Christen’s Testimony

Many of you know me from my daily blog & business Blue Egg Brown Nest where I document my process of refinishing vintage pieces of furniture and write about design and decor. I am also a 37 year old mom of three small kids, a wife, a sister and one of the millions of women struggling with depression and functioning anxiety.

I have talked a bit about my therapy, struggles and process of trying to feel, well, good. It is an every day, every minute kind of struggle that never seems to fully move from the center of my mind. I work on it in a very intentional way. I practice thinking about things differently, breathing and trying to carve different loops in my frontal cortex – says my Dear Therapist.

I have struggled with anxiety from the early age of 8 when I used to throw up every day before going to school. I went to a conservative, Christian elementary school where they would tie kids to chairs with duck tape and paddle kids that talked out of turn with a wooden paddle at the front of the class. Hands on the teacher’s desk, bum facing the class. Whap!

My home life was not a safe nest either. I grew up with a mother that did not know how to emotionally meet my needs. I was met daily with a stern face and cold Bible verses. There was an overall sense of disapproval towards me and this resulted in extreme shame, embarrassment and fear. My natural emotions were met with disgust. I tried many ways to navigate my home life and ultimately came to the conclusion of literally locking myself in my room and trying to be a really, really good girl when I had to come downstairs. I learned that I received love when I concerned myself with my mother’s temperament, which was often unpredictable and ranged from anger to excitability – but always in a controlled and serious manner.

My father is the sweetest man alive, but struggles with extreme anxiety and trama from his stressful childhood. I witnessed his anxiety that acted like a vice on his mood and outlook of the future. It made me fearful of my own safety and future and morality.

Volleying between these two dysfunctions, I did my best to navigate life under their roof. It was not until my escape to college and independent living that I realized more and more that something was terribly wrong with the environment I grew up in. I began to pull away when I got married and this resulted in many painful fights with my mother who insisted on trying to control me and my husband. When my first baby was born it was like the world changed from black and white to color. My biggest realization? Tending to the needs of a child is not difficult. Why had it been so hard for my mom? What was so wrong with me that she was so cold and hurtful? Why could she not see me? And was I still going to let her be mean to me as an adult?

I entered therapy once again, this time to focus on the pain of the past and the anxiety & depression that resulted in my present day life. I learned that many of my stories were actually tramas that occurred. My anxiety often manifested in panic, bouts of crying and thoughts of suicide. I went on anti-depressants after my third child.

I have built any safety that I feel all by myself. I fight for this sense of safety every single day. I feel safe with my Dear Husband and with my children. I feel safe in my home and in my bed at night. But, I don’t always feel safe in my own head. I don’t feel safe when I leave my nest and go out into the world. It is work to stay in my own skin; to feel like a whole & worthy person. The fear can be gripping and many days I crash into my bed. I try every day though to feel good.

I don’t expect life to be easy. I know it’s not. I do want to learn how to make being me easier and that means learning….well…a lot. The Safe Nest is as much for me as it is for you. I hope we can find a sense of release as we discuss real life here. There is commonality in our pain and in our quest for health. We are joined by our pain, but can support one another with care and love that can surpass devastation.


Rachel’s Testimony

Little Box

For as long as I can remember, the theme that has run through my head is a paradox—“You’re not enough”—and “you’re too intense (too much).”

It’s hard to know where to start the story that has grown into thousands of stories in my 37 years.  I was always a curious and smart little girl, often preferring to read one book after the next instead of going to sleepovers or playing with Barbies.  I can remember the feeling of loneliness before any other emotion.  I felt constantly criticized by my mother—I was big boned, solid, with a large nose.  My mother also has generalized anxiety mostly related to health, so by the time I was 18, I was convinced I had cancer, HIV, grievous Vitamin D deficiencies, and that doom and gloom was just a part of life, which has contributed to major anxiety.  These types of messages relate to what I still struggle with—body image and control.  I remember around age 20, I realized how powerful I could feel by depriving myself of food and calories and counting the ones I did consume—if I was thin, I was ok.   I was definitely not ok, but the control felt empowering, like I could send my mother and the whole world the message that I was worthy because I was thin.

Worthiness.  Every chapter of my life goes back to this word.  I didn’t feel worthy most of my life to be loved just as I am—I was too loud, too different, some kids even said “weird.”  The first boyfriend I ever had who was older, mysterious, experienced, became the absentee father of my newborn baby boy, born a week after I turned 18, my body shaking as I held him on the curb of the hospital, waiting for my parents to pick me up and take me home.

Living in your parents’ basement with a baby was nothing like the life I imagined.  My girlfriends were off pledging at sorority houses, and I was learning how to breastfeed.  A different kind of lonely was feeling like the whole world was doing what they were supposed to be doing, and I was the one who had screwed up, gotten pregnant at 17 and graduated high school with a pregnant belly pressing up against my graduation gown.

At twenty-four, I married a man with two kids.

I had no idea of all the things a life could hold when I was twenty-four. I just knew I thought I was ready to take it on: marriage, being a step mom, loving my people with everything I had. Looking back, it seems so young and silly, but I know many young and silly twenty-somethings who are still married. Young? Yes. Silly? Maybe.

It’s so much messier trying to date now–it’s like taking lots of different people, the bigs and the littles, with all of their baggage and dysfunction and trying to give it a go. It’s harder, like running a marathon is harder than a jog to the mail box–but just like a marathon you’re much more prepared for it, which makes it easier in some ways. My girlfriends joke that everyone needs a “trial marriage,” but isn’t that what every marriage is?

What might scare me the most, even more than the ebola virus (and that scares the bajeezus out of me)–there is no certain thing–except for God and the smell of newborn babies, which doesn’t really say much about marriage, but it does give me comfort to know there are beautiful and certain things in this world. I’m just not sure marriage is one of them.

It’s funny to me now, the things I vowed and thought I could keep. “I won’t let the sun go down on my anger.” This is lovely in an inspirational Hallmark card kind of way, but so unrealistic. I only went to bed angry a bazillion times (and that’s just counting my first marriage.)

I should tell you now, I almost killed my first husband–if slapping his arm over and over again in my car in the Starbucks parking lot after he told me he cheated on me can count as attempted murder. Lord have mercy if I had something sharp or painful to drive into his cheating lying man parts. Another vow broken: I will be faithful to you, only with you, body, soul, spirit.

Up until that point in my life, including teenage pregnancy and community college night classes with “adult learners,” I had thought I could get through some definite curveballs, some thrown to me on my own and others hurled by life’s circumstances.

Cheating was a different story. It broke something inside me, just for a while, something I had never felt before. It was like all the air had left my chest and I was gasping, choking, on the thoughts that were on a permanent loop–him with her, him with her getting drunk, him with her getting naked. Who texted who first? What did they have for dinner? Were her breasts lovely and perky and the opposite of my own? Of course they were, as I was a milk maiden at the time for our 11 month old daughter, Juliet Rose. Juliet woke up that night, the night I found out, just like every other, wanting to be nursed and held, and as she latched onto me, I remember telling her in my insides, but not aloud, that she should never, ever, be with a man who would sit in a car and have to say those awful words.

The unraveling of a marriage doesn’t happen overnight, or in a car, or because of a new job with attractive co-workers. It is the slow death of something sacred–two words that we never say otherwise–“I do.” A call to action, to doing. One of my favorite authors wrote a book, “Love Does,” and it’s so simple but when I heard it I wanted to shout, “yes yes yes!” Love does, doesn’t it? It does the tireless work of showing up, whether weary or broke or scared. It says YES I’ll be kind and do the right thing even when the wrong thing is easier and quicker and did I mention so, so much easier? It says “I do” uncomfortable and hard things because I love and because love is more important to me than the hurt and shattering of another’s broken heart.

Somewhere after lots of fights and that horrid, awful news of betrayal, the “I do” had turned into “why not” and I’m looking at apartments and going to the doctor to get tested for STDs and looking into plastic surgery to at least fix the breast situation, holding silicone cups up to my bra and asking a doctor meekly if it would help? I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t about my breasts or my exhaustion at caring for a toddler and a baby. I was loveable and worth being faithful to.   It was about him.

I do! I do take this man for all his junk and I will love him up to the best of my ability–which sometimes is weak and little and puny–and sometimes it’s brave and strong and fierce. I do take this man for his insecurities, his lack of motivation, his ever so slight cruelty when things didn’t go his way and he would pout and sulk. I do take this man for his incessant talking and his peeing into a bed pan after knee surgery while binge watching the Sopranos for days on end in a Vicodin induced haziness while I cared for the littles and then my beloved grandpa died and I was sad and cried alone.

But, if it’s late on a dark New York City night, and there’s a pretty and single female co-worker who goes to a party with him, and there’s partying and drinking and pretending, then I just don’t. That’s not about me and my loud laugh and my big nose. That’s about him. It’s freeing and still just a tiny bit depressing, because we all secretly want it to be about us. We want to be so great and so amazing that no one would ever dare chase the path of anyone other than us. Here’s where it gets so tricky for me to wrap my head around–WE ARE SO GREAT AND SO AMAZING…but people are people and they’re far from perfect and sometimes in the moment, a family and a future can fade away and someone else’s flesh and voice and laugh is all that matters. Vows become murky and the right here and right now becomes all about them or him or her–because they’re the ones in the right here and right now–and you’re somewhere far, far away.

Realizing this is a whole game changer. It’s the Ace card on the last hand. It’s easy to miss but it’s there. It’s like the tiny box under the Christmas tree that everyone almost overlooks, but that often has the most special thing inside. It’s the gift of betrayal, a tightly-wrapped little box. Once open, the gift of mercy squeaks “hello” and you know that nothing will ever be the same again.

I don’t claim to know what anyone should do when they feel that same choking and gasping for air. When they feel the life drain out of them and they wonder how something so awful could ever be a gift, a sign of goodness that love and truth are intertwined and that freedom lives with both. I know that for me, cheating and betrayal was the beginning of seeing suffering as more than a gut-punch in the stomach, it was God telling me that sometimes it’s about me and sometimes it’s just not, and all I needed to know was that He loves me no matter how much I think life can’t possibly ever be the same again. Because it can’t.

It can be so much better.

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  1. It is sad to see that so many struggle with self esteem and poor self worth. I know I have battled with it my whole life. Yes, my parents probably played a role. My dad was abandoned by his father when he was 5 months old. His Godly mother raised he and his 4 siblings in a stressful and poor home. My father wanted to be a better father than his so he worked very very hard to provide for me and my 3 siblings. Yes, he provided, yes he stayed with us, he did all those things and they are noble things. Sadly, my dad never spoke my love language. Of the Five Love Languages ( a book by Gary Chapman) I realize my love language is Quality time. My father never spoke my love language…. All I have ever wanted in my life was to feel worthy enough for someone to want to sit down with me one on one and spend quality time. I feel loved when my dear husband chooses to not answer his cell phone while we are on a lunch date because he values our time together. My dad was always so busy and he never has cared to get to know me as a person. My mother was mostly self absorbed except when my older sister needed her, which was pretty much all the time. I felt left out most of the time because my mom was always living her life through my sister. She would get so involved in her life… her new boyfriends, mean girls at school… etc. I often wished I had problems so my mom would come and sit by my bed all day and console me. That rarely happened. I would confront my mother many times about this during my life and there were times she would break down and admit to neglecting me. Unfortunately ,not much changed. I found myself watching her intently while in a room with my sister. She would rarely look at me when we were all in a room having a conversation. I felt invisible.
    My mother passed away recently. We made amends and were very close the last 2 years of her life.
    Unfortunately, I still carry the insecurities from my childhood.
    My father was strict and had a lion personality… He was often critical of my mother. He would comment about her weight and say things like “if you don’t stop eating sweets, your butt will be too wide to walk through the door.” These words hurt me and I believe caused me to have a poor body image. I remember thinking to myself, I will never let that happen to me. I had borderline eating disorders and starting exercising early in life.
    I realize today at 44 that although I have been shaped by my parents, I am now in control of my life. I have learned how I need to be loved and to feel loved. Its a vulnerable state to be in but i have been so blessed to have a husband who understands my love language and wants to speak it to me everyday. We all just want to feel loved in this crazy world.
    I highly recommend the Gary Chapman books. If we learn our loved one’s love languages, we can love our children and spouses the way they need and crave to be loved. I wish my parents had read this book….

  2. Christen,
    Your testimony mirrors mine in many ways. I also relate to your reader Pam because I am also old enough to be your mother. I grew up with a father (your mother) who was never satisfied. I was never good enough. If I made straight A’s there had to be something more. I was nationally ranked in tennis but my rank wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter what I did it was never enough. Unfortunately ridicule wasn’t his only weapon. I had a father who used verbal, mental, and sexual abuse as his weapons of destruction…
    Fast forward many years and after having my first child I reflected on my upbringing and started to question why my mother kept me in such a violent and damaging environment.
    Fast forward many more years of therapy and I made the decision to face the abuse I lived with. In doing so I have been estranged from my parents for over 20 years. This has not been easy and there are many nights when the painful feelings and the feeling of abandonment has been overwhelming and I wonder what the point of all of this is.
    But somewhere through all of this I know that denying the truth is not the right answer.
    I truly believe if we face what we have been through then we can use it for good. If I had a choice would I choose what I have experienced? NO. But I can’t change it and so I use it to protect my own children. My kids are now grown but they never went through what I did and I made sure they were never put in a position where it was even a possibility.
    I didn’t allow them to be around my father because I knew if they were they would be potential prey. Now as grown adults they see him for what he is and appreciate my protection. I truly feel one of our highest callings as parents is to protect our children from anything that can harm their self-worth and make them question whether they are worthy.
    Christen, I am 56 years old and there are times when I feel like a child because of what I have been through. I applaud you for being willing to share your struggles (especially at your age when usually that is the time when we are too concerned with being just a little bit better than your neighbor!). You are worthy and you have so much to give no matter what the negative thoughts you have seem to differ.
    Keep up the good work !


  3. Dear Christen,
    I just “found” you over the summer and can’t get enough of you! Christen, you are beautiful on the inside and out ( and remind me of Reese Witherspoon)! You are to be commended for writing this not only for yourself, but for so many women who face struggles in life.
    I am 12 years older than you, but many people tell me I look like a 35 yr. old. (Bless their little hearts) Unfortunately, due to moderate health problems, I feel as if I am 60. I had severe scoliosis as a young teenager, needed to have a 9 inch metal rod implant and wore a body cast to Jr. High School for 6 months. I also was the
    ” new kid” who moved in during the middle off the school year. My parents were wonderful, but what were they thinking?
    Jump ahead 25 years, I developed moderate to severe Spinal Stenosis and Spondylistlothesis . Somewhere around 2006, something terribly went wrong with my lower back. I was in the most excruciating pain in my life and had difficulty sitting and walking. Every orthopedic and/or neurologist I called had a 6-8 week waiting list for an appointment. I finally found a doctor at a local hospital. After looking at my MRI’s, he delivered the horrific news–I would risk paralysis if surgery was not completed within the next three months! I was devastated; he was a doctor and had to be right! I went into a depression, had anxiety, was in pain and bed ridden. (forgot to mention I started a new job 2 weeks prior to this happening). Six weeks of pure he** and then I had an appointment with an orthopedic who came highly recommended. He set the record straight; no surgery and I will NOT face paralyzation.
    For whatever reason, that anxiety and depression wouldn’t go away. The doctor’s have kept me on the medication and on most days I am just fine! Now, factor in terrible headaches and migraines on a regular basis. Having tried everything the Neurology Clinic for headaches recommended , nothing has helped! This has become debilitating and has affected my quality of life.
    I have been a teacher in NY for 28 years; the high stakes testing and Common Core Curriculum have been devastating to many of us. Unfortunately, this stress has compounded my medical issues. I have tried PT, massage therapy, personal trainer, herbal remedies, yoga, acupuncture, cupping, Botox and see a chiropractor regularly. My dream is to feel healthy, happy and alive again!! I want to stop worrying about so many things, but I can’t. My mind never turns off. Does anyone have suggestions? Thank you

    • Marie,
      I can feel your pain. I have also had multiple health problems for over ten years now. Short version I developed degenerative disk disease a little over ten years ago and after many physicians reviews and prognosis it was determined I would have to have a spinal fusion of two levels, I found out at the same time that I had Melanoma and would have to have it removed. I recovered from both but Being a nurse I was no longer able to lift over 25 lbs so I lost my job. I recovered from both issues and was doing better then was told I had Diabeties. After morning for a year I again picked up the pieces and began exercising and lost 50lbs not only helping my diabeties but I felt better than when I was in my twenties, and my health was better than ever. Then in 2012 I started having extreme fatigue and did not have energy to exercise, when the fatigue became so severe that just getting out of bed was a effort I had to see my physician. I was diagnosed with West Nile. The symptoms of the west nile became overwhelming and I continue to live with the symptoms. At my lowest point I contumplated suicide, I knew this thinking was wrong but I could not control it. Like you I also was having panic attacks, anxiety and severe depression. Thank goodness my counselor picked up on my increased depression and I was hospitalized. My counselor and I believe it was a God thing that my therapist picked up on my deepening depression and that I opened up about it. I recieved the therapy and medication that I needed to help me deal with the depression, migraines, eye pain and extreme fatigue. During this the doctors found that I have three new disk issues that will require surgery and that I have osteoarthritis in my spine and all joints and they are still trying to rule out RA. I continue to be treated for all the symptoms of west Nile that could last my life time.
      Marie I could not have handled all of this without GOD, prayer, my family and the many physicians. If you feel you are overwhelmed I encourage you to seek help, either counsellors, your physicians, Preacher and family. Even though I was thought of as the strongest person in my family I had hit my breaking point.
      My prayers are with you.

  4. Thank you for this website.

  5. Wow, I can certainly relate to this. My mother was a nervous wreck, my father was an alcoholic, five children in our family and the youngest had cerebral palsy and was severely retarded. I learned at an early age to try and earn love, by being “good”, and trying to please everyone. I never felt normal and to this very day, I too struggle with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. I try to work with this every day. I think God has helped me with my constant struggle. I keep working at this every day, hopefully, it will get easier. Thank you for this safe nest. It is a comfort to know I am not alone.

  6. Thank you for opening up about your depression and anxiety. There should not be a stigma attached to any sort of medical condition. You are fortunate to be able to participate in therapy. Imagine how different your story would be if your own mother had been able to receive it? And aren’t our children incredibly lucky that they have us to champion for them? I went to a Catholic school where we were cracked on the heads with huge dictionaries!—can’t imagine why I need a special orthopedic pillow! Carry on!

  7. How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others… But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness.
    Source: M. Scott Peck, “A Different Drum”

  8. Dear Christen,
    I have written to you before about things like this…you know…I’m the one old enough to be your mother; my oldest daughter is 35. I had a childhood that is a mirror image of yours. Emotionally absent mother who actually told me that she never wanted kids, and certainly did not want to be MY mother (my favorite book when I was young was “Are You My Mother?”…hmmm), and an alcoholic, emotionally and physically abusive father. No safety there! Threw up a lot, too, and had an ulcer by the time I was 10. I started therapy at 30, when I realized that there was something definitely wrong with my feelings of anger and rage (fury actually), and that if I ever wanted to feel healthy and have a life, I had to figure it all out. I still have trust issues and feelings of insecurity in certain situations, but God is faithful. One of my favorite verses is “If God is for us, then who can stand against us?” I tend to enjoy being by myself (in a healthy way) while listening to Andrea Bocelli or Celine Dion on my iPhone. Usually in my barn, with my horses. The are so majestic and peaceful. Or watching my VERY entertaining chickens. I no longer feel the need to be better than everyone else in order to feel good about myself. I have learned to love and accept who God has created in His image, and that would be me!! It’s a daily surrendering to Him and knowing how much He loves me. That is where I feel the safest….right in the center of His love for me.
    So…………good job with this blog!! Therapists tell us journaling is a good thing, but this is even better!

  9. Thank you for sharing. Life often looks different on the outside than it really is. By that I mean that you are beautiful and your family is gorgeous and your home is like a showplace. We forget that pain hides inside. We must take it out and look at it in order to overcome. Thank you for creating this wonderful outlet for those of us who need a “safe place” . God bless you.

  10. You are braver and stronger than you think you are. This site alone proves that.

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