It was a Friday morning, late winter in 2018. After another emotional meltdown while I was at my job, I had enough and called off for the day. I needed a break. In all honesty, I needed more than just an extended weekend because I knew that I was at rock bottom. I was tired, emotionally and mentally depleted. I couldn’t do it anymore on my own. The weight of my world was too heavy for me to carry. I had been carrying it since my childhood, but in this moment, I was unaware of that important detail.
I had already called my doctor and made an appointment to see her about my wild emotions. Now I sat at the kitchen table scouring the internet for therapists near me. I looked at their pictures to see if they had a kind expression in their professional photo. As I sifted through the descriptions of services, I picked out keywords that matched how I was feeling and the types of therapeutic approaches offered. I was looking for just the right fit. After a morning of searching and making calls, I finally found someone and scheduled an intake appointment.
How Did I Know That I Hit Rock Bottom?
The phrase “rock bottom” was familiar to me, but I never used it to describe my own situation. I’ve learned that it is different for everyone. My lowest point resulted from its evolution over a long period of time. Here’s what brought me to that moment in 2018:
- My job felt chaotic to me. The workload was doubled and new to everyone. I felt overwhelmed. Everyone else felt overwhelmed, and we all shared those feelings with each other. We were all stuck in a negative head space and it bred more negativity with each interaction.
- I felt more like a babysitter during my work day than a highly educated, experienced professional. Studyhalls took the place of two opportunities for teaching. Unstructured time was my weakness. I had always found my value and self-worth from school, and these changes made me feel worthless during my work days. It was my interpretation. My conditioned beliefs. I wanted to quit most days. I had lost my passion for teaching.
- I had discovered my mother’s problem of extreme hoarding. Working to help clean out my childhood home was heartbreaking. My siblings and I sorted through family photos that had mold on them. We threw them away. We had to paint over the markings that measured our heights from our youth. My family, including my uncle and cousins, too, wore masks to cover the smell of the house. We managed monetary donations to pay for dumpsters. We humbly accepted offers of appliances, paint, furniture, and more. We worked tirelessly over several weeks trying to help the physical state of the house. In the meantime, my mental and emotional health plummeted.
- My negative self-talk was on a constant loop cycling through my thoughts. The I’m not good enough, I can’t do anything right, and I don’t matter mantras were loud and clear. I didn’t even believe that my husband thought I mattered to him.
- Changes around my neighborhood impacted my property and lifestyle. These were out of our control, but helped to ramp up the anxiety already running through my veins.
- I felt isolated from my family and friends. My church family and close friends made attempts to reach out and spend time with me, but I made excuses. I couldn’t go out because my children needed me. I mattered to my children and I felt loved when I was around them.
- I suppressed my creativity. My usual creative outlets were exercised less and less. There was no inspiration.
- I started eating loads of chocolate and drinking alcohol as my way to destress. Instead of feeling better, I gained weight and increased my pants by 4 sizes.
- I had no idea how to respond to stress in healthy ways, so I became a yeller to my children. I hated it because I grew up with a yelling mother myself.
In my life leading up to my rock bottom, my thoughts and behaviors did not come from a place of love and abundance. They came from a place of anger, resentment, sadness, emotional pain, and all of the conditioned beliefs that I thought were the truth. I did not love myself and I could not fully love others. I sought my value from external places like school, my teaching career, pleasing people, overachieving, and proving my worth. When the harsh realization confronted me – mainly that my value didn’t come from being a student or a teacher – it broke me, and I had to find myself under years of lies.
What I Did to Pull Myself Up from the Bottom
It was a miracle that I hit such a low place in my life. Had I not visited and lived in that pain, I would not have experienced a transformation that has changed my life for the better. In that darkness, I saw the light. The light led me to healing. Here’s how that journey started turning around:
I connected with a therapist. The relationship with my therapist gave me a safe space to unpack and process years of pain. She listened as I talked. She offered tissues and kind words when I cried. She helped me problem-solve when I was stuck. She supported my creativity to work through difficult emotions and circumstances. She was my cheerleader when I recognized the desire to change careers. I am thankful for the time I have had with my therapist and for the lessons revealed to me during our time together.
I met with my doctor. The anxiety and depression I experienced really messed up my emotions, my thoughts, and behaviors. I admit to wondering some bad “what if” situations that would have taken me from this earthly world. Those thoughts were always overcome by more powerful and loving thoughts about my children, my husband, and those close to me. My doctor prescribed me antidepressants at the time. While I worked on deeper, root issues with my therapist, the medicine helped my progress until I no longer needed it.
I started a second MAEd degree program. While some might think that this decision would have created way too much work on top of the inner work I was doing, it was the opposite. When I was burned out and realizing that school wasn’t the place that gave me my value, I needed to prove the Universe wrong. I also needed something to control because I felt out of control. When my favorite art education organization became accredited and introduced a graduate program, I applied without hesitation. It was through the support of that university that I felt like a contributing member of an educational community.
I created artwork and began healing. During my graduate work, I was fortunate to take a course called, Art Therapy for Art Teachers. Through this course, I discovered the healing powers of art. Even though this course was intended to help art teachers become better, it ended being more of a personal journey for me. It brought closure on my year of teacher burnout. I explored my desire to work with adults. I gained confidence to express my truths beyond my private thoughts. I learned how to be more compassionate and understanding of others. I learned to make art making and writing my priority to process inner troubles.
I stopped isolating myself. When I began opening myself back up to family and friendships, it was a turning point. It slowly decreased the feelings of loneliness and started feeling a sense of belonging. I made time for me and it made a difference.
Since that moment in 2018, my moment in rock bottom, I have been climbing out. The work is not done, the journey incomplete. The progress has been slow and steady. It has been hard work. The light and healing have revealed that everything I’ve experienced from my past traumas are no longer seen as painful burdens holding me back. Instead they are now important lessons that have helped me grow and continue to develop me into the best version of myself.