If you’re reading this, you know me already. Chances are, you came here from my Facebook page. You might be an old friend from Illinois, or even Maryland or Kansas. You might be a crafty friend or someone who read one of my earlier books. You might be one of my closest friends. Even a member of my family. Regardless, I owe you an apology. See, I’ve been lying to you – and it’s time to get real.
There’s a good chance you know a lot of my story already. A year ago, I was happier than I ever thought possible. I was totally in love, I’d moved to a beautiful new home, and I had plans for a family and a future. On June 26, 2012, everything changed. My husband unexpectedly committed suicide. Just like that, my world was shattered. And suddenly everything was so, so different.
From the very beginning, I decided I would be strong. Because I was still here. To give in was to lose my own life, too, and I wasn’t willing to accept that outcome. I was determined. I would find a way. And even though I spent much of those first few months face down on the floor, I did
find a way. I put my brave face on. I was back at work in less than two weeks. I listened to everyone tell me how strong I was, how great I was doing. How proud my husband would have been, because he loved me so much. But if he loved me so much, how could he do this? It took time for me to realize that his death had nothing to do with me. That he was hurting in ways that were far beyond anything I could understand or comprehend. I found comfort in the fact that he was finally at peace. With God. But again, I was still here. And what on earth was I going to do now?
I pressed forward. In a lot of ways, life had already prepared me for this. This was not the time to lie on the couch and cry. Goodness knows, I’d spent enough of my life doing that already. Years of battling clinical depression in my teens and early 20s gave me tremendous coping skills. I’d beaten darkness once, and I was determined to do it again.
So I tried new things. I went to hockey games and ballets. I started playing piano. I attempted kickboxing. I painted. I danced. I started volunteering. I even left my day job to pursue my life-long goal of being a writer on my own terms. These were all great things, but in so many ways, I was really just going through the motions. I was still so very broken. But all I could hear was everyone telling me how proud they were that I was doing “so well.” Perhaps most significantly, I could see the relief in their faces. They were just glad I was “okay.”
I think this is when I started lying to you. I really didn’t mean to. But I was so very tired and I just didn’t want you to worry anymore. I didn’t want to disappoint you. And I think I thought if I didn’t say how much I was still hurting, that it might not be true.
So I told you that I went to California. I shopped on Rodeo Drive, hugged Mickey and Minnie, and visited the set of Pretty Little Liars. I went to a Dodgers game to cheer on his favorite team. But what I didn’t tell you was that while looking at a sales rack full of Dodgers merchandise, I burst into tears and ran out of the store. And then I just stood there in the middle of the street, crying into my cousin’s arms, unable to comprehend how I could possibly go on like this.
I told you that I gave myself a great new home office and painted it bright yellow. I painted inspirational messages to myself on the wall before applying the first coat of paint. I even let you vote on whether a quote from Lewis Carroll or Wayne Gretzky would adorn the wall. And I told you that it’s most I’ve ever loved a single room in my entire life. But what I didn’t tell you was that cleaning out that room was the single most painful thing I’d had to face since when they had become too painful to look at. And now I had to sort through all of them – his clothes, our memories. A stick of deodorant that still smelled like him. Hand-me-down clothes from my sister’s children for the child we never got to have – the child that was supposed to grow up in this very room. Each stroke of yellow paint represented a bright new future, but it was also a reminder of the hopes and dreams that I’d now never realize.
I told you that I went on a cruise with my best friend. We laughed. We swam with dolphins and rode horses in the Caribbean Sea. We basked in the sunshine and spent hours doing nothing at all. I told you that it was the best vacation of my life. And it was. But what I didn’t tell you was how seemingly every live musician we encountered – on the boat, or on the streets in the Caribbean close to our villa that was an assortment of different styles like some of these Jamaican villas for example. – chose to play my wedding song as I walked by. I realized then, through tears, that there is no escaping this story. I became afraid that as I carve out a new life for myself and even look toward loving again, this pain might always be there, lingering in the background waiting to gnaw at me when I least expect it.
I didn’t tell you these things because I didn’t want you to worry. I wanted you to be right when you would tell me how great I’ve been doing. And truthfully, I just didn’t want you to have to know how horrific it really was.
It seems, however, that it’s time for a change. Time to stop pretending that every single day is a great one. Time to be a little more real. Because here’s the thing:
You’ve asked me how my new work is going. Do I enjoy writing every day? Am I excited? And I smile, and put on my brave face, and what I don’t tell you is that I haven’t made much progress. Until today. Because the writing I dream of? It’s not fiction. It’s this. It’s about emerging from depression and grief to find ways to shine against all odds. It’s sharing my story with the hope that I can help others get out of their dark places, too.
And I’ve come to realize that if I really want to make a difference, it’s not enough to share just the good stuff. Yes, I choose every day to be a person who lives a life of joy. Yes, I’ve become a person who finds the silver lining in any situation almost automatically. I am able to see the sunshine brightly because I have seen the darkest places this world has to offer – and I reject the idea that I must stay stuck in them. But if I’m not real about those dark places, if I’m not willing to share the rough edges, then none of it means anything. If I truly want to be a person who can inspire others to get up and out of bed, even when they feel like they have nothing left to live for, then I absolutely must be clear. I have been there. I get it. I know what it’s like to lie paralyzed, so consumed by darkness that the idea of even lifting up your head from the pillow seems like an impossible task.
But I also know how to get up. Over and over again, even on the worst of days. And while it’s always easier to remain in bed, I will never stop believing that the world has more to offer. That my best days are ahead of me. That the future holds more beautiful moments than I can possibly imagine.
And so I will continue to press forward into my brave, beautiful, bold, and finally authentic life.
Because I am determined to shine. And if you are, too, I think I can help.