A couple months ago I said goodbye to twenty-nine and entered a whole new decade of life! I am so grateful and excited to enter this new decade of life both healthily and happily. The twenties were such a transformative time for me mentally, and I can’t help but tear up a little (maybe a lot) when I think back to the girl I started out my 20s as. I am so proud of the woman I have become (and am becoming).
The next three blog posts will be about the lessons my 20s taught me.
My last year in my 20s will live in my memory as the year I started truly listening to myself which ultimately led me to start living life from a place of authenticity. Halfway through my 29th year I had an epiphany of sorts as I reflected on past years of my life and noted the huge ways in which I have been pushed to change. The start of my twenties were tumultuous years. My mother, younger sister and I had just found our footing in Florida, the state we moved to after my older sister died unexpectedly. I didn’t think I’d ever recover from all that happened. From the foreclosure on the home I grew up in, to being homeless and living out of motels, to losing my father to alcoholism…I spent most of my 20th year in a sadness I had never encountered before. I felt broken in ways that made me think life wasn’t worth living and became grudgeful of the future. I didn’t understand why life had brought my family and I so many problems all at once. Everything felt difficult, so I stopped doing everything. It wasn’t until two years later when I finally sought help after taking my first courses in psychology that I realized I had been battling depression all along, that that empty feeling was a symptom of a depression that had begun in my late teens.
When I think back to my former self, the girl whose heart was broken, who felt so lost and who only thought bad things could and would happen to her, I cry. I cry tears of pride because of what still lived inside of me even then: hope. I knew even then, despite the trials that had been thrown at me, that there would be more to my life. Through the awful thoughts I contemplated, through those moments of sadness, I still knew somewhere deep down that there were happier days ahead, days I daydreamed about, days I prayed for after getting help and reviving my faith. And I was right.
Since those days of despair, there have been days of happiness, many days of happiness, the big kind of happiness stemming from life’s big moments, and the little kind of happiness that I’m not sure I’d appreciate as much had I not experienced turmoil in my earlier years. What I realize now that I didn’t know in my earlier twenties as I battled depression was how those moments, those moments I hated, those moments of sadness and despair, molded me into someone who is both strong and soft and full of gratitude. I can open myself more easily than before and listen to the problems of others without feeling uncomfortable, for I’ve felt sadness too. I don’t have a strong attachment to the things I can own or buy, for I’ve lost it all before. I can let go of the things that bother me more easily and even when I’m straying from this, I can more easily come back to peace.
All of these moments that felt so overwhelming and difficult molded me. They created someone stronger, more sensitive and more malleable, someone who believes in second winds, second chances, and rising from ashes. It was from these moments and confronting the mental effects they had on me that I was able to experience true growth.
And this has been my story for years, a story that has made me feel strong and powerful. I felt like I could truly relate to and help those around me who had experienced the pains life could offer. I felt like I could reach out to people who needed me and provide them comfort and hope. And I did, many times in different ways for different reasons. And through this I believed I found my purpose, what I wanted to do in my life, what I wanted my life’s work to be.
By my 28th birthday, living in this story, I found myself feeling the happiest, most at peace and hopeful I’d ever felt in my life, like I could truly do all the things I wanted to do. My inner work felt like it had paid off. I knew it was paying off; I could see it paying off in my choices and in my actions. I forgave. I forgave myself. I forgave my father. I forgave myself for not forgiving sooner. I dwelled less; I felt in tune. I felt focused. A quiet smile would appear on my face when I thought about my life.
It felt so damn good to feel so damn happy.
What I didn’t know was in a few short weeks I would lose my mother, my anchor, my biggest support, and that strength and happiest I felt so strongly throughout my being would be tested. What I didn’t know was in dealing with this new grief my relationships would be tested, my faith would be tested and the picture of my life that had seemed so clear would start to feel fuzzy again. What I didn’t know was I would spend a year battling myself once again, that my old negative thoughts would resurface, and that my anxiety would lead me to believe life was just one big obstacle after another.
The grief of my mother brought back much of the insecurity and sadness I thought I had already overcome. The negative thoughts and feelings I had chased away resurfaced, but I tried to give them as little energy as possible. Did it matter that I felt like the rug of happiness had been pulled from underneath me? Was it even rational to feel this way? I’d been through more surprising, more difficult experiences, so why did this make me feel like I was sinking? And I lived in these emotions for nearly a year. My rational mind understood these feelings would past, and I tried to manage them in the way that seemed to make sense – either minimizing my feelings or dismissing them all together. I tried grieving in spurts – eg. On Monday I will cry from 1 to 2pm…. I tried to reach out to the people I thought could offer support and felt miffed or irrationally angry when I didn’t get the type of support I’d expected. I tried journaling, exercising, gratitude lists, etc… But when I still felt the low frequency of depression humming within me, I knew I had to explore different avenues and new approaches I had not taken before.
Some of these approaches and admissions felt like mini failures. Was my faith so insecure that it could be so easily rocked? Did seeking therapy again mean I had not ever truly healed? Did admitting that things in my life felt off mean nothing was right? The answer to all of those questions is obviously no, and though it took some more healing and some time to get to where I am right now, I can already see how this loss has shaped me.
There is something about confronting the emotions and thoughts I experienced in my depression head on that has helped me see things about myself and my life more clearly. I spent so much of the time after my mother’s death petending to be okay for both the sake of those around me and myself. When I was finally honest with myself about what I truly was feeling, I realized I had retreated back to my old habits, masquerading as someone who was not grieving, as someone who had it all together. Giving myself the freedom to be in pain, to be sad, angry and upset – it opened the door for healing and for growth.
Sometimes the push for growth comes in ways and situations that are heartbreaking, that feel like they might break you down. But in reality, these moments present the opportunity for something better to be built, something more sound. The final year of my twenties taught me that I will encounter lessons I may have to relearn. I will encounter circumstances that require me to rebuild. I will encounter moments that feel heavier than I can carry, and I will have to trudge along, to become stronger…to become more resolute. And I may have to do this, again and again and again.
And that is okay.
That is just life.
Looking back at my 20s brings a wash of contradicting emotions: joy, sorrow, embarrassment, pride… But overall the feeling that undoubtedly persists is gratitude. The experiences that have built me up and torn me down molded me. They created a beautifully flawed human being, one who is always changing and adapting, one who makes the wrong choices and right ones, one who has at least five questions to one answer. The older I grow the more I realize that life is all about these conflicting poles, these moments we must balance. Sometimes one pole may be pulling harder than the other and finding that balance may feel impossible, but it isn’t. Moments of peace always exists when we allow them to.
On my 30th birthday as I sat at the head of our vacation stay’s walnut table, a fruit topped cake before me, the reverberating laughter from the people I love most bouncing off the walls of the room, I shook my head in awe. I shook my head in slight disbelief. How, after all that I believed had broken me, after all that I believed I could never feel again, how had I arrived at this moment? How had I arrived at such a beautiful moment with such beautiful people? How had I arrived at a place where once again, just like that, it felt so damn good to feel so damn happy and that hope that lived inside me at 21 was still alive and well at 30 years old? I smiled to myself, shaking my head, tears brimming my eyes threatening to ruin the mascara I carefully applied and arrived at this final thought:
That. That is just life.