- * Rough Draft *
Just 22 months ago, I could never have envisioned that I’d soon find myself investing over $13000 towards the closest thing I’d ever had to a dream, much less a dream that felt like my purpose in life. I had never known what it meant to dream and purpose was something I would spend my life elusively and desperately pursuing. At that time, back in early 2014, life had long since become a routine of begrudging tolerance. But it was finally comfortable, and safe. I was 10 years married with a toddler hanging off each pant leg and 13 years service in a soul crushing but, if nothing else, stable public service job as a corrections officer that I’d long ago resigned myself to as the pinnacle of what would have to be considered success for someone like me. “Someone like me” would always be an ever struggling victim of my mental health disorders doing the best I could in spite of it all. Like the chicken or the egg, I’m not sure which had lead to the other, the anxiety or the depression, but they both came early, fast and hard in life. Regardless which had come first, I was reasonably sure they had worked together to create the avoidant personality disorder that I’d only discovered I had a few months earlier in Jan 2014 had informed my entire experience of life growing up.
Despite that, my life 22 months ago was still in a better place than I had been in growing up when my future represented to me a wildly frightening mystery that I would rather die than face. There was never a moment in my life that I felt comfortable in my own skin. My humanness represented a deep source of shame to me and I had a vague perception of it as my prison rather than my home. Emotional neglect by well intentioned parents may have played a role in that as well as physical and emotional abuse from classmates and caregivers. It didn’t help that, from the get go, I was just a highly, highly sensitive child. There is very little I remember about the earliest years of my life, up until I was five or six. I may have been a happy kid up until that point, although I doubt it. Either way, I really don’t know. Whatever else had happened to me by that point, if anything, I found myself retreating into a fortress like shell from which I’ve been struggling ever since, in one form or another, to free myself.
In my high school years, I could be found in only one of two places when I wasn’t at home with my head in a book. I was either at work or at school and I was only at those two places because my parents hadn’t left me a choice in the matter. Both represented hell on earth to me. Both exposed me to other human beings, which is significant, because people scared me, almost literally, to death. In these places, I was expected to relate to other human beings, beings who seemed to me to be everything I wasn’t but was expected to be: happy, cruel, vulgar, worthy, confident, competent, shameless, athletic, strong, intelligent, hateful, intolerant, fearless, selfish, talented, arrogant, loved, beautiful, impulsive, expressive, successful, greedy. Which raised the questions: If I was, apparently, none of these things, what was I exactly? I had no real concept of who I was behind an all but crippling depression and mental health situation. Furthermore, if everybody else but me represented these qualities to varying degrees, where would I ever hope to fit in? I didn’t. I could not relate to them. More significantly, they could not relate to me and they expressed their intolerance of my differences in one of two ways. They either ignored me or they tormented me. Both responses invalidated me as a human being, something that confirmed my experience of how I had always felt about myself. This was a pattern that had played over and over in my life since I was a child. I could tolerate being ignored and neglected but the emotional, physical and mental torment had me praying for death, and so I focused my entire way of being in the world on ensuring that I was as invisible as possible. This was how I survived. This is also how depression and anxiety evolved into what I would discover only decades later had been the infancy of my avoidant personality disorder. I was hypersensitive to rejection and criticism, emotionally distant, mistrustful, extremely shy and anxious in social situations, plagued by inadequacy and inferiority, highly self conscious, and suffered from incredibly low self worth and self esteem. I didn’t know how to talk to people. When spoken to, I answered in one word answers or short, clipped phrases and then smiled and sometimes laughed awkwardly at things that usually weren’t funny because I didn’t know what else to say or I was too afraid to say anything that could leave me even more vulnerable to their judgment and torment. The only relationships I allowed myself to have were with my parents and my sister, and those were by no means perfect, but relative to the world outside my house, they were safe. I wanted desperately to kill myself but I knew somehow my suffering wouldn’t stop with my death. Just as importantly, my family would suffer… It felt very much like I was trapped here.
Most of my life I had had only a vague concept of who I was beyond my identification with myself as a product of my life experiences and my mental health challenges. That vague concept of who I might have been without my mental illnesses was a largely subconscious knowing that my sensitivity and my empathy and my struggle were somehow meant to be my gifts. But more than that, I knew there was a deeper purpose to my suffering presence on this planet. Nothing else made sense to me. Somewhere buried deep amongst the overwhelming confusion I experienced growing up was a knowingness that suicide was not a final solution and that more importantly I wasn’t what my experience of life was trying so desperately and overpoweringly to convince me I was.
This is why I experienced an awakening of sorts when I first heard the paradigm around the age of 20 that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”. That’s when I realized that I had always been connected to myself as a spiritual being and that this vague awareness I’d had growing up had been my source of strength and courage to keep moving forward when my depression was relentlessly screaming at me to pull the trigger.
This realization didn’t cure my depression and social anxiety. But it helped me move forward with my life. This was a significant period of growth for me even thought I wasn’t able to acknowledge it as such at the time. Life still felt like a struggle and the prayers for death were only slightly less prominent in my awareness. Intense shame and unworthiness still informed my experience of my life. But life was slowly becoming tolerable. And there were signs of progress I couldn’t ignore. My marriage and my job, and much later on, my children all represented experiences I had truly never believed myself capable of experiencing growing up when all my hopes for the future hung on a premature death if God willed it.
I remember the date, 22 months ago, May 1, 2014. That date marked the beginning of what would turn out to be an incredible, transformational journey and the beginning of the end of my lifelong identification with myself as essentially nothing more than a victim of my mental health. This was when I discovered coaching through a mobile app I had stumbled across in the google play store and installed on my phone. The app was called onehealth and it was connected to a recovery network website, set up like a social network, that offered support to sufferers and survivors of substance abuse, mental health disorders, sexual trauma. As I explored the site and read various status updates and threads and stories and blogs from different members, I felt like I’d found a home. As I continued reading and exploring, I was struck by one frequent commenter and blogger in particular, who would often encourage me and others to share vulnerably and whose words of support shone with love and compassion. Her profile picture identified her by her handle as “beverlysa” and as a “coach”. Whatever else the word coach meant, it was obvious she was working for the website. Then I read her blogs and her story and came face to face once again with the paradigm I’m a spiritual being having a human experience. I wanted to know what this paradigm meant beyond my intellectual understanding of it and here was a person who, from what I could see, was embodying it and thriving. And so I did something I realize now that I was being called to do by intuition, although at the time I had no connection to my intuition, at least no conscious connection. I connected authentically with her. And life would never be the same.
When OneHealth shut its doors almost a year to the day after I’d discovered it, I was disappointed but not devastated. I intuitively knew my coaching partnership with Bev would continue. That’s what it was, a partnership of equals. Coaching had supported my mental health process in a way therapy never had for me. Bev never treated me as I saw myself, something broken needing to be fixed, but rather, as an equal full of untapped potential. It was clear from the beginning that she wasn’t going to be responsible for healing me. That job fell to me alone. Hers was to hold a safe, loving, nonjudgmental space from which she could challenge my perspective of my experience and I could explore what felt true for me. And that was the foundation from which my healing process would be built and flourish. It became about owning my experience of life which meant taking responsibility for every part of it. If ever I saw myself as a victim of anyone or anything, past, present or future, I would know I was making a choice to give my power away. It would require a shift in perspective and a different choice to take it back. My relationship to depression and anxiety was starting to shift from one of challenges to opportunities. They were beginning to appear as my gifts, just as I had felt throughout my life they had been meant to be. As I surrendered myself more and more to the process, I came to trust it and appreciate it for what it was in any given moment. Good or bad, what was in my experience was part of my process and it was present in service to my conscious evolution. I was distinguishing my self from my Self and closing the gap between the two seemingly separate entities. I learned how to challenge my self judgments with truths. I began meditating and writing. My humanness, that I was so detached from and ashamed of, became the vehicle through which I was meant to express my unique soul, my authenticity into the world. I was perfectly enough as I was and I began a process of learning to accept myself and others from this perspective. As I honored myself just as I was with love and compassion, I was able to extend that out to others and hold the space for them to be who they were. It became this beautiful, supportive process of lovingly, compassionately and patiently deconstructing the pieces of my concept of myself and challenging the limiting beliefs that I had misinterpreted as my true self for almost 40 years. I learned that my seemingly dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior in the present had in the past served a positive intention in preserving love, safety and belonging and that returning to these patterns was a more comfortable, safe, and familiar response to triggering events than risking the unknown that change represented. This was when coaching exposed me to the power of risking a new choice to move outside of that comfort zone that I had created me. What had once seemed to serve to keep love, safety and belonging intact was a belief I now held that was limiting me from my potential to be my best version of myself. Coaching helped me uncover how my avoidance, my withdrawal and isolation from life was the best idea I could think of as a child to protect what little love, safety and belonging I had. This was all I knew at time and it became dangerously comfortable to relate to my world from this space. I knew who I was here. Coaching supported me in risking discovering who I could be when I risked to step outside of my comfort zone. Risk is where the growth was possible. Where fear had once been a sign for me to keep myself hidden , it was now becoming a sign of what I needed to confront in order to grow. I was shown how I had created the version of myself that I identified all that time with as the truth of who I was. Now, it was time to create a version of myself that supported my best vision for myself. This is essentially how coaching supported and continues to support my ongoing mental health process. There’s still a lot of healing left to be done.
Increasingly, I was coming to relate to my sensitivity, empathy and mental health struggles as having been intended all along to connect me with my purpose of being a healing presence for others. So, when Bev brought up a coaching training she was enrolling in that I might be interested in as, if nothing else, a personal growth opportunity, I found myself making the decision within a day to invest $6000 in the course. It was a risk but I really wasn’t seeing it that way. It was more than a personal growth opportunity. It was a chance for me to explore coaching as it might be related to my sense of purpose in this world. I adopted an attitude of openness to the whole process without attachment to any expected outcome. I’ve since invested even more in further training. I still don’t know where the process will take me but I’m open to wherever it leads and aware that whatever comes from it will, for better or worse, be created by me.
I’m seeing now how all the individual, seemingly unrelated pieces of my life, of my entire struggle, were invisibly linked together in service to my awakening in the present moment, the only moment there ever was or ever is. At any point in the illusion of time, had I had the eyes to see, I could have made a different more empowering choice that would have sent me down a different path. I was always and am always in the perfect place, provided by spirit with the perfect set of individual circumstances, to step into my God given potential as a piece of the universe experiencing its own contrast…. We all are. We’re enough now just as we have always been. How we choose to use our potential at any given point in time as God experiencing Himself, to me, represents the entire point of what it means to be human.
Every point along my journey was leading me to discover coaching and the power coaching has to transform lives. That was no accident. Nothing ever is. Depression and anxiety are no longer who I am. They no longer come up to oppress me but to teach me. They are no longer the entire story I tell about who I am but a reminder I need to make a different choice that empowers me to create a different experience of my life. Above all, what my sensitivity and my empathy and my mental health struggles were meant to be all along was a call to serve in a healing capacity. .