Getting help taught me I’m worthy of giving myself the kind of love others give me.
That’s how I end an essay of mine Women’s Health is publishing next week about my own experiences with getting mental health help. The celebrity suicides in the news last week hit close to home with me on the idea of high-functioning depression and not all objects are as they may appear. The human experience contains multitudes; the week before I was hospitalized, I attended a charity ball. Two weeks after I left the hospital, I attended the life-changing Write Doe Bay. Yet sandwiched between the two was the nadir of my experience, my own rock bottom.
Starting this blog, having it be successful-for-me early on, running marathons—all of those were amazing for my self-confidence, and I stopped attempting to deflect compliments and really took them to heart, instead. I wear my heart on my sleeve, though, and it didn’t take long for that thick skin to become thin and stretched out from a number of things that were going on in my life. As hard as I tried, I took those negative words to heart, too. All of them, not just the constructive ones.
And for years, really, I’ve been looking for that La Mer of moisturizers for my soul, to nourish me back to that thick, supple skin. But I’ve been putting that balm together, one ingredient at a time, learning to love and be gentle with myself.
They say depression lies, and so I’ve done so much work on thought restructuring and reframing, to help my brain tell me more helpful thoughts than “I hate you, you’re incapable of accomplishing anything, nobody will ever take you seriously” and the always-helpful “none of this fucking matters and will never change. Life will never get better.”
And that restructuring starts with treating myself with love.
I am broken. I became this way officially on July 8 last year, but anticipatory grief is a real thing, y’all, and the breaking started last spring as she slipped away from us. But I’ve been fighting my ass off to put myself back together and to learn how to love myself, how to self-mother.
I’ve been working with an RD, Kelly Hogan, for the past month or so. I started working with her because I was frustrated with how I looked, how my clothes were fitting, I needed accountability. She told me at the outset she didn’t focus on weight loss, and I nodded along, saying I assumed that the healthy changes would result in weight loss.
I kept feeling like I was “failing” at working on my nutrition, not eating as “well” as I
wanted to thought I should be. “There’s no failing at this,” Kelly told me.
But at some point last week, this quote popped into my head. (After running social for four years for a fitness brand, I sometimes think in inspirational quotes.)
For a while after losing the weight, after being so conscious about everything that went in my mouth, I haven’t cared what I ate (and it shows.) But, finally, after making lots of mini-goals with Kelly, it dawned on me (and I know how obvious this may be to many of you): to eat because I love my body (or, uh, fake it till you make it?). I know dairy bothers me, yet I keep eating cheese because I love it. I know iced coffee on an empty stomach is NO BUENO, yet I keep drinking it because it’s so good. I don’t have to give up these things, but when I reframed my frustrations to focus on what would really make my body feel better, it was much easier to make those decisions than making them from a place of I “shouldn’t” have those things.
And as I mentioned to my doctor yesterday, my energy levels are low. I’m trying to follow my own advice for working out through depression and thinking of my mental health like physical health. You wouldn’t tell someone struggling with a physical malady to just do their damn workout, right? So why am I telling myself that? I realized that pushing myself with low energy was resulting in lots of tightness and creaky joints—or maybe that’s just 35?! I’m focusing my workouts on lots of yoga right now. When you’ve worked out at a high intensity for years, it’s honestly a really hard shift to make, but I know it will serve me long-term. And coaching is just as rewarding to me right now as running harder myself was in the past. (Speaking of—I’m running a 12-week half-marathon program for the first time ever. I’m so, so excited. You can sign up here or you can always email me at theodora at preppyrunner dot com for more info!)
tl;dr, 35 years in, I’m learning to love myself, to mother myself (in both ways Carol would want me to, and in the ways she would freak out about, like giving in to the four surprise days in Colombia, which she would have thought was too dangerous.) And I’m learning a real adult, holistic, healthy, non-obsessive approach to my health that’s meeting me where I am right now.
How has your approach to health changed as you’ve gotten older (or as life circumstances have required more gentleness)?