“Eventually you will come to realize that love heals everything, and love is all there is.” ~Gary Zukav
Following a path of personal development isn’t easy. Oh, it’s rewarding and can be life changing but it can also be confusing, challenging, and scary.
What if you take the wrong path? How do you know which piece of advice is right? Can you still get the results you desperately want, even if you go against some of the assumed wisdom?
One such piece of wisdom is that people should make changes in their lives and their behavior for themselves, not for others. That’s always been the standard advice from friends, magazines, and TV “experts.”
But what if you don’t feel ready, worthy, or capable of making the change for yourself? What if you feel so confused and scared that you don’t know where to start?
I struggled with loving myself enough to take those initial steps toward finding a way out of my own depression and anxiety.
I’ve realized that sometimes the love we have for other people, particularly for our children, can give us the motivation to start on the journey—even when we are lacking the love to do it for ourselves.
Like many people I struggled with feeling like I was wrong, deficient, and “not good enough” for a long time.
You know how for most people those anxious teenage years full of self-doubt and awkwardness pass with the arrival of their twenties? For me, those feelings didn’t disappear. If anything, they accelerated. Feeling unsure of myself turned into something darker and more entrenched.
I spent my twenties shuttling between depression and its twisted sister, anxiety. By the time I was 27 I was exhausted by it and hospitalized for a brief spell (a “little rest,” as my mum euphemistically described it.)
Depression had become a part of my identity. To my mind, it wasn’t a condition I experienced; it was part of who I fundamentally was: a person broken beyond repair.
I tried counselling but found it painful and I not something I was ready for. So then I tried drama instead—intense relationships with men who tried to love me better, and I them.
I tried medication and it helped; lifted my mood enough so I could function.
But the thoughts and the moods just receded; they never fully went away. The depression didn’t let go; it was always on the edges, threatening to return.
I’d sense it. There it was snapping at my heels, reminding me that all was not well: I was not well.
And then, everything changed. Thirteen years ago I had my son. A beautiful, smiling, boy, who rocked my world and kicked my self-perception off its axis.
That’s the thing with kids—before you have them, even though people tell you about the oceans of love you will experience, you just don’t get it. But once my son was in my arms, I got it. I really, really got it.
I loved him in a way that blew a hole in my self-loathing and everything I’d taken to be true.
I sat with him in my arms; perfect little fingers, toes, nose, eyelashes—perfect everything. The waves of fear and love I felt took my breath away.
A terrifying set of questions gnawed at my mind: What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t protect this perfect little being? What if I actually damaged him? What if my deficiencies, my failings, my brokenness affected him?
I would do anything for him. He needed me to be the best I could be. I knew that I had to get better; I hadn’t had the strength to do it for myself, so if I couldn’t do it for me, I would do it for him.
That’s what gave me the push, the kick, the boot up the backside I needed.
I didn’t have the answers for how I was going to do it, but I certainly had a lot of questions:
- Why do some people seem able to soar through life and others struggle?
- How come some people can see the good in themselves but others can’t see their own strengths at all?
- What makes people happy, and is it possible to increase how happy we are and how often?
Answering those questions took quite a while—thirteen years and counting. Once I took my first faltering steps along that journey to find those answers, so many things opened up for me.
I’ve had therapy, returned to learning, studied with some amazing teachers, become an NLP Master Practitioner, completed a Master’s degree in Coaching, not to mention read every personal development book I could get my hands on. I’ve sucked up positive psychology research, taken up yoga, learned how to practice mindfulness, and made understanding my brain and moods a priority.
It might have started out as a way to sort out my own head so that I could be a better mum, but it’s blossomed into something more profound. The ripple effect of the journey is immense. I teach, write and share what I’ve learned and will continue to do it so that others can get it too.
Personally I know I’ve moved from a place of great darkness to huge possibility and light. The depression that snapped at my heels has gone; although I’ll always be watching out for its return, I’m confident I have the tools to deal with it if it ever does.
Above all, I am grateful beyond words to my son, and to his little sister, for showing me what love really is; for showing me that I was capable of giving such love and worthy of receiving it. They unlocked the door for me to start really loving myself.
What started out as something I did for someone else, turned out to be the most loving thing I’ve ever done—for both of us.
It doesn’t really matter who you’re starting out on this journey for—just start it. If you do it with a desire to learn, to grow and heal, and feel happier, you will get there.
Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself or investing in things that will help you to get there.
When you feel better, are kinder to yourself, and no longer spend hours a day wrestling with your own demons, you free up so much time, energy, and love to give back to those around you.
You might feel scared. You might feel guilty for wanting to take an hour to read that book, or visit the gym, or attend that course. You might think you’re not worthy of it.
You might feel that being a good person is about focusing all of your energy on your loved ones and ignoring yourself. But I want to tell you that’s not true. The best thing you can do for your loved ones is sorting your own stuff out.
- Give your kids a role model of self-compassion.
- Show your niece that it’s okay to be gawky and unsure of herself.
- Show your dad that it’s good to take time out and take a rest when he’s feeling overwhelmed.
Show your loved one’s a model of choosing happiness and hope over depression and despair.
The greatest gift that we can give to those we love is to show them that they can learn, grow, and evolve—and that they are in control of that.
I don’t care why you do it. If you can do it for yourself, that’s fantastic. But even if you’re initially doing it for someone else, you might just learn along the way that you’re worth making the change for after all.
Photo by Patricia Raimond