The brain is a crazy thing, it makes our human life possible per its basic function, but it’s also responsible for making our human experience worthwhile—by priming how we think, which dictates how we view the world, and sometimes more importantly, how we think of ourselves. If you’re like me, then at some point in time you’ve let your negative thoughts, that can seriously hurt you, win out over the positive ones, that can determine a joyful life worth living. I’ve been wondering why that is. How can the same organ that makes all life possible also make life so debilitating when it comes to compiling negative self-talk, blocking our ability to live the happy quality of life we’re meant to live? Further worsening this headspace cause, is the stigma surrounding mental health in our society, which I take exception to.
Everyone deals with fear, self-doubt, shame, and/or insecurity in some fashion, no matter how good they seem to have it—no one is exempt from being a human, so therefore, everyone deals with mental burdens and life obstacles. Why does this stigma exist then, if we all go through it? I believe it’s because we’re afraid to talk about our vulnerabilities, I’m certainly not comfortable with it (insert hand raising emoji). This post is me practicing being vulnerable, and it’s a little scary, but I think I’ll survive and perhaps help someone along the way. Let’s be honest, no one’s going to post on social media about how insecure they’re feeling these days… but they may mask those insecurities, compensating with posts about their lives appearing to be perfectly together, even if it is in fact the opposite, making you feel worse about yourself because of what they seem to have, and what you don’t seem to have. If we only knew the real truths of what everyone is actually going through, I bet we wouldn’t find ourselves in a place of isolation, trapped in our own heads. Maybe we would actually find common ground during a very divisive time in our nation, bonding over the fact that we’re all going through some form of sh*t.
Life isn’t perfect, neither are we. I’m the first to admit, I’m an OVERTHINKING, imperfect human. I think a lot, often times too much. It can be a curse, when those thoughts aren’t positive ones, and lately they haven’t been. Fueling this negative mindset further, is the guilt I feel for sometimes feeling “bad.” Logically speaking, I understand how good I have it in my life, and it frustrates me when my thoughts don’t always align with the life I set out to live. Before I go any further, I want to share an early disclaimer, that I’m not writing this in hopes of compliments or a pity party for me (although a mail order puppy would be nice), but actually as part of my therapy, self-rediscovery, and sharing my truth. I also want to be clear that nothing terrible has happened to me and no one has caused me any harm on me, beyond my own thoughts. I simply want to address that mental health can be a battle for anyone, no matter how big or how small the circumstance, and it deserves some attention in a culture that can be so overwhelming and so quick to judge. If I get judged for writing a post about being imperfectly human, then so be it. I’m comfortable with that, because writing this is getting me back to my happy place where I know I can and will thrive. The happiest version of me hopefully inspires you to be the happiest you, I like to think sharing joy is part of my life purpose here—but what do I know? My biggest hope is that this maybe helps someone out there who’s going through a similar bump in the road, to know that you’re not alone, and that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much money you make, etc—poor mind health doesn’t discriminate, and it can happen to anyone, often hidden in disguise.
So during these mental slumps, the pattern in my brain goes something like this: negative thought, guilt (maybe some shame) for having that thought, beat myself up, feel the negative thought, and then the negative emotion inspires more negative thoughts. It becomes a vicious cycle, and one that becomes very unhealthy when prolonged over time. I know firsthand that the only way to combat these negative influencers is the grueling process that comes in the search of finding my center again. It’s a process that requires going through all the muck that’s been created in my mind, organize the junk, address how/why it got there, find better thoughts to replace the bad ones with, and ultimately face my current truth. It’s not easy, and I know this because I’ve been down this road previously.
My battle with negative self-talk dates back to my adolescence, but it wasn’t until college that I actually sought out the help I needed (and didn’t know how much I needed). I’m proud of the fact that I worked with a sports psychologist through four years as a student-athlete at Michigan. When things hit rock bottom for me from a mental health standpoint, I found help in the form of a counselor (and some kraft mac n cheese- hi emotional eating), and it changed my outlook on life forever. Had I not worked with a sports psychologist for four years, no chance I’d be where I am now. I’m so grateful that the athletic department recognized this psychologist role as an imperative outlet for their student-athletes—I went every single week. Greg Harden- you are the MAN! As I reflect on those college years, I was like a lost puppy who had no clue who I was, embodied an identity entirely defined by others, and possessed a victimized attitude on life. I often lamented about “why life was happening TO me,” instead of seeing that life was actually happening FOR me. Greg helped me turn everything around from the moment I stepped into his office, when I shed more tears than I did words, in that very first meeting. Through those tears, laughs, and tough conversations facing my toughest critic (me); he helped me discover who I was, he gave me the tough love my support-system couldn’t offer to my fragile self at the time, and he helped me build my identity up from the ground up. With that tedious, four-year identity building process, came a tornado of fearless self-confidence upon college graduation, no one could stop me… I was quite literally a fierce, redheaded hurricane (so fitting that my first broadcast gig was with the Carolina Hurricanes). When people ask where this self-confidence comes from, I can trace it directly back to those hours spent on that tiny little chair in Greg’s office where I had to face the truth of the little girl that I was and the strong woman I wanted to become. I learned the most from the moments when my mind almost broke me, because in the end, I didn’t allow that to happen. (In millennial terms: I was HELLA bent, but I didn’t break). I trained my mind to be better, to release thoughts of fear and self-doubt, and to find my joyful headspace. This required daily practice, for four years. This practice created a feeling that lasted long enough for me to relentlessly achieve this irrational broadcast dream of mine. So much so, that it skyrocketed me to the national stage in the first few years of doing it, and wow has it been awesome! As amazing as it has been, somewhere along the way of this rollercoaster I began to lose myself and let those little negative self-talk devils creep back in.
“Am I pretty enough?” Said the girl who, according to society, has to be decent enough to be on TV, regardless, my personal focus is on my character, not my looks. “Am I skinny enough?” Said the girl that LOVES Mac n Cheese, but has since broken up with all dairy and has started taking care of her body the way it deserves to be taken care of, because it actually FEEL GOODS to be eating this way (and this is a big deal for someone who comes from a family that eats cheese as their main food group—looking at you Big John). “Am I smart enough?” Said the nerd who literally ditched her teammates to sit front row for every class and was so passionate about school that she pursued two degrees because learning was actually her favorite part about college (turns out neither of those degrees apply to my current career, but A for effort!). Those are just a few of the common questions I had been beating myself up with lately for no good reason other than I’m letting the bad thoughts win. I’ve been feeding into that vicious cycle where it’s impossible to win. Nonetheless, the adult world has brought me those same tough life lessons I had to learn the harder way in college. This time, I have the awareness to catch it before it gets to the dark place that I’ve been before, and for that, I am grateful.
I sure wish Greg could have teleported with me through four moves the last four years, bouncing around from city to city… SURE COULD HAVE USED YOUR WORDS OF WISDOM, GREG, WHEN I GOT A FLAT TIRE/ BROKEN AXEL DRIVING FROM NORTH CAROLINA TO THE POTHOLES OF NEW YORK CITY VIA A SUDDEN JOB PROMOTION, NEITHER OF WHICH I COULD SEE COMING! Ha! Anyways, I’d like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of navigating the real world on my own the past 6 years, and my independent self (middle child syndrome… god bless it) takes great pride in the fact that I have done that quite well with my career, but at the same token I’ve neglected myself, and my mental health, in the process. My job took precedent over everything, including me. If I’m being completely honest with myself, that sh*t was really hard to do on my own, without a Greg, without a detached outlet to just sit and talk to, even if it was about my dog (RIP Tikki Bobs, you beautiful soul, you). Don’t get me wrong the last four years have been an absolute ball for my spontaneous, free-spirited nature, but man has it been a lot of change. As my mom would tell you, I was so bad at dealing with change as a young child, that I could barely manage to change seasons. I would actually wear my summer clothes in the winter cursing mother nature with all my might, because I didn’t want to adjust into the proper clothing (like, my mom literally had to hide my summer clothes from me, or else I would wear them in the middle of a snowstorm). I LOVED MY JEAN SPAGHETTI STRAPPED DRESS WITH THE RAINBOW HEARTS ON IT AND A LITTLE FROSTBITE NEVER HURT ANYONE. I was about to boycott mother fricken nature, and in my mind I would have won, because I would still be wearing that hilariously ugly jean dress that I loved so much in the middle of the snow (did I mention I was a middle child?). Damn you mother nature, I still get the winter blues (thanks for sending me a sunlamp in the mail this year, dad! And thanks for not sending it with cheese- that would be rude).
Anyways, change means growth, so I wouldn’t take anything back or do anything differently in my path (NO RAGRETSSSS!). Truthfully, I’ve learned so much and I am proud of the person I’m becoming outside of work, friends, and family. My focus this year is to resurface who Michelle is outside of my job, family, and friends—I’m digging out the person I’ve buried with these heavy thoughts of negativity that don’t serve me. I’m releasing the shackles of fear and self-doubt and it feels so good.
So where are these bad thoughts coming from? Great question.
From my vantage point, I think the bad thoughts come down to this: through all the moves, new friend groups, new job roles, and feeling so far from home until now—I’ve been running around so much, in constant search of where I fit—I’ve been longing for that sense of belonging. We all want that, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always felt that the red hair automatically breeds a feeling of “being a misfit,” but when you try too hard to appease to others—you start to lose yourself. That sense of belonging starts between the ears, with me accepting me and loving who I am, unconditionally, until death do us part (because aint no one else coming with me in my coffin… that would be weird). I’m learning to forgive myself when I make mistakes, even when I spontaneously declare that Benjamin Franklin was one of our US presidents on live TV (yes I said that, yes I felt like an idiot, but yes I decided to laugh at myself instead of worry. I WASN’T A US HISTORY BUFF, OKAY!). Through my imperfections and through life’s greatest challenges, I am me, and I need to be okay with myself before I can feel any sense of belonging anywhere and with anyone, no matter how close or far away I am from home.
I decided the only way for me to reach what the real root of what has really been bothering me, is by discussing such matters with a perfect stranger, someone who gets paid to listen to me, and help me feel better, a therapist. It was time to find my real-world Greg, or maybe a really good sunlamp (this winter has been brutal am I right?! Once again, thanks for the Vitamin D help, dad). Meet Tom, he is my new Greg (Don’t worry G, you are still #1 in my heart). He’s a lot more expensive than my Greg, but I think he will be worth the investment, because I’m investing in myself. Since my brain and I are responsible for my thoughts, I’m owning that, and putting the proper people in place to help me when I stumble. For a hot second, I thought there was something wrong with me for wanting to see another psychologist, and then I realized, nope, I’m just a silly human. Thus, Tom and I will be sorting this jungle for however long it takes to defeat this negative self-talk.
I’m excited to share what I learn with Tom in this endeavor of self-rediscovery. I hope this somehow softens the stigma a bit for those who are battling their own mind like me, who have been neglecting themselves as a defense mechanism, preventing the real truth from shining through. I just really love being happy, so if a therapist is a part of my endeavor to resurface a more consistently happy life, then go me. If this piece happens to help someone find the courage to ask for help or support along their path too, then that’s even better! So, cheers to my first therapy session in adult life, I sure hope Tom knows what he’s in for in the adventure that is and will always be my life. Stay Tuned.