Unrealistic expectations can be the death of joy as I have come to realize in my time off this summer. Plans will very often not go as expected, and that’s okay. That’s what makes life interesting and dynamic right? I thought that my time off between jobs would be filled with productive bliss as I started researching and crafting a new life for myself outside of nursing. I quit my nursing job in the early summer of this year because I did not want to take the mental anguish any longer. I was beyond burnt out and I thought that if I just had some time to myself, away from the stress of my nursing job, that everything would fall into place and I would feel like myself again. I envisioned delving headfirst into research for alternative career paths, writing and growing my blog, and learning how to better invest my time and money. I envisioned myself being productive and progressing a little each day so that at the end of 3-4 months I would be set up for an entirely different life, free from nursing, financially growing, and pursuing my true passions.
All of this sounded good in theory, but as time progressed, I realized that trying to make all of these visions come true in the span of a few months just wasn’t realistic and I was making myself miserable in the meantime by trying to force hast on a slowly developing process. I wanted time away from work to ultimately decompress and improve my mental health and yet I still feel so miserable on so many days. My mind has been constantly nagging me at every waking moment, ridiculing myself for not putting more effort into making these dreams come true, for not working hard enough or having a cohesive enough plan for the future. I have felt scattered and pulled in many different directions. I created a sense of urgency in my head with finding a new career path and having all of the answers laid out for me with a new life. I wanted to set up a way to where I could make money through blogging or photography. I was pushing myself further down an unforgiving, pressured world when my mind and my soul wanted the exact opposite, a quiet resting place and the space to naturally expand.
What good is decompressing from a high stress job when I just simply became my own overly-strict, micro-managing boss? I was not being a friend to myself and the space of my newfound free time only gave room for these negative voices to grow and mount a formidable attack. My time off has been challenging. I wanted to take some time to reflect on my life and see a psychiatrist about my mental health. I knew I was dealing with some intolerable work-related anxiety with negative thought patterns and worst-case scenario thinking. What I did not anticipate was the uncovering of a lifetime of unrecognized trauma and emotional neglect that have led to negative thought patterns and self-images solidifying within my perception. I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went until I talked to someone about it this summer.
In going through my life history with my psychiatrist, I uncovered that much of my life has been filled with traumatic events that I had not even begun to process as trauma. It’s amazing what the mind can hide. I realized that much of my youth was spent in utter isolation, emotionally cut off from everyone, including myself. Growing up, I never felt like I could be my true self with anyone and so everything that I experienced, I simply bottled up. I had lived most of my life in masks, too ashamed to be seen in an earnest and authentic light with anyone, thinking my emotions carried no legitimate weight. I did not even open up with my best friends or my parents. Through many traumatic events that I now see clearly, I was made to feel ashamed for who I was and I would spend my remaining youth exiling parts of myself slowly over time until I was a shell without even realizing it. It’s amazing how long we can go without giving our authentic selves any natural expression in this world.
These experiences can take a major toll on someone. It sure took a toll on me. I learned that the kind of emotional neglect and inauthentic living that I experienced is its own nefarious form of trauma. On top of that, I learned that I was sexually assaulted by two of my best friends, losing them in the process. I had not even processed these events as sexual assault, instead they were just strange, uncomfortable, unprocessed occurrences that I pushed out of my mind and consciousness. I realized that many of my “friends” growing up were actually bullies who did not respect or encourage me. I realized the extent to which my ex-wife emotionally manipulated me. I uncovered a collection of other unfortunate memories and emotions through reflection in the following weeks that had been buried for years, each poignantly chipping at my psyche.
These shocking realizations about my life have seemed to totally highjack my original plans for my time off between jobs. I feel like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle has been scattered before me and I need to put all of the pieces back together in order to move forward with anything. It’s equal parts staggering and daunting to have all of this thrown on me all at once. These are traumas and feelings that I have spent my entire adult life hiding from, only to blindside me in an abrupt afternoon with a psychiatrist or in reading a revealing book on trauma and relating it to my life. It also puts all of my distracting and numbing habits into context. I have spent my whole life running from myself and my pain.
It doesn’t help that throughout this turbulent time, I have continued the self-ridicule and progress-based validation that has caused me to continue to harbor self-loathing and doubt in my mind. I want to realize that it is okay to take time away from being “productive” with finding new career paths and income sources and just sit with myself for a minute. There is still so much to process and having time off, alone in a room, with an abundance of open wounds to now sift through is overwhelming. I feel like I am drowning most days. It feels like I am trying to get a tourniquet on a severed limb while also trying to juggle a handful of menial tasks I have set for myself. Today I told myself “Enough”! I don’t have to do anything today in order to be valid or enough. I am still convincing myself that it is okay to take time to give this new found traumatic clarity the time and space it deserves. This is a hard, heavy, confusing time for me and the least I can do is be patient and kind to myself in the process. I have the luxury of time to be able to dissect my past so that I can move past it. I am fortunate in that.
Still, the luxury doesn’t ease the pain of the truth that I have been hiding from myself my entire life. I have lived my life exactly how other people have wanted me to. I have gone so long without listening to my authentic voice. If there is ever a time to sit still and reflect, it is now. My original plans can wait and that is okay. It’s hard to break out of mental habits and it will benefit me to be patient and let things unfold in time. I thought that these breakthrough moments in gaining context and clarity about my past trauma would miraculously shift my mind into a brand-new paradigm and solve everything, but that is just one more unrealistic expectation that I set for myself. Old mental patterns and negative self-images are stubborn and they don’t just go away after having these breakthrough moments of clarity and self-awareness.
There are still days when the negative voices consume me and tell me that I am nothing, that I am useless, and that I am unlovable. And then there are days where I can triumphantly stand up against those negative judgments and tell myself a better story, bring myself back to reality, and become a better friend to myself. These are little victories worth celebrating. These things take time. Each day is a gift and I owe myself the grace to give myself the time and space to reflect, explore, rest, write, and just relax and enjoy the things that genuinely bring me joy. I am standing on a new path, hopefully aligned with a truer, more authentic me. He has been hiding for a long time and it doesn’t make sense to think he will just pop out of the bushes now and everything will be great. It will take work, focus, and intention each day to say beautiful, encouraging things about myself and to be proud of how far I have come in this journey. It will take time to write the poem of my healing and redemption. It will take time to first understand my past leading up to this moment in time, and then decide to move past it and to structure a healthier body, mind, and soul for the future.
It’s all a work in progress. I am reminded that I am not that little boy anymore or that confused teenager/young adult who has to hide from the world in order to protect himself. I have grown in so many tremendous ways and these negative mindsets do not serve me anymore. I know I am on the road that will lead back to myself and true healing, but that does not mean that there won’t be bad days. These stubborn, negative mindsets won’t just disappear without a fight. This is a hard road, but the pain of the open wounds is only a reminder that the band aids are off now and that the real work of suturing and healing these wounds from the inside is taking place. I am slowly and methodically cultivating a garden in my mind, one that is warm and welcoming and where I will at last feel peace and acceptance. And at the end of the day, all of the pain that I experienced can be a bridge to empathy and can form new connections with people who have gone through similar experiences. I thought I was alone in my struggles for so long but I know now that I share a life with so many others who have struggled like I have. So, with that in mind, I will be patient and gracious with myself in knowing that I am enough and that my lived experience, however painful, is still meaningful and wonderful and worthy of redemption.