Do you know those things that make you sweat? The things that make you feel anxious? The ones that make you want to apologize when you didn’t even do anything wrong? Well, that is how I feel when it comes to verbal communication.
Communication has never been a strength of mine. Well, let me rephrase that–verbally communicating how I feel and what I need has never been easy for me. My brain was wired to devalue my feelings and needs and overvalue another. It was a learned behavior that I needed to learn how to harness.
Courage to Communicate
I remember distinctly the first time I verbally voiced what I needed to my husband.
My husband and I were sitting on the couch one night after he had gotten home from work. I knew that walking, yoga and physical activity helped me manage my anxiety and could feel my anxiety slowly creeping up. I wanted to go for a walk by myself to breathe, take a time out from the kids, and relax. However, with two small kids at home and a husband that was working a very physical job, I felt that his happiness and relaxation were more important than mine. Asking for a “break” made me feel guilty.
However, at that moment, I knew exactly what I needed and I needed it so badly I had no choice. I swallowed my fear and verbally communicated to my husband that I needed to go for a walk. I paused. And waited. Brian, my husband, said, “Go, hun. I’m good” without flinching. I felt an immediate sense of relief at that moment.
This may not seem like a big deal to some but for me, it was a milestone. That moment where I voiced my needs and wants set a solid foundation for my future. Today, I am able to voice bigger things like my views on parenting, life, and business. It’s also led me to now be able to agree to disagree, be okay with someone not liking what I have to say, and setting time for myself and not feel like I have to ask for permission.
Learning How to Listen
About ten years into recovery, I discovered that I didn’t know how to effectively communicate. I also learned that how well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationships with others.
I didn’t know how to listen. I was continually projecting what I thought others were thinking and saying before they even finished talking. With that, I was actually preparing for a rebuttal and would instantly shut down or bark back the moment I would receive a response that I didn’t like.
I had to relearn how to listen.
Even though listening may ‘sound’ easy, listening well is a gift that not everyone has. Improving your ability to listen well will enable you to assess situations with more clarity and gain insight into other people, their opinions and the overall circumstances of an event. Listening well can prevent you from misreading a situation and making mistakes –like I was doing.
Make Your Voice Heard
I decided somewhere along my journey, with the help of the yoga I know, meditation, and fully embracing the love of those around me to press on. To keep voicing up. To keep asking those uncomfortable questions. To say what I need to say.
Speak up, friend. You deserve to speak. You have something valuable to say and your voice matters.
And each time it will only get better. Each time you voice up and choose to communicate instead of hold it in, you will get better at it. Each time you ask that uncomfortable question it feels less uncomfortable. Each time you will get more precise at what you need to say and how you need to say it.
Work in Progress
I have learned time and time again in life and business that it is MY responsibility to ask questions, inquire, and do research if needed. This practice, in a sense, is putting myself first, and at the same time putting the other person first as well, because now communication is open. My advice, start with safe people. Start in safe environments and with small less scary things to communicate. For me, it was wanting to go for a walk. For you it may be voicing that you want Mexican food tonight instead of just saying “I don’t care”.
Full disclosure, doing these things is super hard for me. Still, I’ve discovered that time and time again; I am continually putting others’ well-being, happiness, comfort, and satisfaction above mine. And I am so grateful I have developed an ever-growing toolbox to help me build up these muscles in my life and business.
Let me help you get rid of stress so you can press on to the next phase of your life.
Check out my blog: 3 Yoga Poses to Banish Stress Instantly
I didn’t want to write this blog post. Not one bit. But I felt I needed to share some insight from someone who has struggled with mental health for most of her life.
If you could only see the look on my face right now, you would wonder what gives? What’s the deal? Why is it so hard to say that?
I do not accept this as my bill of health, or that this is my end game. I have mood swings, I have highs and lows, I have anxiety. Sometimes I don’t sleep well. For most of my life, I expressed my feelings by self-harming.
Does any person ever really want to say something like that to anyone, let alone the entire world?
The truth is, writing those words makes me feel broken. Like a young lamb incapable of fending for herself. And if you have ever met me in person, you would say emphatically that I am anything but an incapable little lamb.
But that’s just it.
Mental illness (there it is again, that pit in my stomach when I refer to myself with those words) is real and it’s not verbiage I like to throw around lightly. Why? Because I do not believe I am a victim of anything, and I do believe that I can live a happy life. I know I can. Because 98% of the time I am.
Maybe the cards were kind of stacked against me.
My father is one of the most hardworking men I have EVER met in my entire life. Someone who has done and seen things in his lifetime NO ONE would EVER choose to do or see. But there he was. And in some ways, he is my hero. In other ways…well, it’s complicated. But like me, he has had his own demons to face in this lifetime. I am pretty certain if I would even whisper “mental health” to him, the hairs on his back would stand up like a dog ready to attack.
As for me, I’m pretty sure I was in the boat before I even knew it. But in 1996, (I was 12 by the way) who was talking about mental health? Unless you were a PhD attending elite conferences far away from my Wisconsin hometown, you didn’t even know that existed. People with mental health issues lived in institutions with padded walls and were drugged to the point of walking zombies, right?
And I say that with slight humor, but that is my cover for the complete discomfort I still feel when I categorize myself as someone with mental health issues.
I wish I knew then, what I know now. Things may have been different.
I wish my parents would have been more comfortable and knowledgeable with dealing with a child with addiction, depression, and anxiety. But then they would had to have been more comfortable with their own confrontations with it as well.
I wish I would have understood more about what was going on inside me when I was 12, 14, 18. All the while, feeling alone, embarrassed, and judged.
But truly, I don’t want to change any of it. It’s my life. My story.
And maybe it doesn’t bother me quite as much as it used to because I’ve survived. I decided long ago to fight. To not just mask the issues, but uncover them, and start dealing with them.
I was chemically imbalanced and a holistic nutritionist helped me with that. I was low in just about every single vital nutrient, thanks to an eating disorder, and I got help.
I ate my feelings for more than a decade, and I got help with that.
Talking about my feelings, expressing my feelings, or just feeling anything was scary to me. And I got help with that.
I lost a friend two years ago who she struggled with mental health as well. Something she said to me years before has always stuck with me. “Hope, I can’t go get help, because it will be in my file, and I might then lose my job”. Be that true or not. It was true to her. And as a result, she didn’t feel she could get the help she needed when she wanted… she passed from drug-use two years ago.
What if she had felt comfortable enough to get help?
What if she had felt safe enough to share her struggles?
What if she would have felt mental health was as easy to care for as a broken bone? Or as accepted as seeking cancer treatment?
I will never know that answer.
But I do know help is available. And it is VITAL. Let me say that again. It is VITAL that you reach out. Those uncomfortable feelings you feel just thinking about reaching out won’t last.
See your mental health as a priority. Not as a silly stigma.
Talk to your partner about your struggles. Let them in. Do not be embarrassed about seeking out a therapist. Everyone can benefit from an outside perspective and sound advice.
Support others on their journey. They may not be ready to talk about their struggles or concerns with you. And they may never be, but support them by simply holding a space of safety for them by learning what the warning signs are that they may be struggling. By giving them room to breathe and letting them know you are there with a card, a text, or a call.
And if you are feeling like you need the care yourself, then do not hesitate. The world needs you. You have something amazing to offer and this one moment is a part of that amazing journey unfolding.
We all have to take care of our health: physically, emotionally and mentally. And let this be a gentle reminder that there is help out there. I’m living proof it works.
For More Information about Mental Health, check out these articles:
Mental Health and Parenting: What No One is Talking About
6 Simple Self-Help & Recovery Tips for an Eating Disorder
Mindful Ways to Reduce Stress
Ground Yourself by Coming Into Your Root Chakra
This was originally published for Thrive Global on May 28, 2019.