I feel as though I am in a very strange place. In five days I will be leaving to travel for three months. Nine months ago, I booked these plane tickets with the intention of disappearing into some unknown hostel somewhere in Europe and killing myself. But so much has happened since then. I’m no longer planning on following through with that – which I’m infinitely grateful for.
This year has been strange – there has been so much death, pain, relapse and darkness. Yet at the same time I feel as though I have grown so much. For the first time to this date, the darkness and light have begun to even one another out – and it’s with this strange realisation that I’ve come to recognise that it’s not just me: the whole world exists in dichotomy. No dark without light. Two opposites, constantly vying with each other to take hold.
Tomorrow marks one year since I was last discharged from hospital (other than emergency, which I’m not counting) – the longest break between admissions since I was fourteen. ‘Between admissions’ isn’t entirely adequate there, because I have no intention of ever being shut in one of those rooms again in my lifetime. A year out of hospital isn’t much of an achievement in the eyes of many people, but for me it’s pretty huge. It’s about independence, manageability and freedom. But somehow I still feel stuck.
I’m hoping that as I travel, somehow layers will strip away. That the scales which are tentatively see-sawing back and forth will find their balance. I’m not sure that I’m ready to get to the depths of what is within me – but I want enough simplicity that I feel more in touch with my values, needs and capacities. The last month has been riddled with re-emerging anxieties: around people, places, food, sleep. Afraid to sleep, but afraid to leave my bedroom. Can’t eat, showering upwards of fifteen times a day, bleeding hands from being washed too often. It feels something like being sixteen again. Nightmares – sleeping and waking, overwhelming everything I attempt to do. Lists upon lists: I get nervous, so I write a list of things that make me happy, a list of things that make me sad, a list of things I want to do, a list of music that calms me, a list of places to go, a list of people I love – and still I feel nervous.
I realise there are textbook reasons for this happening now. I’m about to take a huge step in travelling the world solo. I’m constantly worrying about what I want to do with my life and what I need to do to get there – and freaking out that I can’t just make everything okay, right now. I’m stressed about friends and their circumstances, and that while travelling I won’t be a text or a short walk away. And the single most terrifying thing I’m thinking about at the moment is that I’ve tentatively decided that when I return from overseas I will begin trauma processing. I’m not entirely sure what that process will involve, but I’m certain that it will stretch me to my absolute limits. I haven’t spoken the ‘r’ word aloud for over two years. I can’t write about it without losing time, and I continue to sleep in half hour intervals to avoid dreaming. It will be difficult, that’s for sure.
I feel in between so many extremes, unsure of which way the balance will (should?) tip. Maybe it’s incredibly naive of me, but I’m hoping that I can leave all this. That the moment I step onto that first plane, all of this ‘stuff’ will remain behind. That I can balance holding on, and letting go.
It often upsets me how many people I know who feel completely disempowered in their own lives. I realise that being a young person can suck – I’ve had my share of crappy times (not that I think it’s ever about comparison). But no matter who you are or what you’re going through – where you end up comes down to choice.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re disabled, or depressed, or homeless, or an addict. I’m not talking about circumstances here: obviously there are times when things are out of our control. I’m talking about the self depreciating beliefs which perpetuate cycles of disempowerment. In terms of perception, there is nothing stopping us from believing that things can be better. I realise that there are external influences, of course, but eventually it has to come from within. Eventually there has to be a point when you decide that there will be no more of this. And no – I’m not for a second implying that the darkness leaves in that moment, but perspective makes such a difference. The realisation that you are enough, just as you are, and that you are in control, brings a whole new understanding to the table.
It’s only been the last twelve months for me that I’ve come to realise that I am in control of where my life ends up. Despite all of the shit up to this point, where I go from here is up to me. Realising this felt like such a revolutionary shift in my understanding of the world – that if I make choices in line with my values, I will end up somewhere that I want to be. Perhaps it’s a step from victim to survivor. It’s so simple in theory, but we seem to find it so difficult to apply to our own lives.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t still suffer. I coax spoonfuls of food into my mouth and regularly wake up to the sound of my own sobbing, I still often wonder whether there is any point to this at all. But I’ve learnt that no matter what happens, it will not break me. I’ve been to the edge. I spent years there, teetering on my toes, staring into the abyss. At times I began to fall, only to be pulled back – by friends, family, doctors. I came back. And despite that being the most painful thing I have ever done, in doing so I guaranteed myself life. A life that is worth something, that has some meaning. That doesn’t revolve around my complete absence of self worth or self belief. A life that is still worth fighting for.
Life isn’t all smooth sailing. (Congratulations, way to make the most obvious point ever). Life is mountains and valleys – it’s joy and pain – and it’s only if you’re willing to endure the darkness that you see that it’s never entirely void of light. When you’re stuck at the bottom of a valley it’s easy to fall prey to the belief that you’ll never make it out. But as long as you keep putting one foot infront of the other, as long as you keep breathing – you will get there. For as long as you’re breathing, there is hope. Your life is yours.
I’m struggling with words today.
“The sickness rolled through me in great waves. After each wave it would fade away and leave me limp as a wet leaf and shivering all over and then I would feel it rising up in me again, and the glittering white torture chamber tiles under my feet and over my head and all four sides closed in and squeezed me to pieces.”
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
For over a decade I have been stuck in the waves. Tumbling, disorientated, sucking in air when I reach the surface, counting slowly and hoping that I will get another breath soon enough. It’s tiring. I’m tired.
16 Years ago I: Was 5. In kindergarten at my local primary school. I was in a composite K/1 class and I remember making pancakes and writing down the recipe – it’s still pasted in my mum’s recipe book. I went to my friend’s house after school everyday because my parents worked. We spent a lot of afternoons taking their dog for walks down the fire trails to the river and painting empty coffee jars with glass paints.
10 Years ago I: Was 11. I’d changed schools into an accelerated stream at a school about half an hour from home. I travelled to school each day via train, bus and walking, which took me about an hour each way. I had gymnastics training four days a week and was playing netball, sailing and continuing to learn the flute & piano. Each day for lunch I packed four vita weats with vegemite, and I remember one day one of the teachers wouldn’t let me play soccer at lunch because they said I hadn’t eaten enough. I was self harming daily – usually with broken glass that I would collect on my walks home from school. Often I would pretend to be sick in order to stay home alone and smash beer bottles from the recycling bin. I got in trouble for refusing to take my jumper off during hot days at school. My older brother was getting heavily involved in drugs, which all came out towards the end of the year.
5 Years ago I: Was 16. I spent the year mostly in hospitals, both public and private on general psych, mood & eating disorder units. My birthday, christmas and new years were all spent on an eating disorder unit with a tube up my nose. I started seeing a private psychologist after having discharged myself from the child & adolescent area health service, but refused to speak about what was going on for me. I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder – despite the hospitalisations and clearly failing health. Twice I overdosed, waking up in hospital and pronouncing that I was fine. Thankfully, they didn’t believe me.
1 Year ago I: Was 20. Had to quit my job as a nanny for two amazing, amazing children. I should have died several times, but thanks to my treatment team, my friends and some helpful strangers, I didn’t. I spent a long time under a legally ordered treatment plan, locked in a public psych ward, having 3x weekly ECT. I also spent time in a private hospital’s ICU – where I found that the thing I missed most was fresh air. I somehow continued to take a full time load at university studying by distance. I don’t have many memories and my journals don’t make much sense, but I know that on December 2nd I was discharged from hospital on the first effective medication regime in seven years, which (along with more work than I ever thought possible) has changed my life infinitely for the better.
Yesterday I: I woke up, healthy, with the knowledge that the world hasn’t beaten me. I attended the final day of the 8th Australian & New Zealand Adolescent Health Conference, and it was incredible. I left feeling capable, inspired, and motivated that I can make a difference. I came home and did some study for my biopsychology exam next Friday. I went to the doctor, then dropped by a friend’s place to drink tea and watch a movie. By the time I got home I was exhausted, but feeling as though I’m finally in the right place, headed down the right road.
Today I: Slept in and had breakfast on the back porch with my kitten. I spent a couple of hours studying biopsychology and going over my statistics notes for exams, then had an afternoon nap. I’m now watching Community (hilarious!) with my sister. I should probably be studying, but I’m still somewhat exhausted post-conference.
Tomorrow I: Will continue to study for biopsychology and statistics. I will be grateful that I’m alive, that I have wonderful people around me and that I am entirely capable of doing and being absolutely anything. I’m sure I will learn something new, and find some beauty where I haven’t seen it before. I will be ready for whatever comes.
Day 12: 30 letters in 30 days
Hate is a strong word. Despite everything, I don’t think I hate you. I just never, ever want to see you again. Thinking of you brings my stomach to my throat and starts my heart racing.
I don’t hate you, because hate keeps me stuck. It creates a block between myself and the world, blinding me from seeing beauty and love. I’m letting go of hate to set myself free, not you. Not you. Hate isn’t not only a reflection of you, but a reflection of where I am at in accepting and learning to love the world, despite it’s failings. Life is a crazy journey, and hate is a hinderance. It is not part of the person I want to be – and I won’t let you hold me back any further from becoming her.
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger” (Buddha)
I haven’t been writing the last few days. Sorry, things have been all over the place. I will catch up on my letters at some stage. Things have been busy at times, and quiet at times, with no motivation to do anything other than lie in my bed with my kitten and stare at the ceiling. I spent Thursday night driving, and last night walking by the beach admiring the sculptures by the sea. Exams are looming. I’ve been disassociating more again, nightmares are worse, and I’m sleeping less, which is usually linked to how present I manage to be. I think I’m just completely physically and emotionally exhausted after the last month or so – which has been even more tiring than usual. I’m trying to keep myself centred.
I’m under instruction to answer my doctor’s daily calls for the moment, after ending up places I shouldn’t be without any knowledge of getting there. In an attempt to get myself out of this rut, I am spending the next two days studying with a friend at her house. Meaning: I have to get dressed, I have to brush my teeth, I have to take some notes, I have to engage in some conversation and I can’t drive places without someone realising. I also need to get at least one decent stint of sleep before Wednesday when Youth Health 2011 starts (which, despite being utterly exhausted, I am really looking forward to). I think the coming week is going to be somewhat overwhelming.
This year has been the first time I’ve really experienced any level of inner peace. I’ve discovered the things that are important to me, and let go of the things that were weighing me down. It’s so simple and so complicated: do what you love, and your life begins to resemble something which matters – in accordance with those values.
For 2011, these were my resolutions:
– Reassess friendships and build a positive network of people around me that bring out the best in me;
– Redefine self perception, replacing self hatred with acceptance;
– Make health (physical, mental, emotional) a priority & learn to believe that I’m worthy of being healthy/caring about my health;
– Be less cautious, take risks and opportunities and learn to live with less regret;
– Be grateful of the life I have, people & opportunities I have around me;
– Discover things I enjoy, develop hobbies & make time to do them;
– Invest in my future: career, money, university;
– Have new experiences: travel, volunteering…;
– In therapy, work on: trust; self hatred; fears of intimacy; self esteem and self value; confidence; mood & anxiety.
My ongoing battle is in learning to live without fear. It is largely based around past experiences, and drives so much of my life. While there is value in incorporating prior knowledge when taking on the future, this fear is holding me back. I can’t continue to live with one foot planted in the past. I’ve built the person I am around the beliefs that I am worthless, that I am unloveable, that I don’t deserve anything better.
I want to live a life that means something. A life centred around love, faith, trust, gratitude and courage. So my next goal is to let go of my fears. It’s a process that will involve breaking down beliefs which have formed the foundation of my psyche. I know it will be incredibly painful and destabilising – once the foundations begin to crumble, everything topples down. It’s something I have tried before to little success – leaving me losing myself completely. But I think it could also be a really empowering experience for me.
I’m going to do it differently this time: with support, with care, with self awareness. It will be immensely hard. But with those foundations smashed, I will be able to build on something far more solid.