My Story… So Far

Allowing myself to be my authentic self was terrifying, yet liberating and rewarding. At the same time, it was, and continues to be, incredibly difficult. Why? Because (a), I’ve never had to do it before, (b) I had no idea how to do it, and (c) I had no idea who I actually was. The whole endeavour seemed very risky. I was going to have to be vulnerable. Exposed.

I started going to therapy around my fiftieth birthday. Leading up to this landmark birthday, my dad was exhorting me to hang onto my wicket. To just reach 50 (it’s a cricketing thing). This was during a time that a number of well-known retired athletes, the same age as me, men who were supposedly fit and healthy, started dropping dead. I was neither fit, nor healthy. I was morbidly obese. I don’t know what my highest weight was, but it was around double my normal weight. Needless to say, I had very limited mobility, and almost no quality of life. I was on two medications for diabetes, as well as the anti-depressant Welbutrin.

I had a long history of ignoring my body and its needs, rather expending every ounce of energy on making sure that I was the best employee ever! Because people respected that. They praised me for that and it validated me. My lack of quality of life? Not a problem. I would work, go home and abandon myself in my current obsession – fantasy novels, Game of Thrones, romance books, puzzles, Sudoku, reaction videos on YouTube (yes, I was watching other people watch stuff – talk about checking out of your own life!). I had no social life and no interest in my environment. I seldom saw my family, because I was so exhausted, and the prospect of driving for an hour, spending time with them, and driving back was just too much.

Anyway, there I was at fifty, still in dubious possession of my wicket, amid the rubble and devastation of a life I felt I had completely wasted, failed at, and ruined. The voice in my head kept asking Now what? Against all odds I was still here. So, I found a therapist. The right therapist. Full disclosure, I’d been to therapy before. It never stuck. Probably because I didn’t want to do the work myself. I didn’t really want to face my demons. I wanted someone to fix me. And it just doesn’t work that way. I was lucky. I found the right person at the right time. Jonathan is great. He saved my life. I don’t think I’d ever cried as much as I did during the first six months of therapy.

Then the wolves came pandemic hit. Here in South Africa we were told that lock-down would last for three weeks. I was kind of looking forward to lounging around at home; it was after all my favourite thing to do. I absolutely did not expect the level of anxiety I experienced at the time. I completely lost my ability to concentrate and focus. Of course, the lock-down continued for months and I had to do a financial year end on my own from my couch. I was one of the first people back at work, but my whole team had been reassigned, so I continued to work on my own. The payroll administrator left the company, and payroll became part of my duties too, followed shortly by a round of retrenchments, where all the admin, and heartache, fell to me. I got prescribed an additional anti-depressant, and stronger diabetes drugs. But I wasn’t doing well. Then I had a very scary panic attack at work. My bosses were sympathetic but unable to offer any viable solutions. I struggled on, but I felt that I was slowly killing myself. My therapist mentioned that I may have to be hospitalised for occupational burnout and severe depression. I opted to leave the job I’d excelled at for 11 years and the company I’d worked at for 18 years. It was one of the bravest things I’d ever done.

People were shocked at my decision. What are you going to do? How will you find another job in these times? I told them that my first priority was to get well. I likened it to being in a deep hole. I had to get out of the hole first before I could start contemplating what lay beyond the horizon. For the first six months I just wound down. Let go. Detoxed. I wasn’t doing anything healthy yet, but I was learning to relax. Of course, I was still going to therapy and we made some real progress during that time. In one of our sessions I mentioned a friend I had lost contact with 8 years before. He encouraged me to reach out to her, which I did. I went for a visit – she lived about 2 hours away. During the visit, she persuaded me to move to her tiny town and start my own bookkeeping business. Six weeks later I left Cape Town and arrived on the West Coast with all my worldly goods. Another incredibly brave thing to do.

Thus began a period of growth and happiness. I should mention that my friend (L) and her significant other are very self-aware, evolved, and encouraging. I was still doing therapy via Zoom, but I was also learning more about myself by being around people who love me unconditionally. I spent time outside, and I was losing weight. I weaned myself off my anti-depressants, and by the end of November I went off all my other medications, including the diabetes drugs.

Unfortunately, I was still not taking enough responsibility for my life and outcomes to succeed in my business. By the end of November 2023 I had run out of money. That was the absolute lowest point ever. I felt like such a failure. I had to sell my car to survive. It took me the whole of December to get over the shock, pain and regret, but by January I was in a completely different mindset. The lowest point ever became a springboard to launch me into the next phase of my life. I started a whole host of healthy (both physical and mental) habits. I knew that I would have to leave to find another job in my field of expertise and I wanted to prepare myself in every possible way. I managed to attract a 3 month contract in a very prestigious hotel in Johannesburg. It was hard, for a lot of reasons, and I found myself getting stressed all over again. So I engaged a life coach. Best decision ever!

I’m back on the West Coast now, preparing for the next opportunity to present itself. But I want to share the habits, strategies, changes and inspiration that got me to this point in my life. I’ve overcome trauma, anxiety, binge-eating disorder, two failed marriages, infertility, inadequacy, self-doubt, depression, diabetes, IBS, obesity, disability, lack of self-esteem, obsessive behaviours, nicotine addiction, poor impulse control, resentment, rejection, people-pleasing, an inability to speak up for myself, victim mentality, self-pity, perfectionism, and the need for external validation. It hasn’t been easy. It sure as hell didn’t happen overnight. I still sometimes slip back into an old knee-jerk reaction, or a bout of fear and self-doubt, but I catch myself, and can course-correct. These are all learned skills. I’m not done, of course. There is so much more to learn and I find myself contemplating complete shifts in direction. Whatever I do, I will do it with intention and conviction. I’m worth it!