Elizabeth Onyeabor

05-22-2019

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I curled into a fetal position on my kitchen’s stained-concrete floor and swatted away a helping hand like a petulant six-year-old. My wailing lasted minutes but gushed decades of grief. A whirlpool sucked me into its void, where all hope drowned. How I picked myself up or stumbled into the bedroom, I don’t remember. But I distinctly recall how I fantasized on and off about sleeping forever. That night, I was ready to act on my menacing thoughts. Convinced my husband and children would be better off without me, I researched the most effective way to kill myself. I was fifty. My family intervened before I did anything. That was seven years ago. Until then, I didn’t realize I grappled with a chronic illness- Depression. I traced my undiagnosed depression to patterns created during my teens. I kept myself mired in busyness to combat the pounding emptiness of my alone times. And I pursued achievement after achievement as a proxy for purpose and meaning. Fortunately, instead of the relief, I sought through death, bottoming out birthed new beginnings. During my journey, I realized that self-development is not a one-time, check-the-box thing. Healing, learning, and expanding self-love require constant nurture. My transformation took three years of soul searching. But I would go through the whole ordeal again. In an instant. I am better because I found what I earlier considered unobtainable- beautiful joy and passion. Life still casts challenges my way, but wanting to sleep forever doesn’t cross my mind anymore. My concerns don’t consume me. Even on my worst days, hope pours through me. I cultivate ongoing happiness through six habits: acknowledging emotion, forgiveness, personal empowerment, inspiration, self-care, and living my passion. Self-pity and self-reproach almost drowned me because I couldn’t navigate them. I wanted others to see me as a good person and believed expressing anger made me a bad person. I turned anger inward. I also steamed like a pressure cooker about others, but I disconnected from the emotion. I practiced noticing my body’s cues. I own my anger now and appreciate how irritants expose my weakest boundaries. I dive into intense emotions with curiosity instead of keeping them at bay. They’re opportunities to search through aspects of myself I still need to explore and heal. Forgiveness also played a huge part. I carried shame for what I did, what I hadn’t done, and what others did. Somewhere along the line, I set an unattainable standard for myself. Most of all, I considered myself a failed mother. For example, as a child, I swore I wouldn’t work outside the home like my mom. However, I not only pursued a career but also put in long hours. Because of my mother’s busy work schedule, I carried a sense of abandonment growing up. As an adult, I shouldered guilt for abandoning my children in the same way. I forgave my mother, and it helped me forgive myself, too. These days, I trust in the perfectly imperfect. I keep finding issues needing my forgiveness. Life reminds me perfection is unachievable. Personal empowerment came when I learned about codependency. In the past, much of my happiness hinged on my husband and kids. When all went well, I felt good. When things fell apart, so did I. I discovered how to stop blaming myself for not creating my idealized family. And I practiced how to stop pressuring them into a mold. Currently, I focus on what I can control- how I feel about a situation or person to reclaim my personal power. I nourished my soul with inspiration instead of feeding it shame, fear, and self-loathing. At first, toxic self-talk meddled with inner peace. I used guided meditations until I practiced enough to focus on my breathing or a fan’s constant hum. As my thoughts quieted, I explored my spirituality and fostered that relationship. Now, I routinely listen for inspiration’s gentle voice. It sails me further when times are smooth and buoys me up when times are rough. It wasn’t only my soul I fed differently. After my weight peaked, and a skirt popped its button, I binged on my favorite junk foods one last time. Then, I cut out processed sugar and adopted healthier eating habits. It took a while before I summoned enough willpower for physical exercise, but despite my erratic workout schedule, I lost weight. Sometime later, I relaxed my ban on sugar, but my sweet tooth and chocoholic cravings had already melted away. Now, I draw on that same strength for other intentions. I envied people who talked about their passions. Their lives seemed full while mine echoed of emptiness. I figured some people never have passionate pursuits, and I was one of them. But I was wrong. By smothering my negative emotions, like anguish, I also suffocated my positive emotions, like joy. As I practiced diving into feelings, writing became a catharsis. Unexpected poetry flowed from both misery and elation. I increased self-awareness by constructively recognizing, expressing, and exploring my emotions. The deeper I plunged, the more I wrote and discovered, and the more my depression dissolved. After fifty-plus poems written over two years, I realized I had always wanted to be a writer. But somehow that idea evaporated early in my childhood. I wondered why. Still, I practiced my newfound writing passion until I was ready to write a novel. Instead of fiction, inspiration compelled me to share a no-holds-barred memoir of my descent into and journey out of depression. Another chapter of my life emerged after I typed the book’s first draft. I trembled and wept as I uncovered what I hid from myself for forty-eight years: the remains of a traumatized six-year-old me. Alongside her, I also saw what else I accidentally buried. That’s where I found my passion, writing.

By Elizabeth Onyeabor

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