reflection

Mental Healing

If I am ever asked to describe myself, being open and honest is my instinctual and subconscious response. Why? because it is a part of me that I feel proud to acknowledge. A perception that I have fixed together from various social interactions and my own built-up version of myself. This is a part of me I want to thrive, so my actions reflect that.

So why is it that there are times when I am not open to others about how I really feel, or that there are times where I am not even honest with myself? Is it so much a coincidence that this behaviour worsens as my mental health flatlines, and I can only find solitude by shuffling apologetically into my very own toxic tomb, instead of going ahead and doing what I perceive myself to be best at?

Truth is we all believe we are more than what we are, and that is not a criticism. Humans are prone to natural optimism and that extends to our self-belief. We take risks in life accompanying this philosophy that if we believe, we do – something society has driven into us from an early age. But when my mental health starts to crumble around me, this optimism disappears and any risk-taking isn’t for the better. I can feel my hands tightening the ropes I placed around myself.

And that darkness is something I want to discuss.

I know this sounds a little out there, but my truth is, ever since I was a child, I could feel it – a black void-like sadness. As a childhood goes, I had a good one, but certain experiences conditioned my mind to feel severe lows.

Having a strong emotional intuition is probably a natural form for a child to take, but to be able to feel and understand the meaning behind them, or the consequences just didn’t feel right. I felt like I was on a level with adults more than children at times. Of course, I was still a child and I still didn’t fully understand things because they were new to me, I was just really quick to recognise patterns.

It was this innocent confusion that lead me through to my teenage years. And it was only then, that I realised I wasn’t fully in control of my own thought pattern.

To add context to this black void-like sadness, I have many memories of increasingly dark moments. One, in particular, was an 11- year old me sitting on a swing in a park. I was alone, staring out into the sea and I wanted to jump into it rather than deal with the idea of starting high school without anyone I knew. My best friend and her family had moved to Rothesay too, so I knew, that really I wasn’t alone. But to deal with the loneliness in those moments was too raw and too much to bear. I would have rather died than face up to my insecurities. At least that is what my mind told me at the time.

I felt it was important to share this, because for me moments like this come in waves, and it has been an on-going battle. I could go for a year without one and then out of the blue, I am triggered. If I am overwhelmed or feeling down anyway, I am potentially triggered. It is confusing and difficult, and I understand that many people will probably have similar experiences. So I thought I would be open with things I feel ashamed of, about negative patterns that I followed through to adulthood, and that I have never really been able to explain other than just having a ‘down day’.

I have never been diagnosed so we could call it depression, severe anxiety, even bipolar disorder. Instead, I distinguish these negative pulls as my dark days and that alone is terrifying enough. Labels only recognise the issue, and I am on a path to do more than that now.

I would consider myself to be quite a strong-minded person but since late autumn of last year, all I could feel was numbness. It felt like I was carving through the walls of my own head, trying to get to grips with what this all meant.

It got to a point where I was beginning to lose sight of what was real because my mind kept fogging out. I was forgetting conversations that happened the night before, sometimes even moments before, I couldn’t retain anything other than the screaming in my head for me to do something.

During this time, I was still a capable functioning human being, caring about others, socialising, worrying about money, about friends, about everything but myself. I had almost often forgotten how to feel my own emotions or be myself in even the best environments, places I once loved.

I tried to break the mould but nothing was working. I wasn’t enjoying anything, not even myself. And that was hard to bear.

Eventually, it got to the point where I started to decline invitations to my friends birthdays and gatherings because I was worried they would ask me what was wrong, and I wouldn’t be able to answer. To make it worse, even if I wanted to go out I couldn’t. I was so financially unstable I couldn’t afford food. I was at a point where I could no longer carry my burdens let alone focus on other people’s.

That night was poignant to me because that was when I realised I wasn’t okay. The numbness had gone and now I was just really scared.

People are very good at painting a deception for others, in order to drive them away from how we really feel. Somewhere along the line, being honest with myself, sharing my feelings with my family and friendship circle began to feel like a burden and I knew I had reached the end of patience with how things were. I was ready to take responsibility and change my pattern.

For the second time in my life, I sourced help and contacted a charity that specialised in counselling.

So Monday’s became my new torture. But at least everyone was proud of me. There is a silver lining in everything right?

My counsellor was the best I could have hoped for, she was warm and friendly and she was the best combination of serious and sassy. She reminded me of my friends and she made me a cup of tea. Something I didn’t particularly like, but she made it comforting and worthwhile.

Every Monday at work, my stomach would do somersaults because I knew I was going to finish soon and then I would have to deal with my feelings – and sometimes a lack of.

At times, when I was there, It felt like an interrogation, a question would catch me off guard. I would walk home and cry because I had responded instantaneously in a way I didn’t want to accept.

Other times I would walk home and cry because it felt good to have someone want to help unlock my potential when I was convinced I had none left.

All in all, she built me up again, she confirmed that a lot of self- doubt, a lot of these moments were hard to deal, almost impossible situations and I began to understand that I had a right to how I was feeling. A right I had believed was no longer mine. She started teaching me different techniques for communicating my feelings verbally.

I started to understand how important it was for me to be heard, and how mutated my thinking process had become. It did me the world of good.

Monday’s became okay. I was nervous, but less so because I wasn’t as scared. She pushed me to maintain my hobbies or start doing things I loved again. I did so reluctantly at first just to prove a point. But as time went on, I started noticing things that I have subconsciously turned a blind eye too.

As the month’s rolled by, I was feeling proud of what I was achieving every week, and my counsellor could see that. She heard about my writing, so she asked me to write, and I went home and I wrote a blog post called Promises to keep.

I make it sound so simple, but to me, this was a major stepping stone. I had not been able to write during a truly dark moment before. So to be able to feel hope during rather than after, it was unbelievable. It felt like a breakthrough.

Today I feel grateful for who I am, and I am grateful for the good people in my life, always looking out for me, as I do for them.

I may not be rolling in it. I may not be on the path that I expected to be on at this stage. But time is a blessing. I am fortunate to feel free, to speak freely and to be me. And that is enough. I know that now.

A few months ago, a good friend once caught me on a really bad day, sobbing quietly in the stockroom at work. I was crying about many things at that moment, but mostly at the death of my beloved grandma. He didn’t ask what was wrong, but I still tried to explain myself. He went back to work, and I felt ashamed for being so vulnerable.

He came back up the stairs, obviously taking some time to think of what to say, and instead of talking to me about it, he reminded me that I was still young and I had all the time in the world. It was simple and true, and it was enough of a nudge to throw me out of myself.

I was entitled to feel sadness and feel overwhelmed of course I was, but I was allowing myself to slip back into a negative thinking pattern so easily. I decided to be honest with myself and tell myself I can cry about this, but I should also be happy and keep being myself as much as I can too.

It is good friends like him that keep me grounded. And I know now I am much better at doing the same.

 

 

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Promises to keep

Imagine the sound of a car passing you as you stand on the side of the motorway? It’s a little like a swoosh, It’s almost too fast to comprehend, but a wobble enough to notice. Regardless of your position of footing on the sidelines, you feel like you just survived something.

When you ask me how I am, this is your answer.

I sometimes think that every day feels the same, that if I miss a day it’s possible I wouldn’t even notice. My tedious working week begins and ends slow and quick all at once, and all I can really remember is a sense of dread.

Like most people, I struggle to get out of bed. I can’t quite face the anxiety just yet so I chose the snooze button over recognition that its time to get up. I wash, but only on my best days, throw my uniform on, brush my teeth, grab a fork and semi-jog to work just over a mile away. I arrive anxious and sweaty, with a distinct spray of watery mud up the back of my leggings or jeans. I check the time to make sure I am armed with the knowledge I am not late. I brace myself, wait for the door to be unlocked and for my daily pain to begin.

And so the swooshing properly begins.

Anxiety is like a claw that just keeps grasping. I know its wrong – to feel like this every day. I know I should just leave and trust me when I say this, that’s all I can think about when I’m there. I get the speech most weeks from my friends whenever we meet up for a scheduled chitchat. They encourage me to find another job, to leave and start being happy.

I live by this belief for others but I’m not faithful to myself. I encourage them to leave and find something better, they deserve so much more I tell them, and then they listen and eventually do it, and I am left alone with my own anxious grip burdening my every step.

But my friends are strong-willed and good. They don’t stop when I am still showing signs of stubbornness. They will ask how work is going with a defining frown and slightly raised eyebrows. They lean in because they know I have things to share. I always have things to share, but it’s rarely about achievements, it’s always about feeling sad, or a situation that happened that is unjust. How I tried to change things, how I stepped up and got knocked back down.

They question me – bold as brass. “Kyra, why haven’t you left yet?” And I give off my usual answer that I am tired of giving. Because I can’t afford to. I am stuck on a weekly pay system and my earnings would never cover me to change to a monthly payment system. I am one of possibly hundreds of thousands of workers stuck in the same mind-numbing position. I feel stuck and it is eating me alive. They tell me I deserve better and the conversation moves on, but my flesh still stings.

Truth is, I am not stuck. I know I can go out achieve great things because I have done so, so many times before. Because that’s a part of who I am – strong-willed and confident, but only when I feel like I can be. Right now, I am lost. I am women with a plan, who lost her notes.

Just like my degree, this side of me sits horizontally in the cupboard wedged between the wall and the Christmas decorations. Waiting patiently for someone to pull me out into the light so I can stand tall and sparkle. All because I have forgotten how to step up and do it myself. It feels embarrassing to admit.

So, as 2017 drew to a timely close, I made a promise to myself that enough was enough. I was overworked and vividly aware I had already used up all my holidays moving house and taking up an internship. I couldn’t take time off for more than two days at a time until mid-April, and I wasn’t sure there would be much left of me by then. So I forgot about my misplaced notes and I made a new plan. I called it PLAN B.

Christmas in retail for many of us means crazy shift patterns, a severe lack of days off and sleep deprivation – to name a few. But it can also mean overtime and bank holidays, and luckily at my work, we were entitled to at least two of these. The elaborately mundane plan was to keep savings my usual amount for bills, but start putting the extra money I was making into a separate account. It almost made another year of Christmas in retail worth it.

By mid-January, 2018 I had already saved up enough to cover at least the bare minimum of bills, and I had also got a job interview the same week. This was more than an achievement, I was convinced this was it. But to cut a paragraph short, I didn’t get it, and it wasn’t meant to be. And my sinking anxiety swooshed in once more.

And so here I am, as I watch my breath spread across the glass door of my work, trying to block out the view as I wait to be let in. Thinking to myself, that I will keep this promise to myself, that I will bite the bullet and go for another minimum wage job just to get out of my current situation. Give myself that paragraph ‘I did it’ satisfaction that I so crave.

But I stall, and I do the calculations. Will this make a difference? And what is the point exactly? and then the dwindling part of me shouts at myself for thinking such nonsense and I get stuck in my own head, battling an ever-growing painful situation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am trying really hard to get another job, it’s just that I am focusing all my energy on the ‘career job’. I spend hours writing what I believe to be the perfect cover letter or application. I even build up the courage to send them to friends for reassurance, I discuss it with colleagues at work just so people know I am trying and haven’t given up.

But all I feel is the shame of the broken promises that I keep making to myself, to others. That I will get out, that I will find the will to be passionate about writing again. And when I try to keep to this, I remember how hard it is, and the fact that I am not the only person who believes they have a chance. There is hundreds of us trying for just one job. Hundred’s of sad souls stuck in their own circumstances trying and getting nowhere, and it is BRUTAL.

Sometimes people even question why I haven’t got one yet. They can’t comprehend how. ‘But, you have a degree’, they will say with a slightly tilted resemblance of a person with a judgmental character. ‘AND you have such good experience’. YADAYADA. ‘Have you even been applying?’. They say it with such conviction, I feel myself wandering the same thing. Have I?

The audacity, I know. It hurts, It really hurts. They have no idea how many times I have applied for jobs and NEVER HEARD BACK. Or the fact that I have applied to 3 jobs that same week, and not one of them sent me a confirmation email. They have no idea of how long I spent researching the company and its values, no idea of my own moments of self-doubt, moments of excitement and hope and the mental cycle you go through every single time until you eventually hit send/submit.

To presume I may not be having much luck is the truth, but to presume I am not trying is an insult.

So I carry this with me and it feels heavy. As time goes on, more people start questioning what I am doing with my life. And then I start wandering the same thing. I find the guilt of going for another low salaried job while still trying to start a career is all too much for me. So where do I draw the line? When do I say enough is enough. And when will I stop the anxiety from filling my toes, take a step into the car and start driving myself forward?

 

 

 

The post-graduate blues

I was skyping my mum last saturday morning, standing in my kitchen making scrambled egg rolls, and I was having a moan. I tell her, with my throat tightening, that all I want is a bit of security, after an intense conversation about all the things that just weren’t happening for me.

And in reply to my heartfelt confession, in the context of a classic millennial groan. My mother, scoffed rather loudly, firing off that mum advice with a side of sass that comes from age and wisdom.

She started at me “having more money doesn’t give you that, having a better and more comfortable home doesn’t give you that. Not even love gives you that. You need to feel secure in yourself”. I thought about it for a moment, ready to argue back about how she was wrong, but she was completely right. 

I had that feeling of complete solidarity with myself and my life once, it was a few years ago and its now a time I look fondly upon. Everything was going okay. I was doing well in university, I had moved store and I met some truly amazing people. I started going out and doing new things, I started pushing myself out of my comfort zone so much more than before. To make it even better I was in love too, and I was really truly okay – my blog posts from that time are testament to that. 

I remained optimistic for such a long time and somewhere along the way amongst growing impatience, financial woes and graduation blues – I lost it. 

I sunk into a mild depression that would come and go as it pleased. Like waves meeting the sandy anxiety that already protruded from me, both clinging on to my skin for dear life. It is hard to stay grounded when you feel like you are constantly being scrutinised, questioned and pushed to the point where you are no longer trying to come up for air. 

I reminded myself that my mother too, had it hard at my age. Dear lord, she expereinced the 80’s, but at least it was a little easier to be younger then. A punk revolution helped them get through and probably a few drugs here and there I am sure – this being her version of events. For my generation, our grasp on ‘The sesh’  has firmly devolped as a generalised and okay thing to do continuously, and when and whereever possible. A space and time to ‘get oot our nut’ on varying degrees (mine getting drunk on rum or vodka – nothing extravagant).

We engage in conversations, nearly always a political conversation, a topical football palava that happened earlier that week that always manages to grace the shores of the early evening chat regardless of whether you support a team or not. And then comes the quiet and agreeable prescense later on, after a rowdy debate, that we are all a little fecked and the tory’s aren’t really our favourite. 

Our revolution is essentially the same thing as my mum’s era, we are waking up and engaging. Expect we all wear Nike air max now and I certainly don’t have a mowhawk.

But she too is living in today, and if anyone would know better about the state of our society it is her opinion that really goes above for me. She never gives me this false idea that it will be always be fine. Because from experience, it isn’t. She has toed the poverty line and then been flung over many a time. But she is strong and she continues to pick herself back up. It’s a race to the next step for the both of us, a beginning for me and a new chapter for her – the circle of life.

Problem is, I have no bloody idea what my next step is. The stairs have eroded into a grisly mess and like many young graduates, we are all running and about like headless chickens. Looking for our feet. But our feet are off following our mothers and fathers with their idealistic optimism about the job market. So off we go, paying to live, working full-time in a profit-driven society to pay the “big guys” for the generous hard work and service they once put into a company many decades ago. The company they spent so much time building, is now struggling – another recession imminent. How will they cope?

They tend to reach out and take – reduce and cut the few benefits they give employees already on minimum wage. A guy I know, who works for such, has been working hard, doing different roles for 10 years – A decade of his life may I add, has had his benefits taken off him because the said company changed his contract without him realising the consequences. It was supposed to be a promotion and a pay rise. There was no warning, and also no pay rise it turned out, just the same pay for more responsibility and your benefits taken off you for wanting to give more of yourself to the company. 

This happened last year and it is a true story. Let me tell you, I was bloody furious. I honestly feel like I have become a inside protester, I do my best to help people stick up for themselves when they are being wronged in my own work. Politics is clearly my calling.

Anyway, my mother was right in putting the truth to me. I need to be happy with myself, and stop relying on societys’ offerings to give me comfort. A good enough vision to have would you agree? To a point. 

I can go through stages of being fine, but with every moral lapse in the political world, every benefit sanctioned, every company doing best for themselves and not their employees, it is bloody hard.

My emotional empathy is high and each time it goes into overdrive. I can’t cope as much as I used too because the truth is, I am no longer in my bubble. I am no longer working towards anything, succeeding or doing things for myself because I am working full-time and I have no money or time. I am very very sad within myself and its getting harder as time goes on.

I am aware of all that is wrong with my expectations, as though having these things would ‘make me better’. But its not about that, I just know fine well, that getting a good graduate job would means my mental state will get better because I would have my own purpose – a career. Not just that, but my financial problems will hopefully start being controlled better and I could start looking out for myself again. I remain hopeful that this day will come.

I don’t think it’s too wrong to want to be in a better position, a job where I can make a difference, so I can shake off this guilt that I should be doing something more for myself. I wish I had the time to volunteer to learn more about the community I live in,  I wish I could intern as many days I could and do something real to me. I wish that the society I lived in wasn’t this harsh on young graduates coming out of student loan debt and straight into ridiculous overdrafts and ridiculously badly paid jobs.

I want to do more and I AM FRUSTRATED  because I feel like I can’t do anything without rejection. I am sad because no matter how much I am trying it feels like I am going nowhere, and each time I send in an application I have this annoying glimmer of hope that at least one day it will be different and better. And I can do something, and give something back to those in the same position – even if it’s through my writing.

Reflection

Throughout my life, I have reflected on my actions, my choices, and my feelings, and today is no exception.

Towards the end of university, I thrived off the simplicity of success and the feeling of working towards a common goal. My aim was to graduate with honours. Of course, this was a desire that everyone had, that was the point of it.Yet surprisingly, in the beginning, I didn’t. See the truth is, I expected to fail, even though I have already gotten so far. I doubted my ability, my intelligence, and I battled with my own negative outlook. But university changed my way of thinking.

In the beginning of university my natural reactions to most things were primed by a negative mind. I was clouded, so whenever something good happened, say for instance, getting results back and sharing them with others, I would feel embarrassed and awkward. When I quietly announced to a friend over a table that I got a B in my portfolio, I watched their reactions, their smiles and I would smile back with an apologetic look on my face. Why, because I wanted to shout and jump about it, but gloating wasn’t my normal way of doing things, I was embarrassed for allowing people to feel excited for me. I was being fussed over and instead of feeling grateful for such a positive reaction, I looked for anything to turn around and enforce my negative opinion of myself and my achievements. It was so bad that I would take congratulations from lecturers with a pinch of salt, go home and think about how I could have done so much better.Simply Because I truly believed I wasn’t good enough. I was so deep into my own self-loathing, I couldn’t comprehend positivity, and that is a truly terrifying thing.

But the thing was, the people in my life didn’t cater to my darkness like I wanted, they smiled and cheered, and egged me on. The issue I was faced with was that my self-doubting was so bad, my sense of judgement of progression and achievement was seriously clouded. But university gave me my guts back, and the friends I had and made along the way pushed me to celebrate the small things, and most importantly my boyfriend changed how I saw myself, loved me no matter. And so, I reflected some more.

See, like all humans, we reflect on our actions, our feelings and our patterns that we develop. Over the years, I accepted that feeling ashamed about wanting to be better and successful was just a response, driven by past events to my own inner issues. I accepted that I was reinforcing my own idea about myself, and it started to become clear, that I saw myself differently to everyone else in my life. I was always quick to celebrate other people’s achievements but I had finally begun to feel proud of my own. University and the people within it gave me that. I started listening intently to those words, watching those reactions and changing my own perception of myself. I felt like I was finally in control.

As I went through my final two years of university. I took on board the constructive criticism from lecturers and let it guide me. I put myself into situations I would never have dreamed of. I worked for Sky News and threw myself into an internship at a publishing house I wanted to work for. I wrote about something that interested me and got it published. I chose a difficult and interesting topic about reporting on trauma for my dissertation, I interviewed very successful people in the business and didn’t feel unequal. I did these things because I believed in myself and listened to those who believed in me too. I did these things because I wanted to be the best of myself without the negative outlook.

On reflection, if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that we continue to grow – up and better – all at once, and the challenges we face are sometimes obstacles we place before ourselves, because we either don’t know any better, or we haven’t allowed ourselves to be better. But with a bit of reflection, we can all get through this, challenge ourselves to be the good within and not what we are told, but who we are and how we feel.