Where we left off . . .
In chapter 6, I shared how I lost someone important to me for the first time. Now, with my Nana gone, I felt lost and uncertain as to how I should grieve properly. Once I finally allowed myself to cry, my life started to look up again. I met a very special someone (Steve) and after 16 months single, I started dating again. I was ready for some REAL romance. After all, I was no longer afraid of being alone, so I knew that I would not settle for the same crap that I settled for in the past.
The Relationship that Changed Everything
After a fantastic first date with Steve, we went to the county fair in Essex for our second date. I was less nervous for this date than I was for the first date, but I still had butterflies in my stomach as I picked out my outfit and did my makeup. Steve picked me up in his truck around dinnertime, and we talked during the long-ish ride into Essex. I learned more about him, including the fact that he was actually born in the county (Essex), but moved to Windsor after his parents divorced. When we arrived at the county fair, I was almost disappointed that we had to get out of the truck, but the fun was only beginning! First, as a roller coaster junkie, I was thrilled to find out that the fair had a bracelet that allowed us to go on unlimited rides for one fee, so obviously, we bought the bracelet. I laughed so hard with Steve as we were flipped upside down and spun in tight, stomach-churning circles.
There was something magical about that evening at the fair. The carnies kept looking at us with this knowing look. We kept getting smiles from everyone, almost as if the universe was in on some sort of matchmaker game that we didn't know about. Both of us felt the energy, but neither of us understood why everything felt SO right. We didn't question it. We ventured into the kids' part of the fair, sliding down the kiddie slides and stumbling through the Fun House. We went on the tiny kids' roller coaster, holding our arms in the air and fake screaming in mock thrill.
Steve and I left the fair to walk down the streets of Essex, and I learned more about Steve's past, Steve's interest in fitness, and how he transformed himself with major weight loss right out of high school. We held hands as we walked past the small town shops with names and logos that I had never heard of. The sun was casting golden ribbons across the sky and filtering through the green leaves on the tree tops. Time disappeared when we talked. Before I knew it, we were just outside of the restaurant in Essex that I had eaten at just months prior with Sean, Steve, Holly, and Tyler. We looked at each other with knowing faces before deciding to go in for an impromptu dinner.
After an amazing dinner, Steve showed me the house that his family lived in when he was a child. I couldn't stop looking up at him lovingly. That night was the night that I started to truly fall in love with Steve. We walked down the streets again toward the fair. By now, the sky was dark and the county shops were closed up for the night. When we finally made it back to the fair, all the rides were lit up like glitter against the night sky. I realized with enthusiasm that, thanks to our bracelets, we could still go on the rides! Steve and I returned to the topsy-turvy fun of carnival rides, and we kissed on the Ferris wheel. I didn't want the night to end; I couldn't remember the last time that I had this much fun.
I was becoming aware that Steve was nothing like the men I dated in the past. He already treated me differently than I was used to, but I knew at this point in my life that I deserved it. I no longer carried my insecurities like a ball and chain, which freed me up for someone truly special. On our third date, I met Steve's dad and step-mom. We went out for sushi later before returning to the house. That was the night where Steve and I decided to make our relationship a serious one. Things only got better from there. We had such a fun summer, driving around in his truck under the summer sun, going to late-night bonfires at Holly and Tyler's house, spending time at my family's summer cottage, and soaking up endless sun by the beach and my parents' pool. I was having some serious pinch-me feelings! After everything that I had been through, I couldn't believe that I had the real deal at LAST! My parents loved Steve, and I got along with Steve's family too. In September, I met Steve's mom who lived in a farmhouse in the county. My friends were thrilled for me, especially since they knew that, before Steve came along, I was preparing for the spinster life . . . or better yet, the crazy cat lady life (I LOVE cats way too much).
Of course though, my life always has to throw me curve balls. In October that year, I started getting in repetitive fights with my parents. I was trying to complete my master's degree while also working as a full time manager. My management training ended up being rushed, and I was thrown into something more challenging than I expected. I handled it as best I could, but I was EXHAUSTED. I went from having a comfy job with a challenging pace that I could handle to being overworked and underpaid in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, my school work was demanding even though the program was online. I started taking a lot of naps simply because I was starting to burn out. My parents mistook this exhaustion for laziness, which was where most of the disagreements stemmed from. I think that the main issue was the fact that I was 24-years-old and still at home despite desperately wanting my independence.
In one heated argument with my mom, I impulsively grabbed my suitcase and left. I told her that I couldn't live here anymore. I had no plan. I was terrified. My brother bought his own house at 21 (pretty bad-ass, I know), so I stayed with him for a week before moving to my friend, Jess's house for the next 3 weeks. Initially, this jump into the unknown was the scariest thing I had ever done. I don't remember ever being so shook-up by my own life. I woke up countless nights in tears and sweats. I knew what I needed to do. My intuition told me 2 things at this point: (1) I was NOT making a mistake, even if it felt like it, and (2) I couldn't survive this journey alone.
The Best Risk I have ever Taken
I called Steve in tears on the day that I left my parents' house. He just started working full-time as a plumber in training, and I knew that if we combined incomes, we could make this work. I also knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Steve was the one for me. We had already talked about getting our own place together, but we didn't intend on making this jump at a mere 3 MONTHS into our relationship. Still, we both knew that we were ready to get our own place together. We had some people tell us that we were crazy, but we actually didn't have the doubts that everyone else had. Steve's parents supported us wholeheartedly and calmed me down when I was frantic. For the 3 weeks that we spent looking at apartments, I juggled living on Jess's couch and Steve's parents' basement. My parents also supported the decision. We made peace, which made me feel so much better, and my mom helped me go through my stuff from my old apartment.
The apartment searching was disheartening to say the least. In ONE DAY, we saw 2 apartments that looked so rough that I actually cried only to come home and ALMOST fall victim to a scam. Thankfully, I was savvy enough to see when I was being led into a trap. Still, that day ended with discouragement and tears.
What made matters worse was the fact that I had grown to despise my job. Nothing I did was good enough anymore. I went from feeling like a competent asset at my job to feeling like a clumsy, struggling manager who was not cut out for her job. The harder I tried to succeed, the harder I came up against a wall. Not to mention, the pay was only slightly more than I was making before I took on this incredible commitment. It turns out that I was always right when I said that fast food managers seemed overworked and underpaid. In fact, it was worse than I could have imagined. Everyone was miserable. All the managers hated their jobs whether they would openly admit it or not. The energy was increasingly negative and toxic, which was messing with the positive mindset that I tried to bring into the workplace. Now, I felt trapped because I needed this job more than ever, but I wanted to be free of it desperately. I told myself that things would get better with experience.
In November, Steve and I moved into our apartment. After a disheartening search, we upped our budget slightly and found the perfect match. In fact, the apartment is literally called "First Place Apartments." Talk about the universe offering loud signs! We clicked with our building managers instantly and everything flowed with ease. Before long, our little one-bedroom apartment turned into a place we could call home. We had our parents over, and I realized that I was FINALLY independent in the way that I wanted to be.
As for my relationship with Steve, we continued to get stronger. Instead of wearing down on our 4-month relationship, the decision to live together actually improved our relationship. I quickly realized that I could not imagine my life without Steve.
A Cold, Cold Winter
That winter, we were comfortable with our apartment, but my job was taking over my mind. I went from despising my job to having a pathological fear of it. I cried before every shift, even vomiting as I was about to walk out the door. On my days off, I constantly stressed out about when I would have to work next. No amount of coping or mental preparation could get me through those shifts without tears. I kept myself together on the surface as best I could, but my "bathroom breaks" were usually escapes so that I could cry my eyes out.
I know how crazy this sounds! First, let's remember that I still had (and still have) some severe anxiety, even while being recovered from depression. But I think I also need to highlight the fact that I was working at one of the busiest locations in my country right on the border of Canada and the US. Despite our busy pace, we seldom had the required amount of staff to run a smooth shift. In fact, I seldom felt like we had what we needed for success. The corporation kept demanding more from us, but giving little in return. The wage was scarce (even with a recent wage increase), shifts were severely understaffed, and everyone was miserable as soon as you didn't do every last thing that they wanted you to do. I worked a nightmare night shift with ONE kitchen staff member, but a lobby filled to capacity. I tried to manage the situation as best I could, but the harder I tried to salvage the shift, the worse things got. That night, I ended up running to the bathroom to vomit purely out of stress and fear. Out of desperation, I locked the doors for 2 hours to recover. I had no choice. I had no support. Ever since that night, my fear took on a whole new life of its own.
Fear turned to straight-up depression. I started to feel powerless in my life. I knew that I wanted a fulfilling job. I enrolled in an online business course so that I could plan to create my own online life coaching business upon graduation, but graduation was still at least another year away. I wanted to be self-employed so badly, but I didn't think that I could make it work. Last time that I was a self-employed respite worker, I wasn't getting paid by my client. I sacrificed my happiness for the job security that came with my management position at my fast food restaurant.
So by February, I gained over 30 pounds, and I was an utter mess. After a record length of time spent in recovery, I relapsed into episode number four of depression. I felt numb again. I felt nothing other than sadness and fear. The harder I tried to work on my mindset, the deeper I fell down the rabbit hole. By March, I was starting to question the point of my life again.
What made this time different was Steve. His support was the only thing that kept me pushing through those dark days. I walked into my shifts like a walking dead person. When April arrived, the spring weather injected some life into me, but I still felt so powerless. I started lightly drinking to cope with my depression. I still saw no way out of the job that I resented.
In May, I adopted a baby kitten and named her Luna after the full moon that reminded me of Nana. I have wanted my own cat for as long as I can remember, but when my family's cats died back when I was 13, my parents swore that we would have no more cats. Finally, I had my own little tortoiseshell bundle of love. Luna brought a lot of much-needed joy into my life.
Finally, June came around, and I was fed up! This is usually how my depression episodes go. I suffer for months until I just get TIRED of feeling this way and decide that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. I tried to come up with job alternatives again. I remembered that this whole decision to become a manager was an option that I had taken over being a self-employed respite worker. All fears aside, I decided that it was time to pursue that job again. I got in contact with the respite coordinator for my city and learned that there were over 900 families looking for respite workers. That was when I made the bold choice to FINALLY put my 2-weeks notice in at work. I pictured doing this for so long. I obsessed over the image of me walking into the office and quitting the job that was draining my happiness from me. Ironically enough, Steve and I were at the Freedom Fest on the night that I decided to quit my job. Also, as I made this choice, the night sky filled with the orange glow of paper lanterns coming from the Detroit side of the Detroit River. Paper lanterns have always been one of my signs from the universe that I am on the right track, so I was thrilled to see so many of them light up the sky that night.
The next day, I handed in my notice and never looked back.
The Present Day
It quickly became obvious that quitting my job was something that I needed to do! My life improved tenfold, and my depression released its grip from around my throat. I successfully and smoothly made the transition into self-employment almost as if it were always the next step for me. It became apparent that the feelings that had been suffocating me over the winter and spring were actually nudges and eventually shoves from my inner compass. My job at the fast food restaurant served its purpose in my life, but it was time to move on. I learned valuable skills over the past 6 years, especially in my final year despite the fact that it was such a painful experience. My management position was my first opportunity to exercise my leadership abilities, and from then on, I realized that being my own boss and being a leader suited me more than bowing down to the business goals of other corporations.
I continued with my online business course and my online master's degree, which kept me busy but motivated. August was a great month because I went from working myself to a pulp to hardly working at all, but making more money. Also, I believed in the work that I was doing; my respite work supported the mental health awareness cause that I felt so strongly toward, and I was making a difference in someone's life. I found the perfect job to sustain myself while going through school and the initial stages of building my business and brand.
I became especially obsessed with the business part, watching live webinars and reading as much as I possibly could about online marketing and business tactics. This way, once I completed my master's degree, I would be ready to run my own online life coaching business without crossing my fingers in the hope that someone would hire me.
As August came to an end, Steve and I started talking about taking the next step in our relationship. We already lived together as an unstoppable team with our fur family. The hardest challenges that come with marriage, including finances and living together were already conquered effortlessly. We decided that it was time to get married. It felt so surreal to finally be talking about getting married, something that I didn't see happening for myself just a few years prior. To say my parents were thrilled is an understatement. They offered to help us plan a proper wedding (we were just going to go for the low-budget option originally), and Steve's parents were equally as excited.
This pretty much brings us to the present day. Steve and I are getting married in 3 MONTHS, which I am so ridiculously excited for that I can hardly put my feelings in words. We still live in our apartment (it has already been a year and a half) with Luna and Rocky in the heart of the city. We are working on building my business and brand together with the help of my business coach (and some free offers from other fantastic business coaches). I am about to start my internship for my master's degree this week, which means that I will have my master's degree COMPLETED by the end of the year!!! Once I complete my degree, I am fully capable of offering online life coaching, which is what I have been building up my brand in preparation for.
The best part of all of this is the fact that I am happier with my life than I have ever been. When I was diagnosed with depression 8 years ago, I thought that I would never feel full happiness again. Even when I recovered from multiple episodes, I always felt like I was running from relapse. I felt like I was living in the shadow of my depression and my anxiety. Unfortunately, my anxiety is and will always be a part of my day-to-day life, but I have found a way to ensure that my anxiety does not call the shots. I have become obsessed with personal development, subscribing to multiple positive living email lists, reading self-help books regularly, meditating daily, and exercising acute mindfulness on a moment-to-moment basis. I am still learning, and I still have a lot to learn in my life, but considering that I am only 25, I think that this is okay :P. I am starting to realize that life is a work in progress and that I don't have to have everything figured out now. My perfectionism tries to convince me that I need to be excellent at everything now, but I am accepting that it is okay to struggle with anxiety (some days more than others) and that it's okay to feel lost or insecure. Being a young adult is far from easy! We are building the foundation of our future lives, and it seems like we have so much to do still with so little accomplished so far. That is why it is time to celebrate all current achievements, no matter how small. Then, we are fueled to push forward into the unknown, against our greatest fears, and toward our biggest dreams.
My Life Lessons Summarized
In chapter 1, I learned how to be open about my feelings with my loved ones. I learned how truly important social support is in order to get through this life, especially once mental illness enters the picture. The summer that I turned 18 and graduated from high school was the year that I learned that life wasn't a safe, comfy ride. Life is actually full of ups and downs and pushes outside of comfort zones. Life will always expand as you grow so that you can become a stronger, more secure person. The process of getting there might be painful, but sometimes a little bit (or a lot) of pain is necessary for growth. What I have come to realize is that the universe will not present you with challenges that you cannot handle yourself. Even if it feels like you cannot possibly overcome what is facing you, you can! If you couldn't, then the universe wouldn't present the challenge to you. The whole purpose of life is growth and expansion into a loving being. You can't have growth and expansion without change, fear, and pain. You just can't.
The topsy-turvy year of running from my depression through reckless life choices taught me that running from darkness only invites more darkness. After all, everything that feels negative and bad in this world is a form of fear in some way. When I started dating Band Guy and picking up life habits that I would never have picked up normally, I was acting out of fear, which invited more fear. I was not staying true to myself, which led to me losing contact with my true self. It really is a simple formula for disaster, even if I didn't see it at the time. Band Guy was horrible to me, but I have no hard feelings toward him. In fact, I have no hard feelings toward any of my exes anymore. They were simply a part of my life journey and my life lessons. I wouldn't have been able to grow as I did if it weren't for my experiences with my exes, so in many ways, I am thankful for them (though, you could NOT pay me to go through that crap again). Finally, it is important to note that I CHOSE to stay in my unhealthy relationship with Band Guy, despite advice from my best friend at the time and my family. I chose to settle for less than I deserved even though I could have left the relationship at any time. It wouldn't have been easy, but leaving was always an option. I want YOU to remember that you are a precious ray of sunshine and a sparkly unicorn haha! But seriously, you are the only YOU in this universe. No one else is YOU, and that's more remarkable than we give ourselves credit for. As soon as you were born, you deserved the best of EVERYTHING, especially love. Love is everyone's birthright, and if someone treats you like you are unloveable, then not only are they wrong, but they do NOT deserve a VIP place in your life! I mean that! I want you to think about that for a moment. Instead of beating yourself up (I am guilty of it as well), I want you to take a moment to embrace your beautiful being. You deserve love because you ARE love.
This chapter was the lowest point of my life, which taught me that I can conquer ANYTHING. Rock bottom is an interesting place to be because there is actually only ONE direction that you can move and that is up. I think we all have to hit rock bottom at least once in this life in order to re-assess how we are living our lives and how we can change our lives now. Since we are no longer consumed by the fear of falling, we can begin to build a new foundation for our lives. We can start over. Rock bottom is our time to start over. This doesn't mean that it won't hurt. You will hurt, and you may need some time to hang out in Rock Bottom Land, but PLEASE do not give up! You cannot fail if you never quit. As I said earlier, the universe would NEVER present you with a challenge that you cannot conquer, so when you are ready, begin to slowly start over. Don't be afraid of starting over, because I know it can be overwhelming. Chip away at the mountain. Take one step at a time and move at YOUR pace. Rock bottom is the perfect time to turn to your lines of social support. Your family and friends have never been so important. Counselling is always an incredible investment that can change your life when you are ready for it. Just make sure that you choose the best counsellor for you (mine was terrible for me haha); you don't have to settle for the first counsellor that you contact. Positive content is more important than ever, and eliminating stress as best you can is an asset! This might mean breaking off commitments that you have made, but your mental health and well-being trumps all life commitments! Put yourself first at this time. Your primary focus will be recovery until you feel ready to take on more responsibility.
This year was the year that I learned the true dangers behind compromising myself and my values. I ended up losing myself in yet another relationship, despite the fact that the relationship never made me fully happy. In fact, I was hardly attracted to Bill at all. For some reason, I felt like being with Bill was better than being alone. It took a full year of this unhappy relationship to realize that being alone is SO MUCH BETTER than being in a lackluster relationship. My advice here would be to honestly ask yourself if you are in a relationship with someone purely due to the fear of going it alone. You would be surprised how liberating it is to finally break free from a relationship that is no longer serving you. You would also be surprised by the amount of damage that can be done by compromising your values for someone else. When I left Bill, I had a lot of issues that I had to work through beyond my fear of being alone. Again though, I am grateful for this learning experience, and I hold no grudges against Bill.
My summer romance was fun at the time, and despite the fact that it was a blunder, I am actually grateful for the fun that I had over those brief weeks. Hunter's family's cottage was an incredible place unlike anything I have seen before. I saw the night sky in all its splendor for the first time, I saw more wildlife in a weekend than I have seen in years, and I had a genuinely fun time. I am also glad that I got to meet his family even if I didn't get to stay in the picture for long. Also, my heartbreak with Hunter led to the development of my spiritual beliefs. If it weren't for the sadness that consumed me post-Hunter, I might not have stumbled upon Gabrielle Bernstein and her incredible spiritual principles that changed how I lived my life. These spiritual beliefs only continued to grow over the following years and allowed me to develop a sense of meaning in my life. Sometimes in moments of sadness, we are more receptive to information that we would have normally overlooked before. The most important principle that I learned at this time was forgiveness. I learned that holding onto my grudges toward Band Guy, Bill, and Hunter was only draining my life of its full potential. I stopped blaming these men for my unhappiness, and I took my life into my own hands. I also learned to see my past relationships as reflections of what was going on in my own mind, which made perfect sense. These relationships were direct reflections of my insecurities at the time.
This chapter was tough because it was the time when I lost my Nana. I had my first personal encounter with death, which shook me up, but also brought me peace. I learned how to grieve properly and accept sadness. Processing and feeling our emotions is crucial to our development in our lives. We can't run from our feelings. In fact, the more we repress them and resist them, the stronger they fight back. Once I allowed myself to feel my grief from losing Nana, I also began to see how her guidance was all around me. Signs were everywhere all the time (and still are), and I started to feel close to my Nana in a different way. This chapter was also the point in my life when I met my fiance, Steve. This experience confirmed my lesson from chapter 5; I realized that my romantic life was a direct reflection of what was happening in my mind. Now that I felt happy and supported on my own, I was ready to meet someone else who also felt secure on his own and ready to meet the right person. My early experiences with Steve felt so supported on a spiritual level. For one, when Steve and I were talking by the bonfire at Holly and Tyler's house on my 24th birthday, he told me that his birthday was May 19. This date was the same day as my Nana and Papa's wedding anniversary, and I could practically feel my Nana winking at me. This might sound crazy if you're not super spiritual like me, which I totally understand! Either way, I can say that I found joy in a way that would have made my Nana proud. From that point onward, there were so many signs and synchronicities indicating that I was on the right track with Steve. And now that we are about to get married, I know that those signs and synchronicities were correct. Overall, it is fair to say that my chapter 6 lessons were extremely spiritual in nature, which allowed me to develop a peaceful sense of meaning in my life. If you are open to spiritual beliefs at all, I recommend checking out Gabby Bernstein! Her book, Spirit Junkie was the specific text that changed my life, but she also has a wonderful blog and YouTube channel.
Finally, chapter 7 offered some major lessons. This was the recent point in my life where I realized that my life was truly my own and that I needed to take it into my own hands. Feeling trapped in a job that did not serve me was rough, but waking up and facing my fears made me realize that I could make any choice that I wanted to in my life. I realized that I wanted to be the author of my life story, which often means going off the beaten path and exploring the unknown. For example, rather than following the traditional PhD, brick and mortar route to counselling, I started my master's degree online and learned how to start my own online life coaching business. This felt infinitely true to who I am and what I want out of life. It may not be right for everyone else, but it is right for me, and that is the only thing that matters. Remember that YOU are the only person living YOUR life. Your inner compass is your greatest asset. If your heart is being pulled in one direction, FOLLOW IT. If I had followed everyone's advice or listened to my inner fears, I would have missed out on some incredible opportunities. Now, I am building my dream career according to MY terms, and it feels damn good! Once I made the active decision to follow my inner compass, my life expanded in ways that I only dreamed of. Remember that your mind is a powerful tool! Your thoughts become actual things in your life (i.e. the law of attraction), which is why it is SO important to pay attention to your thoughts and the images that you carry in your mind. Don't be afraid to indulge in some daydreams, because those daydreams will often represent your greatest desires. Don't be afraid to follow those desires, because as soon as you are willing to follow your inner compass, the universe WILL show you the way to everything you have ever wanted. 2 years ago, I had NO idea how I would ever get married, I thought that having my own place was impossible, I thought that I would work in fast food until I completed grad school, and I desperately wanted my own cat but thought I would have to wait years to have one. I dreamed about cleaning my own place with pride, owning my own pets, riding horses again (I am currently leasing a horse), making my own money as my own boss, and wearing a shiny diamond ring on my finger with an incredible, supportive man in my life. Do you think I had the SLIGHTEST clue as to how I was going to make these things happen 2 years ago? I did not! Yet, here I am thanks to listening to my intuition and staying true to myself.
I now live with an obsession for personal development. I am constantly working on myself through meditation, mindfulness, self-help reading, positive email lists and videos, and active self-care. I no longer push myself to the point of burning out because self-care has become top priority. As someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, self-care is especially important, but it is also important that everyone prioritize their self-care.
If you are looking for guidance toward self-care both mentally and physically, I am in the process of creating a 2-part video series, The Key Elements of Mind-Body Wellness. This is a FREE video series that will outline the exact tools and techniques that I use to nurture my mental health and physical health without feeling overwhelmed. Get on my mailing list to access this free video series. You will also be the first to know when I publish more blog posts, AND you will have access to my monthly positive living newsletter. Positive content is crucial to changing your life like I did. I know that mental illness feels so bleak and so dark. Even if you don't have a mental illness, fear and stress, self-doubts, and insecurities can weigh you down just as much sometimes. I am here to help. If I can conquer four episodes of depression and daily anxiety, then you definitely can too! I am no one special; I am just another young adult trying to make something out of my life. You can also become the author of your life story. It is never too late to change the direction of your life story and make your life into something that you have always dreamed of.
I hope that you enjoyed my blog series, and thank you SO MUCH for reading my posts! If you enjoyed them, or if you know someone who would benefit from them, please feel free to share my blog! You can also connect with me using my social media links at the bottom of my webpages.
Lots of love everyone!
Counsellor in training & positive living blogger