Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it.
But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive “one day.” The alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or often times both.
A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by half-hearted attempts to integrate new routines that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement, before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching S.O.S.
Hitting rock-bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.
Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock-bottom.
At first, I figured the lack of energy and enthusiasm for anything but sleep was due to adjusting to a new job. However as the days crept by, my bedtime consisted of me starting at the wall while laying in bed at 7:00 p.m. It was so easy to tell friends that I was unavailable because of work, and even to convince myself that my disinterest in interacting with other people was from spending all day in a busy workplace.
Prior to this spell, getting ready for work involved carefully picking out cute outfits and applying light makeup. Somehow it morphed into dodging the mirror as much as possible, rotating the two pairs of pants and shirt that still fit, and a messy bun that captured how my insides felt. On a good day, mascara and blush were thrown on haphazardly. Looking back at photos during this time period is painful, but I am glad there is some photographic proof that reminds me how far my journey of emotional healing has taken me.
At the age of 24, I was forging a bleak future by ignoring friendships, abandoning passions, and isolating myself from countless of opportunities.
While emotionally berating myself was equivalent to being continuously beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails, the physical impact was also jarring. Lack of energy and depleted motivation coupled with emotional eating led to an unfamiliar bloated appearance that fed into an already heightened self-consciousnesses.
I had already seen the consequences if living this way continued. In a sense, a sort of personal “ghost of Christmas future” can be found on the branches of my family tree. Growing up, I had witnessed firsthand the diminished quality of life resulting from unresolved issues that included failing health, struggles with addiction, disintegration of friendships and warped perception of both themselves and their loved ones. It had been my goal to achieve a polar opposite lifestyle, and the fear of ending up in a similar predicament was the fuel that allowed me to continue forging ahead, even though my nerves were unraveling.
During that point in time, I was so incredible raw with pain on inside, that any type of interaction felt equally painful on the outside. I was at a crossroad that required me to either follow in the footsteps of dysfunction, submerged into my own misery until it eventually resulted in drowning, or figure out a new, sustainable way of living.
Resurfacing alone was not enough this time. Treading water will only keep a head above the surface for so long, until the body exhausts itself to the point where there is no energy left to save itself. In order to put an end to the cycle, my unsustainable, quick-fix doggie paddle needed to be replaced with proper techniques that would keep me afloat, even if it took longer to feel the sustainable results.
Getting to that point of rock-bottom was not something that happened overnight, so it is understandable that detangling myself from years of emotional and physical binding would take time.
Initially, I often felt incredibly foolish and agitated. Self-care was a foreign term with actions that felt unnatural.
Understanding that setting boundaries, limiting time with negative people despite their kinship and taking time to sit with my feelings rather than dismissing them were all self-care techniques that took time to become acquainted with. Some days all of my energy was spent on resisting the urge to run back to enablers of my self-depreciation because the craving for any sort reassurance was so strong. Sifting through my feelings in order to gain a better understanding of their root left me more upset than I initially felt.
On a weekly basis, I sat in my therapist’s office working through the ebbs and flows that were associated with changing my coping strategies. There were some appointments where I would leave Dr. R’s office feeling angry that in the weeks of making adjustments the only noticeable change was going to the grocery store without having a panic attack. Other appointments would be spent sitting in her office releasing unanticipated tears brought on my conversations I had never been able to have before about age-inappropriate situations that transpired when I was kid struggling to cope.
As the emotional baggage began to be examined and dealt with, the heaviness that had been weighing me down began to diminish. The ability to move forward toward the surface, and away from rock bottom, began to be met with less resistance.
Continuously incorporating self-preservation techniques rather than reverting to the default auto-pilot mode has been something I work toward every day. Reflection and awareness of self has gradually become an integrated lifestyle habit, rather than automatically repressing feelings that feel overwhelmingly complicated to handle.
I have also maintained distance from people, including family members, who subconsciously bring their own cloud of toxicity to all of their relationships.
Despite knowing that creating and maintaining boundaries within these relationships has made the most profound impact on my emotional stability, at many points it has been really hard to uphold. But you know what else is really hard? Being suffocated by the crushing weight of depression, anxiety and low-self esteem when you are barely an adult. And knowing that there are decades of life ahead that are starting to resemble the sights and sounds of an existence you swore would never be replicated.
In the two years since penning the article about the realization of hitting my emotional rock bottom, keeping afloat is no longer a constant battle draining my quality of life. During this time, I have been able to flourish at a new job, which has brought financial and professional advancements. Friendships have been more enjoyable with a new found ability to be present in the moment rather than distracted by depression.
Self-soothing after a difficult day at work involves bubble baths, extra snuggle time with my cat and working through solutions of how to make the following day more manageable. A kinder, internal dialogue has replaced the previous instinctive mental boxing match where the only results seemed to be unproductive self-loathing.
Everyday subconscious interactions like entering a room of strangers, genuinely wanting to make plans with friend and even looking at myself in the bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth in the morning are no longer painful. My body has become more comfortable to be in again through my commitment to the nutritional aspect of self-care that focuses on healthier food choices and additional physical activity stemming from increased energy.
Over time, the impact of awareness became noticeable to those around me. While looking back at photos from a few years ago, friends were taken aback of the transformation. As the Hollywood starlet Audrey Hepburn once pointed out, happiest girls are the prettiest. There is a genuine smile and a sparkle of life in the eyes of a person who has a strong sense of inner peace that cannot be replicated through cosmetics or weight loss. The warmth and happiness stemming from my healthier sense of self are two of the most appreciated things in my life, and I am respectful of their contributing factors in order to maintain those feelings.
Now confident in the ability to keeping my head above the surface, the brokenness of the rock-bottom is clearer than ever. If in the future certain circumstances make staying afloat a challenge again, this time I will have the ability to prevent a full blown downward descent and successfully navigate the waves of change.
If you are reading this and at any point this story resonated with you, please remember that you are beautiful.
Right now, you may be going through a tough time that has literally dulled your sparkle. Muster up every bit of mental and physical energy inside of you, and reach out. To your parents, best friend, sister, co-worker or even a psychologist. Make the steps to stop hiding your struggle, so that a village of supportive individuals can stand beside you during this healing process.
I will be honest, you may not feel any better tomorrow. Or next week, and maybe not even next month. But eventually when that relief and calmness begins to enter into your life, it will permanent.
Author: Patrice Bendig
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Guilherme Yagui/Flickr