I remember a moment, very clearly, back when I was in college when it suddenly hit me I needed to do some serious work on myself—mentally, emotionally and spiritually. College was just the beginning. Graduation, still a year or so away, meant growing up.

Though I don’t remember what caused the thought, I remember where I was when it struck me: In front of my dormitory window, looking out across to another dorm. I also recall I was folding laundry. The light was soft and diffused; bright sunlight trying to push through pewtery clouds. I had on a white t-shirt, jeans, and my feet were bare.

There was no underlying unhappiness or fear that prompted the thought. No sense of an off-track life. Only that the understanding came with the forceful truth and clarity of a balloon popping open my head.

However, that wasn’t the moment when I began focusing on those changes.

Rather, that moment merely generated understanding. The actual journey didn’t begin until about four years later.

That’s when I landed in a very unhealthy, controlling, verbally-abusive relationship. I felt erased. Eradicated. Severely depressed. Everything felt formless and directionless. I was severely overweight.

When I finally extricated myself from that relationship, two very distinct sensations opened within me.

One was enormous relief. The other was that I was now a balloon, floating higher and higher, no longer tethered. I was on my own…and this was a good thing. (Additionally, I was unemployed at the time, and that furthered the sensation.)

I wasn’t scared. Not exactly. Because a part of me understood I was safe and right where I needed to be. (Yes, those personal growth cliches can and do ring true.)

Sure, I was uncertain. Even very much so, but I was all right with that.

Then, one morning,

One morning, I woke up with a line bumping around in my head: Sooty clouds dripped against the pewter sky

An opening line to a poem, perhaps. Instead, it became part of the opening line to what I thought was a short story. What it became was my first novel, Backbeat.

Through all of that, through my writing, I began rebuilding myself.

I discovered who I actually was and wanted to be, rather than relying on what other people thought I should be.

There were nights I went to bed sobbing myself to sleep. I didn’t know why…only that, for whatever reason, my characters were leading me into healing. The pain was life rushing back into parts of me that had been numb for a very long time. I welcomed it.

As I came out the other side of my catharsis, I became life coach for a very successful personal growth company. Not only was I in an environment that encouraged me to continue all those discoveries, it supported that growth.

Plus, I got to help people discover their own new paths!

Then, in 2013, I began writing my second novel,  Coming Home. The book started as a tale of how a young woman from Kansas came to live in Oregon. Eventually, however, it became an exploration, a reflection, on how crucial it is to not only have dreams, but to pursue them. And how, if we don’t, we find ourselves caught in a spiral of despair and depression.

And that led me to begin confronting how a part of me still looked at the depression I struggled with from time to time as a weakness. A source of shame.

But, through my characters, I finally come to terms with my own depression. And so, as with Backbeat, Coming Home, also became a source of catharsis and healing.

So I get it.

I get how hard it is to recognize when change is needed and how to start. Even to ask for help in doing so. 

It can be a lonely process. Not only are you rediscovering yourself, sometimes you’re also dealing with people who don’t support you. Perhaps to the point of trying to sabotage your efforts.

I get the frustration of feeling like you’re getting nowhere, despite the long, hard effort of making new changes. How, over time, pursuing (even having) dreams and goals seems useless. The easiness of thinking having dreams is for someone else.

But I’ve learned that kind of thinking is how my mind tries to convince me to stay with the easier status quo. Usually because I’m taking steps that are too big, forcing me to return to the beginning of a lesson an start over. And so what I’ve learned my mind is actually trying to tell me is that it’s through small change that I generate the life long results I want.

That’s what I want to pass on to you.

Recently, I’ve been presented with a new challenge to work with, mentally, emotionally and physically.

I thought, for a long time, what I was feeling were symptoms of stress (continual tiredness that bordered on exhaustion, bouts of insomnia, a growing malaise, moments of dizziness if I moved too fast, forgetfulness that was growing beyond simply having an actively busy and creative mind that could get ahead of itself).But none of the usual ways I have of dealing with it helped. I found it harder and harder to meditate. Exercise, even walks and yoga, became harder to do because I felt so tired afterwards.

And then I came down with the worst flu I’ve had in many, many years. When the major symptoms abated and I was left with post-flu fatigue (which is common), I began noticing that it wasn’t abating. At all. If anything, the fatigue was worsening, and as the fatigue worsened, so did all the symptoms.

Now, in addition to everything else, I was achy all the time. My elbows and knees would ache randomly and I’d get sudden headaches that would vanish just as quickly as they appeared. All the symptoms I assumed were off-shoots of stress were worse. I’d go for a 30-minute walk or ride on a stationery bike and need to recover for 1-2 days because I was so flattened with outright exhaustion.

Additionally, the panic and anxiety attacks returned in full force, exploding me awake at 3 am.

I thought all of what I was experiencing was entirely in my head.

That I just had to snap out of it, get my mind off thinking, “Something’s wrong with me!” because that was just focusing on a problem, focusing on what I didn’t want. I needed to get my thinking turned around to focusing on a solution and what I wanted.

But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking, Something’s wrong with me. And then I realized it wasn’t thinking trapped helplessness. Something really was wrong with me.

Finally, I went to see my doctor, and it turns out it wasn’t just stress and problem-focused thinking. My intuition was correct. Something was indeed “wrong” (as in not healthy) with me. It turns out I have CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome.)

It’s a relief to have a name to put to what’s going on, and to finally have an action plan to put into place for healing and to learn how to manage my life in a way to support myself and return to living how I want. It will be different, and I’ll have to learn some things again from the ground up (like training and exercise), but that’s all right.

I may have CFS, but I am not CFS. Meaning: It’s a condition I have, but I am not the condition. It may sometimes have the upper hand, but my mental framework has a lot to do with how I actually feel in any given moment. Success is 20% effort and 80% our mental outlook. I can still live a fulfilling life. I simply have to make some adjustments, mentally, emotionally and physically.

So, as I said above, I get it.

I want you to not only find ways to make things easier for yourself, but have someone you can rely on for support in this process.

I’ve walked that long, dark path.

And I’m here to walk beside you with a lantern as you.