Nya Abernathy on Being a People Pleasing Perfectionist that is Scared to Make God Mad

What do you do when you've hit rock bottom? Is it possible to pull yourself out of despair when you are in serious need of healing plus have people pleasing tendencies, are afraid that God is angry with you all the time and are working a job that you wish would just blow up so you no longer have to go?  

Today I am exploring all of this with my guest, Nya Abernathy.  Nya is a married mom of (soon to be) two based out of Atlanta.  Her business, The Dignity Effect,  explores and teaches healing and self-care with grace and bravery.  Click below to listen or scroll down to check out the show notes.  

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Bre: I was drawn to your story because you mentioned that think in your early 20s you experienced like a sort of breakdown. And that's what started you on your way to like your mental health and dignity journey. Can you back up to your 20s and just kind of tell us what was going on, going on excuse me around that time. And what led you to start that mental health and dignity journey.

Nya: It was senior year in college, and I was dealing with the prospect of an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, legalism and probably some undiagnosed mild OCD. And it all kind of came together at once, and I hit rock bottom.  People would would notice something was going on and help but I was in a fog.  I think I had lost like 20 or 30 pounds in like three or four weeks.  I was questioning my relationship with God at levels where I was, I don't want to say out of my mind, but that's kind of the only way I can describe it.

I think one of the things that happened is I was physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally exhausted because there had been a build up for four years, up to this point, and I was just exhausted. Things were getting mildly better, but I hadn't really committed to do some of the work that I needed to care for myself.  I'd done some things but I was still feeling turmoil on the inside. 

And I remember having this overwhelming feeling of anger at myself, to the point where I for the first time wanted to harm myself because I was so angry that I had done something wrong.  And so at that point, I said "okay I'm going to go ahead and go to a therapist, and there we talked about medication plus there were some other steps that were taken. 

Part of my barrier was getting there.  I think in a lot of faith communities and especially in a lot of black faith communities, mental health and mental illness isn't really a thing. I think it's changing now. But this was 10-12 years ago so it was like "You're not praying enough, and not believing enough. If you were just doing more of the good stuff you wouldn't be going through this." 

On top of that, I was kind of shut down to the vulnerability and authenticity that is required to reach out during those times and say I really do need help.  And I also didn't really feel like I was worth it so I was struggling with perfectionism and legalism.

 Bre: What is "legalism?"

Nya: It's basically when you are approaching faith by the letter and there's no relationship, just that I need to do everything "right." And usually it's not just the things that are in the Bible it's also the things that people have said you need to do. So I was getting a lot of information or a lot of opinions about how to be the best Christian and if you take what everybody is telling you to do and try, you're not going to do it, it's impossible. 

Bre: What, what kinds of things what kinds of things helped you to move towards your place of healing?

Nya:  So, I will say that therapy was a good thing to start. And I didn't always have a therapist.  Finding a therapist can be a journey in itself.  One of the first therapists I had was always late to our appointments.  I didn't have a car I was taking two buses and a train to get there.  And I'd get there and the door would be locked or I'd have to sit outside waiting.  I didn't have the ego strength to be like "hey, I'm not okay with this, like you're making me feel unimportant. This is making me feel like I'm a burden to you."

Bre: You couldn't express your emotions about the fact that you were pissed off or outwardly express your feelings, and address the situation. 

Nya: Yeah. And then it just petrifies and that anger comes out someplace else because it's piled up.  There were places on my journey where I could say that it continued to increase but I had to start learning to be authentic with people that I knew loved me and receive whatever they said. So if I would say, "I had this thought today that really scared me",  what I would expect people to say is "I knew you were terrible."  I had to allow people to say "Let's talk about this and I'm so sorry that happened and how can I help?" That's what I needed.  I had to allow people to do that and it was of scary I was expecting to be shut down and discarded. 

Nya: Journaling was also a huge help.  I have journals from 15 years ago. My first journal entry was from 2001.  Another thing that helped was baking and cooking for others.  During that time I got very isolated and would think about myself a lot. Part of it was I gotta read and pray because I'm so terrible on the inside so feeding and cooking for others helped me move out of that space. It helped me get out of my head, it helped me connect and create in ways that brought me joy in life.

The other thing I did was, I listened to a different style of inspirational music besides regular GospeI.  Music from Ginny Owens, a blind songwriter and Bebo Norman, who is now retired.

Bre: So let's fast forward a little bit.  You're healing, you're journaling you're going to therapy, opening your heart, and serving people which probably helped you even more.

Nya:  In 2010 I was at a job that I cried at most days and felt so overwhelmed.  I knew what my capabilities were but even then I was still doing some people pleasing  And so with this job I was like "I don't want to be here."  My co-workers and I would go in one of our offices, close the door and be like "Maybe this place will burn down when it's closed."

Bre:  The good old "building burning down fantasy."  Man have I had one or 1000 of those!  NOT with someone getting hurt or being caught in the building, but just over the weekend, you know, there was some kind of natural disaster that demolishes it.  

Nya: Needless to say I ended up quitting my job and moving back to Atlanta, where most of my family is.  This was a huge decision.  I prayed to God that he would show me if moving from Philly was the right thing to do.  During this time I ended up seeing a ton of cars on the road with Georgia license plates and that was my sign. 

Bre: I think we get caught in a snare where our mind starts freaking out anytime you want to move forward, leave or change.  Even if you want to start wearing your hair slightly different than you did for the last year.  Your mind starts flashing all these red lights which is supposed to be protection. Once you move past that, on the other side, it's just more than you could have ever even thought was possible or it's just another level to to your life that you would have never gotten to you had you stayed stagnant.

Nya:  What is the thing that says "Everything you want is on the other side of fear?"  That's a true statement.  And it's not about not feeling the fear, it's about recognizing it and confirming that it's valid.  And, if it's not then say "Thanks fear. I'm going to do it anyway."

There's a podcast I listen to now, "I'm terrible thanks for asking."  And they're rehashing terrible things about life or being worried about things that could happen. Towards the end she challenges herself and her friends, instead of saying "What's the worst thing that could happen?" asking yourself, "What's the best thing that could happen?" Blew my mind.

Bre: What would be maybe one or two takeaways you can give someone that's listening in regards to how you're honoring yourself and taking time for self care?

Nya:  Delegating to my husband.  I have learned to lean on him and to trust him and that has definitely been a process. Both of us have had to change, learn, adjust and compromise.

Also, If someone's a new mom and they're not married, utilize your village.  You don't have to be supermom. 

Self-care contributes  to the way that I love my family.  When I'm at my best I can come and show up for them much better.

You can catch up with Nya on her Instagram as well as thedignityeffect.net.


ps - If you like the Brown Girl Self-Care podcast and want to hear more episodes like this one can you please click here to rate, review and subscribe?


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