“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I never thought I’d want to kill myself.
All my life, I’d been a strong, independent woman, building a business from home, raising two wonderful sons, and staying happy and positive throughout.
If you’d told me I’d one day consider taking my own life, I’d have laughed and said, “You’ve got me confused with someone else!”
But after twenty years and two sons together, my husband and I decided to split up.
So what? Separation and divorce are commonplace. You just cope with it like everyone else. I was strong, so not coping would mean I was weak.
But it hurt and hurt and hurt. And eventually I just wanted to stop. I couldn’t put my boys through that, but I couldn’t see another way out. So, while pretending to everyone that I was fine, I thought about it. Seriously.
What Do You Pretend?
Coping with everything life throws at you is tough.
Juggling all your different roles, trying to be all things to all people, and “shoehorning” so much into every day.
You and your needs aren’t even worth a mention on your very long to-do list.
You feel guilty and inadequate and worry that someday all those plates you’re spinning will come crashing down. You’re an amazing somebody who often feels like an invisible and overwhelmed nobody. Feeling lost and alone, living in silent despair.
Not always much fun being a grown-up, is it?
You’re not alone, you know.
From the outside, others seem to be holding it all together. Just like you. Just like me.
Have you thought that perhaps sometimes they’re not coping either? That maybe, just like you, they’re not perfect?
Pretending to cope comes at a price.
I’d also fallen out of love with my first home-based business, so my marriage to my best friend was over, and my future was gone.
Our joint, shameful debt took me months to resolve, was a debilitating hell, and meant we had to live a lie under the same roof for eight months, sharing our bed in cold silence for the first four as we pretended to our young teenage sons that all was normal.
I felt sick when I awoke to the conversation we’d been dreading: telling the boys that Mom and Dad were splitting up. A parent’s supposed to make things better, not worse. As I tore their world apart, it broke my heart.
When we did separate, my expenses escalated while my income sank. And when my boys went to stay at their father’s, nothing could stop the overwhelming loneliness from driving me into the ground. So I put my head down and worked. It kept me sane a little longer.
Something had died, but instead of grieving, I pretended I was coping.
My even busier life was now a nightmare, yet I was barely functioning and I didn’t recognize myself anymore: lethargic, hollow, lost, ashamed, and desperately lonely. Feeling weak and pathetic because I couldn’t cope on my own without a man around. A failure.
I started to unravel.
I wanted to run away rather than face the misery ahead, so I escaped to bed to shorten the days. Cooking for one underlined my loneliness, so I didn’t bother, and for a while I comforted myself with alcohol, as the health implications were no longer important.
And that’s when I thought of making it all stop. To stop feeling miserably unhappy. To stop crying every day. I wasn’t miserable when I slept, so why not just keep sleeping? It made perfect sense.
But the damage to my boys forced me to keep my comforting escape route a secret.
Then came the anxiety attacks, and twelve months after our painful decision, I was diagnosed with a stress-related facial skin disease and depression.
When all seems lost, there’s still a way forward.
If you are, or feel you might be, depressed, take comfort and pride from Dr. Tim Cantopher’s words from his book Depressive Illness: The Curse of The Strong:
“You are wrong in thinking you are weak and should be ashamed of having this illness, you have got it because you are strong … a weak, cynical or lazy person faced with difficulties will quickly give up, so would never get depressed enough to become ill.”
I can’t solve your issues here, but if you’re struggling and pretending, I’d like to help you take that all-important first step so you can start to look after you.
1. Be honest.
Pretend and, at some point, the problem and the pain will surface ten-fold. If you’re not coping, admit to yourself that you’re not. This shows great strength.
2. Ask for help.
This isn’t a sign of weakness. Are others weak for coming to you for help? Why should you be different? Tell those who care about you that you’re not coping. Don’t struggle in silence.
3. Talk openly.
When you‘ve asked for help, share your feelings with someone you know and love who will listen without judgment or advice, or with a trained counselor.
Talking about how you feel and having someone listen can feel self-indulgent at first, but it’s a huge part of the healing process.
4. Learn to say no more often.
Maybe saying yes to everything and everyone makes you feel superhuman. But superheroes are works of fiction, and you don’t possess special powers.
When you’re saying yes to everything, who and what are you saying no to?
Try to do fewer things better rather than taking on so much that you beat yourself up for what you don’t achieve.
5. Rejoice and reward yourself for your achievements.
If you berate yourself for what you get wrong, then surely you have to take responsibility and take credit when you do something well.
6. Accept that perfection is impossible.
In a world of self-help and personal development, we’re bombarded with advice about always being positive and successful, and striving to be the best.
Strive to be the best that you can be, and be a realist. Just like me, you’re imperfect, you’re weak sometimes, you make mistakes, and you’re a work in progress.
Strive to be happy. Accept your weaknesses and you’ll be stronger for it.
7. Make time for you.
You fulfill many roles: parent, partner, businessperson, child, sibling, friend. Don’t lose sight of your needs and being you.
Give yourself permission to take time out for you and put you back on your to-do list. You’ll be more effective and happier in your other roles.
8. Start putting yourself first.
It’s not selfish. You’re important and you deserve better. So, once you’re back on that list, work on moving yourself further up.
To look after others, you first have to look after yourself. The in-flight emergency procedure tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help others with theirs.
9. Stop comparing yourself to others.
I’d wager that most people feel inadequate and overwhelmed.
Just as others have no idea what’s going on in your life, you have no idea what’s really going on in theirs, so it serves no positive purpose to compare yourself and worry about what others are doing. You’re unique. You can only be you. Chances are they’re probably comparing themselves to you!
Over time the medication helped lighten my mood, and I could look a little beyond my despair. If I was going to keep living, I didn’t want to spend it wishing I were dead. The counseling gave me time and space to stop pretending, talk honestly, and grieve.
While still battling depression, I’m now cooking healthy meals again and laughing far more than I have in years. I’ve enrolled at a gym and am taking time for me. I’ve qualified as a Life Coach and set up a blog and online business.
I’m still here to love and look after my boys.
I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to others who I don’t even know, and that’s it’s okay—no, it’s necessary—to express rather than bury my feelings, to admit when I’m not coping, and to embrace my weaknesses.
Every day, the baby steps I’m taking for me, just me, add up. I’m miles away from where I was.
You can move ahead too.
You’re not weak for wanting to run away. You’re strong for having the guts to admit it.
Decide to stop the unhealthy pretenses. Be proud of who you are and what you achieve each day. Set time aside for you. Everything and everyone else can wait a while.