Sunday, September 11, 2016

Courage is the new Cool

I started this blog in the summer of 2011. I was motivated to change my lifestyle, or so I thought. Turns out I was looking for a change, yes, but focusing my efforts and attention on weight loss and body image. At the time, I was extremely unfulfilled in my relationship, stagnant career-wise, avoidant of acknowledging deeper issues affecting my self-esteem, well-being, self-awareness, and overall satisfaction in life. I hadn't wholeheartedly admitted to myself that I was depressed... So, for the sake of getting something done, I turned my dissatisfaction into action, and I started with my physical health.

A few months later, my relationship ended, but my weight loss continued and my self-esteem improved. Before taking the time to focus on the bigger task of finding myself, I jumped into a new relationship. I was flying high for awhile. A lot of self-awareness happened in those early months. I changed careers, shattered some long-held assumptions and beliefs, and opened my eyes to a lot of things I had been trying (subconsciously) not to notice about myself. This was progress, I thought.

During that time, I used this blog to document my journey from 181 pounds down to 140 lbs. I catalogued dozens of good and bad days, trying desperately to find meaning, happiness, and balance along the way. The weight stayed off, the new job brought me more fulfillment, but the depression persisted. In 2013, I fantasized about and came closer than ever before to ending my own life. 

For more than a year, I kept my head above water, but my relationship and friendships suffered, my self-esteem dragged, and my mental health became my top priority. In January of 2014, I hired a life coach. We assessed my core values, which I found hugely helpful in itself as an exercise, but honestly, the work I needed to do could not be done because of one difficult truth: I didn't love myself. I didn't understand why, and I sure as hell didn't know how.

In October of 2014, I reached out to a psychiatrist to help asses the dynamics of my depression. I began talk therapy once a week, and began to think more critically about my reactive behavior. This is also when I began to study the concept of mindfulness. I attempted to make meditation a more consistent part of my routine. I reassessed my values. I made a commitment to doing the work of steady and consistent self-reflection. I looked at things in great detail for months, until the bigger picture started to reveal itself. The issues underlying my self-hate started to be exposed under the bright light of objective awareness. 

Then, in February 2015, another breakup. My partner moved out, and I was swallowed by self-pity and shame. I started taking anti-depressant medication to ease the immediate and unbearable pain. I needed to continue functioning at work. I had little energy or motivation to be social or enjoy any other aspect of life. The medication was a difficult adjustment. It was physically uncomfortable adapting to the chemicals, but it provided enough separation from the narrowness of hope-deprivation and apathy that I was able to begin seeing opportunities for my future and began believing that I would eventually heal.

Several months later, I made a fresh start. I practiced more openness, listened more to my intuition, and started to find my voice. I also prioritized some healthier habits, such as staying socially connected, being mindful of my physical health, expressing instead of holding back my thoughts and emotions, letting creativity happen, and making kindness a part of my routine. This became my checklist, my value system, my guide for daily living.

C - Connection
H - Health
E - Expression
C - Creativity
K - Kindness

I deemed this my grounding resource. I tracked my adherence to it somewhat religiously. I found it to be helpful in making me feel a sense of peace. I felt more confident and self-assured that I was taking the right steps, consistently and courageously, toward a more authentic me. 

A shitstorm of events have happened since making this checklist one year ago. I have struggled internally with some of the most shameful, confusing, and intense truths about myself. I have made life-altering decisions, confronted deeply-rooted beliefs, let go of hugely self-damaging habits, and taken enormous leaps of faith. My partner and I reconciled and are now living together. We're both experiencing more openness, more vulnerability, better communication, and more frequent compromise than before, and we are much better at acknowledging the awkwardness and disappointment that we were too proud to admit before. Our relationship isn't perfect, but at least now it includes two people that know themselves a little better and can stand up for themselves when necessary. I don't fear becoming lost in the relationship because I know my checklist will always be there to make sure I'm listening to my own voice and standing on my own principles.

Today, I am more accepting of my body and size even though I have put on some of the weight I initially lost. I have more patience with myself. I am more honest about my flaws, and although I haven't given up all of my unhealthy habits, I'm much better at noticing the motivations and needs behind them than I was before. I'm comfortable being alone or with others. I'm learning how to comfort myself without medication or distraction or appeasement from others. I am learning how to fully look at the present moment instead of running away, either toward the future in anticipation or back to the past with nostalgia or regret. This is still a difficult thing to do, and I am grateful for the opportunities to improve at it. I also embrace the fact that right now, I'm not great at it. I'm here. Alive. Evolving. I love being in the midst of this transformation. It is in this imperfect and messy place that I feel the most sense of belonging as well as the most free.