Anxiety, Health, Life, Life Lessons

Giving Voice To The Struggle

I’ve started this post more times than I can count. I’ve written and deleted what I would imagine is hundreds of half drafts with hundreds more floating around in my head. How do I find just the right words to say what I want to say? What if it’s not perfect? What if people don’t understand? Is being vulnerable worth it? If it’s not flowery and pretty – but raw and honest – will people even care? What if they think I’m just trying to get attention? Will it even help anyone?

… STOP…

Enough is enough. The thoughts keeping me from sharing are the thoughts that I am trying to share. Sharing is important to me. This little corner of the interwebs is a very important part of my life.  It’s not about the notoriety or attention. For me sharing has always been about making people realize they are not alone. Not only have I wanted to make others realize they weren’t alone, I needed to know that I wasn’t alone either. Over the last two years or so I’ve been eerily quiet here though. I’ve wondered what, if anything, people thought about my silence. That I was just too busy (true), that I hit my weight loss goals and had nothing else to write about (not true), that I didn’t care about sharing any more (not true), that I gained back all the weight I lost and was ashamed to talk about it (it’s complicated)… while there could be many different reasons and excuses for my lack of presence both here and on social media there is ultimately one reason…

I’m struggling. 

Not in the “it’s Monday afternoon and I’m a little tired” struggling. The dig deep, foundation shaking, world view cracking, sleepless night, anxiety filled, broken, exhausted, confused, and trying to figure it all out kind of struggling. That kind of struggling isn’t sexy. It doesn’t sell. There are no three easy steps to create pinable images out of. There’s no finished product. There’s no before and after that will fill you with a flash of inspiration.

There are always three parts to a story. The beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is easy to share. I was here… the end generally brings resolution (unless it’s last night’s season premiere of walking dead but that’s a whole other post). But the middle… the struggle… that is always somehow minimized. Yet it is the meat of the story, where the magic happens. Before and After weight loss pictures don’t tell anything about the middle. As a matter of fact, they ignore it completely. People generally don’t want to hear about the struggle. We don’t go around showing our still open and raw wounds. We may show off our scars, once the rawness and pain has passed. The struggle doesn’t ever get a voice. And because of that living in the struggle is a shameful, dark, and lonely place. That’s so sad when the reality is many of us are living in the struggle. It may not be an earth shattering, sleep taking, life altering struggle… but it’s a struggle none the less.

I’m not going to try to minimize or exaggerate my struggle. It is mine to live with, to work through, to conquer. We each have our own and it affects us all differently. No ones is better or worse, easier or harder. Your struggle isn’t any more or less important or valid than mine. While I’ve had many different types of struggle there is one underlying struggle that seems to connect with and make the others far more difficult to conquer… and that is my struggle with anxiety. It wasn’t until the last several months that I was able to put a name to the thing that has haunted me for so long. I’ve lived with this feeling for about as long as I can remember. This constant buzz (and not the fun kind LOL). This constant feeling that I had to be doing something, doing more, doing better. This suffocating fear of not being perfect. This unquenchable thirst for control over the tiniest things. This overwhelming fear of the unknown. It’s lived with me for a long time. It didn’t manifest itself in the stereotypical ways we see anxiety being portrayed. It festered just under the surface enough to be annoyingly undetectable under normal life circumstances. I managed it well without even knowing it, numbing the pain and discomfort with busyness, productivity, overachievement. I kept that dull ache at bay for a long time. This post really sums it up well –> What it’s like to have ‘High Functioning Anxiety

Over the past year or two life has been anything but normal. In a really healthy way and out of a desire to live our best life Chris and I began to ask hard questions about where we were and what we wanted out of life. You know the typical “It’s the end of your 20’s and you should have life figured out by now” kind of questions. How did we get here? Is this the life we want to live? Are we happy? If we keep doing what we’re doing now what will life look like 10 years from now? While there are a lot of deep and personal answers we discovered both individually and together there was one big decision we made that changed everything. After years of running several of our own businesses and trying to live off the high of the “American Dream” because it was what we were supposed to do… Chris decided to pursue his lifelong passion of working in the medical field. With a bachelors in marketing and some experience as an EMT nearly a decade ago we set ourselves on a journey to make the impossible happen. Less than 2 weeks before the start of the semester he enrolled in school to finish the pre-reqs he would need to get into the program he wanted. In typical Chris and Courtney fashion we dove into the deep end. Him in school and working full time with the marketing company meant I had to step up in a lot of other areas. I believed in him and his passion and ability to make the jump from marketing to nursing and wanted to do anything I could to make it happen. I was capable and driven. The story of how we are where we are today with this is nothing short of a miracle. In the past year I went from helping coach and manage to running the CrossFit completely on my own, he passed his pre-reqs, he was accepted into a very difficult to get into accelerated masters of nursing program, we sold our house, moved into in apartment, P changed schools and started 1st grade… so yea, not just a normal year.

This circumstances made my previously undetected unproblematic anxiety show it’s true ugly face. The truth is I am more than capable of handling everything I’ve been through – anxiety just made it a lot harder than it should have been. I didn’t understand what was happening with me. I was scared. Anxiety that usually manifested itself in a deceivingly productive way became almost crippling. There were days when getting out of bed seemed impossible. I was disconnected, shut down, closed off. I couldn’t catch my breath, literally and figuratively. I knew there was something wrong… but I was a perfectionist, the smart girl who should know how to handle it all. The one who helped not the one who asked for help. I was neck deep in the struggle. I said I was ok, that I could handle it. I always did. I was the strong one, the capable one. Hell, I have a psychology degree surely I should have healthy coping mechanisms for this. But I didn’t. Refusing to acknowledge I was living in the struggle cost me a lot. Not being honest with myself or the people close to me about my struggle caused a lot of pain. Pretending to be ok when I wasn’t nearly killed me. Maybe not in the physical sense. Suicide, while a very real and scary problem that I’m not discounting, is not a struggle of mine. I’d rather live with my pain than inflict it on those around me by taking my life. Living with that pain was suffocating though. I tried to numb that pain in a lot of ways – some more reckless than others. My default pain killer of choice was and will always will be busyness. If I’m not still enough long enough to feel it I can pretend it’s not there. All this self-medicating was wearing on me though. Eventually… in some very painfully vulnerable moments… I was able to admit I was struggling and needed help. And even just being able to tell someone that felt like weight off my shoulders.

I’ve spent a very long time trying to be perfect. I’ve constantly been “on” trying to prove something… to myself, to the world. I was trying so hard to hold it all together because I was so scared of falling apart. Of being less than perfect. Of not being good enough. I was talking to a very close friend of mine about this… About how I kept everything tucked so neatly inside the outline everyone drew for me with their expectations… and that if I ventured outside those lines I was afraid I’d fall apart. The response was exactly what I needed to hear even if I didn’t want to hear it (tough love friends are the best, aren’t they?)

“You can’t be scared to address your shit. Living in fear is no way to live. The truth is you may fall apart when you open it up. But guess what?  The people in your life who love you are going to be here to help put you back together and the reassembled version is going to be so much stronger, more confident and healthier.”

I lived my whole life refusing to give myself permission to not be ok. I held myself to impossible standards. I was… am.. broken. Because we, as humans, are imperfect and broken. I have, with the help of Chris and other very dear people in my life, given myself permission to be broken. And it has been intoxicatingly liberating.

I am still in the struggle. I’m just giving that struggle a voice. I have good days and bad days. I saw my doctor and am taking Anxiety meds. I set up a meeting with a therapist. I am learning how to have healthy coping mechanisms. I don’t have it all figured out. My wounds are still raw and open wounds not impressive scars. I don’t have a perfectly posed after picture to inspire you… all I have is the promise that you are not alone. You are enough.You don’t have to be perfect. Simply existing makes you worthy.

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It’s ok to give your struggle a voice. To not have it all together. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m here for you and I know each and every one of you have people around you that love you and would love to be there for you too.

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