AN ODE TO SELF CARE: MY MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY
I want to begin by saying that this is a piece I never thought I would ever write. I am normally intensely private about my mental health, but have felt compelled to share my story in wake of recent events.
I should begin by giving some background. I grew up showing horses at an incredibly competitive level. I am proud to say that I am a multiple World Champion equestrian and spent much of my childhood and adult life in the arena. Something important to keep in mind is that when you show horses you are taught that if anything goes wrong you just keep showing. Much like gymnastics, dance, or figure skating, you are judged on your showmanship and your ability to sell to the judges that you are the best. Shoulders back. Chin up. Smile. Never let them know you made a mistake.
With my training came an inherent perfectionism that followed me out of the arena and into my personal life. I can attribute many of my better qualities to competing at such a young age. I am tough, detail oriented, dedicated, among other things. On the other hand, I am also deeply sensitive regarding my image, panicked about admitting any weakness, and riddled with anxiety. When I was seventeen, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and when I was nineteen she passed away. Following my training, I bucked up and went back to school two weeks later. I was determined to be tough and to do, what I thought at least, was the strong thing to do. On the outside I was succeeding and showing, competing and winning, getting good grades, and even was admitted to law school. On the surface I was nailing it in light of the circumstances.
However, on the inside I was deeply struggling. Depression and anxiety was something I battled with every single day. As I moved my way through life and law school I found myself fighting with the emotions I had suppressed through achievement my whole life. Even recently, thoughts and attempts of self-harm and self-medication have plagued my mental health. On the outside I have carefully crafted a successful, happy, beautiful, and blessed life, but on the inside, I am often times a complete mess, depressed, and anxious.
Luckily, I have an outlet: therapy.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer she put me in therapy. I went, like many, kicking and screaming the entire way. I thought I was okay, I was fine, and I was dealing with it. At certain times in my life I have relapsed to that mindset and stopped going. But during those times, when I was high on my own achievement, I found myself still coping with my emotions, just in unhealthy ways. So, I have always gone back. Through therapy I have learned to explore my emotions, express them in a safe place free of judgment and most importantly, have learned skills to handle when I feel bad in a healthy way. I am lucky to have the therapy and support groups that I do. They have truly saved my life.
Even writing this now I am feeling terrified. It is so hard to be vulnerable and to admit that I don’t have it together all the time. I am afraid to share my story and to seem weak or to have the important people in my life be ashamed or embarrassed. But I cannot stay quiet. Recently I have seen so many posts, tweets and comments from people, some even my friends, making fun of support groups, safe places, etc. Posts intended to make people feel bad and embarrassed about seeking help. I am not here to advocate a specific way or method to handle one’s mental health, I am simply writing to advocate for understanding. Whether some like to admit or not, we are all affected by the world around us. Whether it is the election, politics, jobs, relationships, illness, death, or tragedy—we are ALL affected one way or another. So why are we making people feel bad for it?
For those who sometimes feel like a mess, I want you to know that it’s okay. Whether you are upset about a death, being sick, failure, a break up, this election, our President, the state of the world, or even if you’re just upset about nothing at all, it is truly okay. There are people out there in the world who feel the same way and you are not alone. Nothing is beyond fixable, there is no mess that cannot be cleaned up, and life is worth living regardless. It’s okay to be affected by the world around you and to feel however you feel, just know that there are healthy positive outlets for you to work through those feelings.
Finally, for those who put down support groups, safe spaces or therapy, I ask you to just take a step back and show some understanding. Think before you speak, post, like, retweet, comment or share. Something that seems trivial to you may mean the world to someone else. Maybe there are people in your life dealing with things that you don’t know about, are having hormonal imbalances, have past experiences that you can’t even imagine, or are just going through some complex things in their head. Let them have a safe and positive outlet. Do not drive them to self-medicate or something worse because they feel like they have no other route. Let’s not let our ignorance or the high of our own clarity and achievement make anyone feel ashamed for needing help.
Take time for self-care, seek help if you need it, and be understanding that others may need support even if you don’t.
You can follow Sam on Twitter: @SJBayer