"I AM NOT OKAY."

When I was a teenager, my family would take winter vacations to mountain resorts that included seasonal sports like skiing and snowboarding.  I was never particularly good at snowboarding, but it was trendy, and I went a few times. Where I lacked in ability, I made up with enthusiasm and blind confidence, which is what lead to me to strap onto that flexible board of plastic and hurl my body down the side of a mountain.

One such time, all strapped in and feeling not only secure, but optimistic, I adjusted my rented board from the parallel position to the vertical “downhill” stance and began down the trail. As I quickly started to pick up momentum, I felt cool for a millisecond until I suddenly realized that I had no clue what I was doing. Sure, I was going really fast and appeared to be navigating properly, but it was an illusion. As I wizzed past unsuspecting skiers and snowboarders,  I was lucky not to hit anyone. The speed was building to a point that I could no longer safely sustain. Then, a horrible reality dawned on me: I didn’t know how to stop.

Eventually, I would have to stop, and unfortunately for me, the only way to accomplish that on my own was to willfully fall. By that point the only choices were fall or crash. And because I like my face, and because I knew the conscious falling would do the least amount of damage to my face, I had to take a deep breath and tuck my body and hit the hard snow.

This is exactly what my self-professed "breakdown" was like.

The choice were clear: fall or crash, so I chose to fall. The thing about choosing to fall is that at least you are the one in the control, and this is a small comfort. You are the person doing the falling, and so you can choose the manner in which you would like to tumble. Though, I learned, one can’t predict what will happen once they do hit the ground. Sometimes you bust your lip on the hard snow, and other times, the damage is worse. For me, this was incredibly scary because having my breakdown meant choosing myself. It felt selfish in a way....It also meant I would have to come face-to-face with all of the emotions I had been unsuccessfully trying to outrun.

Now, when I say breakdown, I know that term can be off-putting to a great many people. They start thinking: white coats and straight jackets. Which is precisely why I needed to write this piece. Why in the fuck are we so afraid to admit we are not okay? We are suffering endlessly in silence. Who amongst us hasn't felt DONE? This was me: done. Emotionally and physically. I felt that I literally could go no further. I had been living with the same narrative in my head each morning… “How many hours do I have to pull before I can close my eyes and go back to sleep?” Somewhere in the midst of my days, I would wonder with genuine fascination, “Is this the day I will finally, once and for all, have a mental breakdown?” Each day, it felt as though a little more water was being poured into a quickly filling receptacle, and it was becoming too full and too large to ignore.

Complicating all of this was that I am a mother to a highly intuitive child who at the time was 3 years old. She could probably tell that something was deeply wrong with her mommy. Mommy could no longer pretend that everything was okay, and it was showing. This painted a fresh layer of guilt over the gloss of my mounting anxiety. Looking at my daughter, I knew I had to fix this before it got any worse and stole anything else from us.

So, in late 2017, with the walls quickly coming in on me, I phoned it in. I cleared my schedule, called in my helpers (who showed up with help and without judgement), and prepared to plant myself firmly on the couch and not get up until I was done crying, questioning, and eating snacks in badly coordinated outfits.

There were days when my face was swollen and sore from crying. I had days where all I could manage to do was make it from my bed to the couch. There were dinners that never got made. There were stretches where my daughter cracked out hard on iPad. There was a day when I wore an outfit so truly awful that there were no words. But I was also working it out. I was actively getting in the pit with my own despair and wrestling it to the death.

It took two weeks, more than one viewing of Little Women, and a lot of grace, but by the time I was done, I was good and broken down. During those two weeks, I systematically and painstakingly removed the layers of expectations that I had for myself, as well as the ones that others had for me. I gave myself permission to think, for the first time, about what self care meant, about how I wanted to actually show up in my own life, and what kind of family member and friend I wanted to be. I gave myself permission to cry and to not be okay. I was able to admit that trying to be everything, all at once, resulted in me not really being of any use to anyone at all.

By the time I could once again stand upright, I realized that the heavy release of emotion over those weeks was more like a prerequisite than the actual college credit. I had stopped moving long enough to see that without me, the world kept right on turning. All of the “things” I thought I needed to do, or participate in, really didn’t need to me function, and this was a distinct relief. Once I had enough room to breath outside of those things, I began to ask myself, “are these things really even all that important to me?”

I made a list of the things I had to do…like, HAD to do. I was shocked at how simple it was:

Show up to work, so we can pay bills.
Love myself.
Love my family.

Everything else was optional. Like, truly optional. This was my starting point— a new beginning. And like I said, the actual event of moving through the emotion was more like a prerequisite because coming out of all of that, I was surprised to find that I needed to rediscover what it meant to be "me." My breakdown lead me on a year long journey to unfold into a new, more realistic, and tailored version of my life. It also helped me reimagine what beauty really means in the context of a well-lived life.

In the day and age of social media, we are conditioned to participate in the crafting of our images. Naturally, this spills over into our everyday lives in subtle, and often harmful, ways. I believe that modernity predisposes us to become passengers on the runway train of “I’m fine—let’s stay busy and look successful.” I, like so many do, became obsessed with the notions of being perceived as strong and busy. This lead me down a well-intentioned path to hell. And that, my friends, is some bullshit.

Simultaneously, parenthood catapulted me into an arena I thought I was prepared for, but when I arrived, I had on the wrong type armor, and my weapons were those party balloons shaped like animals. Instead of throwing my hands up, and asking for help, or simply saying “what the actual fuck is going on here?” I tried to use the balloons and broken armor, while frantically running to outpace my enemies in the arena. The inevitable end was exhaustion and confusion. Perhaps as parents we are more susceptible to subscribing to illusionary expectations. I don't know.

What I do know is that nearly two years out from my famous couch-in, my life doesn't appear any different on the outside, but it is radically different on the inside. I changed the way I did business from the way I conduct friendships to family time, parenting, and even the way I work. I don't always feel happy, but I live with a ton more joy than I could have ever imagined. If you’ve been frantically trying to avoid the truth of yourself, or your life, by staying busy and outrunning the dragon, I implore you: schedule the damn breakdown, already. While it will feel like hell at first, a well-planned fall is better than an unplanned crash.

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