I Own My Story: Without darkness, you can not see the light.

THE FIT LIFT’s I Own My Story category will feature real-life stories of vulnerability and strength - physical, emotional or mental. We all have our own stories. Many locked away and too raw to reveal and some ready to share and inspire. Having courage to share your story is therapeutic and beautiful. Our stories can give others hope, strength and inspiration.  If you would like to own your story, please email us.  

"Facing your dark side empowers you to live in the light."

My name is Susanne.  This is my story - I own it.

I have anxiety.  I suffer from depression.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Sitting here typing these words, I see them on the page and they spit, and snarl and hiss back at me for how ugly they are.  I can't help the tears from presently streaming down my face for the countless lost hours, days, months and years they have taken away from my life and that I will never be able to get back.

I can see myself the very first time that I remember being affected by Mental Illness, over 30 years ago.  It was a hot summer evening, one of the very last before the new school year was beginning.  We had just finished dinner or a BBQ for the evening and I was running up and down the cement steps, barefoot and carefree with my wispy blonde hair floating behind me in our back yard while my family relaxed. They began asking me, the youngest of my siblings, about how I felt now that I would be starting Grade 1, and learning to read (this was the 80's and it wasn't like today with kid geniuses beginning to read at the ridiculous age of 1!).  I cried.  Not out of happiness, or excitement, but out of fear.  I didn't know how to read, and surely the teacher was going to embarrass me in front of the whole class. I was definitely going to be mom and dad's stupidest child and never learn anything.  It was a gripping fear, this unknown, and I made myself sick with worry that never really went away in my whole existence.

Depression and anxiety went hand-in-hand with me growing up.  They pushed me to be a true "perfectionist".  To be the coach-able athlete, the top student, the driven professional, the list went on and on, there was no room for failure, and I was able to show off all of my successes while deep down I was fighting a losing battle.  I was a confident, successful and skilled person on the outside while on the inside I was an insecure, mess with all of this "ugliness" that I was beating the hell out of.  Everything eventually comes crashing down around you in a heap, and for me that heap happened to be the biggest feelings of failure in the spring of 2014.

My daughter was born in July of 2011.  She was a particularly "challenging" baby for the first 5 months of her existence, but I loved her, and being a mom.  We were a happy family of three and I enjoyed my role as nurturer and caretaker.  I was fortunate that I was able to stay on maternity leave and not have to head back to work until she was 14 months old.  When I went back to work in September of 2012, my ugly feelings of failure and not being "good enough" made a quick re-appearance, alongside that anxiety.  I was miserable on a daily basis.  I felt like I couldn't keep up with the demands of my job, be a good enough wife and mother, and make time for myself.  I ran myself ragged trying to do just this.  I averaged three hours of sleep a night, lost 10 pounds and my hair began to fall out in clumps, I had night sweats and had to be tested for everything from peri-menopause, to a thyroid disorder and lymphoma.  It was none of the above.  Just symptoms of depression and stress.  I knew this wasn't working well for me, but I just kept "plugging on" because soon it would be summer break.

Anyone who is a teacher knows that the summer is actually amazing.  I had refreshed myself during this time and felt great and was ready to tackle the next school year.  I was going to be working Monday-Thursday in the 2013-2014 year and it was going to be wonderful!  I told myself this every day for over 2 months, but soon those ugly fears and feelings began to creep up on me.  I wasn't sleeping again.  I cried almost every single day for 6 months straight; before work, hiding at work, on my way home from work, in bed at night.  I wasn't happy at my job, I felt my needs weren't being met, and I wasn't fulfilled. I was a crappy mom because I was down in the dumps and I was an even worse wife because all I did was cry and complain.

Looking back, at those 6 months, I was an empty shell of a women.  I was defeated.  All I saw when I looked anywhere was how I was a failure at my profession because I wasn't the teacher spending every night at work until 6 pm.  I was a failure as a wife because I had no energy to spend time with my husband, and when I actually did, I was awful to be around.  I was also a horrific mother, because I couldn't spend every minute with her, I wasn't making her beautiful hand-made things or cooking wonderful meals.  I began comparing myself to EVERYONE and I was just lacking.  It became worse and worse and worse until I believed that I was just a horrible person.  I had been trying several different medications, all of which had made me physically sick.  I completely isolated myself from everyone I possibly could.  I felt like I had been locked in a coffin and slid into the earth.  Wanting to cry out, but knowing that no one would hear me.

I never despised myself more than I did in those first few months of 2014.  If I hadn't had my daughter, I don't even know that I would have wanted to continue putting one foot in front of the other.  She was the only thing in the world that made me get up every single day, I hated myself so much.  In fact, it was the insight of her at 2 and a half that actually snapped me out of it.  She looked at me one day in April 2014,  when I had just been laying in bed crying and put her hand on my face and said "It's ok mom.  I know you're sad.  You're sad all of the time.  I can make it better."  That was the actual moment that I said ENOUGH.

In May 2014  I was fortunate enough to go through a very intensive program to help me with my depression and anxiety.  I have learned some tools to help get me through my dark moments, and tools to help me stay in a positive frame of mind.  I have even found a medication that works well for me.  It is a CONSTANT effort, and it isn't easy, but I KNOW what it's like to be in that dark place and I never want to be there again.  Being positive and staying the course is a choice I have made, and it definitely requires work, but the biggest and most worthwhile thing that I have learned to do is to give up on the idea that I need to be perfect. I have begun to focus on just being the best version of myself that I can be, and being a little kinder to myself.

This is a story that is SO easy for me to write, as I have over 30 years living, breathing and being anxious and depressed, however it is incredibly difficult for me to share.  So many people live with their mental illness hidden and tucked away (trust me, I spent MANY years of my life putting on a brave and tough face when I was falling apart inside), but it's time to break down those barriers.

Do what you can to break down stigmas and barriers of mental health.

"I love the person I've become because I fought to become her."


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