The New Year had me thinking a lot about goals, values, ambitions, motivations, life, and how excited I was to wear my new fuzzy socks. With all the talk of “look how far you’ve come in a year” and “can you believe that was only 1 year ago” I found myself even more reflective and nearly bubbling over with blog ideas – two of which involved writing about goals and values.
At my old job, we had a list of working norms – kind of like guiding values – and each day at our morning huddle, we would say what working norm we were focusing on that day. I loved that idea. I mean, obviously, in theory, you were living into every positive attribute every day you walked into the office, but how nice it was to really put your heart and soul behind one guiding value each week.
For this reason, I’ve decided to dedicate a new series of “Res” posts to my own kind of working norms – my own mini-resolutions. You don’t have to buy into any of these. You don’t have to make your own. But maybe at some point, it’ll make you think about what it would look like to radically change your life one week at a time.
Res 5: Be Honest With Yourself
Did you eat a vegetable today? What time did you go to bed last night? When was the last time you called someone you love?
I think I was 13 when I first realized I was exhibiting a lot of the common symptoms of depression. I didn’t really know how to deal with things. I was in eighth grade and my life was full of music and sports and academics. I liked my classes and I loved my friends. Externally, everything was perfect. Internally, I was in turmoil.
I’m not sure what the real catalyst was and truthfully, thinking back to 8th grade is tricky for me now. I know I was massively depressed. I know I was self-destructive. But it’s hard to put myself back in that mindset when my life has been so radically altered since then.
Throughout much of high school, I was the poster child for “good head on her shoulders.” I played three sports and two instruments and had one perfect dog that was garnering quite a following on social media from my frequent posting of him. I was a straight 'A' student and joining extra-curricular activities and honor societies was my hobby. I surrounded myself with diverse groups of friends and toward the end of high school even began working outside of school a few nights a week.
I had everything going my way.
And I was terribly depressed.
A large part of that came from a guilt problem that seems to be embedded in my DNA. I didn’t understand how, despite having so many advantages in life, I was still miserable. I didn’t deserve anything I had and then to be so stuck on top of that? I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the world and underwhelmed by my own ability to see its beauty.
It’s strange to reflect back on the ways things were. It’s almost bizarre to picture myself as an angsty teenager, crying on my bedroom floor hidden under algebra homework and desperately looking up at my quote wall for some ounce of hope – for something to get me through.
The Smile Project was my blessing. Through my constant Happiness is posts and my eventual creation of what would become the organization as it stands today, I found myself rewiring my mental coding. I didn’t default to guilt or helpless or defeat.
I was changing my life.
The Smile Project saved me from myself. In the past five and a half years since this project began, I have been stronger, happier, and more confident than I ever imagined possible. I have seen myself cope with times, days, even weeks where I find myself in depressive slumps. But I have taught myself how to manage it. And I have a much stronger emotional intelligence and understanding of my own mind. I know how to be resilient. Resilient is sometimes your only choice.
But this resolution isn’t about 13-18 year old Liz. This resolution is about being honest with myself now. I wrote last week about how I was frustrated that we hide from our feelings and wait until things are okay to talk about them. I don’t like that. I don’t like that we only show our best selves as though someone seeing the slightly smudged version of our character would cause them to shrink away in disgust.
Well, be prepared to shrink away. Because I’m about to walk through what the past month has felt like for me.
The other night, I found myself in a total mental collapse on my way home. Stuck between hyperventilating and crying, I could barely hold my hand still to key into my apartment building. The elevator was on the 6th floor and while I would normally just take the stairs, it was all I could do to lean against the wall across from the elevator and wait the approximate full five minutes it took to get all the way to the first floor.
I stumbled into the elevator and was almost on the ground by the time the doors opened on my level. I keyed into my apartment and tripped in the pure darkness straight to my bedroom, ignoring my no shoe rule, flipping on my lamp and closing and locking the door behind me.
I could finally collapse. My pea coat clung to my body and my backpack swung from my left shoulder resting heavily on my right side. I was half fetal position half possessed soul as I finally broke into a silent hysteria of tears. My left cheek was pressed into the cool wood floor, inches from the flip flops I wear in the gym locker room showers. My glasses were catching my tears and it only took thirty seconds before the lodged water completely blurred my vision.
I could feel my body convulsing with every hurried breath I grasped for. After what felt like a lifetime, I placed my arms in push up position and fought the floor with my fists. My arms gave under the weight of my upper body and I found myself on the floor again.
I was stuck in a silent room with blurred vision and low lighting. I was wearing zipped up brown boots and a grey jacket. My one functioning headphone had fallen out of my right ear but the wiring was still tangled in the bulky black buttons of my coat and my phone was still tucked away in the pocket I was laying on.
Someone was calling me. I sent them to voicemail.
After what felt like hours of deliberation, I realized I would have to take off my shoes if I wanted to go to bed. I realized I would have to take off my jacket. I would have to slip out of my jeans and into my pajamas and in theory, it would be ideal if I could crawl to the bathroom for some dental hygiene.
The prospect exhausted me.
I was in a full mental collapse.
Blame it on exhaustion, sickness, stress, or anything else, I was having a rough time. I was sitting with a friend on Friday night explaining this complete melt down moment and realizing there was nothing to be ashamed of. If I tore my ACL playing soccer, you better believe I would be complaining to everybody about that injury.
So why do we treat mental pain any differently? Why did I feel like this total breakdown was something I had to hide from some of those closest to me? By not sharing this experience, am I adding to the silent stigma of suffering?
Resolution #5: Be Honest With Yourself
You are not lame for needing to stay in for the night and recuperate. You are not needy for calling your best friend at 1 am. You are not lazy for wanting to stay in bed all day. You are not broken just because you shattered.
I think you can find the most clarity at those moments where you’ve hit a drunken level of exhaustion and wind up sobbing on your bedroom floor in your winter jacket. I think there’s something really authentically beautiful about that kind of raw pain. It’s almost as though that was my hearts silent way of screaming.
There I was, in a dark, soundless room with droplets of water covering my glasses. I felt like I was starring in a movie I never asked to be in. But there I was anyway…the leading lady. And if someone gave me this role, I might as well rise to the occasion.
And in rising to the occasion, I might learn that it’s okay to feel deeply and it’s okay to break down. Sometimes, we have to completely fall apart to become something better.
More than that, though, I want to be open. I want to cut myself raw with the honesty and sincerity of what I am producing, especially through The Smile Project. We talk a lot about the good stuff. We talk a lot about the bad stuff after its long gone in the rear view mirror. But I want to talk about the in between. I want to talk about the hitchhiker that you never wanted to pick up.
Let’s talk about the demons we drive with. Let’s open some conversations.