“I woke up one day and realized I was too caught up in doing for others and trying to keep everyone else happy that I had exhausted all the time, energy, and self-love I needed to keep for myself.”
– www.southernfriedambitious.blogsot.com, January 2015
Over the past four years, I experienced a good number of life altering events that broke me down and grew me up. Moving to California in the midst of my parents tumultuous separation, falling in love and getting my heart broken, losing friendships, losing my first fashion industry career, and then moving back home to Dallas for three months all dealt some pretty severe blows to my stability, confidence, and overall functioning in daily life. Towards the end of 2105, I had absolutely no idea where my life was headed, but of course, I faked my smile and went on about my way. I mean, who I was that the world would stop and wait for me to get over whatever I was going through, right? Perpetuating the Black Superwoman façade, I told myself to just suck it up and stay strong. Within a few months, I managed to bounce back after getting accepted into graduate school and starting a full-time career, but little did I know, I was already on a downward spiral. I overworked myself and left little room for extracurricular activities, because well, I was an adult now, and my bills wouldn’t pay themselves, right? Others admired my ambition and strength, but honestly, I wanted a chance to breakdown and let my weaknesses show without feeling shame. I was tired of being strong. I became so accustomed to bottling up my anger and sadness that as time went on, I started experiencing an onset of depressive symptoms for days longer than normal– and it absolutely terrified me. The usual bounce in my step turned into a shuffle. Instead of leaping out of bed before my alarm clock, I had no energy, or desire sometimes, to get up and do the things I once loved. Many of my thoughts became doubtful and hopeless, and I found myself crying from the slightest triggers. My skin was going haywire. My neck and my shoulders felt tensed and were constantly in pain, yet there was a numbness I felt growing within me. One day, I was sitting in a computer lab at school exhausted and uninspired. I stared at the blinking cursor of a blank Word document and asked myself, “What the hell is happening to you, Olivia?” The suppressed and repressed trauma of my past coupled with the stress of that present moment created a nasty snowball effect, and eventually, I started crumbling under the weight of it all. At that moment, I knew I had to take charge of my life before the situation grew worse.
We all are riding our own roller coasters of life, but staying in a low moment for too long can be dangerous to one’s mental health. Acknowledging the transparency that comes with speaking about such a sensitive topic means understanding that each person is affected by and healed from trauma in their own unique way, so my hope in sharing what worked for me is to help pull someone else out of the pit, as well. I struggled to align myself back in the good graces of the joy I once felt. It’s something I’m still practicing to this day, but I know without a shadow of a doubt I’m headed in a much healthier direction. Here are six things I did to get back my happiness.
I Got It Out
It’s never good to sit around and fester in pessimistic thoughts, and doing this took a toll on my emotional, mental, and physical well-being. I was, literally, trudging down the road of a deepening depression. If I felt myself falling back into those bouts of sadness, I picked up the phone and called anyone whom I trusted would let me vent, either my best friends or a close family member. Talking about it hurt like hell, but it helped significantly. I kept a journal and wrote every single thing that came to my mind. When I felt the need to cry, I didn’t hold back. I started seeing a therapist for the first time ever in my life, which was something I always wanted. I did whatever I could to begin expunging the toxicity out of my system. Luckily I had these resources, but for someone who feels as though they have no one to talk to or can’t afford therapy sessions, this can be tough. There are a number of 24-hour hotlines to dial. Organizations like The Hope Line are free, cionfidential services with trained staff and volunteers who can provide a listening ear. Get it out by any means necessary; you don’t have to deal with the pain alone.
I Altered My Diet and Reintroduced Exercise
Stress eating, primarily junk food, was how I mediated my feelings, but the effects it had on my body only made my struggle that much harder. I started throwing out any unhealthy food in my pantry and even stopped buying them altogether. Little by little, I reintroduced exercise by carving out a little time in my day, even if it only for a 15-minute jog around my neighborhood. Running was always a way for me to clear my head and release any unmanaged stress, and now I’ve noticed if I go days without it, I can definitely feel the difference in my mood.
I Made Time For My Passions
Huge emphasis on “MADE TIME!” As people, we can get so caught up with life’s duties that we may feel the need to sacrifice our self-care in order to keep afloat. In actuality, it should be the other way around. Painting was usually the main outlet I used to express whatever was eating me up inside, and I had to get to the point of an emotional meltdown only to realize I hadn’t picked up a brush in almost five moths. I felt so preoccupied with school and work that I went long periods of time without painting, dancing, writing, cooking, or singing– all of which brought me immense joy. As the saying goes, “People make time for what’s important to them,” so I made a conscious decision to prioritize my passions. This meant cutting out certain things (and people) to create space in my life for myself and what made me happy. Which leads me into my next tip…
I Utilized The Power of “No”
…and didn’t apologize for it. A lot of the time, I was afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings, so I sacrificed my own needs in order to keep the peace. I said “yes” when others needed me to do something for them, even if I hadn’t budgeted my time for it. I had to find the courage to put myself first again. If I wanted to stay in and watch movies on my Kindle instead accepting an invite to a party? No. If I didn’t have time to paint a piece for a client? No. If I didn’t want to answer a text message the very moment it came in because I was too busy taking care of myself? Naw, nope, nuh-uh. I handed out “No’s” left and right and it was the most liberating feeling I felt in a long time. Did it piss some folks off? Yes, but a turning point came when I started valuing my peace of mind over someone else’s expectations of me. In doing so, a boulder of burdens just rolled right off my shoulders. I harnessed the power that came with being a grown ass woman, so when I didn’t feel like sacrificing my time for something, I politely declined, and felt no obligation to explain my decisions.
I Surrounded Myself With Positivity
When I was down, it was easy for me to stay inside in isolation. Anytime I felt a resurgence of happiness, I exploited it by spending time laughing with good friends and took weekend trips to visit my family across town. I invested so much effort into trying to focus on good feelings; taking short walks around town (sunlight helps!), sitting in a small café writing or sketching, and even listening to upbeat music. During any moment of distress, I did my best to stay away from the sappy R&B songs. If I was sulking for too long, I forcibly changed my train of thought and put on a song that I knew would redirect my mood. Give or take about an hour, and before I knew it, I was dancing across my studio to September by Earth, Wind, and Fire, having a good ole’ time all by myself.
**Golden rule of thumb if you want to stay out of your feelings: No Sade after 9pm. Or Adele. Thank me later.
I Brought All My Focus Inward
…the most important step of them all and the ultimate guiding principle in beginning the process of self-healing.
As above, so below. As within, so without. The ways of the world have led us to believe in this illusion that the answers are on the outside when, in fact, everything we need in order to feel love, satisfaction, and joy are already instilled in us from the day we are born.
Only when I focused internally did I begin asking a number of insightful questions. Instead of placing blame on those who I felt wronged me, I asked myself why I even gave them the power to hurt me in the first place. Instead of sulking about the things and people I felt were missing in my life, I questioned why I couldn’t see all of the blessings I already had. There’s a beautiful gem I found in the midst of the breakdown; all the deterioration I saw on the external were only symptoms of what had already started at the core. What I felt was missing in my physical only meant that I was neglecting something in my spiritual; my self-worth, self-love, and self-forgiveness. A new car, a new spouse, more money, or a new job would only serve as Band-Aids if I didn’t fix what was going wrong on the inside, first.