“You’re lucky, you know.” It’s April 2018 and I’m in Ecuador, sitting across the fire from an incredibly wise shaman. “You’re leaving this retreat without a lot of emotional baggage. You’re free now.”
I nod, knowing she’s right, feeling blissfully at peace.
Hours later, I’m flabbergasted.
Because she’s right. And I know it. And I’m blissfully at peace.
A few months before I left for my retreat, I told my boyfriend that I had reached a place of contentment. That I felt okay. That I was content to be who I was, as I was, for the rest of my life.
Which is a remarkably big deal.
I was nine the first time I wanted to die. I sat on my childhood bed, praying to the God of my childhood faith. I listed out my woes, then asked him to kill me. I don’t think I even knew what suicide was, just that I was sure this being human thing wasn’t for me. When he didn’t do it instantly, I tried playing hardball, threatening to ask the devil of my childhood faith to step in. Then I did.
By middle school, I withdrew from social life, in part due to shame about myself and my existence, in part because the body image and eating issues I was surrendering to made it so I didn’t want to eat and my friends were insistent on trying to make me.
I blacked out the first time I drank, was drinking at work before I graduated high school and became a full-fledged alcoholic by age 19.
I dropped out of college the first time because of depression when I was 20.
I dropped out of college the second time to go to rehab when I was 22.
After getting sober, I was plagued with chronic depression that medicine seemed to worsen instead of alleviate.
And somehow, at age 29, I sat in front of a shaman who told me I was lucky. That I didn’t have emotional baggage. That I was free. And I knew she was right. And felt blissfully at peace.
So what happened? How did I go from a victim of my circumstances to free and at peace?
Lots of help. Heaps of luck. Time. Patience. Acceptance. Trying things that didn’t work. Persistence. A lot more luck.
Also empowerment. I reached a point where I started listening to my instincts & carved out my own path, even when my choices weren’t particularly popular.
My true-est truth about mental health and wellness is this: we all have to become empowered to pursue the solutions that work for our unique circumstances.
My favorite part is that the solution itself doesn’t matter. If medication is the solution that works for your unique circumstances, great. Embrace it. If things like shamanic retreats work better for you, great. Embrace it. Combine them if you want to.
There are, quite literally, hundreds of solutions available to us. Is it discouraging when you have to try tens or even hundreds of them before you find the right one (or combination of ones) for you? Yes. Trust me. I’ve been there. It’s frustrating, demoralizing and painful.
But it’s worth it to keep going.
And, here’s something even cooler: empowerment means you don’t just get to choose your solutions, you also get to set the bar. You get to say “this is freedom for me.” And it doesn’t have to look like freedom for anyone else.
I’m not bubbly and cheerful and stereotypically happy all the time. I’m not even those things most of the the time. But those aren’t my bar. Those were the things I was trying for when I wasn’t well because society made me think I had to.
Today, contentment is my jam. I strive to do meaningful work that makes me feel fulfilled (I own a company called Mental Health Mugs that you should check out) and I accept the ups and downs of life.
That’s why I think platforms like this are so important. Not just because writing and self-expression are a wonderfully healing solution and path to freedom, but because it’s so valuable to get the full picture. To know that recovery includes ups and downs. That we’re aiming for a general upward trajectory, not to radiate serenity like the Dalai Lama…yet.
Originally published as a guest post on www.mimentality.com on May 30, 2018.