When I was in my late twenties, I signed up for a course designed to help you manifest a bunch of cool stuff with your mind. At the time, I had about a decade of radical positivity under my belt. If there was an uplifting affirmation out there, I’d say it on repeat. If there was a sad person in front of me, I’d tell them to “breathe deep.” And if there was some essential oil that came with a lifetime guarantee of happiness, I’d slather that shit all over my body.
The course gave me an ambitious homework assignment, and I zealously fulfilled it like a good little student. For one month, I had to meditate daily for an hour. I’m a mom now, so I want to go back in time and school my younger self on the downside of wasting a whole fucking hour sitting with my eyes closed but not actually sleeping. Even if I had tried to, however, it wouldn’t have stopped late-twenties me from doing it. I was absolutely hooked on the short-term high of meditation and had zero plans of stopping.
In fact, I was so damn hellbent on finding my zen place that if someone would have stopped me in my tracks and confronted me with the real reason I was doing it, it would have probably sent me into a complete mental upheaval.
To the outside world, I was the picture of physical health and overall well-being. But deep down past the layer of superficial calm, there was a broken, lost child who never felt good enough. There was a young girl who had survived ongoing physical, mental, and emotional abuse for much of her childhood. And there was a kid who yelled loud and cried hard to protect herself from ever being hurt again. My chronic state of Muppet-like peace, love, and joy was like an optimistic band aid over the gaping wounds of my unhealed childhood trauma.
There was, of course, a major downside to my endless “feel good vibes” hustle. It left no room for me to feel angry or sad. Which meant that whenever I experienced the discomfort of these negative emotions, my mind and body would betray me in radical ways. I’d find myself on random occasions scream crying at my ex-husband during fights and then shortly after, running into our bedroom to self-harm. I was constantly battling against myself to be as skinny as I could possibly be. And I stuck myself in a creative industry where my appearance and personality were both regularly up for debate.
My unhealthy obsession with meditating the pain away did just the opposite of what I was hoping. While it certainly kept me easygoing enough to function well in society for a while, I was clearly acting out at other moments in a desperate attempt to be seen and saved. And when my first marriage crumbled, everything I believed about myself fell apart with it.
I remarried and got pregnant more quickly than I’d ever anticipated. And after my new husband and I welcomed our daughter into the world, the overly positive methods I had practicing for so long began to fail me. I fell into the undertow of some seriously choppy postpartum waters, and it totally rocked my world.
I started experiencing panic attacks for the first time when my daughter was a young toddler. Between the physical changes and mental burnout of becoming a new mom, I thought they were brought on from me mourning who I was before kids. And while that was certainly true, there ended up being so much more to the story. I jumped into therapy up to twice a week to understand why I was also doing things like crying almost every day, self-harming regularly, and feeling suicidal at times.
And that’s when my counselor revealed a diagnosis that would completely change the course of my life.
As it turns out, I’d been unconsciously living with complex PTSD for years and hadn’t even known it. Which basically meant that my radical optimism and obsession with meditating had really been perfectionism and people pleasing in sheep’s clothing. Both of these coping mechanisms are inherently harmful in their own right, because they’re born out of a desire to avoid pain. So while those around me thought I had my shit together and seemed happy as can be, no one actually knew that I was in immense anguish – not even me.
And no one was aware of how much inner shame I was steeped in as I tried to convince everyone that I was superficially okay.
All the meditation in the world couldn’t keep me from owning my heartbreaking truth. My past traumas were secretly sitting in the driver’s seat of my life, and I didn’t realize it until they sent me careening off a metaphorical cliff. From that broken down and bottomed out place, I began to viscerally hear the little girl inside who had been ignored while I was obsessively focused on turning my frown upside down. And for the first time, I really began listening to a body that I had been fighting against for far too long.
As challenging as it’s all been, motherhood has ultimately become the all-time greatest catalyst for real and lasting positive change in my life. It’s the only thing so far that has forced me to shed parts of myself that seemed to be working on the surface, but honestly weren’t benefiting me in the long-term. And it’s helped me come face-to-face with my old traumas for the very first time.
Last month, I courageously held fear’s hand as we both walked into an ER to have a psychiatric screening. My panic attacks had started morphing into hour-long muscle spasms, and I couldn’t take it anymore. After the ER trip, I set myself up with a psychiatrist to discuss starting medication. There were a lot of reservations sifting through my mind about it, due to the societal stigma and the personal worry that it would dull down any chance of feeling good. I reluctantly walked out with a prescription for antidepressants and have been on them ever since.
And I’m here to say that medication has quite surprisingly saved my serotonin levels — and my life.
Since going on antidepressants, every single PTSD-related symptom has quieted down, and I no longer think about completely disappearing from the world. On the contrary, I very much want to be an authentic, vulnerable, and empowered part of it now.
I know it seems like I’ve been ragging on meditation here, and that’s not my goal. I firmly believe that meditating for as long as I did helped me survive up until the point when it didn’t. And it certainly works for a ton of people out there, and that’s awesome. It just wasn’t helping me heal the wounds I didn’t even know were still inside of me. That doesn’t mean I’ve disowned meditation as one part of the well-being tool belt. Far from it. It simply means I’m no longer going to use quieting my mind as the sole practice for my trauma recovery.
After I started ongoing therapy and then began taking antidepressants, I realized something quite humbling. For a long ass time, I’ve been skipping a bunch of steps to finding my true wholeness. It couldn’t be discovered by me zoning out on some mat in an empty room, because there was too much goddamn noise going on deep inside. I needed to clean house first before I could sit peacefully inside of it. And I needed to stop saying I was okay when I really wasn’t.