Like most of us, my life has had its ups and downs, starting with my early childhood. I used to joke and say that when my mom gave birth to me, I was already wearing a pair of glasses. The truth is, I can’t remember a time when glasses or contact lenses were not part of my daily attire. Back then, I wore super thick lenses supported by big round frames (aka “coke bottle glasses”), which made me an easy target for bullies. Despite the constant fear of verbal and physical abuse, I never told a soul about what I was going through.
I think I was around 5 years old when I learned my severely compromised vision was a result of being nearsighted, combined with a “wandering” eye, which is also referred to as a “lazy” or “wall eye.” Because of this, I was forced to sit in the first row of the classroom just so I could read the blackboard. Unfortunately, having a front row seat did little to solve my extremely short attention span (which, I’d later find out, was a result of having ADHD).
As the youngest child of an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother, I spent most of my time trying to be invisible. Despite my poor vision and low self-esteem from being bullied and my mother’s constant criticism of my weight, hair, and choice of clothes, I secretly dreamt of working in television either as a writer, producer, or talk show host.
Fast forward to my very first experience working at the local TV station as an intern. While it wasn’t exactly my first choice of internships, I soon discovered that I had found my tribe and purpose in life. The adrenaline of a newsroom and camaraderie of working as a team was nothing like I had ever experienced previously. On my final day at the station, I was overwhelmed with emotion; I walked out of the newsroom sobbing, knowing that I was leaving this group of people who were more like a family to me than my own. They had shown me kindness and respect, and had offered help whenever I needed it. After years of therapy, I learned to accept that just because a parent says something, doesn’t mean it is inherently true.
The first time I voluntarily subjected myself to therapy was in college. To say that it was a waste of time is an understatement. Walking into the therapist’s office for my first session, I was immediately greeted with a smile and directed to sit in a rather uncomfortable chair. What, no couch to lay down on? I thought with surprise, having expected a bespectacled middle-aged academic in a tweed suit taking copious notes while I reveal my deepest secrets from a prone position.
After I took my assigned seat, the therapist looked at me and asked, “what do you want to talk about?” Obligated to say something after several minutes of awkward silence, I started to fabricate a story of a life that wasn’t at all mine. Honestly, I can’t remember what I said during our encounter, and I never went back to that office or therapist again.
Now three decades later, I have worked as a news producer, copywriter, editor, magazine publisher, marketing consultant, and podcast host. I could not have done any of it without the support from my friends, siblings, teachers, therapists, work colleagues, my ex-husband, and even strangers.
One of the greatest gifts I have discovered through it all is self-awareness. It is an ongoing process and requires examining the most painful areas of our life. Some people can do this on their own. For me, it required the help of several psychologists to get me where I needed to be.
Therapy has taught me many things, including that family is not just blood and DNA. We cannot pick our parents, but we can choose to include the people in our life who bring us joy, help us to grow, and support us along life’s often-rocky road. Life is hard – there’s no way around it. Some of us struggle with mild, moderate or severe physical disabilities, while others have invisible scars due to mental illness. There is no quick fix or magic pill to eliminate pain and suffering. The trick is not to remain stuck in the past or blame others for our current situation. We must keep moving forward, taking chances, and not be afraid to ask for help when we need it. In the memorable words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”