Hitting Rock Bottom
I’ve always wanted to be one of those women who exuded strength and softness at the same time.
To me, there is nothing more beautiful and honorable than a woman who carries these opposing characteristics simultaneously. I believe most of these people have been through a few things in their lives, and rather than becoming bitter and resentful, they become strong because they had to, and soft because they now understand?
I have been a Licensed Professional Counselor for about nine years. I co-own an outpatient mental health agency in Edmond, Oklahoma, and serve as the Clinical Director there. I went to college for eight years, and went through a three thousand hour licensing process with an amazing supervisor to become qualified to help others cope with mental health issues. I have always been confident that I have the right characteristics and a good understanding of how people work to be great at my job. But it wasn’t until I battled depression and anxiety myself that I truly understood the significance of my purpose as a therapist.
This article is not politically correct (and likely not grammatically correct either…I didn’t pay attention at school on those days). It is transparent and vulnerable and real though. I am a big believer in transparency. If we can’t be real about the ugly stuff, then what is the point?
I was in college the first time I remember going through a period of intense sadness. I was in graduate school, working full time and going through a tough break up. It was rough but it was manageable with good coping skills and a strong spirit. I’ve always considered myself to be mentally tough, and that got me through a lot. But it wouldn’t get me through 2016...the year I had to learn to let go of everything I feared losing; the year I hit rock bottom.
I remember where I was standing in my living room, looking out the window at the sun shining. I remember thinking “But why…nothing is wrong”.
I remember the phone conversation I was having. “What’s wrong?” I lied and said I had a headache, because I didn’t know what was wrong. I got off of the phone. Conversation was draining the energy I didn’t have. I got a text that said “you’re not laughing like you normally do”. I know. But why?
I isolated myself a lot in the days and weeks that followed, not caring about anything. Just existing. Being a therapist, I know the symptoms of depression, and I had all of them. I was crying a lot, for no real reason other than I FELT depressed. The sadness consumed me. My life hurt.
I started to worry. I had worked so hard to build the life I wanted. I got off the couch, cleaned my diet up, increased my exercise, spent time outdoors, journaled, and spent time with friends and family. I prayed a lot. My repertoire of coping skills was failing me.
I was going through the motions and getting no results. It was exhausting. I felt defeated. My relationships were struggling. People are not pretty when they fall, and I was no exception. I acted unlovable...I was irritable and mean most of the time. But I never needed to feel loved so desperately in my life.
Anxiety was creeping in. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I fix myself? Why can’t I feel any joy? Insomnia fueled the anxiety. Time stands still when you can’t sleep. I had too many hours alone with my thoughts. I started to wonder if my hormones were out of balance. I’m a woman in my mid-thirties…enough said?
The first Doctor heard me out. She listened to my story and asked a lot of questions. She didn’t run any tests and told me that I just needed to go to counseling… (insert blank stare). Clearly I am a big believer in therapy, for myself and other therapists too. But I knew this was different. I kindly told her that I appreciate her being an advocate for mental health, but to please just do a blood test. She obliged. The results came back….low Vitamin D level, elevated PTH hormone level (mine was 105, normal range was 10-55), and hypercalcemia…a condition in which the calcium level in your blood is above normal. What did this mean? The Doctor gave me no answers and told me to see an Endocrinologist.
Obviously I went straight to the internet. I wanted answers. I officially (via google) diagnosed myself with Hyperparathyroidism. All of my symptoms fit….bone pain, kidney stones, heart burn, heart palpitations, depression, confusion, loss of energy, loss of interest in activities, inability to concentrate, trouble sleeping, changes in personality, etc. The physical symptoms were not pleasant, but I could live with them. The mental symptoms felt like torture…like someone else had control of my mind. The only treatment option was to surgically remove the parathyroid.
I had no clue what battles I was up against. I spent months doing tests and scans, repeatedly having my blood drawn, trying to convince Doctors that what I was experiencing was real.
In my personal life, I was fighting the same battle. No one understood. “But you look great!” Well maybe God is trying to make things fair, I would think to myself. Most mornings I would wonder if today was the day I was going to have to admit myself to the hospital. Running on no sleep for months is enough to make the sanest person crazy. I would wonder if I could make it through the work day, listening to the saddest of stories, without having a break down myself. But oddly enough, visiting with my clients and hearing their stories was the only time I felt okay. Because even though I wasn’t sharing this story with them, I KNEW they would get it, I knew I wasn’t the only one, and I felt validated just by being in their presence.
You don’t always need someone to talk to to make you feel better. Sometimes you just need someone who will sit with you in the darkness. No one could have turned my darkness to light. But the dark doesn’t seem as scary when you have someone there with you. God bless the people who are willing to leave their light and sit in the darkness to shoulder some of our pain.
I sit across from people every day who say to me “I know I’m crazy”. I hear their stories and I see a strength that can only come from being broken. I see a human being who has survived unthinkable things. I see a desperation to escape the torture they feel inside every day. And I understand it now on a personal level. I never see crazy. But I understand feeling crazy. I understand addiction and suicide. I personally didn’t experience them, but I understand feeling so desperate to escape your own mind that you’d try anything.
December 15, 2016 was the light at the end of my tunnel…the day of my surgery. I was counting down the days to the return of my sanity. My favorite coping skill on my worst day was to google testimonials from patients who had the surgery to remove their parathyroid. I needed to know I was going to be okay.
I needed to hear it from someone who experienced it. The Surgeon would be cutting open the front of my neck to get to the defective parathyroid. There were possible complications. Scary ones. I was terrified.
Thank God for supportive friends and family. They carried me through the days I couldn’t walk through myself. These are the people who love my roots…the good in me that was buried. The people who love you for your flowers will leave you. Let them go. My people showed up for me on the day of my surgery…through calls, texts, prayers, and in person. My surgery was successful and my hormone levels dropped 60% before I even woke up. The relief I felt was indescribable. I was out of the tunnel…finally.
I wonder though, how do people cope when they see no light at the end of the tunnel? When they have childhood trauma they can’t escape; depression so severe they would rather die than to live another day; addiction that changes them and those they love; grief that makes them feel like they can’t go on; no surgery date to fix what’s broken inside of you. My heart breaks for you. I’ve cried many tears for you. We aren’t made to live broken.
I admire people who seek help. It is difficult to lose your pride and be vulnerable with a stranger. But that is strength in its bravest form. It’s courageous. When you’re dealing with mental health issues, silence isn’t golden; it is poisonous. It will leave you feeling isolated and alone. You can’t escape the darkness. You have to get THROUGH it to get PAST it. Find someone who will come into your darkness with you and shoulder some of the pain.
I get the most compliments on my smile…specifically my dimple. Most people don’t know that my dimple is a scar from a nasty fall I had as a child. The wound completely punctured through my check, and it healed from the inside out.
When we take the time to heal ourselves from the inside out, we still have scars, but they can be beautiful. Proof that we survived a nasty fall. Proof that others can to. 2016 left me with another scar. It is an ugly scar that represents a dark season of my life. But beautiful things grow in the dark. The rain strengthens your roots. When your roots are stronger, the wind won’t knock you down. When you’re branches are stronger, others can rest there without breaking you. When you bear good fruit, you nourish souls. And when the sun comes back out, you will be grateful that you went through this.
Rock bottom is the most solid ground to start rebuilding on. You have better tools to build a better home. Great purpose comes with great pain. And your purpose is more beautiful than your pain was painful…if you can even imagine that!
Abbey Blair is Co-owner and Clinical Director at CorAspire Mental Health and Wellness Center. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board approved LPC supervisor. Abbey received a Bachelors degree from Oklahoma State University, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development and Family Science. She received her Masters degree from the University of Central Oklahoma in Counseling Psychology. Abbey has experience working with children, adults, families and couples on a wide variety of issues. Abbey is passionate about teaming up with her clients to address any issues that are keeping them from living their best life possible. Abbey takes Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Tricare, Healthchoice, and Soonercare insurance as well as private pay.