I had the awesome honor of witnessing the commencement exercises for an extraordinary group of new graduates this weekend. As I donned my robes, I thought back to the time in my life when I completed my Masters Degree. Due to the circumstances of my life at the time, I made the decision not to walk in my ceremony. I am humbled and amazed by how different that woman was from the person I am today.
Fourteen years ago I was not in a good place. Outwardly, everything probably looked great to the passing observer. However, the reality was that I had lost sight of who I was and what I wanted out of life. It’s easy to do. You listen to the advice of others. You do what makes sense to you at the time. Inch by inch you move away from the things that you love and drift to the “responsible” decisions that come along with being an adult.
Before I knew it I had taken up permanent residence in a backlot existence. My life became a facade of going through the motions. People accessed me when they needed something and then moved on with their lives without a second thought to my well-being. I felt cut off from family and friends. My health took a nosedive. There are very few pictures of me from that period.
I learned how to dress it all up and hide what was really going on with me. I told myself I didn’t have the right to be unhappy. I was educated, married, came from a good family, churchgoing, hardworking and I just needed to suck it up and be content with my life. “Plenty of people have it far worse than you,” I would tell myself. I felt completely and utterly alone without a single person to talk to.
I did what I knew to do. I busied myself with helping others. I swallowed my pain. I thought that if I stopped being “selfish” that somehow God would lift the heavy weight from me. Somehow I rationalized that I was being tested and that I just needed to work harder and then things would get better. My spirit was broken, my mind twisted, and my heart nearly failed me. I had to fight depression on a daily basis.
There were days I came close to losing the battle.
No one was driving down my street to check on me because that’s not how backlots work. I had positioned myself to be distant from the help that was available to me. The scariest thing is that no one else knew. In fact, throughout that entire season of my life people were coming to me for counseling.
The day I moved away from 911 Backlot Avenue I left all of my baggage behind and ran back towards my life. That move was long and tedious. There were people who I had to leave behind. There were disappointments that I had to process. There were dreams I had to let die for the sake of my sanity. That was a turning point in my life that could have gone a very different way but for the grace of God. I still carry the physical reminder of the promise I made that day to honor my calling and never again surrender hope.
I know that I am considered to be one of the “strong people”. I am proud to serve others because it is a part of my calling. I also know that strong people need to be looked after as well.
Please take time periodically to evaluate who the strong people are in your life and check in with them. If you notice that they dodge your questions about how they are doing and you notice that they consistently try to keep the conversation focused on you rather than talk about what’s going on with them, I know from experience that is not a healthy behavior. I am blessed to know a number of amazing, strong people and I want them to remain in my life, so I press them to make sure they are taking care of themselves and being cared for. No one should be abandoned to a backlot existence.
And if you need help moving off that backlot, ask for help. Don’t let fear or shame stop you from getting what you need. We all need help sometime or another.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.