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.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Is your weakness really a weakness?

I shall begin by stating the obvious: I don’t like a lot about myself. To those who know me this is old news and I can already picture some of you shaking your heads, while the rest of you roll your eyes and tut in disapproval. But that's the truth and growing up, I learned to despise who I am. I thought all of the things that made me me were weaknesses: I thought I was weak. I believed I was ugly, worthless and a little bit stupid. I blame it on a childhood and school life where I was made to feel that I was too sensitive, too vulnerable and God forbid someone should call me soft hearted. I hated it. I grew up learning that I had to suppress that side of me. 

Little was I to know that these things that I suppressed and replaced with biting sarcasm and well-placed bitchy comments, would actually prove to be some of the qualities that people complimented me on most often: soft heartedness, openness and vulnerability. That sensitivity has brought me strength, the softness I choose to keep as an act of rebellion and the vulnerability? Well that still hurts sometimes, but honestly? I'd rather have that than be hardened into the shape of bullies who taught me they were "tough."

I know the beginning may have read like a sob story (sorry about that one), but what I am trying to say is that our biggest weaknesses can actually become our greatest strengths: that stubbornness? It could give you drive to stick at something until you succeed. The bluntness? Combined with a bit of tact it can earn you respect. Perfectionist? Well at work things need to be ordered and organised; you could succeed at management. 

So where have my "weaknesses" taken me? They contribute a great deal to my writing; it is honest (sometimes possibly too honest), raw and open. I write to feel less alone, so others feel less alone and without its rawness or its vulnerability, there would be no truth in it. So yes, I may sometimes show too much of myself in what I put on paper, but why should I keep quiet when I have a voice and a platform that others may not?   

Monday, 27 March 2017

Seeing Stars

I think sometimes we don't get what we deserve; some of us get more, others of us get woefully less, and a few unlucky sods get screwed over by circumstance & timing. Unfortunately, a lot of my friends and loved ones have recently fallen into the latter category. This is especially true when it comes to relationships/romance. When these don't work out the way we'd hoped or imagined it's too easy to feel worthless. Rejection is never easy to deal with and I've found it has a nasty habit of making me feel cheap, or, well really rejected!

This time? I got so close... I almost fell. At least that's what I kept telling myself. "It's ok, you didn't quite make it, you didn't go over the edge." An almost was fine; it meant nothing would break. Nothing needed to. It turns out I was wrong. Yes; my heart finds itself more or less intact, but I still find my sense of worth, and my ego in pieces by my side. I'd be nursing that injury for a while.

But my God, I wanted it to be the dreaded four letter word. I wanted it to be mutual. I had accepted quite a long time ago that the love I want wouldn't look like it does in romance novels: volatile, wild and crazy. I want the kind of love that knows peace. I want the safety of the person whose solidity reassures me, the easy conversation that feels like it never began but simply continued, the electricity which means that clothes will never be on for long in their company, and to get to know and love all the little things that make that person so uniquely themselves. I want someone who will fight for me, who will be able to reciprocate the same ferocity with which I'll battle to keep what we have. I want someone who will think of me not just in their drunken stupor but the morning after when they're nursing a hangover.

I want to be the woman they choose. Knowing that at this point I wasn't "the choice," cast a blinding light on my flaws. It didn't matter that it may not have been "my fault,"or that it was just bad timing, all I could see were the ways I was both too much and not enough. I'd curse myself for being too fast to fall, too soft on occasion, and sometimes too forgiving. I set my standards high and my walls higher. But the thing is, it's either all or nothing with me. I can't just dip a toe in and test the temperature. I have to just leap. That often happens while I am stood there denying it and desperately telling myself "almost" is where I am at. This is because almost-love is safer than saying it aloud. It allows time to get to know the person, and lets you still keep some of your walls. Almost-love means though your sense of worth or ego maybe bruised when it ends, at least your heart remains intact.

The unexpected problem with this almost-love though, is that when/if it ends before you fall off the precipice, you discover the grief of lost possibilities. A myriad of futures, some of which you hadn't even considered before, are now painfully out of reach. You know there's every likelihood of an exciting future with the "right person," but it will never be the same, because you aren't the same. People alter us; and we alter them... and together? No two daydreams will be identical. You'll tailor them to fit you, to fit the person who's stealing your heart... And so when the almost-love ends, you lose a potential version of yourself.

So for now? Aside from eating copious amounts of ice cream and consuming similarly copious amounts of alcohol... I have been burying myself in my new job, causing trouble with my dog, and getting dressed up. Surrounding ourselves with the people who love and support us helps us to heal, and whether it's love or almost-love... Next time it comes around I'll be a much me-er version of myself, and I hope I'll be ready to fall. But will I see stars or will they fall too?

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Return

I had visualised that coming back to my blog, hitting the keyboard would be far easier than it has been. So far there have been 3 drafts of this post; each and every one deleted and completely rewritten. It isn't that I don't know what to say, it's that I don't know how exactly to say it. Its entirely likely I am overthinking the entire process... After all one of the best pieces of advice I've been given is to get it all down on paper because it is easier to work with something than nothing. So here goes.

2016 finished with me defining it as a steaming pile of crap (eloquently put I know). I had been stuck in a situation where I was constantly undermined, and when I tried to speak out was merely told to "toughen up." It made me feel worthless, incompetent and useless. I was beginning most of my days by wondering what they'd find to call me out on this time, which rules they had introduced that I hadn't been adhering to. I was ending my days exhausted, convinced I was useless and incapable of the language I had spent so long learning. I stopped writing. I stopped believing I had anything useful or relevant to contribute. I told people it was the exhaustion, and to a certain degree it was. But truthfully? I felt so miserably inadequate that I felt nobody would want to hear my story anyway.

I stopped horse riding; admittedly that had been a long time before 2016, but in the past that was my refuge. The horse didn't care how good/bad ugly you felt, the instructor didn't give a shit if you'd failed your last essay. It was myself and the animal; learning to read each other and bond by instinct. For those hours I could be sweaty as hell, covered in mud, or drenched through from the rain, but it didn't matter. Because in that moment all that mattered was me and the horse. Last year? I didn't have my refuge. I didn't have the fitness or the financial stability to seek it either. I was stuck stewing in my inadequacies, and drowning in a situation that was slowly but surely turning me into a toxic, bitchy version of myself.

Shortly before Christmas, my relationship ended out of the blue. I don't think I'd been able to pinpoint a single moment so exactly before then, but I remember when I felt my heart break. I felt the truth wind me, and started to drown in the grief of knowing that I'd be the only one mourning. After all, who mourns someone who is still breathing, and loving and functioning? That is when the grief became my private loss; because while I knew she'd still be living, her happiness would no longer involve me. That is a bitter pill to swallow as anyone knows. But I still felt ridiculous mourning the loss of a person who was lost only to me.

Slowly everything has started to look up; 2017 has been an opportunity for a fresh start. I am leaving Norfolk behind and coming home to the hills of Sussex where I grew up. I am apprehensive because I don't have a "plan," and I don't know what this year will be for me. But I began by proving to myself that I am a survivor and I plan to carry on not just by showing I can survive, but flourish.