Today would have been your 63rd birthday. You’ve been gone almost 31 years.
I was in sixth grade when you died. The day you died I didn’t feel sad. I felt deep and uncontrollable fear. I felt SO scared. Scared of what was going to happen to me and H. Scared of what was going to happen to Mom. Scared of not knowing if I’d ever feel safe again.
The years that followed were bleak. Family stepped up and helped where they could but things really fell apart. Our family was broken. Mom did her best, but she was lifeless and grief-stricken. Can you blame her? You left her with 2 children to raise. By herself. H did what any other 14-year-old girl would do. She surrounded herself with her friends.
I felt very alone.
Mom remarried a few years after you died. He is a very kind man with a gentle heart. I didn’t like it one bit because the marriage meant I had to move to another state, which was an 8 hour drive away from everything I knew. H got to stay back to finish high school. I was 13. Adjusting to having a new stepfather and being an only child was strange. I hated every second. Because I only had the depth and understanding of a child, I couldn’t see how complicated things were for Mom. I was angry she remarried. I was angry I wasn't her main priority. Looking back I feel a little guilty and sad. Mom deserved a fresh start.
Moving was more difficult than I’d imagined. The new area was not welcoming. I was bullied. My self esteem took a nosedive. I desperately needed to feel enough, yet surrounded myself with people who made me feel small. I made some questionable choices with boyfriends those years. Ugh! It was a very confusing time in my life. Thankfully those years are behind me.
I’m extremely proud of who I am. I’d like to say that time healed all wounds and everything fell into place but it wasn’t that simple. There was a lot of heartache along the way. I had to fight to keep afloat.
Dad, to put it bluntly, your death sucked. I get that you were in pain but did you know how much chaos you’d leave behind? Would you have changed your mind if you did?
Did you know Mom, H, and I still struggle to maintain a healthy relationship? You’d think we’d be close because of all we have endured but the truth is we struggle. Your death broke us. I was a child and I needed my mother. She was left to pick up the pieces of your suicide and had no idea how to navigate it all. I resented her.
H has done very well for herself and I am super proud of the woman she has become. She clings to stability and hates change. She despises conflict and is very selective with whom she gives her heart. Despite trying, we’ve never been very close. We learned to be guarded with each other after losing you.
Me? Well, transparency and honesty are qualities I need in my life. It makes friendships with me difficult because I expect a lot from others. I address conflict even when its super uncomfortable for me because I need to communicate in order to gain trust. I am sensitive and guarded. If you hurt me, it will take loads of hard work to earn my trust again. Trust is everything.
Dad, your death ended your suffering but did you know the tornado of events it would unravel? Your suicide ended your pain, but it transferred it to us. Is that what you wanted?
Happy 63rd Birthday, Dad. All these years later and I am still dealing with the aftermath of your death. This year I’m on a mission to prevent others from passing their pain onto their loved ones. People must be comfortable asking for help if they cannot deal with their pain. They cannot give their pain to their families!!
Dad, I hope you can hear me. We are not better off without you.
"Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy." -Tim Hansel
I’ve often confused strength with suffering. Why? Because I was taught that suffering produces strength. And so were you. Am I stronger for growing up without a father? Sure. Are you stronger after dealing with a life-changing experience or trauma? Absolutely! But, I didn't sign up to lose my father to suicide to prove my strength and you didn't sign up for that miscarriage or cancer diagnosis to enhance your life. Strength was the silver-lining of our pain. Strength was the outcome of the unavoidable mishap that was thrown our way.
Depression is not an unavoidable mishap you have to endure. Depression does not make you stronger. I know, it goes against everything we have been taught but hear me out. Suffering with depression does not make you stronger. It weighs you down. Depression forces you to live a lesser life. Depression robs you of your self-worth. Depression symptoms make you weak.
How many people silently suffer because they believe getting help is a weakness? We subscribe to societal norms. We confuse strength with suffering. I will suffer, therefore I am strong. Would you tell your doctor after a cancer diagnosis, “Doc, to prove my strength I am going to handle this alone.” No! Yet we do this time and time again with depression. We think depression is something we have to survive. We accept our misery as a sign of strength.
Do I have the strength to endure my suffering? Heck yeah!
Do I have to suffer to prove my strength? Heck no!!
Life will throw us plenty of opportunities to suffer where we don't have a choice.
If you are suffering from depression, don't waste another second. Get some help.
Unsure where to start? Make an appointment with your primary care physician and tell them you are experiencing symptoms of depression and/or make an appointment with a therapist. Psychology Today is an invaluable resource which allows you to search for therapists in your area. Remember to use the refine tool to filter therapists who accept your insurance!
Together, we can make a difference. End the shame. Getting help for depression is the bravest thing you can do.
May I ask you a small favor? Share this post with your friends and family! Let's get the word out that asking for help is the strongest thing you can do. Suffering in silence is no longer expected or acceptable. Someone needs to hear these exact words.
Everyday I see an article in my social media feed alerting me that things have gotten out of hand. CNN recently reported teenagers visiting the ER for suicidal thoughts or attempts has doubled in the past eight years. On the way to work, a billboard reminded me we are facing an opioid epidemic. An epidemic, people. Add to that my circle of friends who are discussing the dangers of Snapchat and how we must monitor our children's phones because they are being bullied and exposed to garbage and my head is spinning. You know those machines at the arcade that you feed your tickets to count the tickets you've won? That's me. I'm the ticket machine sucking in every ounce of bad news until my brain feels like its going to explode.
We all want a solution. Kids are too stressed out and can't handle the pressure. We must make it easier on them! Social media is a breeding ground for cyber bullying. We must police or ban the internet! Drug use is on the rise. We must inform them of the dangers! We are frantically trying to control, shield, and eliminate all negative experiences and emotions so they never have to suffer.
Its not working.
The cold hard truth? Why are things so out of control? We are teaching our kids zero skills to navigate challenges on their own. One tiny set back can shut them down completely. If I had a nickel for every time I heard "well, I missed a few days of school and the makeup work was overwhelming so I just stopped doing it altogether" I'd be a very rich woman! Young people are throwing in the towel when they feel defeated. They don't know how to manage negative emotions.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've got some serious work to do.
I have a quote hanging in my office. I'm not sure where it originated from, but it remains year after year because it is so darn accurate: Don't be upset by the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.
Don't be upset by the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.
Last summer, my oldest daughter was really upset. I don't remember exactly what she was upset about, but I do remember she thought I would never understand it because (her words) I was perfect and would never have thought/done/said/felt whatever she was feeling. My 11-year-old daughter should look up to me and think I'm extraordinary, right? I am perfect. Ha! No, seriously, that moment make my heart hurt. She viewed me as having it all together and doubted herself for not. And it made my heart ache.
I immediately wanted to fix it and cheer her up. I felt helpless, defeated, and anxious. I hated every minute of it. It was so excruciating for me to watch her suffer and not be able to fix it that I had to ask my husband to step in so I could privately panic and lose my mind (which usually looks like this: go to my closet, hide, cry, question my ability to parent, feel awful).
But this time was different. A light bulb went off. I'd been doing it all wrong. I've hidden SO much from her. How can I teach her to manage her feelings of self-doubt and teach her that she has the power to overcome them if I'm not modeling this behavior myself? She hasn't seen me struggle, so how can she know I do? How can she know that mommy feels scared and insecure at times if I don't share my feelings with her?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think my 11-year-old and I should be trading secrets and discussing my latest dilemmas at work; there has to be a balance between what I share and what she can handle. She is a child. But I do think she should know that I was also one of the tallest girl in the 6th grade and I felt awkward. She should see me cry and know I feel insecure. A lot. She should know that I have bad days and get through them. She should know I make mistakes and have regrets. She should see me coping with what life throws my way. She should see that vulnerability is a manageable emotion.
Okay, this seems doable. I can work on sharing more of myself appropriately with her. But this next part? This part made me want to puke.
She has to learn to struggle.
Aggghhhh! I never want my babies to hurt, feel sad, scared, or insecure. Ever. I want to solve all their problems before they begin. I'm a fixer. I can't let my kids suffer. It makes me feel vulnerable and scared. No way!!
People, listen to me right now because this is going to hurt. WE HAVE TO LET OUR KIDS SUFFER. Our over parenting-fix-everything motto? It's what’s hurting them the most.
In "10 Reasons Teens Have So Much Anxiety Today", Amy Morin discusses how over parenting is fostering anxiety instead of resilience. Today's parents do not let kids deal with challenges on their own. We’ve become their saviors, shielding them from all disappointment and hurt. We let them avoid uncomfortable situations. We micromanage their emotions so they never have an unpleasant one. We cheer them up when they are sad and calm them down when they are angry. Our kids expect to feel happy all the time because we’ve spent years being their cheerleaders. We're developing an entire generation of kids that don't know how to cope!!
Guilty as charged. I had some serious work to do.
In the past few months I have spent a lot more time listening and guiding and a lot less time solving problems. The result? I am seeing much more confident little ladies. Try it. Ask your child to share their ideas and solutions instead of jumping to solve their problems. Offer guidance and watch their self-confidence grow. Let them feel nervous, bored, uncomfortable and sad. Assure them negative emotions are a healthy and normal part of life. It’s not easy to see them suffer and you’ll likely want to throw up, but it’s the only way we will teach them to manage their lives effectively.
The biggest gift we can give our children? The ability to cope with whatever comes their way.
I must point out that if you don't have healthy coping skills, you will not be able to teach them to your child. I repeat: You will not be able to teach healthy coping skills to your child if you don't have them yourself. Learn to manage and accept your own negative emotions. This takes practice, patience, and maybe some therapy. It's never too late to make positive changes in your life. Those positive changes will spill over to everyone around you.
My hide-in-the-closet-and-obsess-over-how-I-parent coping style? Probably not the best way to handle stress. For me, talking about it so I can understand the fear that is driving my behavior, reading, going for a jog, or getting a nice big hug from my dogs, Fozzie and Samson, are better choices. They are way more effective and actually work. They stop me from spiraling down my self-pity hole AND emulate positive coping skills for my kids. Win!
We have the power to teach young people that the world is a manageable place. We just have to be comfortable with letting them suffer. Do you have the courage to do that?
To learn more about healthy coping skills, check out The Do's and Don'ts of Teaching your Child To Cope, by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. on PyschCentral.com.
I have only shared this blog on a few private Facebook group pages. It felt safer that way. It’s so much easier to take a risk around people whose opinions won’t absolutely devastate me. I would test the waters. I would get my feet wet. My plan was to share my page publicly when I was ready. You know, after I'd gained a decent following and proved myself worthy of writing a blog. Obviously by then Good Morning America would be featuring me so I’d HAVE to let you all in on my secret blog. ??
Facebook had other plans.
I have started getting “like” notifications from people I know well. Neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. Facebook had taken a comment of mine and put it on your feed. “Heidi Wilson commented on The Ordinary Chaos”. Intrigued, you clicked on my page. I'm thrilled! I’m gaining a small audience! You're reading my posts without me having to ask you!! Wow! Thank you!!!!!
Then PURE panic set in. I felt so exposed, scared, nervous, and VULNERABLE! Being honest is freaking hard, people. Really hard. ??
Cue the negative self-talk! A belittling comment here, “oh my gosh, is she actually complaining” and a sucker punch there, “She's too high maintenance.” “She's just doing it for attention.” “Please, how could SHE have any problems?” “Obviously your damaged. Your father took his life, what kind of values could he have taught you if HE COULD DO THAT?” These are all things I have actually heard directly or indirectly from people I’ve ALLOWED in my life. (I keep these comments in a safe place to question my self-worth during times of insecurity. Very effective, huh? ?)
To be perfectly clear, I'm just as guilty of judging others. Vindictiveness, jealousy, and other emotions can make us so horrendous to each other. I do it too. Especially if my feelings are hurt! I go into full-on protection mode and judge you right back. Usually harsher. “Oh really, well have you looked in the mirror?” (Ughhhhhh! No more!!)
If you judge or criticize me, it’s more about you than me. Period. If I judge or criticize you, it's about me. Period. Less judging, more loving, people! How can we possibly support each other this way?
I can spiral into self-hate and withdraw my posts. Or, I can carry on and believe what I have to say is worthwhile.
It looks like vulnerability and me are going to be thick as thieves for the unforeseeable future.
Millions of people suffer from depression. We are successful, funny, goal-oriented people. Our empathy runs deep. We are loyal friends. We are perfectionists. We have high functioning depression. The kind you wouldn't recognize because we are able to live life with the rest of you. And we are the least likely bunch to ask for help.
This has got to stop.
Will sharing my story make a difference? Will it make depression less taboo? Can I show you a side of depression that is fun, silly, and relatable? Will more people be willing to talk about it and ask for help? Will you secretly wish you had depression? (okay, so maybe that's going a little too far...)
What makes you feel most vulnerable? Are you hiding parts of yourself to avoid judgment and shame? Have you ever felt judged or judged someone else too harshly?
Hi, my name is Heidi and I have high-functioning depression.
There's no turning back now.
I didn't know I was depressed. I wasn't that lady in the anti-depressant commercial who couldn't get out of bed until her dial was wound back up. I wasn't thinking about ending my life. I wasn't staying in bed all day, losing interest in things that made me happy. I was going to work. I was functioning.
I couldn't be depressed. I made people laugh. I socialized. I was successful. Sure, I felt sad and irritated a lot. At times it felt like I was going through the motions and putting on a show, but I was used to it. It would make me exhausted, especially when surrounded by people for long periods of time, but that's just the product of being a mother with a full-time job and family, right? My time was limited and my responsibilities were endless. My energy and self-esteem were often low but after having children your body never looks the same and you question every decision you make, so of course my self-esteem was low. I felt hopeless and alone at times, but that's normal. I didn't have the luxury of meeting a friend for dinner or focusing on me whenever I felt like it. I felt agitated and irritable other times. I'd rationale every feeling away convincing myself it was just part of being a working mom in a stressful job.
I had periods of joy and laughter but I'd always come back to that same feeling of blah. It felt like a piece of me was missing, the piece that could feel hope and excitement. It was numb. I'd look at my two exceptional children and my fabulous husband who makes me laugh everyday and I'd be happy but still felt empty inside. I felt unable to focus or make decisions and unmotivated to start my day. If someone hurt my feelings, I'd spiral into self-pity. I'd beat myself up for things I had done or didn't do, for the way I looked, or the way I may have come across to others. I would spend days denying myself certain foods because I'd convinced myself I was going to gain weight. I would obsess over what others thought of me. I'd feel guilty.
I was able to hide most of it from those around me but my immediate family noticed. My own daughters were growing older and I felt like a hypocrite telling them to love and honor themselves while I was emulating everything I wanted them NOT to be. I was an insecure woman pretending to be happy. I didn't love and honor myself. I was terrified they were going to notice. Something had to change. I made a decision right then and there. I will do whatever it takes to be whole and happy for them.
That's when I learned about dysthymia, or high-functioning depression. High-functioning depression is what I like to call "depression-light." People with this type of depression experience less-severe depression symptoms. Symptoms last for at least two years. These symptoms are often dismissed as a part of your personality. "I'm just a moody and emotional person who cries a lot. I have a short fuse. I take things too personally."
No one knows for certain what causes dysthymia, but it could be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, a family history of the condition, a history of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, stressful or traumatic life events, physical brain trauma, such as a concussion, or chronic physical illnesses. I was basically a ticking time bomb with almost every single factor listed above. It all started to make sense.
Guys, it took SO much courage to admit something may be wrong. It took so much courage for me to talk to my doctor and call a therapist. But I did it. Why? Because I refuse to suffer any longer. I refuse to teach my children that misery is acceptable. Suffering through depression did not make me stronger. It robbed me of enjoying my life.
Talk-therapy and/or anti-depressants are very successful treatments to treat high-functioning depression. I started with my primary care physician and went over my options and you can too. If you think you may have dysthymia, don't waste another second.
Help is available. You do not have to live this way.
Thank you for reading my story! If you want to be notified of new posts? Like my Facebook Page, The Ordinary Chaos and my Instagram!
The pictures above represent the most EPIC year! I've been so blessed to travel all over the world. My family and I spent two glorious weeks exploring Australia. It was a bucket-list vacation I still can't believe happened. In fact, in the past year, I've been fortunate enough to visit NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Beijing, and Zurich! I hiked the Canadian Rockies, walked on the Great Wall of China, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, AND sipped wine surrounded by the breathtaking peaks of the Swiss Alps! Not bad for a girl who lives in a small suburb outside of Philadelphia, right? Can you say picture-perfect flawless life adventures? My social media accounts look like heaven!
The truth is the person I portray on my social media accounts deserves an Oscar for hiding my very real struggles with depression. My posts only show a one-dimensional side of my life because I never post the hard stuff. You see my highlight reel. You don't see pictures of me falling apart on our last night in Sydney, when I was sobbing on our hotel balcony, wondering if I'd fulfilled my life goal of traveling to Australia too soon and therefore I'd have nothing to look forward to anymore. I didn't share that planning and being excited about our trip to Australia distracted me from the grief that consumed my soul after losing one of my best friends. I didn't share that my husband was afraid to leave me alone that night on our hotel balcony.
I hid my depression because I didn't want to be judged. I hid it because I didn't want to admit it to myself. I hid it because when I was 11-years-old, my father ended his life and even though I didn't understand what depression was, I learned that if you are depressed, you commit suicide. Depression leads to suicide and that is shameful! I wanted none of that, so I pretended and preached about how we needed to end the mental health stigma, assured people depression was nothing to be ashamed of, and silently suffered, feeling like a complete hypocrite every day as I created picture-perfect posts of my life.
Through therapy and a lot of patience, I've learned to understand my depression and my triggers. I've learned about my unhealthy coping mechanisms and faulty beliefs, and that depression isn't anything to be ashamed about. Depressed people can be happy. Depressed people don't always end their life. Depressed people are pretty freaking amazing!!!
It was only recently that it occurred to me that maybe I'm not the only one silently suffering. Maybe other women feel ashamed for feeling depressed. Maybe other women need to hear my story in order to share their story or ask for help. Maybe I can make depression relatable and together we can end the stigma of depression! Maybe we can support, understand, and encourage each other through our dark days. Maybe we can share some laughs along the way.
I have depression. I am not crazy. I am worthy of love and friendship. And so are you.
Thank you for reading my story! To read more and be alerted of new posts, like my Facebook Page, The Ordinary Chaos.
Okay, so I'm not technically friends with Rachel Hollis, but I've been reading her bestseller "Girl, Wash Your Face" and her infectious encouragement and in-your-face just-do-it attitude has given me the courage to (as she says) turn someday into today! Go me! (Rachel, if you see this, I've decided that one day we will have lunch and compare stories of similar tragic upbringing that turned us into tenacious go-getters! Then we will be guests on The Ellen Show. I'm dreaming big, my friend)!
So here goes. I'm launching a community where women can connect with each other. A place where we can share our stories, relate to one another, and support each other as WE ARE. A place where you don't have to be learning a new diet or be a new mom or want to be more fashionable, you just ARE. A place where you feel normal because your life matches the life of so many other women who haven't found work/life balance, who may have given up low-carb diets long ago, who can't keep up with the latest style trends. We live ordinary chaotic lives. We talk about real life stuff like flabby thighs and just barely surviving day to day. We ask for advice. We come from different backgrounds with different life experiences and we help each other grow. We connect.
What if we lifted each other up, as we ARE, instead of as we want to be (skinnier, healthier, a better dresser...)? What if we shared our truths and didn't feel criticized, shamed, or guilty? What if we found others that feel exactly how we feel? What if our truth was accepted and valued?
It could be as simple as needing advice on what to wear for a night out or how to get over a breakup. You may be contemplating divorce or a new career. This community is for women to share and get feedback from all walks of life. A place where we can be authentic, honest, and feel a real sense of belonging. Share as little or as much as you’d like. Maybe you are great at encouraging others because you’ve got so much experience and expertise your input could change lives. How awesome would it be to have real life mentors helping us through our chaotic lives?
Sure, I may be crazy to think this online utopia could exist. You may be thinking, she’s insane! I’d never share my life with strangers!!
I’m taking a leap of faith here. Over the past 20 years I have belonged to wedding planning groups, pregnancy groups, new mommy groups, essential oil groups, weight loss groups. And each group was amazing. I’ve made friends and met so many women who make me feel like I’m not alone. There is so much beauty in the moment you can show vulnerability and get meaningful feedback in a safe and nurturing environment.
Maybe I am crazy, but I say we give this a try! Are you in?
Check out my Facebook Page and join the #MeantToBeMe Group HERE!
Heidi has been working as a school counselor for over 15 years and strives to end the stigma of depression. She offers helpful tips and strategies to help yourself or someone you love who is suffering. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression gives her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as a adolescent and adult.