I left home when I was 19 years old. I had finished high school and had dreams of going to university, but my family was falling apart. I moved from a small town to the big city of Toronto and got a job. For two years, I worked full-time and went to school part-time in order to complete the credits I needed to gain admission to high school. I succeeded and was accepted to one of the top universities in Canada. On top of that I managed to pay for the first couple of years myself before I had to take out a student loan. For years, I either went to school full-time and worked part-time, or the other way around. I was busy moving ahead with my life and career and I never took the time to think about what it had taken to set out on my own and make it through university with very little help or support from anyone.
But three years ago, my gutsy determination left me. I found myself in a job that, on the surface, I should have been happy to have. A good salary, benefits, a fancy title and an office with a view. But I wasn’t happy. I felt stuck. Writing had been my passion since childhood and here I was in a job that didn’t satisfy that passion.
I quit my job – it took guts to cut the safety net – but my gutsy determination did not return. I took freelance projects and struggled to write a book about living aboard a sailboat as a teenager. I managed to finish two drafts but wasn’t satisfied with what I’d done. Every day began to feel like an uphill battle to be productive instead of camping out in front of the TV or crawling into bed.
Finally, last fall I admitted to myself that I something was wrong and went to see my doctor. I was diagnosed with depression and put on a mild medication. I’ve also been seeing a counsellor and it has been enormously helpful to have someone outside of my friends and family to talk out my problems with.
Admitting you have a mental illness and need help takes guts. It didn’t seem to matter that I used to work at a community mental health organization and have a family history of mental illness, it was still tough for me to admit that I needed help. It was that thought that so many of us have, “I’m okay. Other people have mental illness.”
I’m old enough to remember when mental illness was considered shameful and not something that you talked about openly. In the late 1960s my grandfather had a “nervous breakdown” and spent time in a hospital. He underwent electroshock therapy that was apparently affective in treating his condition. This happened before I was born and the grandfather I knew was even-tempered and loving. We all knew he’d been in the hospital, but it wasn’t something that was discussed at the dinner table. To this day, I don’t really know what his diagnosis was – severe depression, bipolar disorder, or perhaps PTSD related to having survived WWII in Nazi-occupied Holland?
Mental illness is not a weakness or something to feel shameful about. It is a medical condition like any other that can be treated and managed with conventional and holistic remedies – medication, counselling, therapy, exercise, yoga, meditation, etc. We would never hesitate to go to the hospital if we fell down and broke our leg, so why do we hesitate to seek help when our brain “breaks”? It is also understood that some conditions, such as schizophrenia, respond better to treatment the sooner they are caught.
I take my medication each morning and see my counsellor on a regular basis. I try to get some exercise each day and attend a meditation class when the winter weather cooperates. Slowly, I’ve begun to emerge from the fog.
Recovery is an ongoing process. Unfortunately, when you have depression and seek treatment, you will not wake up one morning and “be all better.” It is a gradual process and I’ve learned to be patient with myself. Each day, I give myself three main things to accomplish and hang onto the faith that the fog will continue to dissipate if I trust the process.
I am also learning that the only way to achieve big dreams is to take lots of small steps in the right direction. I easily get impatient and won’t things to happen right away. But when you are trying to build a business, it isn’t going to happen over night.
My thoughts often turn back to my nineteen-year-old self, the girl who took off to the city with big plans to work and go to university. She made all of those plans come true. She didn’t waffle or have a plan B. She put her energy into pursuing what she most wanted. I’m getting back in touch with that gutsy girl. She is re-emerging in my drive to grow my business and see my writing in more publications.
My gutsy plans for this year are starting to come clear. Later this month, I will be performing on stage for the very first time. I will be reading excerpts from my teenage diaries at an event called Dear Diary 3. I heard about an earlier version of this event and signed up before I gave myself too much time to talk myself out of it. I had a rehearsal last weekend and, while I’m a little nervous, I’m looking forward to sharing my funny and embarrassing teenage diary entries.
I’ve got other plans in the works. Finally finish the book I’ve been working on for ages. Kick my coaching practice into high gear and launch several e-courses. There may be an e-book or two in the works. Perhaps a deeper exploration of photography. It’s all exciting and daunting.
Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.