2020 has been a difficult year – for all of us. I went through another difficult year. For me, it was my most difficult year ever. For many 2020 has been a year of devastation, for me, my devastation came a few years previous. It was the kind of experience that might be described as ashes. When the all-consuming fire leaves nothing behind. It was not just an adjustment or a remodel. It was a complete demolition. Everything had to go, and a new foundation had to be laid. A new life could be built upon a new firm, level, strong foundation. A new foundation for me was a two-year process. And it felt very long. It felt lonely, exposing, and shameful. It felt humiliating and so very painful.
When you go through a year or two like this, your capacity for stress, to be a friend, to care about anyone else, to find joy, to smile, to not cry at any moment, is very very low. At times it can feel like your mental strength is just gone. I felt that. I felt the weakness of my mind. I felt the numbness. I felt sadness that consumed me. I felt the racing heart full of fear. And I felt so weak.
I remember thinking, “I cannot be left alone with my thoughts.” All my mind did was remind me of my pain, my fears, and the worst possible scenarios. It teased me with “the grass is greener” ideals and “escape route plans.” It seemed my mind couldn’t be trusted, and I was frightened of myself left alone with my thoughts. I did not even have the strength or the “want to” to stop or change my thinking. I felt I had no fight in me. I was completely depleted.
At the same time, I know myself and this was NOT me. This was NOT the person I want to be, nor is this the essence of who I am, in any form or fashion. I knew I needed mental rehabilitation.
One day when I was out running, I imagined the stages of someone who tears their ACL. There is the initial incident that is so painful, the tearing or breaking of the ligament that holds your knee in place. Then there is the setting or the putting things back in the correct place or alignment. Then the mending or sewing back together of the thing that was torn. After things are put back in place, there is the healing process. And the healing process requires rehabilitation. Ask anyone that has torn their ACL about rehabilitation. The machine that is hooked to your knee to bend and straighten your leg to ensure that ligament stays soft. Using crutches for months. The brace that must be worn to keep the knee in place. The process of learning to run and walk again and to trust the knee to hold you. The process is long, and the pain doesn’t stop just because surgery is over and the ligament is mended. The pain has only just begun.
I realized I needed to exercise my mental muscles and I needed a brace. I became comfortable with the idea that I was not strong enough mentally to “push” through on my own and it was okay. It was okay that I needed crutches for a while. Soon I would be able to stand again.
Mental rehabilitation for me started with stabilizing my mind. Which for me meant intentional intake. I needed someone else to hold my thoughts steady until once again I had the strength to on my own. I needed crutches, and this was okay.
I put on music that would encourage my soul and strengthen my mental muscles. Which meant sappy country music and raw R&B, which I love, was off the playlist for a while. All I could have in my atmosphere was music that made me lift my eyes up, gave me hope, and inspired me to keep going. I made a playlist called “Heal” and a playlist called “Fight.” I listened, and I did not leave myself alone very often. When I ran, when I drove, at night when I couldn’t sleep, I listened to sermons, TED Talks, videos, and podcasts. I used my crutches to encouraged my spirit and restore my soul.
I read books. I found books that spoke to my pain, and spoke to my story, and I found comfort in the experiences of fellow humans.
I held onto my inner circle of friends, and I talked a lot! God gave me some incredibly faithful, lifetime friends that gave me space to exercise my sore fatigued muscles and handed me my crutches when I needed them. They pushed me to keep going when the pain was too much. And at times they became my brace as they held me up when my strength was gone. Through them I experienced what it feels like to be held by the love and grace of the great I Am. Through their unconditional love, support, and availability to be on the phone with me at any hour of the day, I found a haven. They were a place to process every emotion and every thought. They were safe, gentle, and courageous.
I learned about the science of the brain and psychology. I found incredible comfort in the scientific explanations of what was happening to me. One of my precious friends was working on her master’s to become a licensed practicing counselor (LPC) and would practice with me. She shared her learning, and it gave me the understanding I so desperately needed. We learned together!
Then my precious husband became my hero. His patience and gentleness were angelic. He dove into my world with careful, thoughtful understanding. He bore my pain, carried my burdens, and worked tirelessly to help me regain my strength. He gave when I had nothing to give in return, and he never gave up on me. I don’t know how he did it, because I wanted to give up on me.
It took grabbing my crutches – my music, books, sermons, and podcasts. It took exercise – my community of friends who let me talk and spin and cry and grow. And it took a brace – the love of God I experienced through my dear friends and my husband. My mental rehabilitation.
If you find yourself in this story, the one thing you may need to hear, like I needed to hear is that it is okay to be exactly where you are. After what I had been through, no one expected me to be instantly better. They expected a wounded soul to be wounded. Wounds do heal, but the process in the middle is very very long. When we tell our stories, it usually discounts the tremendous agony of the middle. It took me two years to find my mental strength again. And it was not a linear path. It was back and forth, up and down, two steps forward then ten steps back. It was confusing and discouraging at times. The healing process can be painful and long. If you are on this journey and you are feeling like, “Will I ever be myself again?” My dear, with all that is within me, I say, “Yes! You will!” But I guarantee the self you return to, you will love so much more than the one you were before.