I write. I don’t speak. I definitely don’t speak in front of groups. But when my dear friend asked me to speak for a few minutes on the negative voice that sometimes dominates my thinking – I felt like I really needed to say yes. Below is a transcript – of sorts – of that speech. If you’ve read my previous blogs, some of this will be a repeat, but I wanted to share it in its entirety (and its a little longer than my typical blogs and in a slightly different style) for the purpose of keeping it whole.
When I was asked to speak tonight – every cell in my body wanted to say no and run away. Speaking in front of a group is one of those things I’m not naturally inclined to do, and it ranks right up there with the stereotypical root canal experience.
So, if you were to assume that I’m a bit nervous to be up here, you would be correct. But, I said yes, because about two years ago, I made a pointed decision to be more intentional about speaking up and speaking out about mental health, and to be vulnerable and real with others about my own struggles. I made this decision, because I believe that a large part of the stigma and shame we experience in relation to asking for help – be it with our mental health, our parenting struggles, our marriage frustrations, our daily tasks, or WHATEVER – is that we don’t believe anyone else could understand our struggles. That we are alone.
A little backstory: I’m 39, going to hit the big 4-0 in a few months. Married to my high school sweetheart for almost 21 years, and so yes – if you do that backwards math you’ll discover we got married pretty close to straight out of high school. We were babies. Speaking of babies – we’ve got three kids: They run the gamut with a daughter that is freshman in college, a daughter that is a freshman in high school, and a son who is a 2nd grader and is teaching us that we know absolutely nothing about raising boys.
So, that is a little bit about my family, and I, of course, love them to bits. I also love tacos – I will never ever turn down a taco. I love spreadsheets – I have spreadsheets for schedules and budgets and what size air filters our A/C unit needs. I am pretty sure I can solve almost all of the worlds problems, if I had a big enough spreadsheet.
And I love Jesus. I’m a Jesus follower. Born and raised in a Southern Baptist Church here in North Georgia, I became a Jesus follower at a young age. As churchy as it sounds, it is accurate to say He has been a very real and constant part of my life from my childhood.
But neither my love for my family, nor my love of Tacos. . .nor my love of Jesus prevented me from struggling with my mental health. I’ve been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and I’ve struggled with Suicidal Ideation.
I’ve battled mental illness since I was a fairly young child. I was always high stress/high strung, and obsessed with perfectionism, but as I rolled toward puberty, this went from low-level simmer to an all-encompassing boil. I was completely unable to manage my emotions on my own, and at age 11 I began self-harming, and at age 12 I began contemplating suicide.
As I mentioned, I grew up in the church and we weren’t just involved peripherally – we were ALL IN. My parents were on committees, I went at least 3 times a week, the church people were truly OUR people, and our community. But what my church wasn’t – was a place that I could talk to anyone about how I was feeling. Instead – at that particular church and that particular time – mental illness was something that was taken to indicate a problem in your relationship with God. A lack of faith, a lack of His Joy, a brokenness, a gigantic big red flag that you didn’t trust Jesus enough.
And so, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to. Instead – there was just this other voice that I heard constantly.
Her voice made so much sense. Everything she told me sounded true. And no one else was saying anything to me to contradict her. And so I listened as she told me that I was unworthy, unlovable, broken, wrong. I listened over and over as she told me that no one else would understand what I was feeling, everyone would know that I was not a good person, everyone would see me as the fraud I was. I listened when she told me that no one would ever love me, that God was unhappy with me, that my feelings – my anxiety and depression – meant my relationship with Jesus was fake.
I continued to listen to this voice for many, many years.
At times, in seasons, her voice has been quieter and at times louder. She rails against me and tells me that I’m too fat, too wide, too short, too odd-looking. She reminds me often that I’m too neurotic, too complicated, too weird, too broken. She tells me I will never get better, never have it all together, never know real happiness.
After my first child was born, her voice seemed to became even more specific, even more taunting, even more dark. As I battled to find the energy and motivation to do anything beyond go to work, feed my baby, and pray for sleep. . . she told me that I was a terrible mother. That everyone else could handle this parenting gig, but I could not. That I would never get better, that I was damaging my child and that child would be better off without me. My husband would be better off without me. The world would be better off without me.
I went more than 18 months after the birth of my daughter, with this voice being the loudest voice I knew, 18 months of telling no one how I felt, what I thought, how defeated and overwhelmed I was. And one day, her voice had become so thunderous, drowning out anything and everything else, that when she told me that killing myself made the most sense, not for myself, but for everyone I loved – I believed her.
This voice, that I had listened to because I had no other voices to listen to, because I was too ashamed and scared to tell anyone what was going on with me, this voice, together with several other factors, pushed me to the edge of suicide.
I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t die. I got help and in the last 17 plus years, I have taken that help in the form of medication (both your common antidepressants and more alternative medicines), therapy, prayer, support groups, diet and exercise, meditation, light box therapy, and heaven knows what all else. And each and every one of those avenues of help have sustained me in their season, and gotten me to this point.
But this is where it gets a little hard for me to wrap this up. Everyone loves a story that ends in victory, right? I want to be able to finish up by telling you “It was hard. I fought and struggled. But now I have prevailed by following these three steps!”
Sometimes I really wish that was my story. But my story is not yet fully victorious. The voice is still there. I still hear her. Sometimes she is quieter, sometimes she is louder. But I still hear her.
My guess, is that you hear her too. She might not be telling you exactly what she tells me. I hope she is not so intense that she is driving you to harm yourself. But you hear her.
You hear her when she tells you that you are not worthy. That you are not lovable. That you aren’t as good of a mother or wife or employee or daughter as someone else. That God could not love you – because you are broken or damaged.
You hear her when she tells you that you are not worthy of friendship, of health, of happiness.
You hear her when she tells you aren’t worthy of having your own voice, your own feelings, your own dreams.
You hear her too.
So while I can’t wrap this up as nicely as I wish, and although I am not speaking to you today from a place of victory, I am speaking to you from a place of experience. And there are some things I’ve learned that I want to make sure I share with you.
- That voice – is a liar. When she says you aren’t enough, when she says you aren’t worthy, when she says you are alone, unlovable, outcast – she is lying. When she says you are too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too weird, too quirky, too broken, too damaged. . . . lying. You are worthy, and lovely and loved. Loved by those of us here in this room, and by God. Believe God’s voice. If God’s voice is too vague for you right now, or too far away – that’s ok too. You can listen to my voice for right now. You are worthy, and lovely and loved.
- You are not alone. You are not alone in your struggles, you are not alone in your feelings of uncertainty or grief or fear or darkness. Not alone with your body image, with your parenting battles, with your inadequacies, with your failures, with your complications. You are not alone. And believing you are alone only makes it harder to heal.
- That voice gets louder in the silence. So, when you forget #1 (that the voice is a liar) and you forget #2 (and begin to feel all alone), that voice will begin to get louder. And the second, the very moment you notice the voice has gotten louder – find someone. And tell them. And you’ll find that this will quiet her down. Brene Brown once wrote that “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.” My story, in part, is the story that it is because I lived with secrecy and silence and fear of judgement. So for me, I have a support group that I meet with once a week – we just check in over a cup of coffee and talk about what is good and what is hard and where we are hurting. I’ve got a couple of close girlfriends that I know I can text with just a “Hey, it’s rough right now and I’m fighting” and they’ll tell me its ok, that they love me, that they get it. And then they’ll tell me to keep going. And I do the same for them.
- And finally – Drown her out with Love and Truth. Speaking up about my struggles, allows others to speak love and truth to me. And it’s allowed me to learn to do the same for others. That voice. . .the one that tells me lies, that I still hear. . . .that voice has lied to me my whole life. That voice has lied to you. We can drown her out, because there are other voices out there worth listening to. There are voices here tonight that will tell you the truth, voices that will speak of love and acceptance, and I want to be one of them. You are worthy, and lovely and loved. So much more than you could ever imagine. And when you are listening to THAT truth, it’s so much harder to hear the lies.
*****It’s also National Suicide Prevention Month****
Help is available