Mental health is something that is very important to me. I openly discuss dealing with anxiety and at times depressed states on my Instagram. Before I go on, I must state that I am sure most people experience anxiety and low points at times. However, anxiety and depression look and feel different for everyone who struggle with these mental imbalances. I think everyone struggles with a little anxiety and depressed states from time to time, but for some of us, these things are continuously consuming our minds. This journey I am on is not about seeking a physical appearance, it is about finding a balance within my mind, body, heart, and soul. It is a total transformation to finding inner peace and a well rounded state of healthy being. I am fairly in tune with my mind and know when I can no longer help myself. I reached that moment in January just before my 26th birthday. The day after my birthday I walked into a therapy session for the first time in a few years and exclaimed, “I am so excited to be here”!!

To give background history, I am no stranger to therapy. I have seen several therapists in my life. My first experience with a therapist began at the age of five, yes five. I believe I went consistently for once a week, give or take, for a total of about five years. I was one emotionally unbalanced child! I went primarily because of my parent’s divorce and having a fear of my dad. Why I was so fearful of him? I really do not know. I have faint memories and stories to remember these early times. I know there was emotional abuse I suffered which created this fear and having no desire to see him. Every time I would see him pull into our cul-de-sac on “his” weekend I would run and hide. I would hide under beds, down stairs in a cupboard, outside in the creek, anywhere I thought I could not be found. Sometimes it would take hours to find me. (*SIDE NOTE: UM just had an epiphany. Maybe this need to hide as a child has translated into my adulthood as wanting to be invisible!*) Then it would take several more hours trying to pry my tireless, fearful, crying little body out of my mom’s arms. I would leave scratch marks on her back and as I would be carried away by my dad, I would watch her burst into tears and close the door. Not every weekend that was my dad’s weekend would be this dramatic, but this was a very common event that lasted many years. I have a few memories of these early therapy sessions. Every week I had to record my emotions on a clipart thermometer using blue to express sadness and red to express anger and or all the variations in between. Each therapy session would end with a polaroid picture of a sandbox creation I would make. It generally consisted of a thick forest with a big scary animal on one side (like a bear or tiger) that represented my father. Then on the other side of the forest would be the rest of my family. I am not sure what this represented haha, but it is something I remember quite well. Β It eventually got to a point where the therapist simply said I could no longer be helped, so I stopped going for a few years.

By this time I was in middle school. My relationship with my father had been better for awhile until his relationship of 8 years (with a woman I considered a second mom) abruptly ended. Then things took a turn for the worse. I would go months without talking to or seeing my dad. I lived in a constant state of anxiety and fear with dark thoughts that I will not elaborate on. I shut down emotionally and became really insecure and shy during a pivotal time in my life. From an early age, I felt really unworthy and never enough due to things often said to me by family members and outside influencers. I let these things consume me for a very, very long time. In high school, things remained the same until they got worse. My anxiety had reached a point where it had manifested itself into physical ailments. I would frequently feel nauseous, had heart burn often, and would have the sensation of my chest going numb. I saw a general practitioner for these weird symptoms who said I was depressed and wanted to put me on anti-depressants. My mom, and myself, did not believe her so we refused the medication and diagnosis. It was around this time I started seeing a therapist again. I saw several different therapists. One my dad picked, one my mom picked, and one I was prescribed to by one of the previous therapists. I only saw the first two during family sessions a few times before regularly going to this new therapist alone. I was a senior in high school and having many fears about college. I had, at this time, begun to express self esteem and poor self image issues as I had never done this before. I was afraid of gaining weight in college. I did not feel attractive. But mostly I did not feel loved nor worthy of being loved; however I did not know this yet.

The summer before moving away to college, I pretty much cried every night. My family ran our neighborhood swim team and that summer, my bottled anxiety was taken out on my family in public. Looking back it is so embarrassing but I did not know how to express all the different and crazy emotions I was feeling besides simply running away from my problems, hiding, and crying. Β Then about a month before moving away to college, my family dynamic significantly changed. My world collapsed and I had never felt more alone than this moment in time. A well kept secret had been revealed: alcoholism. A relapse occurred among one of my family members. I did not know how to take this news. It was presented to me in the poorest of fashions and I acted out in anger and judgment. But I did not know what to feel or how to respond. I just reacted. My therapist at the time was made aware of my family dynamic change and my attitude about the situation prior to my my next session. Instead of being on my side and helping me coupe, she told me I was wrong for being so judgmental and unkind. I do not remember seeing her many more times after this session because I took it personally and my common reaction was to recluse into aloneness.

Time had come for me to move into the dorms. The first three years of college were a blur. I was doing well in school but I was not ok. I was constantly worried and was kept out of the loop. My family did not want me worrying or knowing about the relapses and months spent away at rehab. Mostly I was worried about my little sister who felt abandoned in this period of time. We only had each other yet we were so far apart. I came home many weekends just to be with her, so I missed out on many college weekend festivities and held on to that resentment for many years…

By the time I graduated college, things were better. I had built a better relationship with my dad, talking with him for hours on the phone quite frequently in fact. Alcoholism remained an elephant in the room, but the worst of it had faded. But college was over and I completely missed it. Sure I have fond memories and there were fun times, but my self esteem fell to an all time low. I was in denial about how much weight I had put on but mostly I was lost.

Five months after graduating college I moved to Florida for my first big girl job. I was excited for the change and was feeling like it was an opportunity to create a new me. I did not know a single person, so I really felt I could reinvent myself. But the insecurities, shyness, and self doubt remained and I slowly began to lose every notion of being. About a year and a half into my new job and new life in Florida, I mentally collapsed into the abyss of self doubt and feelings of unworthiness. I did not know who I was. I had no interest in the things I generally enjoyed. I am certain I started drowning in depression. However, inside I knew the feelings I felt were not ok. I was stronger than my disbeliefs and I knew I could pull myself out of it. But I had to make a change. I had to put my mental health and happiness first. So I changed jobs for happiness and started working out for mental clarity. And although my fitness journey has been amazing so far, I still have been wrapped up in overwhelming, consuming thoughts and anxieties of past resentments that continue to hold me back.

I am now back in therapy after a few years break and regularly go once a week. I have only been going for four months, but in that time the changes have been dramatic. I went in with one problem, but my problems have evolved ten fold BUT for the better. I went in seeking guidance on how to move on from my past and the embarrassments and shame that paralyze me and for feeling like my life lacks meaning. I surprisingly quickly found my meaning and am now figuring out how to chase new dreams without the fear of the unknown and my anxiety crippling me. Although I still want to get to the root of the insecurities that continuously holds me back, I know by being able to live within my meaning, that the walls I have built all my life will finally be able to break. This break is what is required so that I can live with an open mind, emotional heart, and available soul. I have always felt seen for what my body is: curvy and fat, with cellulite, scars, and acne. Recently I realized that the negative mindset I have created about my ephemeral, external being has hindered my soul with the ability bloom. And to bloom with all the beauty I know it possesses.

I do not tell you all of this to seek pity. I had a trying childhood, but I also was very blessed with many amazing opportunities and experiences and a family that I love and adore in their perfectly imperfect ways. I tell you all this because many people think therapy is for “crazy” people or people with extreme mental illnesses. But therapy has kept me from going crazy. I am very tough on myself and it has been the one consistency in my life that has allowed me to become mentally strong and molded me into a capable, resilient, independent woman. Therapy will always be a part of my life in some way, shape or form. In the past it helped me coupe with family issues, but presently? Well currently therapy is allowing me to blossom into the individual I was always meant to be. My soul was never meant to be caged by a guarded heart. It is going to take time and consistency to tear down the road blocks of my mind so that I can allow my emotionally callused heart to soften. Only then can my soul truly and passionately shine!

Jess