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.