Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A Letter to my Labels

Dear Depression and Anxiety,

You'd think I'd be used to you now; to those awful labels which just won't seem to budge. It's taken me a long time to be able to accept the diagnosis, to accept that I wasn't 100% "well," even though I am mostly a very healthy bean (physically anyway). I was so worried you'd come to define me, that if people found out I was struggling they'd call me a fake, or a drama queen (I mean we all know I can be rather melodramatic), so I buried it. But when my friends started having to come and physically drag me out of bed, or got abuse for simply trying to help me or tell me to go to the doctor, I thought maybe it was time to re-evaluate my situation. 

We won't go into the time where I told myself (and anyone who'd listen) it was a phase brought on by the stress of deadlines/pressure to succeed. Turns out long after those deadlines passed, and that degree certificate was handed to me, you guys are still here. You're still bloody here. I like the dormant times, the days when I can simply tell you to "fuck off," because I know most of what you tell me are lies anyway. I like the days when I barely hear you at all. Obviously those days never last. Sometimes the terrible twosome (that's you by the way) ambush me for absolutely no discernible reason. You two make my life really fucking hard. I never know whether I am going to wake up as someone whose smile is her own or someone whose brain is determined to fuck her over. It is not okay. I am not okay. But you know what? Contrary to what you seem so determined to make me believe, that IS fine. Admitting pain, numbness, fear, anger... All of this is fine, I am human and even though most of the time I feel crazy because I know none of this is happening in the "real world," it doesn't make it any less valid.

Some days, you make me feel like I will never win. Some days you make me feel absolutely nothing at all, and others I just hurt so much I want to die (I'd love to say that was a straight up exaggeration but alas no). Some days, I am scared that you two are all I am, and all I'll ever be. Tonight? It's definitely one of those ones. So I am sat here, furiously typing away to remind myself, and you two idiots, that you're a part of me, but you don't and shall never, define me.

Who am I? I am a worrier (thanks anxiety you bastard), but I am also a warrior. I have fought hard to exist. I will always fight for what I believe in and I will always fight to be more than what you two try to reduce me to. I am soft hearted and feel deeply, which used to feel like a curse, but these things give way to compassion and empathy. I am curious, I love to learn and since learning to live with you morons, I have learned so much about myself and what I am capable of. I refuse to reduce my achievements because depression and anxiety make me feel unworthy of them. I refuse to shrink away from the things that I love doing (and now scare me) because I am more than a couple of labels. I am so much more than the wreck who cannot get out of bed, or who can't keep a steady hand to do a statement lip or winged eyeliner (at work this is kind of a problem). I am so much more than my bad days and I think now more than ever I need to hold onto that.

You can try to make me feel ashamed of you, you can try to steal my personality, but honestly? As long as there's hope there is strength. And where there is strength, I can survive. And if I go down? I'll die fighting.

Helen xx

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

24 on the 24th: An Unexpected Victory

This time tomorrow I will be 24. I love my birthday: aside from Christmas and Shrove Tuesday, it is my favourite day of the year. Plus some small part of me is pleased by the fact I turn 24 on the 24th of the month. So far so good right?

Everything was fine until I realised that I will be well into my twenties, 2 years out of uni and my life doesn't look anything like I thought it would. This filled me with an overwhelming sense of anxiety and disappointment which, honestly, I have really struggled to shift. The funny thing is if you were to ask me exactly what I was expecting life to look like for me, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I could maybe list some rudimentary materialistic things I expected to have/be closer to, but I couldn't paint a detailed picture of an alternative me if I tried.

I expected:
- to be living away from home, saving for a place of my own.
- to be working full time in a job with prospects for progression/already be progressing.
- to be in a relationship

I am:
- living back at home with the parents, on wages that don't allow for saving
- working part time in a job without much prospect of progression.
- single

As I look at these two lists, I realise that this time a year ago I was, on paper, much closer to my expectations of myself. I had moved out of the parents' house, I was living in a city I called "mine." I was working full time, and though I wasn't managing to save, I was still earning and living off my own money. This time a year ago I was in a relationship that made me the happiest girl alive. I had not long got my new car, and was feeling more like "a real adult." Pondering this makes me sad and acutely aware of the fact that on paper, it looks like I've taken a step backwards (or 3).

But, what I don't tell everyone (well I guess now I am telling cyberspace), and what a lot of people didn't see, were the realities of my "great on paper," life. I was living away from home, but struggling to cook/eat properly and generally look after myself. It was hidden well by my job; because I always had lunch of some kind, people weren't to know I rarely ate dinner, or sometimes even breakfast escaped me. My housemate probably thought I was some sort of weird hermit since I would sometimes go for days without seeing him. Money was always an issue; I was more or less living from pay-day to pay-day and had more or less got to a point where I stopped caring (depression does that to a person). The relationship I was in had cracks, which I failed to see until it was too late; lack of communication being the main factor there. I had become so unhappy in my job that it had turned me into someone I really disliked; think judgemental/stressy/snappy/catty and not to mention a nervous wreck. I was determined to hold on to my independence because in my mind admitting I needed real help meant admitting I was failing. It meant I was unable to be a "real adult," despite what my driving license and passport say.

Fast forward to November/December and I was still refusing to admit that something needed to change. I was not getting any better, in fact, I was miserable. My anxiety had improved and the situation at work had got to a point where I could turn up, but I was still desperate to leave. After spending 2 glorious weeks off at Christmas with my family, I realised I had to do something. I made a game plan to move back home in April the following year: I'd save a few months wages & then take some time out. I don't know what it was but something snapped: I handed in my notice as soon as I got back in the new year and moved home at the beginning of February.

Today, I am sat in my pjs, alternately crying, typing and drinking tea. It turns out some of this is still pretty raw because I haven't revisited it since I've been back in my little home town. But you know what? I am happier. I am living at home with the parents, so the stress of having to plan/shop/buy meals is gone. I have my support network in the next room, and my part time job is great. I love not being behind a desk and just by the nature of what I do I physically can't take work home with me. I have time to see my close friends and finally feel like I am beginning to heal. I am discovering something I am good at and in being single I'm learning the importance of being who I need, instead of trying to be what others want.

So when I turn 24 tomorrow, I will celebrate and dance, and be irritatingly, nauseatingly happy, because for one of the first times in my life, I have become exactly what I needed for myself. In my mind that is far more important than any expectations or check-list of achievements, so I am totally a-okay (or learning to be) with how my life looks because I STILL HAVE ONE.