instinct.  I had no idea how my destruction was hurting the ones who wanted to save me.  No love was ever going to be strong enough to save me from myself.  It was all part of my evolution and development.  Hindsight is a beautiful thing.  How could I love someone else if I didn't even like myself?

The Bachelorette in Sydney
Five years later, in 2003, I embarked on another journey of self-discovery.  This one was different.  I was empowered, strong and in a good place in my life, even though I unconsciously knew there was still a lot more to learn about myself.  I had also received some concerning news about my health and longevity.  My organs were aging rapidly as a result of the chemo I had as a child.  I was told I was not going to have a long life ahead.  As my friends were buying houses (how I cringe now knowing I had my chance to buy a home for under $200,000), I headed off on another three month backpacking trip to Australia and New Zealand.  I found my connection to my God-source in New Zealand and my true awakening of consciousness began.  I made the decision to give up everything I knew in Canada to build a new life and reinvent myself in New Zealand.  I wasn't running from anything, rather towards a new opportunity to become the person I wanted to become.  There were too many memories and negative influences in Canada.  To truly change and evolve, I knew I needed a fresh start.

Finding my happy place in New Zealand
I found a different kind of "love" in New Zealand.  My vulnerability and naivety softened me and I found myself drawn to men who took advantage of my generous nature.  The next decade of my life would be a period of "karmic" repayment for all of the hearts I broke.  My empowerment was toned down and I developed compassion towards my parents who were broken human beings who did their best.  The process of self love began through desperately trying to convince men that I was lovable.  Those were some hard years.

Freedom in solitude and wide open spaces
I was conflicted.  I loved my life in New Zealand but I wasn't finding the love I knew I deserved.  My consciousness opening like a lotus flower, I realised that the only love I needed was inside of myself.  So the process began.  In 2007, after another health scare where I developed another ovarian tumour and opted to have a radical hysterectomy at age 32, I reconnected with myself through yoga, meditation practice and intense self-love.  I married myself and made a commitment to love, honour and cherish myself for as long as I lived.

My depression and anxiety pretty much disappeared.  I wrote frequently and found positive affirmations through social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest.  I found my joy in the simple things, walking to the gym, writing, cooking healthy meals, meeting friends for coffee.  I dated but was unwilling to settle for something that didn't feel right.  I was empowered again but it wasn't selfish, I was full of love and looking for someone whose heart would match mine.

I thought I met that man in 2011 and we married.  I was 37 at the time and I was ready for a life commitment with someone. In our haste and whirlwind romance, he failed to mention that he wanted me to give up my friends, my career, my freedom and independence so that I could be a housewife.  After our marriage, he got insanely jealous and insecure. I had a false sense of security in our vows and held my ground.  I thought he'd calm down eventually when he realised he had nothing to worry about.  Five months later he left, saying I was never going to change.  I believe we constantly change but I was certainly not going to be forced to change for anyone.

That's when I realised just how much I've evolved.  But I'm far from perfect.
Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world!  I am NOT a mountaineer.  I just loved the metaphor.
I was at my strongest in 2013 when I embarked on another journey of self-discovery, joining a group of cancer survivors to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.  That trip sparked a deep desire to help AIDS orphans, Maasai girls and the Porters of Kilimanjaro.  I returned to Tanzania again on my own in 2014, after driving across Canada collecting items to ship to Africa for charitable projects.  I spent three months in Tanzania doing the most rewarding and life changing work.  My heart burst open and I loved myself more than I thought possible.  This isn't the "ego" love that we associate with when people take lots of selfies to say, "Look at how great I am".  I'm talking about the love we search for our whole life.  A love that says, "I'm important to others and my life has purpose."

AIDS orphans
I experienced heart-break but it didn't destroy me.  I was deeply disappointed by people I trusted and believed in.  I became choosier with whom I associated.

I struggled to return back to the Western world, people with all their "first world problems".  That was when I felt the old familiar grip of depression.

For the last 18 months, I've suffered silently with minor depression as I recovered from adrenal fatigue.  I'd simply "burnt out" from giving away more than I could emotionally afford.  I reached out a few times on Facebook, always cheerfully looking at the silver lining.  I withdrew into myself deeper.  Being the sort of person who enjoys her own company, no one had any reason to worry.  My weight fluctuated, a real sign of my imbalance.  My blood pressure rose and I knew I needed to take care of myself again so I joined a 12 week cardio fitness program.

I'd just completed it, when nine weeks ago, while on a mini vacation in the Pacific Islands, I slipped on a wet patch of concrete and fell, smashing my left wrist into smithereens and damaging the nerves to my hand.  That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, so to speak. I'm a healer and I work with my hands.  I lost my Ambassador job just as the season was about to begin.  I only qualified for a very minimal amount from Accident Compensation because they only considered my income from 2014 when I was away for 6 months collecting items for Africa. I couldn't work and I had no idea how I was going to pay my rent.  How did I get to be in this situation?  Too focused on everyone else and not putting my security first.
Big time ouchy.  Dislocation fracture of the radius and ulna.

I was angry at the injustice, of such a nasty break and the lack of support I got from a system that didn't look after me when I felt most vulnerable.  I was angry at my sister who was visiting at the time.  She is a very strong character and I naturally become a shrinking violet so she can take centre stage.  After my accident, I was disappointed with her lack of compassion or empathy.   It hurt me deeply.  I felt like I was a 10 year old who ruined everything by getting cancer.  So, people were right, I can't run from my problems.  Old hurts remain, suppressed deep in the crevices of our heart.

I have been holding steady in my anger for two months but my grip started slipping, like holding a rope, afraid of how deep this depression will be.
Bionic woman
That's a lot of hardware.

Last night I let go of the rope. I am exhausted.  I could barely sleep, my heart was racing and I felt that old familiar, overwhelming sense of doom.

I'll be honest, I just want to give up. That's just not who I am but when anxiety and depression sets in, it's so hard to see a way out.

I know I'm not alone... so many people suffer from ‪#‎anxiety‬ and ‪#‎depression‬. In light of ‪#‎mentalhealthawareness‬ week, rather than suffer in silence I'm swallowing my pride to share this side of myself. Hiding it brings a feeling of shame and embarrassment.

Now you know why I've been so quiet. It's been a difficult time.  Admittedly, talking about it makes it feel not quite so overwhelming.  I know what I need to do, yoga and meditation will bring me back to the light.  Getting started is the hardest part.

I seek comfort knowing that from an astrological perspective, there are quite a few planets in retrograde this year (Mars, Pluto, Saturn, Mercury) and we have a Full Blue Moon tonight. If you feel the shift and changes happening (as I do), trust that it's an opportunity to look inward at the parts of yourself buried long ago. Accept that you are not longer that person, it's time to open your heart to evolve into the higher version of your soul. Trust this... you will come out of this stronger and more yourself than ever.   ‪#‎keepclimbing‬ ‪#‎dontgiveup‬ ‪#‎retrograde2016‬

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