In the late fall of 2018, I went on medical leave for mental health from my corporate job. A few months later, I started BraveNewLove to share stories and create space to live authentically. The goal was self-therapy and hopefully offering encouragement to others dealing with similar struggles to live authentically.
I felt like writing about my experience with medical leave and mental health overall would be helpful since I hadn’t been exposed to any stories on that front prior to going through the process myself. Not to say that they weren’t out there, just that they hadn’t been normalized enough that it would be an experience I could think of a friend going through and openly sharing about.
Cut to two years later, much of my life has changed. I left my job to start my own massage practice, have become an authenticity advocate and coach for others, and have written and started speaking about why I believe living authentically is so important for wellness. That all said, I have yet to write about medical leave specifically on BraveNewLove or anywhere else.
I ran up to the vault last year when I came around to the year anniversary of medical leave. “One Year Later,” was the idea for the post where I would more or less chronicle what happened and what “lessons” I had learned.
For whatever reason, that essay didn’t fully materialize.
One thought would be that I choked on the vault. That I had bonked or hit a wall — common terms in running and cycling when you run out of energy and are unable to continue on with the ride or run.
I think it was because I was still applying my old mindset to the idea of my mental health to the task. The idea that if I could show that I had experienced my life’s biggest failure to date, but somehow had learned a valuable lesson, that the experience, and myself by proxy, would somehow be more worthy.
If I “pulled” myself out of the “hole” I was in, I’d be able to finally talk about it publicly.
The unfortunate thing is that I keep falling to pieces.
When I write about my life and living authentically, it usually has some form of a takeaway. I graciously refer to it as ‘memoir with a message’.
There are a few potential reasons as to why this is my chosen style of writing, but the ones I’m aware of all stem from the fact that I originally took up journaling a few years ago as a form of therapy for my mental health and overall wellness. The writings that I’ve chosen to share publicly are very much based in my life, but they are only a window and by no means an open door.
I’ve thought of it as somewhat of a guideline to make sure that something is in my rearview mirror before I write about it. During that time it takes for whatever struggle or life lesson to fade into the distance behind me, I’ve more than likely done a lot of thinking, processing, praying, and meditating on the subject. The upside is that this additional thought adds some depth to my writing and makes it somewhat valuable, or worth reading — most of the time. That’s the hope anyway. The downside is that it limits the topics that I choose for essays to be ones where I have a lesson that I’ve learned.
While I’ve learned a lot about myself, mental health, and my specific diagnoses along this authenticity journey, I still don’t have that silver bullet for this “problem” of mine in the way that I believe I should.
Going on medical leave for my mental health was probably the biggest “failure” I could have imagined up to that point in my life. It was me admitting that I finally couldn’t figure it out and make it all work. It felt like jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
Now it is two years later and I still feel like I’m free-falling.
The problem is that I fall into the same thought traps I have for years. A trap that is honestly an easy framing of this type of issue for others viewing our lives from afar.
“He was unhappy because he didn’t like his job. All should be good now that he’s found a job he’s passionate about right?” Sure, Mary…
I tell myself that “I’ll be happy once I can make more money as a massage therapist,” or now that we live in a pandemic “once I can make it as a wellness entrepreneur.”
But I forget that I am still living with mental health diagnoses when I fall into this type of thinking. I’m still a person who has chronic depression, general anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD due to growing up gay in conservative and religious culture. I’m still figuring out what that looks like, but I can say that I’ve made the choice to figure it out on my terms by doing what is right for me.
‘Falling to pieces’ is rhetoric that candidly plays into the idea that folks dealing with mental health issues are broken, but what I have learned through experience in the closet is that cultural overlays are the true thing that is broken when we strive for ideals or standards that are out of alignment with our authentic selves.
I can feel the weight lift off me in waves when I realize that I don’t have to operate under the same playbook that I have for so much of my life. When I remember that it truly doesn’t matter what other people think. When I no longer assign value to myself and my accomplishments in the same way the world does.
This typically only comes about after I have spun myself up thinking about any number of things. When I assign business goals to my personal development. When I start ranking BraveNewLove’s success by the standards of others.
When you solely focus on outcomes you can lose sight of your motivations for taking on the task, and when the outcomes start to become the only motivation, I begin to wonder what the point is at all?
In this way, that 30,000+ view while free falling can be quite helpful.
I’ve decided to no longer repress myself by listening to the internal voice that tells me I am not a creative, or that I need to be something that I’m not in order to be successful.
While I know that much to be true, I’m accepting the fact that I am not finished learning, and that I don’t have all the answers.
The truth is that I can’t tell you where one thing stops and the other starts. Is my intense desire to contort myself — even to my own detriment — to fit the mold of success prescribed by others a mental health issue, societal conditioning, or just my personality?
Can it be all three and more?
Is it possible to keep moving forward without fully answering that question?
I guess I will find out.
I still live with my mental health diagnoses and conditions that were a large part of why I went on medical leave two years ago. My personal authenticity practice is focused on finding motivations for my actions both professionally and personally that are in my own best interests, and not what has been dictated to me by culture. It is about carving out a life that works for me as I am, mental health issues and all, and not a version of myself that I curate by repressing aspects of my identity.
When I say that I am picking up the pieces, what I mean is that I am working to define who I am, what my motivations are, and what cultural ideals, morals, or standards do not serve me.
I’m no longer trying to place the pieces back together in the ‘right’ way so that I can share a perfectly concise and valuable life lesson.
For now, I’m still just getting comfortable with the free fall.