I've battled internally about how to tell this part of my story for years. Some might say that it's not imperative for me to tell ALL of my story with the world. That maybe I'm being too transparent. But I think it is important to tell my story, even the seemingly bad or traumatic bits. Because I want people to understand that when I say the things I say, and when I coach the things I coach, and when I do the things I do -- it's because I have experience with it. Firsthand experience.
One of my favorite soap boxes to stand on is, "Your circumstances do not define you." How would I know? I was raised by a loving mom and her parents in a comfortable middle class environment. I went to college and grad school abroad. I've always followed my passions and been supported every step of the way.
When people look at me they see the girl who easily passed all of her classes. They see the girl who never had to put in any effort in school and was always the first to finish her exams. They see the young woman who left home at 17 to go to college a year early. The young woman who was loved on campus by almost everyone she met, and has always been surrounded by phenomenal friendships. The same young woman who moved to Italy at the age of 20 to pursue her passion. That girl who turned into the woman who now boldly steps in the direction of her dreams every day.
But what most people don't see is the reason behind the drive. They don't see that a lot of my actions have happened because I was running from a past that I didn't want to own. They don't see that I could have very easily chosen the victim road. What most people don't know is the other side of my story. The not so glamorous side that began long before I was born.
For so long I have been ashamed. Ashamed that I had a father with serious mental illness. A father that wasn't like the other fathers. With paternal grandparents that weren't like other people's grandparents.
What most people don't see when they look at me is a girl who was kidnapped the day before kindergarten (mind you, this was back in the day before parental rights allowed it to be called "kidnapping" and my mom was told there was nothing the police could do to help). Or the 5-year-old who had to figure out how to feed herself on the weekends of her dad's custody because he was sleeping off his drunk. What they don't see is an 8-year-old girl who walked up to a police chief after sitting in a car next to her father's self-inflicted gunshot wound and demand that he call her mother immediately. What they don't see is the girl who was formally disowned by her grandparents for standing up for her right to change her last name.
And do you know why people don't see this about me? Because I was always fearful that if I told this part of my story, people would feel sorry for me. Which is something I never wanted.
You see, at a very young age I began to take action to make my story different. I made a conscious effort to live outside of the circumstances I faced. What people don't understand is that I am proactive about stepping past my circumstances now because I made it a habit at a very young age.
Don't get me wrong, it could have been VERY easy to play the victim role. It could have been very easy to feel entitled because life didn't go my way. I could have chosen my circumstances. But thankfully I didn't, because my life would have looked very different.
Instead of shrinking, I chose to shine. Instead of backing down, I chose to stand for myself. Instead of backing away from life, I chose to be bold. Instead of blaming others for things that could have held me back, I chose to find my strength and continuously move forward -- on my terms.
What I've realized lately is that by my sweeping these things under the rug, I'm no worse than my grandparents who did the same. The ones who pretended there was nothing wrong with my father. The ones who refused to get him help or go see him when he was hospitalized from yet another suicide attempt. And that by doing this, I'm unconsciously letting my circumstances define me.
So, please remember that when I say, "Don't let your circumstances define you," it's not from a place of vanity. Or judgement. Or from a pedestal. I say these things to spark in people the understanding that they're not alone. The idea that if I did it, you can too.
And the reminder that regardless of whatever you're facing in your life right now, there is only one person that can change it. Only you have the power to create a new story for yourself.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.