Today, I am reminded of the brevity of life. Here one day, gone the next. Like a candle in the wind, light can suddenly turn to darkness. A flower once bright and beautiful becomes faded and wilted, with no more strength to hold her head high, unable to bring life and joy to others.
When I lost myself, I became silent; I shut down. In fact, I retreated so far into myself that I forgot who I was.
When I tried to pinpoint the cause, I came up as empty as my soul felt. To people looking at me from the outside, my life probably seemed quite ideal. I had a husband of 31 years, five children, and a beautiful home that’s fully paid for and which our family had recently moved into. I had every reason to be joyful and fulfilled, and yet I felt empty, alone, and so very, very lost.
And then I nearly broke down. I spent two full days in bed, unable to function. I was beginning to feel seriously concerned about myself. And that’s when the revelation came: I wasn’t myself.
Little by little, I had become someone I no longer knew. It was like someone else was living in my body, and the two were constantly striving. No wonder I had zero energy and no peace. No wonder I felt so lost, so lonely, so hopeless.
I had tried for so long to be the wife, mother, and overall person I thought I was supposed to be that I lost who I truly was in the process. And it was all so gradual. I didn’t even see it coming until it was almost too late. Yes, thoughts of suicide had begun to form.
For so long, I had tried to be happy when I was actually quite sad. I said yes to things I really didn’t want to do because my plate was already so full that I was overwhelmed. I tried to be selfless—only to become resentful. I kept my mouth shut and bottled up all my emotions and genuine feelings.
With every forced smile, I lost a little more of my true self. With every moment of silence, I became more unlike the person I was created to be. Words bring life; my silence was a slow, agonizing death. And as a writer, I no longer had anything to say, and so I stopped writing.
I felt disconnected . . . from everyone and everything I once knew. Life felt unstable—I felt unstable. And it started to scare me.
For so long, my default response had been, “I’m fine.” Only I wasn’t. And the more I remained silent, the more “not fine” I became. I was disappearing, slowly fading away like a vapor in the wind.
Day 2 of my near breakdown awakened something in me, something I hadn’t felt in a very long time: desire. My longing to be discovered or, rather, to rediscover myself, took over. A desire to be me arose, and so I physically crawled out of bed on a quest to discover what that would look like.
I started with all the topsy-turvy emotions I’d been so overwhelmed with. I extended myself some grace as I came to understand that emotions are not good or bad—they just are. And because emotions themselves are not good or bad (it’s what we do with them that matters), I’m learning to embrace all my myriad emotions and deal with them appropriately instead of pretending they don’t exist.
I’m silent no more; I have a voice. If I am legitimately angry, I say so. And I work it out. If I’m sad, I shed a tear or two or ten. Some days I may even cry a river, and that’s OK.
Every day, showing up for life as my true self is my new normal. No more masks. No more pretending. No more silence. I want—and need—to be me. Me, in all my messy mistakes, all my amazing ability. Beauty in the broken places. Joy in the journey.
Throughout my days, I’m paying closer attention to my thoughts. What lies am I believing? Any negative self-talk going on? Comparing? Judging? These are the things that must be silenced.
I’m also slowing down. Breathing. Taking time to work my way back to me, the little girl that lost her way. That’s where I am now. I’m giving myself permission to rest, to heal, to make mistakes, to say no, to ask for help, to pursue my dreams, to laugh, play, and truly live.
I may come face-to-face with my shortcomings daily, but at my core, I’m now OK with that. There’s beauty in living out my humanness. In truth, my life is imperfectly beautiful.
I’m free to be me. And because I am, I don’t have to be anything but me. I don’t have to be the perfect wife or mother. I’m allowed to fail. It really is OK to have bad days; it’s a part of life, a part of the unfolding of who I really am.
And so, I will be silent no more. I am enough. Right here, right now. In the long days and the short days, I always have been and always will be . . . enough.
I’ll be honest: I’ve missed myself. But I am so thankful that I’m now becoming the person I could have been becoming a long time ago. And most especially, I’m embracing the fact that of all the roads I’ve traveled, the journey back to myself is the most spectacular.
Tammy Darling is the author of 1,400 published articles and two books, And She Danced and While We Wait: Devotions for the Adopting Parent. She writes from her home in rural Pennsylvania.