(Warning: Long, off-topic post involving weight triggers, depression, and anxiety. TL;DR: Thank you everyone for being so kind in my last post, and I’m happy to tell you I am at a much better place now.)
Following six months of chronic illness, my last off-topic, deeply personal post focused on coping with an onset of depression and anxiety which held a tight grip, leaving me apathetic toward work and self-conscious about my body. Nevertheless, the words of positivity and encouragement from our readers not only offered hope for the future but motivated me to take action. While I will not proclaim myself “cured” of all ill-feelings nor will I deny relapsing into that dark emotional space occasionally, I can honestly admit I am doing significantly better. After I wrote my last post, I decided to reorient how I felt about myself, my job, and my life.
I have never been one to cut myself any breaks, and my family and friends will freely tell you that I am my worst enemy. I am exacting, unforgiving, abusive, and ruthlessly demanding in how I treat myself even though I earnestly avoid treating others this way. When I found myself descending into apathy and self-pity, I became an easy target for my own inner demons. One source of failure was more than enough to initiate a prolonged downward spiral. “You’re sick all the time. What is wrong with you? You never have the energy to do anything anymore. Never mind everything you let pile up at work, when is the last time you cleaned your friggin’ fridge out? You’re so lazy! Do you even care Google is switching their ranking algorithm, and you have to fix the website to be as mobile friendly as possible? Well, do you? Oh, and now you are closing the store again, huh? Shocker there. Oh wait, you’re going to try to power through. Let’s get dressed but not those pants because they won’t button anymore because someone refuses to exercise.” I was brutal and relentless. Once you start thinking of yourself as a failure and expanding on your perceived shortcomings, you lose sight of who you are as a person and where you are in life.
Because habits are formed over time, I’m a big believer in taking small steps to change how you think and act, which led me to write a weekly “Accomplishment List.” In all fairness, this was my dad’s suggestion because he was tired of hearing me claim to never get anything done when he knew it wasn’t true. From now on, all of my accomplishments ranging from helping customers to processing inventory to blogging are written on a friendly yellow post-it note adorning my desktop, and as the week continues, the post-it note grows longer and longer. Whenever an inner demon surfaces—intent to send my emotions into upheaval, I read through the list and reflect on the week. Likewise, whenever time or energy do not permit me to complete work on a project, I instead focus on the many tasks I did make time for and achieve.
At first, I thought it would be a waste of time, but I immediately felt the tangible difference in my mood. With business ownership, you have so many varied responsibilities in a given day that it is not uncommon to work to exhaustion without feeling like anything actually got done. It’s a contradictory emotion but one I faced frequently and the accomplishment list made me understand how I unintentionally set myself up for failure from the beginning. My pattern was to arrive at work with five or six different items on my agenda, but I sometimes never made it through any of them. In some cases, the shop was busy which tied up my time with customers (not that I don’t love you, but those special orders don’t write themselves!), or as is often the case, something else came up—a large order arrives unexpectedly, a vendor doesn’t call for payment authorization, Paypal hires a bunch of people who can’t read or open attachments to verify your account information, etc. Life wreaking havoc on your agenda is annoying but not the end of the world. However, when you focus on the five items you didn’t accomplish rather than the twenty items you did, your perspective on your day, your job, and even yourself can be drastically skewed.
With my mental state improving, I turned to improving my body and made the decision to stop taking birth control again. The weight gain was bothering me intensely, and after dietary changes and exercise, nothing budged, leading me to believe the BC was at least partly responsible. I was nervous about stopping entirely because I was taking a generic of Seasonale which is a 3-month pack, and at the time, I was about seven weeks into the cycle. If life didn’t improve, I would need to set up yet another doctor’s appointment for yet another prescription. However, I took the gamble and was pleasantly surprised at how much my overall emotional and mood stability improved. Coming off BC did not magically take away all the depression and anxiety, but it reduced the intensity and allowed for gradual improvement. With my stress and anxiety management improving, my periods became regular again, and I started losing weight. I also researched alternative remedies for my PMS symptoms and was pleasantly surprised to see the breast pain I always experienced leading up to my period could be alleviated with parsley or dandelion tree a couple times a week to prevent water retention. Not gonna lie. It tastes like grass, but if you combine it with another tea, you can’t even taste it. To this effect, I decided I needed to be more proactive about my health in general, and when I go to my next physical, I plan to request some additional tests before continuing with any kind of medication.
Exercise became my next priority. When I was finally feeling well enough, both emotionally and physically, to return to exercise, I was shocked by how much I struggled, and I quickly irritated an old sports injury. When I was younger, I was incredibly athletic, and even when I was at my heaviest, I was still a physically strong person, building muscle and adapting to workout routines with relative ease. This time around, I felt exhausted and weak, and I was baffled how the same workout routines I performed for years were now torturous and disheartening. My frustrations grew, but just as I was about to quit, I did something I never do. I cut myself a break. When I was previously at this weight, I had been exercising fairly consistently for a year, and while the numbers on the scale may match, my levels of health and strength do not. My excitement for losing weight and getting into shape led me to discount how much several months of illness can impact the body. It seems silly now to think I could jump into an hour of yoga or forty minutes of strength training without a build-up, but the realization I had to take things slow was important for me. It helped me rethink how I felt about my recovering body and how I could work with it, instead of against it, to feel better. Now, I am walking 1.5 miles several times a week and using light weights to rebuild muscle. I have lost six pounds so far with another 15 to go. My old self would agonize over the fact I gained 21 pounds in the first place and how I let myself go, but the new me is accepting the extra weight and accepting my body as is. So what some if my clothes don’t fit? Is that more important than being alive and feeling physically better than I have in months? I think the answer is pretty clear.
My only real setback is one I have dealt with every year for six years now. My mom passed away on April 22, 2009 quite suddenly, and the proximity to Mother’s Day is hard. Last year around the time of her death, I was in a state of grief as deep and raw as when she first passed. All the sadness I bottled up erupted and left me incapable of moving forward, but this year was better. I spent more time focusing on all the wonderful things she did in her life and who she was as a person, friend, and mother than on the fact she was gone. Perhaps time has helped heal the wound, or maybe my newly found desire to see the silver lining in spite of the clouds eased the pain. I do know some things for certain though. I know she wouldn’t want me obsessing over my weight. I know she wouldn’t want me wallowing in bed because she was not here any more. I know she wouldn’t want me to stop believing in myself because of a few setbacks. But, most importantly, I know she loved me and that I loved her, which are the two things that matter most.
I said this at the beginning, but thank you again for the ongoing support. I know this isn’t a standard post for me, but I felt compelled to follow up because I know other people have either experienced or are experiencing issues with depression and anxiety. Talking helps but is hardly easy, and many of us suffer in silence, feeling isolated from friends and family or worse, downplaying our emotions as illegitimate. The only thing that has been working for me is taking small steps—writing the accomplishment list, keeping track of exercise times on a visible calendar, remembering positive experiences when negative emotions occur, and understanding that I desperately need to be nicer to myself. Healing, for me, was more about letting the past go and realizing the future is wide open. Failures are not always failures, and in some cases, they present us with new opportunities. Wherever you are in your own journey, know you are not alone and never lose hope for happiness.