2016 was huge. We survived being homeless for two months. We bought a house deeper into the suburbs. We started trying for kids. We got raises. We remodeled our kitchen. We made more money as a couple than we have ever made. On paper, everything is on the up and up. Everything is golden and life is beautiful.
When I look back at 2016, I don't think about these things first, though. What comes to mind are the things that struck me the deepest; The emotions I experienced and how deeply embedded they are in who I am. Most specifically: I remember my deep bout of depression this past summer and how it became the catalyst for one of the most beautiful seasons of my life. I remember making poor decisions as a result of needing a coping mechanism. I remember the compulsions and how overwhelming they were. On a physical level, I experienced this depression and sadness throughout every inch of my body. I'd shake. My jaw would chatter. My sleep was light and unsatisfying. Now, this isn't entirely random. Depression is a friend of mine. It rears it's head every summer and it became something I could count on to return year after year. This year, however, was far worse than the previous years. For the first time, I seriously considered seeing a therapist. This is where my journey of self-compassion truly began.
If I've learned anything, there are very few things we can do alone. Sure, we can do menial tasks alone, but the most impactful experiences in our lives come from a collaborative effort of ideas and warm hearts.
One August afternoon, I got coffee with a new friend who became a kindred spirit faster than I'd ever guess was possible. Our words and ideas bounced off one another like a dance and before I knew it, I was holding back tears and telling her how scared I was that I'd never live a normal life because of who I am and what sits heavily on my heart. She gave me one of the best pieces of advice that day and on top of it, she gave me the name of her therapist. She introduced her therapist and I via email, and we soon set up my first appointment.
I've been seeing my therapist for four months now. For some reason, everything else I experienced in 2016 before my therapist is a blur. I can only hypothesize that this means one thing: What I remember most about my year are the parts where I learned to love myself. Not the house we bought or the kitchen we remodeled or the things that made us feel "accomplished" or grown up. I remember the parts that tried me, nurtured me, and sustained my growth as an individual.
In 2016, I opened up to everyone about my rape. In 2016, I learned my journey to motherhood may be... complicated. And a few days into 2017, I was diagnosed with PTSD.
All of these things tug at my heartstrings but in the most beautiful, honest way. I am free. As silly as that sounds, showing myself grace and compassion instead of shaming myself for my inadequacies or experiences has helped to get me through those times where it feels like the dark is all there is. I understand that there are things beyond my control. I understand that my not-so-desirable tendencies come from a need, not from anywhere malicious or negative. I need love. I need security. I need compassion. I have experienced things that my body and mind fought to suppress for so long that as a result, I was mentally and emotionally gasping for air for years. I've learned that my anger, compulsive tendencies, distrust and need for control is a byproduct of my PTSD. I've learned that my depression isn't a reminder of how unfixable I am but instead of how in-tune my body and spirit are: Something inside me needs my attention. Through this, and the beginning of my fertility journey, I have learned that the greatest things in life are worth fighting for: motherhood, my family, my marriage, myself. Not my business, not my income, not what I possess, not my accomplishments. I've learned that not talking about what I am struggling with and thinking I am strong enough to deal with it myself is a cop out. That is what fear is. That is shame.
In 2017, I urge you to show yourself compassion. Forgive the parts of yourself that you are ashamed are imperfect or "not good enough." Stop with the negative inner self-talk. Find people who have been through experiences like yours and build community. These people will lift you up and remove you from your emotional isolation. Believe that the parts of yourself that you are ashamed of are rooted from a basic need that wants your attention. Your emotions are not invalid. Do not fall victim to the thought process that says, "If I speak about this, I will appear weak." Your courage in being able to talk about your suffering will move the hearts and minds of those around you and ignite a feeling of bravery and strength in their hearts. May this be your best year yet.