So life, yep life. Here it is for all to know and understand. Five months ago I left my marriage. That’s where I’ve been….. on the ground, fighting to stay on my feet, trying my damndest to maintain order for my kids, attempting to figure out where everything went wrong, but ultimately I have been taking a long hard look at myself.
Once I managed to pull all the superficial pieces of my life together (house, bills, separation agreement, custody schedule, blah, blah blah), I had time. No seriously, I had a lot of time. Because of my profession I am off 2 months of the year, and that “vacation” just happened to fall at the same time as when I was coming “down” from all the chaos. May sound appealing, but believe me, when you are going through emotional and psychological turmoil the last thing you want is free time.
I spent countless hours, spilled countless tears, and felt hopeless more times then I’d like to admit. I battled inner demons that I have had my entire life. Although I’d like to say that I left because my husband was an asshole, I can’t. He is an amazing man. Unfortunately we grew apart and it got to a point that I felt I had to leave. I needed to get past blaming him, and really turn the magnifying glass inward. Where did my responsibilities lie?
I am beyond grateful for the strong and supportive women I have in my life. Going through something as significant as a divorce really shows you who you can count on and who your true friends are, and thankfully I have quite a few. Not many people get to see me weak, in fact weakness is something I have always resented in myself. I am the person people lean on, not the person who asks for help. This time though, my life had gotten out of control and I needed help. I called my best friends at all hours of the day and night. When I laid my head down at night and couldn’t breathe because I was crying so hard, they were there for me. There is no possible way I would still be standing if it wasn’t for their unwavering strength. But as much support as they have offered me I couldn’t keep depending on them to rescue me, I knew I still needed something more. I needed to figure out why my marriage had failed and why I was so unhappy. I needed to look more at me.
And so I did something that I have avoided doing my whole life. I called a psychologist. Now let me be clear, I 150% believe in people seeking counseling, the issue for me was that I never wanted to be labeled. I never wanted to be diagnosed with anything for fear of being looked at differently. The difference now? I was a mother of 2 and I was soon to be a divorced mother of 2. If it wasn’t now, it wasn’t ever.
I lucked out and managed to find the most amazing counselor I could’ve asked for. I have been going once a week for the last almost 2 months, and plan on continuing to go until I feel like I’ve really gotten to the bottom of my issues.
She has asked some HARD questions, I mean seriously hard ass questions. She made me realize that although I am very confident in the person I am when it comes to work, school, presenting myself, etc….I don’t love myself, and because I don’t love myself I have never trusted anyone. So many things I thought were normal in my head I have come to realize are very out of the ordinary. People sometimes go through negative periods, but never going into the positive was not normal. I have a problem, in fact I have admittedly come to realize that I suffer from severe anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder.
I honestly can’t believe I am sharing this publicly, but I feel the need to in case there is some one else reading this who needs help. My second session of counseling my counselor, let’s call her J, and I were discussing how I felt about myself. She asked me the things I liked about myself, to which I gave her a couple standard answer (I’m organized, hard working, driven), and then she asked me to go deeper. When I couldn’t she turned the questions onto compliments. She asked me if people ever complimented me, and I said yes. She then asked me to list a couple compliments I had been given recently. This was the first break through moment for me…..My chest tightened, my heart began skipping beats, my thoughts got fuzzy, my breathing quickened, my neck and shoulders raised up and got tight, I started crying and felt faint. In the middle of this comforting room, with a supportive woman sitting across from me, I had a full blown, laid me out flat on the couch, panic attack. Now I have had many panic attacks throughout my life, several resulting in fainting, and for that reason I am usually very aware of what may set me off. NEVER in my life would I have guessed that such a simple question would cause my reaction. It took nearly 10 minutes before I could gather myself and sit back up. I couldn’t believe it. I have always known I struggle with accepting compliments, but I have never realized just how uncomfortable with them I am. It dawned on me, I don’t accept love because I have never believed I deserved it.
I have had so many people in my life try to love me. So many people who would say nice things and try to build me up. I never accepted any of it. I have ALWAYS kept people at arm’s lengths. For years I avoided being friends with people because I was sure they would figure me out, not like me, and leave me. In fact, I have come to realize that I have always believed that everyone was lying. That every time someone has said something nice about me I have defaulted to the thought “they are just saying that to be nice, they don’t actually mean it”. No one ever wanted to be friend or date me, they just did it to be nice or to get something out of it. It was never me that people wanted. I was always second rate. That session is when I finally realized that I had a real, genuine psychological problem.
That was 4 sessions ago and I still haven’t been able to compliment myself out loud (or repeat a compliment). The really sad and honest part is, I wish I was exaggerating. I wish that I was just making this seem worse because I’m trying to help other people. Those closest to me, those who have been by my side through all of this, know the sad truth. I need more than support, I need to restructure my entire cognitive being. My entire life I have lived my life one way, keeping myself safe from hurt, not letting anyone know me for fear of rejection. And now? Now I need to figure out how to love myself, to take the risk of letting other people know me, the real me, all the strong and worse the weak parts of me.
Although that may sound like I’m not getting anywhere, I truly believe that being made aware of that issue has allowed me to start to consider that maybe some people aren’t just saying it to be nice. I have started to accept some positive into my life. Again thankfully, I have wonderful support that has not waivered. I have people standing by my side offering lists of compliments so that I can read them in counseling 🙂
I have also started using a lot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques in trying to change my very negative mindset. Here is the basis of what I am doing now (taken from this website: http://www.nelsonbinggeli.net/NB/CBT-CR.html):
The term “cognitive distortion” refers to errors in thinking or patterns of thought that are biased in some way. They may include: (A) interpretations that are not very accurate and which selectively filter the available evidence, (B) evaluations that are harsh and unfair, and/or (C) expectations for oneself and for others that are rigid and unreasonable. The more a person’s thinking is characterized by these distortions, the more they are likely to experience disturbing emotions and to engage in maladaptive behavior. A number of common patterns2 of cognitive distortions have been identified, including:
1. All-or-nothing thinking: Looking at things in absolute, black-and-white categories, instead of on a continuum. For example, if something is less than perfect, one sees it as a total failure.
2. Overgeneralization: Viewing a negative event as a part of a never-ending pattern of negativity while ignoring evidence to the contrary. You can often tell if you’re overgeneralizing if you use words such as never, always, all, every, none, no one, nobody, or everyone.
3. Mental filter: Focusing on a single negative detail and dwelling it on it exclusively until one’s vision of reality becomes darkened.
4. Magnification or minimization (e.g., magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive): Exaggerating the importance of one’s problems and shortcomings. A form of this is called “catastrophizing” in which one tells oneself that an undesirable situation is unbearable, when it is really just uncomfortable or inconvenient.
5. Discounting the positive: Telling oneself that one’s positive experiences, deeds, or personal qualities don’t count in order to maintain a negative belief about oneself. Or doing this to someone else.
6. Mind reading: Concluding what someone is thinking without any evidence, not considering other possibilities, and making no effort to check it out.
7. Fortune telling: Anticipating that things will turn out badly, and feeling convinced that the prediction is an already established fact. It often involves: (A) overestimating the probability of danger, (B) exaggerating the severity of the consequences should the feared event occur, and (C) underestimating one’s ability to cope should the event occur. B and C are also examples of catastrophizing.
8. Emotional reasoning: Assuming that one’s negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are (e.g., “Because I feel it, it must be true.” “I feel stupid, therefore I am stupid”).
9. Rigid rules (perfectionism). Having a precise, fixed idea of how oneself or others should behave, and overestimating how bad it is when these expectations are not met. Often phrased as “should” or “must” statements.
10. Unfair judgments: Holding oneself personally responsible for events that aren’t (or aren’t entirely) under one’s control, or blaming other people and overlooking ways in which one might have also contributed to the problem.
11. Name-calling: Putting an extremely negative and emotionally-loaded label on oneself or others. It is an extreme form of magnification and minimization, and also represents a gross overgeneralization.
I couldn’t believe when J handed me that list, I read down through each point and realized that I have lived my life utilizing every single one of those distortions. How could I ever have expected to live a positive life, when every single time I thought of myself all I ever thought was framed negatively?
Of course part of my therapy has been to figure out where this mindset came from. To look back at key moments and relationships in my life and look at the points in which I was stomped down, made to feel worthless, made to feel like I would never live up to expectations. My challenge now is to learn to let those go. To be aware of the terror of my previous rejections, and to not let that fear rule my life anymore. So much easier said than done, but I feel like even over these past 2 months I have made some significant progress.
So there it is friends. My life has been forever altered. I have fallen down, I have gotten back up, and I have learned. Best of all, I am continuing to learn to love me and let others love me. Yes, I am sad it has taken me 33 years, but I am also ecstatic that it didn’t take me another 33. This is the life I want to lead. I want to be the example. I have been in dark, very lonely places, but I have always gotten myself back up and headed toward that light. This time I don’t want anything to get in my way. I want to learn to be happy. It’s time, my time.