I’ve been entertaining my shadow-self since I was 14. 38 years. The majority of my life. Seems like I would be used to it by now. But I’m not, and I hope I never will be.
As a matter of fact, the more complicated life gets (and we are on a roll lately), the more challenging it is for me to navigate my darker side.
No matter how many depressive episodes I’ve beaten, no matter how many self-help books I’ve read, no matter how much the how-to’s make sense it’s a different experience every time.
Recently, I reflected on my past in search of the thing(s) that triggered the beginning of my dark days,
Rather than being any one thing, it’s been more of a series of things paired with a chemical imbalance that kicks things up a notch.
The trauma that I think jump started this whole shadow business in the first place goes all the way back to 10-year-old me.
Trauma One: I had just gotten out of the hospital. A very rare tumor called a teratoma had formed in my mouth along the upper, front gum line preventing my adult tooth from coming in. (If you don’t know what a teratoma is, and you want to know what a teratoma is I’ll leave it up to you to click the link – there’s no reason to traumatize those who won’t be able to unsee it). Up until it was removed my parents had no idea if it was cancerous or not. It was benign.
Trauma Two: The same night I got out of the hospital, my dad went in. At the young age of 35 he had a massive heart attack. The doctors weren’t sure if he would survive, but he did. His cardiologist at the time said that he had “stolen my thunder”. I never got that thunder back. Over the next 10 years my dad was in and out of the hospital many, many times. I can remember sitting in school on several occasions just waiting to get called into the office for some very bad news. I was constantly worried about not being there if something happened.
Trauma Three: After his heart attack, my dad struggled to provide for us. It was devastating for him. As a coping mechanism, he began to drink. His sadness was palpable. I have to state this because I don’t want anyone thinking I lived in an abusive home with an alcoholic parent. It was never like that. My dad was just dealing with a pretty heavy reality at the time.
Over the years, as a result of financial hardship, there were times when our electricity would get cut off. Never for long though because my parents would always find a way to make extra money when needed. Even if it meant selling their wedding rings. I have no idea how they managed to send both my brother and I to private schools. It just goes to show you the determination my parents had. My brother and I always had what we needed, and more often than not, we had the things we wanted.
Trauma Four: Freshman year of high school after a good friend of mine remarked that It looked like I had put on weight over the summer, I decided to stop eating. After I lost the first 10 pounds the girls at my all-girl school began to take notice commenting on how great I looked. That comment started a war inside my mind. So, I kept going . I lost 30 pounds in less than 3 weeks, and gained my first label – anorexic. I went from 125 pounds at 5’4” to 95 pounds. 38 years later and I still struggle with body image issues.
Trauma Five: On October 16, 1985, the eve of my birthday, my father collapsed in the kitchen. As a YMCA CPR-certified counselor, I attempted to resuscitate him, but couldn’t remember how to do it. At the hospital we were told that my dad had died. I looked at the clock, it was midnight. It was my 19th birthday and my dad’s death day a week before his 46th birthday.
Trauma Six: Shortly after my dad died, I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – in simple terms, I had an extra part on my heart that was causing severe bouts of tachycardia. Around the same time my first boyfriend (we had been dating about 5 months) broke up with me. Days later I tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of the heart medicine I was prescribed. Fortunately, I got scared and immediately regretted it. Thank God for my brother and syrup of ipecac.
It comes in fits and starts now, the shadow me. Lately it’s been mostly starts. The world being on fire and my being an empath is a recipe for a breakdown. And I did. Breakdown. And I am breaking down daily. I am unstable.
You might think that after 38 years of dealing with depression, I’d be a bit more in control. That’s the story I’ve been telling myself – that I should be better. That I should be in control because, after all, I am on two anti-depressants. But depression doesn’t always follow the rules.
It’s a horrible feeling – the sense that in some way I am broken, that my brain is just wrong. Me, the mom who wrote He’s Not Broken. How can I teach my son that, yet tell myself a different story? Where’s the logic in that?
Hint: It’s nowhere to be found because it’s neither fair, nor true.
I’ve been on meds for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (I don’t like to choose what things to worry about…I just like to worry about them all), and Major Depressive Disorder since I was 30. That’s 22 years of medication. Medications that have had to be tweaked over the years many times.
I fought the meds. Didn’t want to be one of those people. But the truth is, I am one of those people.
One of those people who hasn’t given up.
One of those people who needs a little help.
One of those people who refuses to admit defeat again.
One of those people who deserves to see the colors like everyone else.
What I hope to achieve with this post is not sympathy. I’m looking for understanding. But not for me, for others. Before today, many of you didn’t know about my past struggles. Before today if you might have been quick to think “what’s her problem? She has everything and yet she’s still not happy.”
Yes, I “have it all” – a beautiful home, a loving family, and everything I need, along with many things I don’t need. But depression is not satisfied with things…ever.
Depression is a swift thief that robs you of the ability to feel joy. Even when “you have it all”.
All of this is to say when you encounter a person who is rude, or distant,or whose emotions seem unjustified in some way remember this:
You have no idea what trauma(s) they might be carrying around. You don’t know them. You don’t know their past. Or their present. So there’s only one way to respond to them. And that is with kindness. It’s as simple as that.
When someone is rude, respond with kindness.
When someone is angry, respond with kindness.
More often than not their actions are not about you. You get to choose how you react to them. So choose kindness in every interaction you have today. This world really needs that right now.
Peace and love,Ginger