Words and images by Sammi at Splendid Musings Photography.
When you come from a troubled childhood I've found that I often miss certain details or memories of my past. I've always felt that this was a way of trying to protect myself, a defense mechanism in my brain. But every once in a while a memory will pop up into the forefront of my mind and stay there for a while. One such memory was over ten years ago, back when I was in high school and we lived in an old rundown fourplex out in the middle of nowhere. I vividly remember sitting on my bed after I had just gotten into trouble, listening to an old music box. I quickly grabbed a piece of paper and journaled out these words "don't treat your children the way that you've been treated". At the time I thought perhaps I was just being a stubborn teenager, it wasn't until I had my own children that I realized how pertinent that little-scribbled note was.
From a very young age, I always knew that I'd be a mother. I always knew it was something that I'd be good at. But like with most things in life, there is very little you can do to actually prepare yourself for the journey that comes with parenthood. I don't know if I have an exact moment where things started to make sense or fall into place. I lead my whole life thinking I was just an average human being with a perfect childhood. It wasn't until I had children of my own that things started to become confusing. As I watched my children grow up I took inventory of my own experiences as a child. Suddenly my perfect childhood didn't look quite as perfect as I had been told it was and I cringed when I thought of doing to them the very things that had been done to me.
You don't see how stuck you are until you see what healthy truly looks like. Without my children, I wouldn't have had the courage to find help. I probably wouldn't have even known about the depths of the brokenness that resided inside me. It wasn't until I saw bits and pieces of my brokenness reflected in my children as they grew up that I truly realized I had to be better. Not only for myself but more importantly, for them.
I'll never forget the moment when I knew I needed to be better. My second daughter had just been born and after laying her down for the night, I sat on our couch alone and crying about how far I had fallen. After suffering through an eating disorder, panic attacks, and severe depression ever since my middle school days, I knew at that moment as I was surrounded by the darkness and silence of the night, that things couldn't remain the same. I needed to change. I needed to claw my way back up from that deep dark hole that I had sunken into.
And so I did. It started slow, I always viewed myself as a puzzle whose pieces were scattered all over the places. Slowly I started picking those pieces up and putting them back into place. Some pieces were easy to grab and others are still too far away from my grasp and make me want to give up. But every once in a while, that little memory of the note I wrote while sitting on my bed pops into my head and I remember why I took the harder road. A constant reminder of why I choose to continue to walk that difficult road to recovery.
The mere thought of my own girls carrying the burdens that I did for years is enough to make me burst into tears. I suppose that's what unconditional love truly looks like; when you're willing to pave the way and walk down a difficult road for the good and health of another individual. And because of that, I keep going. I keep waking up every day making sure that I choose to be better, no matter how hard it is. I may not have had a healthy childhood and there are certain scars that I will carry with me forever and while it at times hurts my heart to know that I'll never get those seasons of my life back, the least I can do is be strong enough to give my children the very thing that I never had.
There aren't a lot of positive things about mental illness, it's an everyday struggle to seek and position my perspective to seeing the good in my days, to not allow the darkness to completely take over. To willingly open up to the people around you and ask for help when the burden feels too heavy to hold up on your own. But one of the good things that it has given me is a soft and mold-able heart. It's given me the desire to change, the strength to love despite my difficulties, and the perseverance and dedication in raising beautiful and whole human beings.
But motherhood brings on its own avenue of heaviness that continues to effect my mental health. The pressure to constantly make sure that I do and be better, to make sure I raise my girls differently than I was raised. Motherhood came with a lot more responsibility than I had anticipated. I already see so much of myself (good and bad) in my girls and I often feel broken and incomplete as a person and as a mother so it's a constant concern that I will accidentally do something that will scar them or that I'll be so busy dealing with my own trials that I can't help them with theirs. This in turn adds to the burden that mental illness can be and it makes it hard to quiet those harsh and critical voices in my mind. How can I be there for my kids and help them through their own struggles when I can barely help myself most days?
It can become difficult to put on a brave face and choke back a panic attack when one of my girls gets injured or pull myself together from a depressive episode to help with homework. It can be tricky when finding the strength to be the strong and capable mother that I know my girls see me as and ultimately a good example for them. But in the reverse, knowing my girls will be the future and how much they'll effect the world around them, I find I can grasp onto those little slivers of motivation that lead me to health and recovery.
I sat down several times over the past few weeks trying to write all this, to make sense of all that I'd gone through, only to find myself getting stuck as I went to type. Almost like a small part of me wasn't willing to let go of all these thoughts. But the hardest part about sharing all this isn't because I'm airing out all my dirty laundry or that I'm embarrassed, it's because I don't have a positive lesson or conclusion to end these struggles with. It's me, in the absolute thick of it while I try to walk through it. I have no clue where I'm going or what's going to happen and that's the scary part. You're seeing a work in progress, not the shiny end product.
But isn't that exactly what life is? A constant journey on a back road that's filled with deep bumpy potholes that teach you how to keep your balance and keep going. And now as I'm actively speaking to a therapist and handling myself with a bit more compassion, I've started to see small changes in myself. Whether it's the way I talk to myself with empathy and understanding, or the little extra patience I have when dealing with my girls, or the grace and courage I have when I hit those potholes in the road. And for the first time in a decade, I'm feeling hopeful, as if I'm shedding a skin that clung to me and held me back.
If there is one thing that I've learned in being honest with my struggles is how alike so many of us are. There are so many other mothers out there who carry these same burdens on their shoulders and when I started truly being transparent with others I noticed the amazing amount of women who came forth - not only to encourage me but to share their own story as well. What a powerful thing it is when we come together, lift one another up, and come to the realization that we don't need to walk our lives being isolated and alone. We truly are stronger together.