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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Lagnese

Choosing Your Hard

For most of my life, I have half-assed just about everything. I’ll admit up until recently I haven’t lived up to my full potential. Growing up I let the opinions of others dictate how I felt about myself. I didn’t have many accomplishments or awards under my belt like most of my peers. I never cared to compete or truly push myself to do things out of my comfort zone like sports. I crash dieted and mistreated my body, both physically and mentally. I didn’t care much about myself or my needs. The only thing I felt I had going for me was my ability to empathize and easily make friends. Yes, I was a social butterfly and I’d go to great lengths to help a friend in need. But somewhere along the way, I lost myself. I was completely unrecognizable. Being accepted and loved by EVERYONE was my only priority. I often wondered if my kindness was 100% genuine. Was I just a big punching bag? Would my self-worth always be dependent on others? Would I ever learn to follow through and actually do hard things?

It wasn’t just the sexual assault either. It wasn’t just the years of mediocrity and recklessness. It wasn’t just the people-pleasing or the worrying myself sick over what people thought of me. It wasn’t just my debilitating OCD and bouts of depression. If I am being completely honest with you, it was fear. Fear can be such a thief sometimes. I have always lived my life afraid: afraid of being judged, afraid of coming in last, afraid of being called dumb or crazy, afraid of gaining weight, afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, and the list goes on. Ultimately I was afraid to fail so I never took chances. It wasn’t until my mental health struggles became unbearable that I started to put the pieces together. Talk about a challenging puzzle with about 20,000 pieces.

Life is hard. There is no way of escaping that. However, we do get to choose our hard. A teacher during my sophomore year of high school once said, “Sometimes being happy is just as hard as being sad.” It was a simple and short statement yet it always stayed with me. She was right. It does take a lot of energy to be depressed and angry. Sometimes it also takes a lot of energy to find joy and gratitude. So when the going gets tough, do we stay stuck in misery, or do we fight our way to joy?

I want to make one thing clear: I am not talking about toxic positivity, which is essentially dismissing negative feelings and responding to distress or pain with false optimism. Let’s face it, it can be rather exhausting to always see the glass half full because sometimes your cup is damn near empty. I am a firm believer in feeling all of your feelings and giving yourself both time and grace during a hard season. But at the same time, whenever my cup is empty, I do try to find healthy ways to fill it back up. I try to be proactive and ask for additional help. There are even times I have to completely shut myself down for a few days to process my feelings. It can be hard.

I’ve found it’s not just about choosing joy when mundane things go wrong either. There may be times in our life when we face gut-wrenching rock bottoms and must choose between living and dying. My wish for everyone is to live, to thrive. While I wasn’t at death’s door, there was a time I was stuck in a very dark space. I was looking at one of two decisions, moving forward and growing or moving backwards and wilting away. Fortunately backwards wasn’t an option anymore! I chose to live. I chose to thrive. I chose therapy. I chose to try medicine. I chose to put one foot slowly (and I do mean slowly) in front of the other. I chose to exercise and change my binging habits. I chose to do journal work and partake in a daily gratitude practice. I chose to start writing again and start this very blog. Before I knew it, I was healing in ways I didn’t know possible all because I decided to move forward all those years ago. By the way, I’m not saying that therapy or medicine is the right answer for everyone. We all face different kinds of hardship and sometimes what may be right for us may not be right for someone else. The takeaway here is we have choices to make and I firmly believe if we slow down and really listen to our innermost selves, we can emerge on the other side!

This whole process took time. It took grit. It took retraining my brain. But here is what I know now to be true of my journey.

It was much harder to live a life of secret mental illness, regret, and complacency than it was to get back up on my feet and fight. Yes, the fight was hard. Honestly, it was brutal, BUT not taking responsibility for my life was even harder. It was harder for me and it was most certainly harder for my loved ones who had to watch me run into the same dang wall over and over again. Choosing joy and choosing to ditch my people-pleasing ways were some of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Hard yes but I’m so glad I chose to take my recovery seriously because the truth is, the more we sink into the hole; the longer we let the years go by, the harder it is to climb out of that hole. Unfortunately, some people never make it out. That makes my heart so sad.

We can’t avoid pain. It’s impossible. Ignoring our pain will only make it worse. I think of my mental health the same way I think of my physical health. When I gave birth to my daughter 8 years ago I displaced my hip. At times the pain was unbearable but I just dealt with it because that sounded a lot easier than the hassle and pain of physical therapy. I didn’t have time for all of that so I made excuses. A few years later while I was training for a half marathon, my hip finally gave out. I had no choice but to stop running immediately and seek medical treatment. So I went to PT twice a week for 8 weeks. It was hard. It hurt. I cried and wanted to quit many times. But after some time my hip started getting stronger and less painful. I was soon able to walk again comfortably, then I was able to run again. Had I continued to take the easy way out I may have never been able to run again or even walk comfortably. How silly! Slowing down and taking my recovery seriously was the only real way to heal. My mental health is no different. Hearing my official diagnoses by a psychiatrist was quite a pill to swallow, literally. Manic depression, clinical depression, PTSD, OCD. But there was also a sigh of relief because at least I had a diagnosis and for the first time, an actual game plan. I soon came to realize that while the world kept spinning and my life didn’t abruptly stop all those years ago, I had made an unconscious decision to stop living. I am lucky to be alive.

I’m not perfect, far from it, however, I can confidently say that I not only love myself, but I take pride in who I am. I take ownership of the good and the bad. I do slip up, all the freaking time but guess who knows how to brush off the dirt and get her butt back up after a nasty fall? And guess who isn’t as afraid to respectfully decline when something doesn’t serve her? And guess who for the first time in decades knows how to set up healthy boundaries? Ah, sweet freedom. And it’s no coincidence it took motherhood to really peel back these layers and open my eyes and heart. Because if I want to set a good example and provide my kids with a great and happy life, I have to first be the example. And that’s not to say my kids won’t have their share of trouble and heartache. Truthfully, I’m so glad they are already taking chances and falling because they are learning to GET BACK UP, and sometimes getting back up IS truly the hardest part. But that’s where the important lessons lie, that’s where we grow the most. That’s where we learn to have confidence in ourselves, to know we CAN get back up, that we’re strong enough to not just get back up but to work and grow as well.

So where will this road take me next? I have a hunch but that’s for another blog post! I can tell you that I feel ready to tackle some of my outer demons which requires a great deal of mental stability. I’ve taken so much time and put so much effort into healing my inner self. It’s now time I work on healing my outer self. No bandaids, no shortcuts, no quick fixes. Now that both of my kids are in school full day, it’s my responsibility to stop the excuses and take a chance on myself. This next step is scary and exciting. It’s also gonna be hella hard but I got this! I know that while I’m in a great mental state right now that won’t always be the case. Life is messy and complicated. And as my mom always says, healing is NOT linear. I am proud I can now face challenges head-on. I know that what doesn’t kill me really will make me stronger. My self-awareness, my faith, and my support system are my lifelines. And as long as I put the work in, I hope to continue traveling to amazing places.


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