It started in childhood. Older members of my family wanted me to become a nurse, so that was what I said I wanted to be when I grew up, even though I actually yearned to be a teacher. I joined a candy striper program in high school and hated every minute of it. Some weeks I would sign in, then spend my shift hiding in the restroom until it was time to sign out.
I received a full scholarship to nursing school and forced myself to endure the first quarter of the program. I even made it through one week of the second quarter before reaching my breaking point. One evening I wrote a short note, swallowed an entire bottle of Tylenol tablets, and went to bed, thinking it was the only way I could escape from my hopeless situation. Fortunately, I was rescued before it was too late and somehow found the courage to tell my mother I was going to pursue a career in education rather than nursing.
My first marriage came about because I was pregnant and it was "the right thing to do." I put up with a variety of bad behaviors from my husband because I was trying to avoid conflict and keep my family together. I nearly had a nervous breakdown during my second pregnancy because it was such a difficult time, and I had to go through most of it on my own--even more so emotionally than physically--while living in a foreign country and also trying to care for a three-year-old. Once again, I reached my breaking point, shortly after the birth of our second child, and I walked away from the marriage. There was no way we could fix it, yet I still felt guilty for letting everyone else down, regardless of how much better it made me feel.
In my second marriage, I spent years putting up with emotional and physical abuse, hiding it from my family and friends, thinking I somehow deserved it. I told myself that if I were a better wife, then it wouldn't be happening. Yet, no matter how much I changed, trying to make him happy, it was never good enough.
I can't count the number of other times I've given up plans of my own, shelved dreams and hopes, or even gone so far as trying to be someone I'm not, just so the people who matter to me can have the life I think they deserve or at least some temporary happiness. Yet, every time I do those things, I build up a little more resentment and eventually I come again to a breaking point where I have to let it all out, or walk away, or find a way to restore some balance.
In 2014, I read EAT PRAY LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert and found several passages that resonated with me. These words were most important:
When you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt.
In the months after reading that book, I definitely began to grab onto happiness, holding on tight...and it's begun to lift me from the dirt. For a while, I felt I had lived the best part of my life and that all I had to look forward to was just getting by--that being "sort of happy" was all I deserved. Now I know better. I am happy...truly happy...and it makes a difference not only in the way I look at life, but also in the way other people look at me. At a recent family reunion, we were watching a video from 1995, and one of my aunts remarked I still look the same, only happier.
I'm still a work in progress, but the goal is to stop trying to please other people with every decision I make, and to start making decisions that make me happy, that bring me closer to the life I've always imagined was right for me. It's a one day at a time struggle, but it becomes less of a struggle every day.