The weight of guilt

“You’re not here for me anymore.”

“You’ve changed.”

“Why are you there for them but not for me?”

Self-care, when you’re on the brink of depression, is no joke. Especially if you’re a people-pleaser.

At the end of 2016, I was trying so hard to keep my head above water. I was in total deny of my emotions, to say the least, and was trying as hard as I could to keep my facade of a generous and helpful woman, always there for others.

But it was not an easy task.

I was so angry. Angry at the world, angry at people, angry at myself… And I was sad. I remember crying at night and not even knowing why I was crying that much. Months went by and I knew, deep down, that I was dangerously rubbing shoulder with my old friend, depression. Yet, there I was, still trying to comfort and find solution for others, because I thought their problems were so much bigger and important than mine were.

So I found myself in a place where I would try to solve issues that should’ve been discussed with therapists. Problems that I was not equipped to deal with. Behaviors that I didn’t know how to handle. And despite all of my good will, this was way over my head. I had to admit that I tried to bite off more than I could chew.

This is when my own therapist suggested that I distance myself with others for the sake of my health. That I focus on me instead of them for a change. And I tried…

But when you feel like you’ve been in an ocean for so long with someone who’s struggling to swim, it’s not easy to let go of their hand and then watch them from a distance, hoping that they don’t drown. Especially if they cry and scream your name once you’re out of their sight.

The first months were the worst. My unconvincing attempts to let go made me feel guilty and selfish. Memories of my best friend accusing me of letting her down during my first depression were constantly on my mind. I didn’t want to push people away. I didn’t want them to hate me. I just wanted to take care of myself and not spiral back into a second depression.

People started to notice. And they didn’t understand why I was doing it. They questioned my behavior, tried to make me change back into my old self, reminded me of how nice I was before and how I wasn’t as available anymore…

That made me feel even more guilty and selfish. I didn’t know what to do, how to act, how to process my overwhelming emotions… And that’s when the official diagnostic came: depression.

Again.

It was like a sign from my body to stop and see that I, too, needed to be cared of.

But I didn’t know how. So I ate my guilt, my sadness and my anger away. If I wasn’t able to make people understand that me distancing myself had nothing to do with them but all to do with me, then I was going to show them. So I’ve put on a physical barrier. A barrier of fat – filled with candies, chips and sorrows – was now surrounding me, protecting me from the world.

Did it work? It kind of did, but I’m not entirely sure.

One thing was clear: at that point, they could see that I was unwell and that I didn’t have the ability to help them like before. It was a fact – there was a diagnostic attached to it. Of course, it was all done unconsciously. But looking back, I know that this is what happened.

So… Did they drown? No. And I’m really grateful that they didn’t. But did the comments stopped? Nope, they didn’t. Guilt trips happened a lot back then and are still happening sometimes nowadays. A comment here, a comment there… It’s surprising how people quickly take something for granted and then kick and scream once they lose what they thought was theirs forever.

Were they allowed to be upset about my changed behavior? Of course. But was it okay to try and guilt me into thinking I was egotistical? No. I have the right to change. And I shouldn’t force myself to be a certain way in order to please others.

Yes, if you’re a people-pleaser, you want to be loved. You want to be needed. (And let me tell you, I rarely felt more needed than during that period of my life.) But when do you know you’ve reached your limit? When do you have to admit to yourself that you can’t be the savior you thought you needed to be in order to be loved? When can you start taking care of yourself a little more and not feel selfish for doing it? For me, it was when I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t “Stephanie, the generous girl who’s always there for her friends and family”.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out…

The road to recovery and self-love isn’t an easy one. It’s fraught with difficulties, mixed feelings and people who don’t always understand what you’re doing.

But I still think that this road is more pleasant than the one to depression, so this is the one I will try to stay on.

Getting in shape

I want to get back to yoga.

I really do.

Yet, here I am… Not yoga-ing.

I can’t say why… I have a mat, the clothes for it and even a membership to a bikram center. But I never go.

Even though I think I want to go.

What happened, you may ask? Let me give you a bit of a back story.

I started doing bikram yoga in January of 2016. But in April of the same year, I fell ill, stopped going and asked the center for a suspension. In June 2018, I felt better and thought I was ready to go back so I asked for my subscription to be renewed. Weeks got by, then months, then… Yeah, you guessed it. A year later, I still haven’t set foot in that place.

In all honestly, I’m wondering if I chose bikram for the right reasons and, mostly, if it’s why I can’t seem to find the will to go back to a class. If I remember correctly, in the beginning of 2016, I had hit a new high weight-wise. I had tried the paleo lifestyle in 2015 and it had helped with some of my health issues, but I wasn’t able to maintain it long term because I felt deprived, mostly while traveling or during social events. After I caved and let my cravings get the better of me, I inevitably gained some pounds back and was feeling worse than before. Come January 2016, where I decided to try the Whole 30 program – which is even stricter than paleo. Weird, I know. But that’s the thing, I was feeling great. Like never before. Sure, I was eating the same thing over and over again – which got real boring, real fast – but my digestive system felt wonderful, I had less bloating, lost weight rather quickly and didn’t have any food cravings. It was during that month that I decided to join a bikram center, after having talked about it with a colleague who had a lot of experience with this type of yoga and who loved it.

It was challenging, but I persevered since I was pretty convinced that it was the combination of the diet and yoga that made me feel that great. For 6 weeks straight, I was feeling good physically, but mentally, things were getting harder and harder. The world around me was slowly collapsing, stress was adding up, I tried and tried to stay strong for others but at some point, I started to recognize all too well the symptoms of depression. I didn’t want to be depressed again (I’d fought so hard to beat the first one, years before), so I tried my best to act like everything was fine. But was it enough? No.

Of course not.

Sometimes, your body forces you to see things you try so hard to hide.

So, instead of going to yoga class, I stayed in bed. Instead of eating fruits and veggies, I ate potato chips and cookies. I gained weight, lost my motivation and guilt me into thinking I didn’t have the willpower it took to feel well and continue what was going so well for me, not that long before.

But it’s over now. I feel better. I’m in a place where I’m trying to retrain my brain into understanding that a new lifestyle isn’t necessary a punishment. That we can still enjoy things while living differently than before. I’m taking small steps – sometimes way smaller that I would like – and often take steps back, but I try.

See, I started to eat better about a month ago and I’m putting less pressure on myself this time around. I see how my body feels and I adjust. I think it’s going well, for the most parts.

So, this is where yoga comes in. It would make sense to go back to classes at this moment of my life. In fact, it’s probably the perfect moment to go back. I have the time for it and I already spent the money. I just have to convince myself that no one will care that I gained weight or that I haven’t been there in a while. The first one would be the hardest. I know it. Because once I go over my fear of going back, I’m pretty sure that the apprehension will disappear.

There’s a class tomorrow. Let’s cross our fingers that I go.