6 o'clock every day I cried. Without warning, but right on time. There was never any reason in particular, which is what made it so hard to explain. It's what made it so hard to accept.
It was supposed to be the happiest time of my life and it was, I suppose, but it was also the most complicated.
"What's wrong with me?" I often thought.
At the time I didn't recognize I had postpartum depression, but looking back now, there was nothing else it could have been.
I wish I could say that these feelings started and ended with my pregnancy but they didn't and haven't. Moody or temperamental weren't uncommon descriptors, so much so I began to think it was the truth. My emotions were both a powerful protection and a scary force that had the potential to undermine any good feelings I had about myself.
Perfectionism was a crutch and a reason for self-punishment. I'm not sure why I had to abuse myself so much but the high of accomplishment would temporarily drag me from my despair and often help with the struggle with my worthiness. But when I didn't achieve it gave me a reason to treat myself badly or question myself as a person and dive deeper into a pit of discontent.
It took a while to realize I am important and my ideas matter. I couldn't allow my self-loathing or critical judgment of my body to impact the truth of my value or beauty.
By using my wit and intelligence, I was able to cover up my low self-esteem and social anxiety. I am different, individual, and quiet but I didn't feel that was okay for a long time. I kept people distant, to keep myself safe.
I felt alone a lot even when there were people around but it was scarier to have to pretend to be sociable and on.
This feeling has continued into my adult life in some capacity. As a matter of fact, the growing popularity of my work has both humbled me and reminded me of the struggle I have with social anxiety and how awkward I feel around new people and now there seems to be an expectation that I fear I won't be able to satisfy. (Of course, I realize this is likely more in my head than in reality.)
Therapy has been helping move forward and love myself. I've been in and out of therapist's offices since I was 8. I accept full responsibility for where I am now and will not blame my parents or situations, but rather wear the challenges as a badge of honor that has propelled me forward.
Self-love is an inside job and it has nothing to do with how others view me or how I feel that others view me. Feeling comfortable in my own skin is where I gather my own strength.
There are still days I struggle, but they are far fewer than they were when I was younger. I work hard to be gentle with myself and openly express my anxiety.
Rather than allow my anxiety to control me, I force myself out of my comfort zone daily to varying degrees and challenge myself to address the fears and discomfort. Whether I'm speaking at a conference or meeting someone new, I put my best face forward and try to allow my true self to show through even through the fear.
More importantly, my own struggle has helped me connect with some of the most special students I have ever met. Courageously I've shared my story with them and have been able to help them navigate through challenging times, pointing them in the right direction for help. You see, it's sometimes easy to see the signs in someone else who suffers from a similar affliction.
At the end of the day, no matter how bad situations feel, there is always a better tomorrow waiting. I remind myself of this often. Life is so temporary and so are the challenges we face. Constantly working to feel better about myself is a life's work, but it's worth it. I'd like nothing better than to actually feel happy and not just wear the smile that was so often the doorway to my prison.
The new tattoo has a special meaning. It will be a constant reminder of how I can turn struggle into something beautiful and strong and how my students can too. Every person who has fought their own demons at some point has a powerful story to share that can potentially offer solace to someone in a dark place.
What's your story? Please share
This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in July 2015