Welcome to the new series, Everyday Warriors. I am a HUGE advocate for women standing in their power and sharing their stories It not only helps to heal them but it helps to heal the many people who are out there suffering.
I always teach my clients that you aren't blogging for the readers that are commenting on your posts. You are blogging for the reader who doesn't yet have a voice. The reader that reads every blog post and every social media post but you don't even know is there. The reader is gaining strength just by you sharing your story. That is what being a storyteller is all about. That is how we are going to change the world.
If you want to be a part of the Everyday Warrior series, please send me a message and I would love to chat.
I want to introduce to you, Melanie. I was lucky enough to meet Melanie when I did the empowering photoshoot many years ago. She didn't know any of us. She followed me on social media and decided to come, and how incredibly blessed I am to know this beautiful woman. Here is part of her story.
OUR EVERYDAY WARRIOR: MELANIE
When you look at me, you would think I am a happy well-adjusted female. I have a husband. I have children. I have two grandchildren. I am always smiling. After interacting with anyone in person or on the phone, I can be heard saying “Have a Happy Day!”.
I have a daily to-do list and get the items on it done each and every day. I take care of my family. They are my priority. I stay in touch with my friends via text and telephone. I wear the mask well. Ah, the mask . . . . . . . . .
It is my invisible shield that I wear daily to ensure that everyone – close family and friends included think that I am doing well. That the pictures I post on Facebook or Instagram are showing my best life and how could anything possibly be wrong.
Behind the mask, is a woman who has CPTSD, panic/anxiety and depression. The woman behind the mask functions each and every day with levels of ideation so high. On those days, things are the darkest and ideation is driving the bus. Other days, ideation lets me drive the bus but reminds me at several stops throughout the day that they are still in control. The woman behind the mask is not a veteran but lives each and every day with CPTSD – some days are full of triggers, other days no triggers at all.
The woman behind the mask ‘hulks out’ from time to time from a trigger. An emotional meltdown is part of the hulking out and once regulation and calm are present again, the memory of what really took place due to the hulk out is hazy at best. The one constant post hulk out is the shame, guilt, humiliation, and inability to make eye contact with those who witnessed it.
The woman behind the mask tells those closest to her that she loves them but if she is honest, she has forgotten how love really feels. The woman behind the mask is so numb that she needs to constantly try to remember to check in with herself. Can she feel her body? Can she feel anything? Can she smell things? What does food taste like? You would be AMAZED at the simple everyday things I no longer feel, sense or taste but my body marches on. It moves forward on instinct to function as if everything behind the mask, behind the wall, behind the smile, is perfect with the marketing banner of “No show today. Nothing to see here folks. Move along. Keep moving.”
Over the last couple of years, I have come to realize that I have been functioning like this for my whole life and it was not ‘normal’. I considered it normal, as I did not know any different. When I look back over the last 12 years, I can identify things that make the cracks that were there bigger to the point of me falling apart. Falling apart is my term, which others may not agree with but it was that point in my life when I could no longer function . . . . . . . . . . I remember the moment like it was yesterday.
I was standing in my dining room and looking out the window. I felt a little funny and turned to look at a picture that hung on the wall over my wine rack. I started to shake. I started to cry uncontrollably. My legs gave out. I was on the floor of my home. By myself. Crying. It felt like a box that was sitting on a high shelf in the closet with the lid tightly on had suddenly fallen, hit the floor and EVERYTHING that I had been stuffing inside had come crashing out. There was one heck of an emotional mess, that had been so tightly guarded and locked away, all over the floor. That was November 2015.
Up until then, when people would tell me that I was a strong woman – I would say ‘Oh, thank you’ but I was completely confused as to why would they view me as strong. When I was told how organized I was, I would reply the same and be confused with why they thought I was organized. When I was told how smart I was, I would reply the same but the confusion was full-on as how could anyone ever think that I am smart. The life long dialogue I had did not include the word smart at all!
In reality, this woman suffered trauma in childhood. Things that were not normal and run of the mill. I have come to realize that the grades I achieved in school are not what human beings that have dealt with what I have would typically achieve. I am coming to realize that given the fact that I functioned in a state of fight or flight, actually going to school, sitting in a classroom, trying to learn was a HUGE challenge each day. Getting homework done, so I have come to realize was a HUGE feat yet I did it every day. I have experienced sexual abuse, which I am coming to terms with the fact is not normal – I did not deserve it – it was not my fault. I have experienced the loss of my soul mate – he took his own life and I found him (October 2008). I still remember that day – it felt like I had laid on a bomb and my inside had been blown out. Everything I knew and every feeling I had was gone.
I picked myself up, dusted myself off and moved forward. I did try to find someone to help me deal with what I had experienced but I was told that I am doing GREAT! I tried to join Survivors of Suicide groups only to be told I was ‘too new’ – I am still pondering that one. How can some be too new?!? I moved on with life as nothing happened. Like I had moved on from every other traumatic incident in my life. Trauma did not happen to me. It happens to other people.
Going to work every day was a daily trauma trigger for me, as my late husband and I worked together. I lost my Father (whom I called Daddy my entire life) suddenly in 2012. I ended an emotionally toxic relationship in 2012. I lost my Mother in 2014 (whom I called Mommy my entire life). The woman who gave me life – who was there through absolutely everything that went wrong in my life – everything that went right in my life – she was my first telephone call for EVERYTHING. She was dying and there was not a darn thing I could do to change it. Despite the fact that our relationship was far from perfect – at times, we were like oil and water, but she was MY Mommy. She understood me. She knew how to get me through things. She was no longer going to be there – how was I going to get through this. I got through it by not feeling – not crying – not acknowledging it was a huge loss.
Then in the summer of 2014, I met a man who made me feel safe . . . . . . . . . . and then I fell apart. I collapsed. I needed to put complete trust and faith into someone to hold me up when I could not hold myself up. I fought it. I moved to Calgary. Left a job and a life I had known for over two decades. I started working from home while maintaining a happy, well-adjusted life and wearing the mask. It was working as my spouse was gone from Sunday night to Thursday night. I had to be ‘on’ Thursday evening, Friday, Saturday and then back to basics mid-Sunday until the show had to start again on Thursday night.
In May 2018, my husband landed in Calgary and called my cell phone only to have it answered by a policeman letting him know that I was okay but was at the hospital. It was shortly after this, that my husband and I had several talks and decided it was best if I ‘retired’ and left my job. Even though I was working from home and no one could see me, it was getting harder and harder to wear the mask and function. On Facebook and Instagram, you will see a happy, healthy-looking woman who is in love with her husband, children and grandchildren.
What you do not see is the woman who struggles to get through each day. What you do not see is the woman who is learning the importance of eating healthy – I have learned for me personally that eating healthy, limiting sugar and alcohol is important. If I go for days eating whatever I want, processed foods, sugar and having drinks my days are far darker than on days I am eating well and drinking water.
What you do not see is the woman who knows that getting workouts in regularly is important. It plays a part in how my day starts. It plays a part in my mental health. I am not going to lie, I am NOT in love with working out, and I am far from looking like a model physique wise, but I am coming to terms with the fact that if I were a diabetic and needed medication daily I would take it. Food and exercise is my medication.
What you do not see is a woman who sees her therapist weekly, as we are working through my traumas. The end goal is to have a trauma response without being right back to the day the event happened – it is far more than just the loss of my husband in 2008. What you don’t see is the woman who has made several attempts on her own life but is still here wearing the badge of survival while not fully comfortable letting those close to me know.
What you don’t see is the woman whose memory is far from what it used to be.
What you will see is the smiling wife, mother and grandma. What you will see is me singing and dancing with my grandchildren. What you will see is me reading from time to time when in reality I am skimming as reading is now something I can not do – I don’t retain anything and have to read things several times over in order to semi understand what I skimmed.
What you will see is me not being as social, as going out is far too stressful. When I do go out, it is filled with fear as I am hoping and praying that I can carry on a conversation; wondering do I look okay? Does anyone know what I am thinking? The list goes on. What you will see is cards and gifts arriving early in the mail, as I am concerned that I will forget or miss an event. What you will see is me checking my agenda daily to see what the day and week holds, as I don’t remember booking things. What you will see is event preparation done well in advance (ie: Christmas) as decorating, shopping, wrapping gifts, etc. take a lot longer than it used to.
Decorating the Christmas tree is no longer an evening event – it has become something that takes days as I get overwhelmed with the thought of it, let alone the actual act of doing it. What you will see is me being quiet – not because I don’t want to talk to you but because thoughts are swirling around in my head and I am trying to make sense of them. What you will see is me smile politely when someone says something like ‘tomorrow will be a better day’ or ‘have you tried this’ . . . . . . . . . while well-meaning, those things don’t help.
I go to bed each night telling myself that tomorrow will be a better day, yet I know my brain may have other plans. Yes, I have tried ‘this’ and I have tried ‘that’ . . . . . . . the number of things I have tried may scare you. Do I fancy putting myself into a clinical trial to be fully on display, poked at, videotaped and discussed? No thank you. I have close family members that have no idea what I am going through, so the thought of being a public experience is not appealing.
What I do want you to know is mental illness is real. It is not a game. It is not attention-seeking. It is an illness that I would not wish on anyone. Mental illness is not created by a therapist, brainwashing you into thinking things happened when in fact they did not. The body keeps score. It reacts to things our mind does not remember but our body does.
This is an invisible illness that some can hide well. It is an illness that others can not. I am learning a balancing act between hiding and not hiding. I am learning a balancing act between self-care and compassion for myself. I am learning that I am okay, even on the days that I am not driving the bus. I am learning that I have come this far, I can keep going.
I am learning that I am enough. I am learning that I have a story and it should be told. I am learning that I am strong. I am learning that trauma has happened to me. I am learning that it is okay to let them see me cry. I am learning that despite feeling alone in a room full of people, I matter. I am learning that I am enough.