By Mahalia O’Brien. Photography By Deun Ivory.
The dust has settled.
The season of gray has almost run its course. I can now more than ever sense a calm hush sweeping through the last bits of heaviness.
On the surface an invitation to slow, to heal, to stay. New life. New Instructions.
The autumn of 2014 was eventful and would alter me to the core. But, it is here that I remind myself that we need imperfection, we need vulnerability, else we would die from the thickness of life’s frailties. When the imperfect human you love, and respect suffers a mental break, spends six days in a psych ward, you’re left to determine what version of the story is okay to tell.
I still had every reason to believe I was up to the job. I had hints, but only signs of an emotional decline I thought was slow-burning, rational, and excusable. But, by its own nature, my silent history with social anxiety, migraines, panic attacks, and depression would shift and rearrange something in me. And when all the ordinary sorrows and failures of our struggles show up all at once, everything seems to hurt. An undoing occurs.
I have tripped and stumbled and fallen before but how do you explain that this was a consequence of life and not vanity? How do you say, to people, that your husband was so sleep-deprived that he finally snapped? How do you explain that this event has also kindled your own unearthing? When human weaknesses are not subtle but direct where do you find the courage to negotiate between what should be kept private or shared publicly? What fears I had I did not share.
I believed without a doubt that I needed to be healthy for my family and falling apart at the seams would have done more harm than good. So, I bottled my feelings, and for an entire year, I struggled to keep these enigmas at bay, even with the aid of prescription medication I could not figure out how to make them stop from gnawing at me on the inside.
I think I always knew how much I needed help but when these impacts on the inner world collide, they obscure the present in a way that the unexpected can always disarm the reach of someone’s hope. And sometimes denial seems to be the best course of action when you must learn to maintain your life, talk to God, buy the milk and punch in forty hours, at which point you're reduced to the most elementary part of being human. Someone who has to survive but is also terrified of flailing.
It would take two years before I could begin to recover from that blow, the shame, embarrassment, abandonment, and resentment I incurred from the events of that year. Meanwhile, it was in the midst of it that where I began to understand better how essential emotional health is. For this same reason I, along with the rest of my household have given ourselves to an in-depth process of growth and the brutal honesty with self that emotional well-being requires. I was also relieved that my husband had fallen off that elusive white horse, then staying astride, pretending to have no weaknesses. Today, he is a better man for it. Today, I have greater respect for him.
I realize this now; I did not know it then, that the rough moments are interspersed with wonder while each progressive miracle gives way to another. I’ve also learned that suffering in silence can be a mean strategist if you allow it to peck away at your life, bit by bit, and I would even come to realize that the bad that does not kill you does not make you stronger, only more authentic.
But inevitably, it is in the gist of things you learn that the moments that punch you in the gut are not meant to take your breath away, they are intended to help you breathe deep and slow so that new life can take shape and form an entirely different story than what you previously expected.
When we take the time to listen to our lives, we find God's still small voice. We also find many shades of strength and much instruction to teach us how to grow gardens in the wildernesses we face. I have seen there’s no wrong or right way to heal. I also know healing is a delicate process. It takes time. Everyone is different when they heal. And no one should be judged or blamed for repairing wrong or too slowly.
I believe healing is a beautiful invitation to make sense of what truly matters in this life, for me that is prioritized value and connection in the relationship I have with myself, a block of time carved out for self-evaluation. The truth is there are a lot of wrong and right ways to add value, and giving yourself the time to heal and grow no matter how long isn’t wrong.
Today, I’m astonished by the human will. It’s resilience and flexibility. When you think about the things we suffer, the circumstances that leave us raw and secondhand, you learn to unclench your fist, let go of the shadow, let the light in and go where your best prayers and meditation take you. Life is not a solitary event. I have had to give in to asking questions while seeking to understand myself, others and the people I love the most. I have had to let go of the past, its mistakes, its glory, and its hurt. And learned a deeper appreciation for self-love and self-care.
A constant reminder to heal forward is the note I wrote to myself during those first few weeks of shifting, it sits over my writing desk, pinned to the wall with a piece of tape, it reads, “One of the things you miss in the wreckage is the shared fact of you.” Instructions to remind me that the story is always about sacrifice. Always about giving of the self. Always about finding and maintaining my pillars of strength, my emotional well-being, and my resilience to still glow up.
Mahalia O’Brien is a writer and creative living in the Palm Beach, FL area with her husband and children. She's a certified speaker and coach, through The Les Brown Coaching and Certification Program, where she also worked as a content editor. As a writer, and freelance editor, her love for writing emerged from a voracious appetite for reading. When she’s not writing, Mahalia speaks and coaches other women in her community through Brawn and Grace, an organization she’s founded. Her lifelong dream is to equip women to excel both in God’s and in their daily lives. She inspires to teach others how to listen to their own lives, to learn and grow from that place, which is the vision that drives Brawn & Grace Women. You can follow Mahalia on Instagram @dearesthali and Facebook @mahaliakobrien.