I can only write about this looking back. When I was going through it, I was only capable of going through it. I’m still going through it, to be honest, except now I have a better sense of perspective.
Looking back, I can see I’d been slowly unravelling for a while. At the time though, I felt ambushed. I felt betrayed by my self.
I chose to dissolve my life as I knew it in order to move back home to help my family. I thought because I had chosen it, it would be an easy adjustment. That I’d step into my new life happily, without feeling any grief for the life I was leaving behind or fear of the future.
Instead I started waking up with panic attacks. The moment I opened my eyes, my body would be in full stress mode. I lost my appetite, struggling to chew and swallow any food. I stopped talking. I distanced myself from my friends. I became incapable of making phone calls. I stopped responding to texts and voicemails, or spent hours agonizing over the ‘perfect’ reply. I felt drained, wanting to sleep forever. Bedtime was my favourite time of day – I could close my eyes and disappear into the darkness. A reprieve. At the same time, my mind was constantly whirring with endless to-do lists. I had no energy to do anything, yet I worried about everything that needed to be done.
Then the invasive thoughts started. They terrified me with their violence. There was so much self-hatred. I speak of them like they were separate from me, because that’s how it felt. I would argue with myself in my head, trying to talk myself down from the cliff edge I was standing on.
I tried to hide how I was feeling from my parents, who I’m currently living with. I tried to smile and act like I was okay. I didn’t want to burden them – there was already so much going on. I was meant to be helping, not making things worse. I couldn’t pretend for long though. Smiling became too difficult to fake. My anxiety would paralyse me so all I could do was lie on the floor for hours. I couldn’t get a grip, no matter how many pep talks I gave myself.
I kept hoping that I would wake up the next day and be better. I kept setting deadlines in my head by when I would get my shit together (okay, you have two weeks to get all the crazy out of your system then you need to get back on track). But the days passed quickly, I failed to meet my deadlines and I kept getting worse.
But this isn’t about my symptoms or even the reasons why I came undone. This is about the gifts my suffering brought me:
- I got to lie around with my mother for weeks, who was also unwell at the time, holding her hand and feeling the love between us.
- I got to go on walks to the beach with my Pops and so many words of support were said without him saying anything at all.
- I got to let go – slowly but surely – of all the tension I had been holding in my body for years.
- I got to understand my friends who have experienced their own struggles with mental health on a whole new level.
- I got to rediscover a spaciousness within myself I had been busy trying to fill with work, Netflix, men, and eating.
- I got a lesson in the basics of self-care, like getting up, taking a shower, putting on clothes and brushing your teeth when all you want to do is hide under the covers all day every day.
- I got to see (again) how much I limit myself and others by not inviting help into my life, and how much of a barrier my need for control is.
- I got to rest, deeply.
- I got to start again.
This is not a comprehensive list. The gifts have been numerous and are unending. I’m learning how to be more comfortable with the unknown (and there are so many unknowns!), that the world doesn’t collapse when I loosen my hold on it, that life is looking after me at all times.
One of these days, I hope to have the courage to trust it completely, close my eyes and fall back into its arms.