From the outside, looking in, my life today perhaps doesn’t seem all that different to the life I was living a year ago, but events conspired to bring forth major changes in myself, and I have emerged a stronger, calmer, happier person. Just one year ago, I was living my days tormented by self-doubt, struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue and unexplained pain. My life was out of balance and despite trying my hardest, there was always something neglected, which would then become a crisis! Every day I was unconsciously telling myself that I was the least important thing to look after. If only I could just get everything perfect, then I could do something for me without guilt. I beat myself up constantly. Why couldn’t I be braver, more skilled, and more energetic? Why couldn’t I cope with life like other people did? My daughter, in the final year of secondary school, was a school refuser, dealing with anxiety and depression herself. Much of my mental energy went towards strategising ways that I could help her, or just plain worrying! Rhys (my partner for twenty years), was incredibly unhappy, my teenage son was withdrawn and my one year old daughter, bright and full of energy, was so demanding of my waking (and sleeping) hours that I was constantly sleep-deprived. I felt so strongly about attachment parenting though (and I still do) that I would barely allow myself any time to myself.
Nothing was right, but I kept on going, searching for answers on the internet, telling myself everything would pick up soon, dragging myself through each day and being carried by the waves of denial. But, suddenly, my relationship with Rhys ended. In this terrible, confusing time, Rhys slept on our sofa. He came and went, and on weekends, he took our baby to the park. We were living in limbo and Freya was struggling even more. Her school attendance had fallen even further and she was devastated and angry with us in equal measure. I clung to Olivia, feeling powerless in every other area of my life I drew some comfort giving her the best I could, even when I felt like I had nothing left to give. But, the limbo took its toll. Meetings at the school threatened to remove my daughter from the school roll and I knew I just couldn’t carry on in this way. So, I took the best decision I have ever made for myself. To step into our local family centre and ask for help!
I cried while I told my story to two kind strangers, babbling my whole story to them in tears. For somebody who cared so much about what other people thought, this was a big deal for me. I was assigned a family support worker, Chris. Firstly, she arranged for me to see a Relate counsellor on my own. Joan, my counsellor, helped me to think more about myself. I realised that I was taking on too much responsibility for everyone else. What did I want? We worked on my goal, to be strong and get through this horrible time, which I did! In-fact, the more I worked on myself, and stopped trying to please other people, the better I felt. I began to look at life in a different way, as choices I could make for myself, if I wanted them. I looked at Rhys in a different way. My anger towards him dissipated and compassion and understanding came back. The goal of the counselling was not to repair our relationship – it was to help repair me, but one of the results was that Rhys and I learned to respect each other as individuals, rather than just for the roles we perform as parents.
The next step was a self-esteem course. Every Wednesday evening for six weeks, I would wrap up and head out in the dark to a small group of women. We drank tea, ate cake and took part in activities with two warm, emotionally intelligent women, Chris and Jane. We began to understand what led to our low self-esteem and to challenge those inner beliefs. It was enlightening for me and my confidence grew and grew. People actually admired me for things that I liked about myself. One of the women told me that I always dressed nicely (even though I felt scruffy that evening). It wasn’t that I had never had a compliment before, but I suppose I had never really accepted one, but by the end of the course, I was able to say good things about myself and actually mean them!
The next step was to attend life-coaching sessions. The prospect of one to one sessions with a person I had never met before was pretty anxiety inducing, but I pushed myself to try it and I am so happy that I did. We sat together once a week for many months and I worked on my goals, step by step. I watched the small ripples spread across the many areas of my life. I feel like a different person. I feel more authentic and at ease with myself. With Miglena’s guidance, I have been able to set myself goals and actually reach them. Starting my blog for instance! I have gone from an ‘I can’t do this’ attitude, to a more realistic one. In small steps, I can reach a goal. I just have to make a plan, follow it, and be flexible!
My last step on this year’s healing journey has been cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the final piece to this year’s puzzle. CBT has helped me to further unravel my thought patterns and beliefs, enabling me to understand myself better. From here, I have begun to challenge some of my unhealthy behaviours. For example, I tend to be an all-or-nothing person. I will do something perfectly or not at all. In real-life, this translated to me being in control of everything or everything being in complete chaos – I will work myself to exhaustion getting everything completed, or I will give up on everything and sit in squalor! The CBT has helped me to challenge my perfectionist beliefs, and has released me to be brave enough to take time for myself, without the guilt! Finding a balance in my life will be an ongoing challenge for me, but all of the tools that I have picked up over the year mean that I can cope so much better. I feel more able, because I now have the tools to take control. I feel like I have a purpose, and not just as a mother. That is just one part of my identity!
This year began in a difficult place, but I am so glad that it all happened just the way that it did. Freya went on to achieve her GCSE’s and happily take her place in College doing Art. Josh has coped with all the changes and uncertainty extremely well, and Olivia is an intelligent, funny, cute little fireball that keeps me on my toes. Rhys is not always on the same page as me, but we are communicating more honestly, respectfully and with more love. Even my health and energy are improving. On the outside, I may look like the same person, living in the same town, in the same house. I am still a stay at home mum and I still find things overwhelming at times, but now I can take a step back and be kind to myself. Every day is different, and I am not always well, or being my best self, but I know that I am only human, living a unique human experience. I feel so grateful for the experiences I have had this year. I know how difficult it is to get help with mental health and have been extremely fortunate to receive the help that I did, funded by charities and the kindness of individuals. Those lovely people really have built me up and made me a better person.
If I could put it all into a nutshell…
- Be kind, to yourself and to others
- Make plans
- Embrace the good and the bad
- Show others that you love them unconditionally
- You don’t have to solve everyone’s problems. Just listening can be enough.
- Live more in the moment
- Practice mindfulness if suffering from anxiety
- Do things you love, just because you want to!
- Be brave!
- Value your own opinion