My dad died the week after Christmas. It was sudden. It was unexpected. It was awful. That night, my siblings, mom, and I cried ourselves to sleep while snuggled up together in my old childhood bed. I was 24 years old, married to an abusive narcissist, and living in hell with him.
I knew I would have to answer to him when I got home, but I couldn’t spend my first night of grief in that prison. I needed to be around people who truly loved me. I’ve spent 14 years in therapy trying to get over my dad’s death, and I seriously haven’t even scratched the surface. My therapist asked me today to visualize and describe my younger self, snuggled up in that bed, so sad but so loved.
“She thinks she’s ugly because that’s what her husband told her,” I choked out between tearful gasps. “She’s so beautiful, though. She thinks she’s weak, but she’s so strong.”
My therapist pushed me to dig deeper and tell her more. I didn’t want to. I was silent for a long time. Then, in a child-like voice, I mustered the courage to share a truth I buried for years. “She does everything for everyone, and then she goes home to HELL. That’s why she keeps busy. The ‘busy’ feels better than facing him.”
I realized that I’m doing this now. I stay busy to avoid thinking about everything that weighs me down. I’m still not over my dad’s death. I’m not over my mom being diagnosed with cancer last year. I’m not over eight years of domestic violence at the hands of my ex-husband. I’m not over feeling not good enough. It’s overwhelming. I’m not ok. But I hold it together well and put on a great public face.
Let’s be real. I put on a great private face, too. I mask my feelings to my current (and amazing) husband. I hide my real self from my kids, my coworkers, and even from myself. I stay busy to avoid dealing with the stubborn and ever-present sadness.
I’ve had seven different therapists in the past 14 years. I knew something wasn’t right, but no one could pinpoint it. I self-diagnosed bipolar disorder, PTSD, and depression. I was told “no” six different times. I was crying out for help, searching for an answer that never came.
My current therapist is the only one who really saw me. Who knows? Maybe she’s the only one I let see me. With her help and my general practitioner, I’ve been prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication. I’ve been on it for a week and won’t see the benefits immediately. But… I’m so hopeful. I always present as a sunny, positive person to the world. At my core, that’s who I am.
“The light at the end of the tunnel” is such a trite phrase, but it’s the best I have right now. My life has been so dark, but I keep smiling. I keep moving forward, knowing that it will get better. Now, I have more than hope. I truly have the tools to improve my mental health and a strong support team lifting me up.
Every day, I’m grateful I didn’t give up on myself. I knew something was wrong, and I sought out the right professionals to give me the help I needed. I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to motivate myself to be upbeat. One day, I’ll smile because I want to, not because I’m telling myself to. I’m excited about getting back to who I know I am: a truly happy person, not just one who pretends to be.