I haven’t made a new post in several months. For this I apologize and have no true excuse (though I will be making a new post about the best excuse I have – the newest addition to our family) but alas, the story continues… (If you haven’t read part I, please go back and do so before reading this post).
As I became an adult life got very busy very fast. I went to a Christian college several hours away from my friends and family. Along with a full-time course load, I worked a lot of hours to pay my bills every month (determined not to go into debt). I was also drafted into a lot of ministries at the local church which took even more time away. It wasn’t long before I found myself focusing on my studies and my relationship with God so intently that even my lunch hour at work was spent with my nose in a book. Although in the midst of a crowd, I began to feel isolated. I will never forget the day a co-worker gave me a strange look and asked, “Has something happened lately?” I had no idea what they were referring to until they followed it up with, “You’ve lost the spark in your eye when you smile.” I laughed it off, but went back to the dorm still contemplating that question.
“Has something happened?” I hadn’t noticed but yes, something had happened. It wasn’t some big traumatic event. It was several little things on the outside, but a series of changes within. In a matter of months I had gone from cheerful, joyful, and fun to be around, to dreading waking up the next morning and doing my best to avoid all contact with others. I had become so focused on the seriousness of accomplishing the things that had to be done, I began neglecting myself. Instead of taking a 20 or 30 minute shower to relax, it had shortened to only a few minutes. Instead of taking time to laugh and joke with peers, I hid under a blanket with a flashlight trying to study for the next big exam. While others were happily playing volleyball outside, I glanced up from my computer briefly as I finished typing the next essay. Life got hard. And then it got harder…
I was never what you would call a “happy child.” Even as a baby my parents talked about how I would scream inconsolably for hours upon hours upon hours. I wouldn’t sleep during the day. When I started school I would often wake up physically sick to my stomach simply due to the stress involved. In first grade I regularly cried every day. Did I have a bad childhood? No! I was raised by two God-fearing parents and had two older brothers who loved me dearly. We took great vacations, went camping, had good clothes, always had food to eat, etc. I was never the victim of any kind of abuse. But I wasn’t happy. I was terrified of sleeping in my room even as I entered into middle school. I wouldn’t go outside by myself after dark. I was afraid to go to friends’ houses for sleepovers. Many people said I was “wise beyond my years” due to my understanding of the problems of the world from such a young age. But as I grew people began saying something else too. Many people started commenting about my smile. I wasn’t a beautiful child. I didn’t have the best clothes or the most out going personality. I cried much more than other kids my age, but by the time I was seven or eight, these tears were almost always shed in the privacy of my bedroom. When people saw me at school, in church, or even at the grocery store, what they saw was my smile.
Why did I smile? Was it genuine? Most of the time it was. Truthfully I had learned that my smile could do some amazing things. First, I learned a smile stopped a lot of questions. If I looked sad, people would ask, “What’s wrong?” Or “Are you okay?” And honestly I hated those questions because I didn’t know why. I just wasn’t happy. But if I would smile, the questions ended. Second, I learned a smile was contagious. If someone in my family was having a bad day, sometimes just giving a simple smile could change things. A grumpy cashier at the store’s outlook could even transform just by receiving a smile. But finally, the best thing my smile did wasn’t for other people. I learned that when I smiled, I FELT BETTER. By focusing on looking happy, I often BECAME happy myself. By about the age of 10, I had become so full of smiles when I was in public, multiple people had nick named me “Smiley.”
When I started working as a retail employee at the age of sixteen, I even added to this. I was asked “How are you?” at least a hundred times a day (because that’s just what you ask the cashier, right?). Instead of the traditional “Fine.” Or “Good.” I decided to show some enthusiasm. Even on the days when I had to drag myself out of the house and through school, I took those opportunities to remind me of just how lucky I was and I grew thankful for those opportunities. I would smile, make eye contact and say, “I am absolutely fantastic!” Or “Terrific! How are you?” I can’t tell you the number of times those people who approached the cash register looking frustrated, hurried, and often even upset would do a double take and then say, “You know, I’m doing pretty well myself!” Bringing a smile to someone often brought a more genuine smile to my face as well.
But as I went into college and more pressures of life began piling up, something began happening to my smile…
“I don’t know what else to do…” My husband of six year’s voice was filled with love, but firmness, “I think we need to get a divorce.”
The words stung as they hit my ears. But I didn’t need to ask why. I knew we had a lot of problems. Or rather… I did. After some calm down time and some discussion there was one thing that we both had in common: We were tired of me being unhappy. I blamed it on all sorts of things: the stress of pregnancy complications, the pressure of being a stay at home mom of three (soon to be four) kids under the age of six, the isolation of being a one-car family, my husband’s busy schedule, the messiness of our home, the location of our home, our finances, etc. He blamed himself. “I can never be who you need me to be.” But it was none of those things. It wasn’t a new problem. It was something I had struggled with my entire life and I had allowed it to take hold and attempt to destroy not only my life, but the lives of my husband, my kids, and even my extended family and friends. That was the day I decided enough was enough and one way or another, I would take back my life from the monster known as anxiety and depression. I would reclaim my smile.
In the next few blog posts I would like to share my story of how I got to where I am. I would then like to start blogging weekly if not daily to share my exactly struggles and the steps I take to overcome them. I’m not sure who I am sharing it with. Right now it is just with myself. It is a just a way of getting my thoughts on paper so to speak and to solidify to myself that I have the power to change. That I and my family are worth fighting for and that IT IS POSSIBLE. Right now I have no intention of anyone, even my family, knowing that I have started this blog much less reading it. Maybe someday I will feel differently. I hope someday in the far distant future that I will be able to take this time in my life to encourage others that IF I CAN DO IT, YOU CAN TOO. But that day isn’t today. Today this is for me. And that’s enough. And I alone am worth writing for.