To be Free

“I just wish I could shut my brain off sometimes.” I said, sobbing in a therapy session as I recounted the recent times I had been so terrified of something, I became incapacitated.
I wanted more for myself than a longing to live in solitude, and I felt like the key was to stop overthinking every-little-thing.
My Aunt, knowing my recent struggles, pointed me toward Eckhart Tolle’s teachings and I became immersed in YouTube clips of his talks. In a matter of days, my thinking changed. I added his book, The Power of Now, to my Christmas list and Hubby came through-knowing how badly I needed a new lease on life.
Everything changed. Everything got brighter. Because through his teachings, I’ve learned that the past is truly insignificant and it’s no longer apart of me. I’ve learned that my constant concern for what other’s think of me is irrelevant, and just a product of society’s impact on my life. I’ve learned that worry for the future is just a silly projection in my mind, and has no place in the present moment. I’ve learned to be less afraid of being awkward. I’ve learned how to better communicate with my husband. I’ve learned how to let go of things. I’ve learned how to access the love in my heart and let that run my life, instead of my mind. I’ve learned to let go of my judgements on others. I’ve learned to better enjoy my days. I’ve learned how to be a better follower of Christ. 
Guys. I spent 24 years dwelling on the past. 24 years feeling like I was still that defiant child, that bad friend, that chubby bikini wearer, that girl that was obsessed with boys, that unreliable person, that high school nobody.  
And every time I thought about the past in that way, I gave power to moments LONG gone. I let the past rule over me and hold me back from a free life. My ego relied on those memories and self judgements, and told me they were my identity-all I would ever amount to be. 

But nothing could be more wrong. 
I’m defined by something much deeper: my soul. And you know what my soul is? It’s the Holy Spirit living within me. 

Beneath the confines of my mind is love and light. That is how I want to live-without restriction from the past, the future, or others. 
I am.
And that’s all I need to be. Because that’s all I need to be, I am free.
I don’t do affiliate links and I’m not trying to get ya’ll to spend your money, but consider listening to Eckhart Tolle on YouTube and maybe buying his book, The Power of Now. Amazon’s got it used for $6 and that’s a small price to pay for a tool to free you from misery. And if you do decide to try it out, get in touch! I’d love to hear your thoughts and discuss the takeaway! 

Acceptance, Then Victory

Postpartum Depression really was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to confront some issues that I didn’t realize were hindering my ability to function.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been incredibly sensitive, I’ve always worried about what people are thinking of me and trying to adjust accordingly. I’ve always had nervous habits like biting my nails or picking my skin-I used to carry a box of band aids in my purse because it was so bad. I thought these were all just quirks-just my personality-just human nature. But then sometimes I would feel so nervous or shaken by something that I’d wonder if life was really worth living. I’d drive for hours and sit on the edge of a cliff and wonder if I really had anything more to live for. Anxiety tried to kill me and it’s greatest weapon was convincing me that I was simply over-dramatic.

When I was 9, someone robbed my family’s home after a week+ of stalking us. Even after he shattered our world, he showed up in our backyard once again and sent a fear into me like I had never known. That event has haunted me since. I was scared to be home alone, terrified of people turning around in my driveway, always sure that everyone’s intent was to harm me or my family. But I wasn’t just afraid, I was acting on it. I was taking note of my self defense options and sometimes preparing to use them. I was contemplating what I would say when confronting someone out to hurt me. I did this constantly. I was always believing disaster was about to strike, and I was always thinking about what I could do to save my family. Even worse, I believed that those thoughts were some sort of sign that my brain was right. 

The hormones of giving birth really sent all of these emotions over the edge and there was no more denying that my experience was abnormal. But it turns out that all of these things I always thought were just part of my personality we’re actually holding me back from enjoying life.

Once I conquered Postpartum Depression in therapy, I realized that the things I had been dealing with were not “normal” and that a tiny chemical issue in my brain was sending me into anxiety’s grip. It turns out that even outside of Postpartum Depression, I have struggled with anxiety and ptsd for too long.

Now, I grew up believing that matters of the brain are an option, like I could just choose to enjoy life but I hadn’t chosen to do that. And I continued to believe that because there were days when I was incredibly happy. I always thought I just needed more days like that and the only reason I didn’t have them was because I was a grumpy person by nature.

I had to accept that my definition of Ashley: “generally happy person, loves deeply, feels every emotion x10, shy and reserved, socially awkward, occasionally struggles with extreme sadness” was not actually ME. And once I accepted that my lifelong understanding of myself was wrong, I actually conquered it.

I’d spent a lifetime believing I was the problem. But over the past few years, I really started to wonder if what I was feeling was a character flaw or something more. There were times when I would feel dead inside, but had the self awareness to take a picture so that later on I could look at it and remember that I REALLY was in a dark, dark place-maybe a place that was not normal. And after trying to resolve it on my own unsuccessfully, I decided to let health professionals have a shot.

I think society generally believes that being medicated for “mental issues” deems a person “crazy”.
You’re welcome to believe what you like, but here’s the thing:

I’m really, really happy. I’m really enjoying life instead of faking it. I’m actually able to combat daily obstacles that used to render me hopeless. I am genuinely in love with life. I’m a better Mom. I’m a better wife. I’m a better friend. I’m a better person. 
And if I need medical help to be that better person, I have no shame in it. Because I truly believe that being able to admit to having a weakness, one that developed under circumstances I could not control, proves I am incredibly strong and willing to do whatever necessary to be a better person, regardless of what that entails or how you feel about it.

But medication and counseling are not all that has contributed to changing my life. I’ve also found a new love for my faith and spent much more time focusing on personal development and being present in the moment. I’m working hard to shed the parts of me I have always identified with and embrace God within me, living with the single goal to glorify Him.

I cannot put into words what the combination of these things have done for me. Normally, I’d worry that anyone reading this would think I have “totally lost it” but the truth is, I’m just putting all of this out there hoping to help anyone else on their journey through life.

It turns out, my anxiety and tendency toward worry is probably genetic. It’s probably something that people I’m related to deal with also. I think it’s incredibly common in a lot of people but has always been explained away with the labels “bad attitude” or “pessimistic” or “over-thinking”. We have to realize that those things are only normal to a point and there are lots of options for defeating the “fear” that plagues us. 

It’s not popular to try counseling or consider medication or focus on God or shedding our human tendencies. But I’m really convinced that someday, anxiety would have ruined my life in one way or another, and I’m just hoping that an overall sense of awareness can end that stigma. 
There’s a good chance my son will have anxious tendencies and a tiny chemical imbalance, but I’ll know how to help him before it hurts him, because now I know that there is “bad attitude” and then there is “genetic chemical imbalance that results in an overactive brain”.

It’s going to end here. I won’t let anxiety and depression take control of me or my family, and I have that hope for anyone that deals with the same burden.

We scannot conquer it until we accept that it’s a real problem. We cannot experience victory before we accept that there is a war to be won. It’s hard to be in the light without admitting we’ve been in the dark.