Cultivating Hope in Trying Times

“This isn’t who I am!” I would scream in my head day after day of living in a messed up version of Groundhog Day that I unaffectionately titled, “The Covid Crap Show”. My patience for my kids, and more importantly for myself, had flown out the window along with all the other things I took for granted in my pre-covid life. Week after week, month after month, I started to lose hope. Hope that I could keep sane amidst the chaos of the immense challenges our country and our world were now facing. Hope that I could even semi-successfully help my 4th and 1st grade kids as they attended school through an iPad. Hope that I could handle a super social toddler screaming, “I just want to be around my size kids!” I miss my friends too, I’d tell her.

After attending 3 virtual funerals in the spring, it became a struggle to smile or laugh. The weight of it all seemed too much to bear. I wanted to help, I wanted to create change but I didn’t know how to—especially in my current state of overwhelming anxiety and depression. There is a quote in Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection that presented a path forward, “If we want to cultivate hopefulness, we have to be willing to be flexible and demonstrate perseverance….. Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.” I started to lose belief in myself. I had not remained firmly rooted during the storm because I refused to bend to the force of the wind. My negative self talk had me convinced that I wasn’t strong enough to get through this, that bending was really just a different version of breaking. I had come to believe my anxiety would consume me forever and that I should get used to the knot in my stomach, for the storm was here to stay.

After confiding in a friend about my current state, she shared with me how she started taking medication for her anxiety and the intense weight she had been carrying around gradually became lighter. It took me months and months of knowing I needed more help before heeding her advice. The stigma surrounding medication is real but for me it was the fear of “what if it doesn’t work? What if my symptoms get worse? I’ve tried this and I’ve tried that and tried this again and none of it worked.” What finally saved me? Buying a business in the middle of a roaring global pandemic. That’s right. I bought a fitness franchise called FIT4MOM in a time where the world - and maybe even me - was starting to fall apart. I began a battle with my anxiety over whether this was the right thing to do. I knew in my heart that it was but my anxiety almost won the war by convincing me that I couldn’t handle it. But then I reminded myself that I coach moms through a program called Body Well, which is a series of exercise classes that not only guides women down a personal fitness journey but also dives into the importance of mental health and the significance of self-care for your whole self: mind, body and soul. And I am great at it. But I have also realized that I need to get well and take care of myself emotionally as well as physically if I was going to coach others to do the same, so I could be a better teacher and a better me. So, I did. I took the steps I needed to take by continuing to go to therapy and by trusting a psychiatrist to prescribe me the medication I needed to help with my anxiety and depression. It took weeks of some intense side effects but, as my friend described, I finally began to feel the weight being lifted. My ever constant knot that I have lived with for over 25 years began to unravel and I didn’t give time and concern to the things that didn’t deserve it anymore. My mind and body finally sighed with relief and thought “I think this is what I am supposed to feel like” and “This must be how people living without depression and anxiety feel like when they wake up in the morning.”

I have been battling so hard for so long; I thought it was my burden to carry through life, but deep down I knew it wasn’t true. We all deserve to feel inner peace and love for ourselves. That doesn’t mean constantly exuding confidence or leading a stress-free life, but rather finding the love that our souls hold onto as things get really tough. When we combine these two, I think we are better able to cultivate hope in our lives.

If you’re struggling to find a way back to yourself. I get it. I feel you. This past year was something no one could prepare for, but as we begin to heal from the wounds that 2020 inflicted, I hope you’ll love yourself enough to reach out to others so that we can heal together. Although it's been said “time heals all wounds”, I also think there is truth to the healing power of being vulnerable. This is where I start in 2021, with an intention to be vulnerable, to show up for myself so I can show up for others, and to unapologetically be my authentic self. Here’s to living life colorfully because grey is so 2020!

"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown