I have to say, at 36 years old, I have never felt better than I do right now. I can confidently say my mind, body, and soul are all content. I am not saying my life is all sunshine and rainbows, because it is not. I have so many things to stress about, to be sad about, the be frustrated about, but…I’m not. The old me? Yea, she would be a wreck right now. But, this new me, I really like her. In fact I love her. Just a few months ago I could not say that. No, like the words literally would not come out of my mouth. I was doing an exercise I heard on a podcast about mindfulness and the instructions were to look in the mirror and say “Toni, I love you.” I just cried. I could not do it. The words just would not come out of my mouth and the harder I tried the more I cried. I didn’t love me at all, in fact I didn’t even really like me half of the time. Getting to that point was easy, but getting out of it was another story.
I have always been the type of person to just file away any bad things that happen to me and pretend they are completely fine. Great strategy, right? It started as a child and has carried over into my adult life. My outward appearances would give the impression of a very simple, happy life with no real problems to worry about…because that is what I wanted everyone to think. My whole life I have suppressed who I really am to cope with insecurities. I set out to be this unrealistic person that does not exist for anyone. As a child I would visit a friend’s house and wish I had a family like theirs. One where the parent encouraged them rather than belittle every accomplishment by comparing it to a sibling’s. One where kind words were spoken rather than constant mental and other abuse from my step-father. One where they laughed together and did things as a family. Inside I was in constant distress with no one to talk to, but outside I was all smiles, life was perfect. I grew accustomed to living in survival mode. As an adult I did the same with every trauma that I experienced. I lost my child after watching him suffer for 2 months and then made Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people the next day with a smile on my face. Who does that? Me, I guess.
This act I felt I had to put on has kept me from developing meaningful relationships with others. I found it so hard to connect with people because I was constantly feeling self conscious and overthinking every word that came out of my mouth to try and fit in. I can tell you from experience, this only makes even more awkward things come out your mouth, which makes it even harder to fit in. It’s like trying to sweep up sand at a beach, pointless. I constantly worried about what everyone thought of me which often times made me seem standoffish which could not be farther from what I was going for. It got so bad that I would get tongue tied trying to speak because I was so focused on how the listener perceived me rather than what I was saying. I honestly do not even know when this started, but I have felt it’s effects more and more the older I get. So if you have met me in the past couple of years, sorry for being weird.
This act can only be kept up for so long before things come crashing down. I finally hit a breaking point earlier this year and decided that I had to make some changes. It was affecting every aspect of my life. With the stress of a growing family, growing financial obligations, and super packed schedules I just cracked. Everything that I have been pushing down for so long just exploded out of me all at once and I had no idea how to deal with or how to explain what I was going through. I found myself crying multiple times a day, taking everything personally, and just feeling all around hopeless. I had this constant feeling that I was not good enough in any area. I felt like a failed Christian, wife, mother, employee, and friend. I was depressed and I was not taking care of myself. I was isolating myself from others because it was becoming exhausting to play happy when I was suffering so much inside (insert apology to all of my neglected friends, my bad).
So, what did I do? Well, first I bit the bullet and started therapy. It is helpful, but I have had issues with scheduling so I can’t attribute my changed attitude to just that. Therapy did get the ball rolling though. I had finally taken the time to do something for myself and it felt good, really good. During my depression I kind of just stopped caring what I look like so I made a resolve to take pride in my appearance again. When you look good, you feel good is more than just a silly saying, it is so true. But, a huge impact on my mental health has been made by flooding my mind with positivity. I have been reading and listening non-stop to podcasts, sermons, and talks on goal setting, mindfulness, emotional intelligence (this one is a must), and breaking down the walls and being who I am. I start everyday with a motivational message and it sets the tone for my day. Listening to all of these things has forced me to reflect on myself and my own behaviors rather than the behavior of people around me. I can not control them, but I can control my own happiness. I can also do my best to protect it.
I read posts on social media everyday with people crying out for help. So many of us are struggling to take control of our happiness. Just think, how many times have you laid awake at night thinking about all of the problems in your life? Why, though? All you are doing is adding sleep deprivation to your list of problems. Now you’re not only frustrated, but tired too. It is so easy to get trapped in our own minds and speak negatively to ourselves. I would never treat another person as poorly as I have treated myself. Digging out of this hole has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life and it is also the hardest to maintain, but it is so so worth it. If you see yourself here, it is time to make a change. It is time to take charge of your life and stop holding yourself back from greatness. I have made a short list of things that have helped me in hopes that one person can take something away from my rambling.
1. Stop ALL negative self talk. Snap yourself with a rubber band if you have to, but just stop.
2. Surround yourself with positive people. Negativity is a contagious disease and people love to spread it. Get vaccinated asap.
3. Educate yourself on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and living with intention. Emotional intelligence allows you to understand and process emotions and feelings of your own and others much easier.
4. Self care. Make time for you, even if it is 15 minutes a day. Honestly, this should probably be number one, but these are in no specific order.
5. When an issue arises do not allow yourself to immediately stress and jump to the negative. Try and find a positive in the situation, sounds dumb, but it could lead to discovering a resolution to your problem before it even really is one.
6. TAKE NOTHING PERSONALLY. No one is mean for the sake of being mean. Either they are compensating for their own insecurities or you misunderstood them. Either way, oh well, life goes on.
7. Stop caring what people think. This one is hard for me, but I finally have a taste of what people mean when they say “your life changes when you stop caring what people think.” It does, dramatically.
8. Get out and do things. No matter what it is or how bad you’d rather watch Netflix all day, show up and have fun.
9. Serve others. Nothing boosts your mood faster than making someone else’s day. If you see an opportunity to be a blessing, be a blessing don’t talk yourself out of it.
10. Stop talking yourself out of your dreams and goals. You will accomplish whatever you BELIEVE that you can accomplish.
Well that is enough vulnerability for me for one day. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I am so far from where I was. I still have set backs and days that I regress to old habits and ways of thinking, but it’s easier to turn it off now. You do not need to wait for things to happen in your life to be happy, choose to be happy now. I just want everyone to know that life is not over, your situation is not hopeless, you are not hopeless. Grab control of your happiness and don’t let anyone take your shine away. You matter. God has a plan for you, but it is up to you to realize it and make it happen.