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Looking in the Mirror    

Looking in the Mirror

Art by FISK

By Weslie Christensen

I woke up that particular morning that changed it all for me feeling super excited. It was the day I would finally be getting what felt like multiple feet of gauze shoved up my nasal cavity taken out, and the cast that was perfectly sculpted around my new nose off. It had been a week since my septorhinoplasty surgery was done and I was more than ready to move on with life and heal  because I had things to do and people who depended on me. I was a young mother to three beautiful children and my youngest was only 7 weeks old at that time.

When I met my insurance deductible with the birth of my third (and final!) child I thought it would be fitting to get all the other medical “necessities” in before the end of the year.

But, looking back, this was a ludicrous decision. One, because it wasn’t necessary, not at all, and two, our life was in shambles. 

At the time my husband’s health was rapidly declining while he was working two full-time jobs, one during the day and the other at night to support our growing family. My oldest daughter was experiencing debilitating anxiety after yet another move to a new state, and our middle child was in the throes of life threatening asthma attacks we couldn’t seem to get under control. Plus, I had just given birth to another baby, remember? 

I was only 26 years old. 

They say hindsight is 20/20, and damn, whoever “they” are was right. Looking back, it is so crystal clear to me how I walked straight into my rock bottom obliviously that day at the doctor's office, while they were unpacking my sinuses and de-casting my nose.

Rock bottoms can be tricky because they’re different for everyone. For many people, it’s the end of a relationship, a career, the death of a loved one, or maybe even a relapse. Truthfully though, for years I was actually ashamed of what caused mine, because it was like my rock bottom was the perfect concoction of 26 years of unknowingly living in survival mode, mixed with a lot of desperation, an enormous amount of insecurity, people pleasing, and a couple years of sleep deprivation-. Top that off with a face altering surgery and postpartum depression as a garnish and BAM, it hit. 

They took the cast off that day in the doctor's office and handed me the mirror.  When I looked into it I didn’t recognize myself. At all. 

I could see my hair and my eyes, but my face wasn’t mine anymore. I remember frantically  looking around the room and realizing no one else around me was freaking out. Not my husband, the nurse, or the doctor who was actually gasping in awe of how beautiful I looked. I couldn’t understand it, why weren’t they freaking out?! Because what I was seeing was a monster looking back at me. 

It was the only time in my life I actually felt the blood drain from my face and hands. My stomach knotted and churned in response to the signals my brain was sending. 

THIS IS NOT ME.

When I looked into the mirror what I saw looked similar to a melting face that somehow morphed into a creepy character from Beetlejuice.  Just as the Beetlejuice creature would become clear the image would somehow shapeshift, yet again, into a lion looking thing that no one else was seeing. What was happening to me wasn’t real to anyone else, except for me.  

Weeks went on and after a call from the in-office therapist, my nerves were calmed a bit. They told me that swelling in the face can make the brains of highly sensitive people trick them into seeing something that is not there, but just for a bit. I was told not to worry and that as the swelling naturally went down, I should expect the pictures that my mind was making up when I looked in the mirror to go away, too. 

Nine months passed and all the swelling dissipated, yet the pictures still remained. I found myself in the throes of the most intense body dysmorphic disorder accompanied by crippling anxiety and the deepest depression I’ve ever known. 

At the time, I didn’t know that I was experiencing an intense case of body dysmorphic disorder. I just thought I went crazy. I was sure of it, actually. So sure of it, that I stopped talking about all of it to anyone because I was positive that if anyone knew how bad it was I would be taken from kids. Considered unfit to be their mother. 

So, I suffered in silence. And because I felt it was unsafe to speak a word of this to anyone in my family, or even a therapist, I decided I didn’t have a choice but to try to heal myself. I started researching every nook and cranny on the internet for stories like mine and came up with nothing… until I found a girl that correlated her anxiety and depression to her unhealed childhood wounds. I scoffed a bit, quickly exiting that page, but that night I started thinking there could be something there about unhealed stuff from the past... 

The next day I woke up and decided to make a list of every bad thing that had ever happened to me and how I recovered from it. Much to my surprise, there were no recoveries from any of the “bad things.” Not one! A bad or hard thing would happen, and then my family and I would simply move, or change schools, or brush stuff under the rug. That’s how I dealt with things. 

I was astonished, realizing that I never once in my life gave myself space to heal from any hurtful or hard event. I never properly dealt with any of it, and I wasn’t even aware of it. No wonder I was in such an extreme state of despair.

But something clicked in that moment for me after making the list, and this kicked off a three-year deeply profound and healing spiritual awakening. 

As I started unpacking my old childhood wounds, I naturally began examining, then re-defining, my belief system. It became abundantly clear to me that I hadn’t chosen one single event in my entire life, instead life just happened to me. I was the forever passenger and never in the driver’s seat of my own life. I comfortably let others control or decide my every move.

The miraculous thing about this was that as I started to dig deep and re-parent/love my younger self, my body dysmorphic disorder started going away on its own. As I addressed the matters of my heart and soul,  and then tweaked the un-true beliefs I held in my mind, the anxiety and depression started to leave, too. 

It’s only now, 7 years later, that I can look back and see the enormity of what I took on all by myself. If I could do it over, I would have been in therapy from day one of my rock bottom, but I didn’t know what I know now, and that is the power of prioritizing our mental health. 

Our mental health has the ability to actually change the way we see things, feel things, or experience things. It’s the lens in which we view the world. It is single handedly the most important part of my day to day life now. I check in with myself hourly every day. I take time for myself, meditate daily, and am extremely honest about my mental state with myself and others at all times. I set boundaries. I am the driver of my life, and I always will be.

My rock bottom turned out to be more of a springboard, because a low like that can actually propel you forward if you’re willing to expend the energy necessary to jump back up. 

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.