I write this to let others know they aren’t alone and you don’t have to hide your struggles with mental health. As we are encouraged to stay home and distance ourselves to help limit the spread of Covid-19, many are felling isolated and dealing with depression. This is my story of struggling with feelings of unworthiness, depression, and anxiety.
My feelings of unworthiness began when I was young. When doctors say the years 0 – 5 are the formative years, they are correct. My mother had me when she was 20 years old and my parents had been married for two years. After I was born, my mother struggled with “illness” and my father was the one who cared for me. I think my mother had post-partum depression; back then doctors didn’t know what it was or how to treat it. The result was I bonded with my father – not my mother, which lead to my mother seeing me as competition and not a daughter. While those outside the family saw my mother as this wonderful and caring person, which she was to many, but my father and I saw a different person. The years of hearing that my knees and toes were ugly, and that I had no waist, lead to years of body image issues. Years of my social life being controlled lead to submission and isolation. I was made to feel unworthy. I suppressed these feelings for many years.
In 1989, when I was 22 years old I married my first husband. Two months into the marriage I felt like I had made a mistake. My beliefs in the sanctity of marriage prevented me from looking at this marriage as a mistake, I just needed to learn to compromise. Well, over the next 20 years I compromised myself so much, that I lost myself. I set myself up to be controlled once again. I have always been one to follow the laws, like no underaged drinking. This led to my ex-husband determining that I didn’t drink and made sure I didn’t. He would use it as an excuse to get out of meeting people after work. I figured he didn’t want to go and so I just went along with it. The thing is, when you go along with someone so many times, you begin to believe everything that is said about you. I was told at least once a week, “If you get fat, I will divorce you.” I was expected to stay sitting on the couch if he fell asleep watching television, and not change the channel.
The more I tried to break free, like joining a Book Club and Bible Study Group, having a homebased business, and actives to deepen my faith, the stronger he tried to control me. Any activity that was after the girls got home from school, I had to quit. What I didn’t know was, he would say something that I took as one way and he meant it another. I lived on eggshells. He would say he had to work late, which was typical of his job, but what he was really doing was staying away from home. Communication was not his strong suit. There are many other ways of control I experienced, but this isn’t a “bash the ex” post. I just want you to understand what happened in my life that lead to feelings of unworthiness, depression, and anxiety.
Then in 2010 the divorce came. I was shocked and got us into counseling. While the intent was to save a marriage, that didn’t need saving, but what happened was a realization of how I let myself be controlled. Once he moved out, I had to get a job to help pay the bills. I need a job that would allow me to keep the girls’ lives as normal as possible. I went to work for some friends’ in their restaurant, and eventually worked my way up to assistant manager. While I was being seen as a great worker, what they didn’t know was I was fighting the feelings of not being good enough and the pressures of balancing a job, caring for the girls, plus a house. I had to borrow money from my parents to pay for a lawyer, which just added to the stress and anxiety I was feeling.
Two years later, when the divorce was finalized, I worked on selling the house and paying back my parents. The girls and I moved into an apartment and tried to see it as an adventure. The struggles of helping my youngest adjust to leaving the only house she remembered, having to go back and forth between my apartment and her dad’s, and apartment life in general, was difficult. It was hard for them to see their friends like they had before the divorce. So, anxiety was alive and well in our apartment. When the girls would be with their dad I was alone with the dog and my feelings of unworthiness. I would read my Bible, distract myself with TV, books, and going out with friends. But the feelings we just under the surface.
Fast forward past two short relationships with men who were also controlling, I felt God calling me to do something more with my life. I decided to go to graduate school and earn my Masters in Education. I changed jobs in hope of still working and going to school – I was able to make it work about 6 months. Then the stress and anxiety, and feelings of unworthiness started bubbling up again. I worked hard to push then back down. There were times my doctor prescribed medication to take the edge off and help cut through all the anxiety. This helped, but wasn’t dealing with the deeper issues.
Over the next few years, I learned to “manage” the anxiety, depression, and feelings of unworthiness, and had times I was able to go off the medicine. There were times when the demands of teaching and doing the best for students, along with supporting and caring for my daughters, and trying to start a new life for myself, got to be too much. So, I would go back on the medicine. Then in 2017, during a trip to see a dear friend I grew-up with, my past started bubbling up again and this time I couldn’t suppress it. My friend had seen what I endured and I had seen what she had endured growing-up. Sharing our stories and feeling her love and support, helped me know I wasn’t crazy or alone. I could no longer suppress my past, so I sought out the help of a therapist.
I wanted a therapist who is a Christian and a woman. I needed someone I would feel comfortable sharing what I had suppressed for so many years, who could understand my faith, who wouldn’t judge me for my actions, and support me as a mom. Therapy has made a huge difference in my life. While medicine helps with the physical aspects of my issues, therapy helps with the emotional scars. My therapist has given me tools to use, which I have shared with my many of my students and my new husband. She has helped me to understand my emotional scars are a result of verbal abuse, and how my past trauma impacts the way I react in certain situations.
Some may think that seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness, but recognizing you have a struggle and you need help is displaying strength – not weakness. Being open about my experiences and seeing a therapist has enabled me to connect with my students and others on a vulnerable, human level. God created us to love and be loved, to be accepting and to be accepted, we are His children. We need to support each other, not tear each other down. There has been a stigma about mental health, and some still see mental health as one who needs to be in an institution or don’t they believe in its existence. We need to breakdown these walls and see that mental health is part of our wellbeing. When we free ourselves from the control of this world, we are more open to seeing God’s plan and desires for us. We are free to be who He created us to be.
If you are feeling the anxiety and pressures of the world, you may want to seek the help of a mental health professional. Here is a great article that explains the differences between the type of providers: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health-resources
You are not alone!