Just over a year ago I hit what I know to be rock bottom, several times over, and each time I’d get knocked down there I’d discover a new lower level of cranial hell.
I’ve spent the last fourteen months clambering out of that black hole and just when I think I’m near the top, the ladder starts to shake.
Wind was blowing, time stood still
I used to think I was strong in character because I’d push any sort of emotion out of the way and crack on with life.
Ever since I can remember I saw biting my quivering bottom lip and holding back the tears as a sign of bravery. I had this theory that when you die, there would be a pie chart of your lifetime activities and I wanted my cackles to massively outweigh my cries.
Resilience for me was about papering over the cracks and stomping forward with my shield in one hand and sword in the other. Nothing could stop me and nobody could bring me down. And in a lot of ways, my approach has paid off.
I dismissed my fat kid scars and my shattered self-esteem by evolving a distraction to my looks – my brain. I avoided fixing family relationships after my rebellious teenage years by creating a big social family and investing in long-term relationships. And I focused on the one thing I was in control of – my independence, by living abroad and in London for most of my 20s climbing the career ladder.
Don’t get me wrong, doing these things wasn’t solely fuelled by underlying issues, far from it; I love learning, I love people and I love travel. But looking back, I do think that those weaknesses actually gave me some extra strength to make it all happen.
Funny how quick the milk turns sour, isn’t it
The thing about building up these type of walls of resilience is that over time, the paper starts to peel and the cracks begin to show.
It was only when I got in to long-term relationship number three a few years ago that they really started to appear. This was when I put my shield and sword down and, for the first time ever, gave every single piece of my heart to somebody else.
I was besotted, absolutely besotted. And the way that I spoke about him raised eyebrows – somebody had finally melted the Ice Queen’s heart.
The complications of that relationship, on the surface, could be put down to a swift succession of horrendously difficult situations we had to deal with. These situations had reactions and these reactions created behavioural patterns, and all of it started chiselling away at us until the pillars holding us up crumbled away.
After persevering for a long time, I couldn’t possibly fall down any further – we had no choice but to walk away.
When tears are in your eyes and you can’t find a way
I admit that even until just the last few weeks, I held him mostly accountable for our, and my, demise. It was hard not to when the pain I’d experienced had been so acute that my entire cognitive system had rewired itself.
My thoughts were damagingly negative from the moment I opened my eyes until the moment I went to sleep. Although I somehow managed to put a mask on at work and still had a social life, I no longer felt like I could light up a room. I wasn’t me any more. My heart was so broken it felt like it had ceased to exist. I was numb inside and my lust for life had completely vanished.
I recently read a book called How To Transform Your Life written by the founder of Kadampa Buddhism, Geshe-la, and when I closed that book I had an overwhelming urge to do two things.
Firstly, it made me want to reevaluate my forgiveness.
I’d got to a stage where I thought I’d dealt with it all and forgiven; I’d closed the door and started moving forward. But I realised after reading that book that I’d closed the door with bitterness and resentment in my heart – and that’s not really forgiveness at all.
And secondly, it made me think about accountability. If I really want to be doing good stuff to be a better me, it has to involve standing in front of a metaphorical mirror and taking a good, hard, honest look at who I am.
That means I need to stop cherishing my ego and acknowledge what part I’d played. Even if all I had done was allow my mindset to deteriorate, I’d been an accomplice, and I needed to put my hand up and take some ownership for the love that was lost.
The Magic Position
Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme is young people and mental health in a changing world.
It feels pretty apt that I’m touching down in Chiang Mai on this day; taking the first steps of an exciting new adventure, which circumstances have forced me to turn into one of those cliché finding yourself journeys worthy of a dramatic eye roll.
At first, I started to wonder if I’m more messed up than the average and if my inquisitive, over-analytical nature had riddled my mental circuit with shorts.
But the more I explored, read and talked to others, the more I realised that every single human is a complex and ever-evolving compilation of reactions to their own unique experiences in life, and that sitting with our ‘uncomfortable truths’ is one of the most painful things we can do. I guess that’s why not many of us actually do it.
Maybe mental health is being over-medicalised, maybe the lines between a genuine mental health disorder versus the ups and downs of human existence are being blurred, but the more we share our stories, the less we’re fooled by our Instagram filters and the more we accept that the struggle is real.
So I’ve started uncovering the hurt and suffering that I spent years trying to conceal, way before I’d fallen in love. I’m taking off my emotion-blocking suit of armour and I’m setting free tears that have spent decades imprisoned behind bars coated in courage.
Because you have to be lost before you can be found.