I feel this need to confess something to whoever is listening.
That I am not naturally a peaceful person.
Maybe once I was. When I was a little girl. But I don’t want anyone to fall under the false impression that peaceful living comes naturally or easily for me.
From the time I was 4 years old until almost 24, I lived in a constant whirl of turmoil… overcoming anxiety and depression, incessant survival mode.
At 23 I met the man that I fell in love with, a man who has made me feel safe and who has taught me that I don’t need to live that way. He has encouraged me to take time to heal my spirit, pause, and truly put down all that has felt heavy. Lovingly has given me the validation and encouragement and support to stop it all.
I’ve always given myself to others. I was the one who didn’t say no. Not to others. But almost always to myself.
And I did this so much until I couldn’t, until I stripped myself of everything that made me me. And what was left was a shell of a woman, a broken body and lost soul and heartless being.
I don’t know how I survived that way for so long. I suppose because that was the only choice—or so I thought.
In college, during my 5th year, I worked on the weekends to pay my way through school. I had a full schedule, seminars and a full-time unpaid internship that was an hour away from where I lived. I’d rush out of internship on Fridays in order to drive another hour to work 5-close. Saturdays open-close. Sundays open-2 or later. I’d rush back to Baltimore, another hour away, to stay up all night to complete my planning, grading, studying, and case studies. Most of the year I survived on 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night.
When the work load became too much, I quit working and quite literally stopped eating so that I could pay rent and gas to my internship.
I was breaking. Physically, mentally, spiritually, and truly losing myself and my intrinsic motivation. “Why am I doing this?” I remember asking myself over and over again.
I remember writing one of my professors one morning because I couldn’t get out of bed. I was drowning and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had taken on too much for too long. My education was my ticket OUT of the life and family turmoil I had been born into, the spiritual and emotional struggle I had inherited, but I didn’t think I would survive it. I was pushed to my limit and under so much pressure, so many deadlines, so many bills I couldn’t pay, so much responsibility, so little sleep and nourishment. Zero support.
I had isolated myself because that is how I’ve learned to cope. I trust only myself and God when I’m stripped, but I needed solid ground to hold on to.
I emailed my professor telling her that I wouldn’t be coming in and I wouldn’t be meeting her deadline. I shared a little of what I was feeling.
She replied: “Paige, no matter how you feel. Get up, dress up, and show up.”
I remember reading that and slamming the laptop shut. I wanted to die, but I slept instead.
I said no.
That professor ended up meeting up with me and I shared so much of my life with her and we both cried. She told me that we shared a lot of the same scars. And that she made it, that I would too.
She told me that my past would come to haunt me in every new transition, life’s initiations, ascensions. But that each time, I’d get stronger.
Each time it might knock me down but not as hard and not as long.
I’ll always love her for that. I’ve seen that she was right, this is true.
Each of my directors and professors and mentors were rooting for me. They saw something great in me.
A teacher. A leader. They knew my struggles and would have done anything to help me succeed.
I did succeed and I did graduate and I did have offers in the professional world. But as my first gift to myself as a woman and an adult, I gave myself permission to just say no.
No to the idea that success means selling yourself,
I said no to the stress,
to the rush to the unbeatable deadlines,
to the lack of appreciation, of support, and pay.
And for the first time, I said yes to that whisper in my heart and my spirit.
I would choose me this time.
I would choose peace and laughter and stillness.
I chose dancing with my girlfriends and drinking until dawn.
I chose no to boys and games and drama until I met a man who made my soul scream yes.
I let myself listen and I let myself fall in love.
I said yes to a slow and easy nanny job until even that became depleting, spreading me too thin and just another thing using me up and then I said yes to my family. I would choose them. I would choose balance. I would choose prayer and discernment. I would choose to let God lead.
And I continue to practice listening to the whisper of my soul.
Saying no when I mean no and yes only when I mean it.
It’s been almost 4 years since I graduated.
Many of my fellow graduate peers are knee-deep in success, in their self-made businesses, or traveling the world or making lots of money. And I’m so proud of them. But for me, I needed to put those ambitions to the side and heal my spirit.
I had loved and given to a world who didn’t love me back. I had given myself up on a shiny platter and let this person and that person and this institution and that institution take and take and break and mold me into someone I didn’t recognize, love, or know.
I had paid a fortune to struggle, to squeeze out my authenticity, my voice, the things that made me unique, made me ME. To fit into this box. To be a number. Another expendable playing piece.
Now all I’m trying to do is get back to that girl that I was before the stress, anxieties, this way, not that, “APA format” and institutionalized technicalities.
I want none of that.
I want me.
I want the me that is free.
The me that had everything to give, that the world saw and ate alive.
I want the before me, to give to the people I choose.
To take the lessons and the wisdom I’ve gained to do it right this time.
I’m not automatically peaceful because I’ve been conditioned to survive in a world driven by stress and competition
and I’m relearning how to disconnect from the rat-race.
I’m ready now to do the work intentionally and change.
My go-to is anxiety. To stress. Try to control. To numb myself.
In my lifetime I’ve used noise, alcohol, work, busyness, technology, ANYTHING to stop myself from feeling. From doing the work. From finding the peace within me.
I don’t want to ignore this any longer or accept myself as this version: accept myself as an anxious person.
I want to release this.
I am healing and reprogramming myself. Ignoring past coping mechanisms and lies, and feeding the truth. Feeding my spirit. Inviting Jesus into my heart and world always.
I want peace. I want to change.
And so I’m changing.