"Before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, I shared my mental health issues publicly for the first time. It wasn't easy to admit I wasn't perfect. But opening up took a huge weight off my back. It made life easier. Now I'm opening up again. I want people to know they're not alone. So many of us are fighting our mental health demons now more than ever.
The thing is -- and people who live with mental health issues all know this -- it never goes away. You have good days and bad. But there's never a finish line. I've done so many interviews after Rio where the story was the same: Michael Phelps opened up about depression, went into a treatment program, won gold in his last Olympics and now is all better. I wish that were the truth. I wish it were that easy. But honestly -- and I mean this in the nicest way possible -- that's just ignorant. Somebody who doesn't understand what people with anxiety or depression or post-traumatic stress disorder deal with have no idea."
- Michael Phelps
The above quote is from a recent article Michael Phelps wrote for espn.com. To read the full article go here.
When I came across this article, I felt a sense of relief and self-love wash over me. Although I work hard at loving myself and my own mental health journey, sometimes you just need to hear someone say, "It's okay. I get it."
While this website is all about healing, both individually and as a collective, I haven't said much about my own healing journey. I often see other speakers and writers putting their own stories out there, raw and gritty, and sharing their full truth. It always makes my heart drop a little and I feel like I'm failing. I feel scared and weak and like my self-love is a sham.
Of course, the truth is much more complicated - deep down I do fear parts of me are unworthy of love, but at the same time, acknowledging I'm not ready to share them is it's own form of self-love.
One of the main reasons I don't like to go deep into my mental health is because it began so early for me. As I was learning the stigma around mental health, I was also learning that I was one of those people. I didn't know why I was filled with anger, sadness, and uncontrollable anxiety. I only knew it was considered abnormal and was something to be ashamed of.
I worked hard to "fit in" and act nominal, which only caused all that I was suppressing to come out in explosive ways. I became self-destructive, which grew into more feelings I needed to suppress, which led to more smothering, which spiraled on and on until my family insisted I seek professional help.
I began therapy when I was 22, and I was so sure this was something I would be shunned for I didn't tell anyone. A lot has changed since then, and I am so grateful to all who speak out to normalize mental health. Things are changing, and the change is thankfully picking up momentum.
I'm now 38, and the landscape outside of me has changed in infinite ways. But the landscape inside of me hasn't yet caught up. I have not yet untangled all my deeply rooted associations between anxiety/depression/anger and shame/weakness/exile. Because of things that happened when I was younger, parts of me still fear I will end up alone and rejected if I share my full self.
I hope to one day love myself so fully, and so completely, that I can share all of me without fear.
And to give myself a little nudge in that direction, I will share a story I've never told before. When I was about 10 years old I had a friend over. She was playing with a flute I had and I got mad she wouldn't give it back. I became so enraged I hit the flute and smashed it into her mouth.
As soon as I did it I felt ashamed. When her lip began to bleed I recoiled in horror at my self. I couldn't believe I'd lost control like that. I couldn't believe I'd hurt my friend and made her cry. Later, when my parents found out from her parents what I'd done, my parents yelled at me. They reiterated to me what I had already told myself - there was something wrong with me, I was a horrible person, and I deserved the shame that was eating me up inside.
I understand now, on a rational level, that the adults guiding me (who both had anger issues) were sending me confusing messages. I was being told one thing - your anger is bad - while being shown that their anger is normal and acceptable. However, on an emotional level, all I see is what I did wrong.
The parts of myself that are hardest for me to shine a light on, the ones that line my gut like oil, are not the ones about what happened to me. They're the ones where I'm the person who caused the pain. They're the ones where I lost control. Where I lashed out, physically or verbally, before I could stop myself. And where, later in life, I turned that buried anger on myself.
They're the ones where I can't give forgiveness because I don't think I deserve it.
But I'm trying. I'm pulling at that thread, and eventually, the whole inner monologue of shame and guilt will unravel and let go. And what sweet relief it will be when it does so.