Before I even open my eyes I am aware of the warmth of my blankets and the sweet bundle of fur pressed against the back of my legs. I breathe in; the silence is comforting. I pry my fur baby from his chosen spot to mine and nestle in for some morning snuggles, enjoying his familiar scent as I rest my cheek on top of his head. I savour these moments, these good feelings, mindful of a time when at first breath it was trepidation, rather than contentment that filled my lungs.
Significant trauma and distress has coloured the backdrop of my life and over the years I learned to stuff down the pain as a means to cope. Oftentimes with food, as I got older, with alcohol. I got used to feeling depressed, retreating from the world when it became too much. When I had done all I could to deal with the memories and self- loathing, I ran. I thought if I put some distance between myself and the things that caused me pain, it wouldn’t hurt so much. I moved around the country, in and out of unhealthy relationships and dead end jobs and still felt only minimal relief.
After graduating with a B.Ed., I went to teach in South Korea and spent four years teaching and living on isolated First Nations reserves, completely removed from my previous life. It was a beautiful and emotionally taxing adventure and I went on stress leave twice, each time returning with a renewed sense of determination to make it work. I deeply believed that my work as a teacher would eradicate my feelings of inadequacy. I was wrong and at times it seemed to exacerbate them. I retreated further into myself. After a while I became numb, disconnected. I didn’t feel loved and I never felt safe.
Eventually I grew tired of moving place to place and returned home. Everything I had left behind was right there waiting for me. Adding to the mix of recent and long ago issues, I was unable to find a job. I had difficulty supporting myself financially and resided in my mother’s house; adding strain to an already fractured relationship. It was too much. Then came the anxiety. While I had become accustomed to feeling detached and empty; signature marks of depression, anxiety was another animal all together. It ripped and raged through me like a savage hurricane annihilating any protective barriers I had put in place. I didn’t eat. My mind was so tormented sleep eluded me. It was a literal hell existing from one minute to the next. One morning, after struggling for hours, I contemplated suicide in the basement of my mother’s house. I knew in my soul I had reached my breaking point.
I called my counsellor (who was on her way out of town) and she recommended I go to the local doctor’s office. My dad came to get me and for a moment I thought it was going to be all right. As I pleaded for help I was told, “We don’t deal with that here.” I barely remember stumbling out of the building. My strong runner’s legs literally would not hold me up and I sank to the floor, supported only by the wall pressing into the blades of what had become my very boney shoulders. The grief, dread and wild panic that had been my constant companions for the past two months swarmed in, engulfing me in dark terror. I remember looking up and seeing the bewilderment and pain in my father’s eyes; nothing in his life had prepared him for this moment. He quietly suggested we go to the hospital. Shame washed over me, taking with it any rational thought that this would be a good idea (anxiety doesn’t deal in rational). I refused. I didn’t have a right to feel this way. I didn’t yet know that I mattered.
The immediate days following are a blur. Unsure of what else to do, I resorted to temporarily taking tranquilizers to manage the acute panic. It was during this time I received the phone call that would change my life. I was accepted into therapy with Dr. Adriana Wilson. So began the long and continuous journey to healing.
Through repeated gut wrenching, but heart opening ISTDP (Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy) I was able to acknowledge and process the psychological trauma that had ruled my life. I broke open. I began to understand that I have a choice in how my life unfolds. I’m not inherently flawed, nor does my value decrease based on the actions of other people. ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) taught me how to identify what is most meaningful in my life and how to get back into the driver’s seat in order to live by my values. I also ran and practiced yoga. Bi-weekly runs with my dad helped replaced angst with calm and yoga allowed me to connect with myself in a way I didn’t know was possible.
None of it was easy. But I would do it again a thousand times over. I now believe I have a life worth living. At times I still have to navigate my way through anxiety and depression, but I no longer run. I don’t want to hide any more. I strive to be present, lean in and keep an open heart. I’m learning how to be vulnerable. I choose to show up for my life. It is an ever changing landscape. Things end, and begin, over and over and over again. There’s loss and there’s light.
And through it all I matter.
Author: Nancy Sherry
Check out Nancy’s blog at: breatheinweb.wordpress.c