Hello! Who are you?
My name is Mary and I live outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. I currently work as a mental health therapist in both private practice and as a school-based counselor.
I reside with my boyfriend of 9 years, we own our home. We have two cats that are like our children, more or less. I love running, hiking, camping, drawing, reading, science fiction, and spooky things.
I have been a runner for around 10 years now and am rather passionate about it. I look at it as a competition with myself. I am also passionate about integrative mental health care, and how our general wellness and physical health impact our mental health. I am also passionate about human rights. I have an older sister, two nieces, a nephew, and a great-nephew.
I find it important to consider how you physically feel and how ensuring you physically feel well is a major part of our mental health.
Running started, for me, as something to do after I graduated high school and entered college. I was a competitive dancer for 10 years and had danced for 14 years by the time I graduated high school. I was not going to dance during college and took up running.
I found a community in it at the time, as well. It positively impacted my mental health and my general sense of well-being and happiness. It has become increasingly more difficult to find the balance in my life to maintain that level of physical activity, so I can’t rely on running as much anymore.
I think maintaining physical wellness is really important. I learned that happiness is not a destination, it is found along the journey. So, overall I would say I am happy. Maybe not every day, but certainly overall at this point in my life.
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I have Generalized Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD. Some of my anxiety stems from ADHD. It is really stressful to manage ADHD symptoms and it impacts my mood more times than it doesn’t.
I experience difficulty staying on task, and I “zone out” a lot, especially when things aren’t engaging. It is really, really difficult to focus.
It took me setting aside specific time to answer these questions when I was able to actually stay on task.
My symptoms didn’t start until adulthood, I always had an outlet growing up, and exercising is really helpful in managing the symptoms. It puts me in a focused headspace that generalizes to other parts of my life.
I use a lot of self-talk. But, anxiety and depression definitely suck the happiness out of my life. I didn’t grow up in a happy household either, so I never learned the skills to manage these things until I reached adulthood. College made a difference, as I met people who had these skills and I learned from them. Plus the program I was in for psychology taught me a lot about myself which helped me learn how to cope more effectively.
The symptoms probably started earlier than I can remember but I remember for sure around 10 years old when my parents formally divorced. I didn’t know how to cope.
I didn’t have much privacy so I never kept a diary. I tried to a few times but without success. Around 16 years old I had my first panic attack and anxiety just became a part of my life from that point. I didn’t understand what I was experiencing or feeling, and there wasn’t this push to address mental health at the time.
Therapy was still something people didn’t talk about. Journaling wasn’t something that was encouraged as a way to understand yourself better. Diaries were just places where you vented, not where you processed.
I now have a far better understanding of my experiences including how some of my struggle was related to ADHD and not exclusively anxiety and depression but they still were there. It’s every day though that it impacts me.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
At my worst moments, I felt lost in every sense of the word. I didn’t understand myself in relation to others. I wasn’t happy anywhere I went or with anyone.
I wasn’t happy alone, with my friends, family, boyfriend, work, anywhere. I felt most at peace when I was running, hiking, or reading a fantasy novel. I found peace in nature or books.
I isolated myself even when I was present. I became really good at hiding what was going on in my head. I pretended to be happy, mostly because I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t. And I knew it wasn’t anything that anyone else was doing, I just felt so unfulfilled.
I can remember no one asking if I was okay. Which made me think that I didn’t have a reason to not be okay. Like I needed to be okay. That I didn’t have a single reason to be unhappy.
This was so invalidating. But I also didn’t see any way out. Like this was going to be a perpetual state of unhappiness that couldn’t be resolved. It was the loneliest I had ever been.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
I remember this day so clearly. I had been a mess for at least 8 years. But, I functioned so well, no one could tell.
Until they could. For a year or so, I was probably spiraling. My boyfriend was tired of it and he told me to act like I wanted to be in a relationship as much as I say I want to be.
This was the “ah-ha!” moment for me. I was so consumed in my own misery that I couldn’t see how much it was impacting him. I hated that I was doing that. So I sought out therapy.
I had a few different ones but they all helped in their own way. The first one helped me get my act together by changing behaviors. I wasn’t ready to go in person so I did the online therapy services.
I would have to say, 40% of my change was because of the circumstances, if it wasn’t for him saying something I wouldn’t have made the change when I did and the other 60% was the behavior changes I made.
By being more mindful and aware of my actions I was able to change how I saw things. This definitely increased my sense of happiness.
It is amazing how deep in the forest of my own unhappiness I was. I couldn’t see the sky above or the other side of the forest. But, having important people in my life and just needing a change made a difference.
That is why I say 40% can be attributed to the circumstances at the time. I had so much going on but my boyfriend is important to me. I couldn’t live with my own unhappiness affecting him.
I could have just kept doing what I was doing and dealt with the consequences but I didn’t want to. I spent more time with friends, I began eating better, I utilized my support, and I eventually even changed jobs.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
This is a multi-year journey and is something that must be worked on forever. It isn’t like a magic pill that you can take that makes your life better, is a mindset and lifestyle change.
I stopped considering happiness as something external. This didn’t take a therapist to learn but I did learn just by reading articles and books.
Happiness will never be found externally. Things and people may contribute to your happiness but they can’t be the source of it. Happiness comes from ourselves.
I work on this every day. I do my best not to talk to myself as I wouldn’t talk to anyone I cared about. If I wouldn’t say it to my friends I do my best to not say it to myself.
I treat food as fuel and something that keeps me going. I do my best not to judge the food that I eat, it fuels me.
I make a point to talk to and spend time with my friends. This is important because my job is emotionally draining and sometimes I can get into a loop of just wanting to be alone, but friends are necessary and good for us.
I make time for myself. So doing things that are just for me. Reading, playing a video game, creating something. I personally love to draw so I make time for that. It is uninterrupted time for things that are just for me.
I remind myself that sometimes things are exactly as they appear and we don’t need to look any further into them.
And then there’s therapy, lots of therapy. My therapist and I work on this a lot. Not everything is mine to bear or fix. I take on other people’s stuff too much and it is a lot of childhood trauma where I was responsible for other people’s happiness at the cost of my own.
But we aren’t responsible, we are only responsible for our actions and emotions. We can influence others’ feelings but we aren’t responsible for them.
Another thing my therapist and I work on is setting healthy boundaries. Especially with work. My identity is not my job, it is not my career, I am so much more than that.
We all are so much more than what we produce. We are complex beings and all of that should be given attention and not just what we do for others.
This also applies to friendships that might not be a good fit for us. We are allowed to grieve friendships and we are allowed to let go and move on past them. Sometimes our growth doesn’t align with other people’s growth and we grow past them. That is okay!
Jobs or relationships sometimes just do not grow with us. That doesn’t mean we stop growing and let unhappiness and misery swallow us. That means we mourn the loss but keep growing.
Another thing I learned from therapy is that we cannot be anyone other than who we are. Stop pretending. We will not be everyone’s favorite cup of tea but it doesn’t mean we aren’t good as we are.
I needed to learn to just be myself. This is something I am still working on because I am still trying to figure out who that is. But I have a far better understanding of that than I did before.
I was bullied for who I was growing up, but she is super rad and I liked who she was. So that is something I am still working on. But, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone, you are good as you are.
We can grow more into who we are just because that is how life goes, but we don’t have to do that to make other people more comfortable. That’s the difference.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
Sheesh, I am still trying to work on sharing this with other people. But I share it with my boyfriend and my closest friends. Just because we all struggle and it is okay to normalize it.
Once I started normalizing my own struggle, I noticed people around me shared theirs as well and we were learning from one another. I was afraid to appear weak or broken by sharing what I was experiencing. But, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t.
I found it difficult to share my struggle with my parents. I didn’t want them to feel at fault because I needed help, but they partially were. Their choices impacted me a lot as a child. So I was afraid to share things with them, more of me wanting to make everyone comfortable around me.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
Struggling is normal, it is okay to talk to someone about it. If you aren’t ready for that, then buy a book. If you don’t like to read, listen to a podcast or listen to the book on Audible.
But don’t get in your own way. That’s the hardest thing I had to learn. For a long time, I was my own worst enemy. I was stopping myself from feeling happiness. I was stopping myself from continuing on my journey.
There are so so so many resources out there now. There isn’t a reason to not heal. The temporary discomfort of healing is so much easier and shorter than the prolonged discomfort from fear of happiness.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
- Personally, I just like anything by Brene Brown. I recommend her generally speaking. She has done TED Talks and she has a podcast. Looking her up and seeing what she has out there, you can learn so much.
- When learning about my own trauma I found the book The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk to be super helpful.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
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