So, here we all are, stepping into 2019..
To say that 2018 was a difficult year for me would be a massive understatement. While I have experienced a lot of love and support, and met some new and wonderful people, I spent quite a large portion of the year in what I would describe as a painful and lonely darkness. I visited places within myself this year that I never thought I would venture into again. I’ve since been able to make more sense of everything that happened, and I have begun to gather the wisdom of the lessons that presented themselves. Fear almost stopped me from writing this blog, from sharing my experience, but here I am.
It had been a long time since I had felt the heavy cloak of hopelessness laid upon me. Even longer since my chest had felt as though it was gripped in a vice, my lungs struggling to take in air. I never imagined that I would feel the grip of panic again. Sometimes the feeling would creep up on me as I was sitting somewhere where I would usually feel safe. None of it really seemed to make any sense to me. As I realised over time, I had come back to these feelings of primal fear and despair because I had abandoned myself again. And, when you abandon yourself, when you ignore your needs and instead only meet the needs of others, you feel a loneliness that doesn’t go away when you’re with family, friends, or whoever else may be around you. You feel alone because you have left yourself alone. Alone in the dark, starving hungry for love. A love that no one else can really give you. A love that only you can give yourself. The cup is empty, and no one can fill it but you. And so, once the realisation occurs, and you reach out to the right people, the people who know how to (and are able to) love and give without conditions, you can begin the slow and steady climb back to yourself; to higher ground. Sometimes you slip and slide down a little, but at least you’ve made the choice to climb.
Part of the reason I slipped down into the depths to begin with was that I stayed in a relationship that was hurting me for too long. I stayed somewhere I didn’t belong. I ignored red flags and ignored my intuition. Sometimes, when we care for someone, we look past the facts that stare us in the face. And, of course, nothing is ever one-sided, and everything is a choice. I made choices that left parts of me feeling abandoned, unheard and unloved. Through ignoring my intuition, and trying once again to be a square peg in a round hole, I managed to create a huge mess. It turns out that it was exactly the massive wake-up call I needed, since I’d been blocking out all of the other signals that were arising from my core. A great deal of pain was experienced by both parties, and I still feel sadness when I reflect on that. It saddens me that unconsciousness, wishful thinking, and denial can cause so much pain. There were funny, exciting, creative and beautiful moments, and I’ll always remember them. The pain will never detract from their beauty. And yet, I still come back to the reality – my reality – that it wasn’t what my soul truly wanted. And, as I’ve written recently: “I didn’t turn myself inside out to live a life that isn’t mine.”
During the three weeks leading up to ending the relationship, I experienced symptoms of burnout. My whole body would burn as if I were experiencing fever, and I would feel as though I couldn’t breathe. I was wracked with guilt, having disturbing dreams, and experiencing intense headaches. I didn’t want to hurt the person I was in a relationship with, yet I didn’t want to continue hurting myself. I had to make a choice. I would cry at night, and I would cry upon waking. It was the only thing I thought of, day after day. I eventually accepted the decision my soul had already made, and I told her I had to walk away. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
After the decision was made, and I walked away, the pain was immense, yet I also felt a sense of relief. No more going back and forth and no more lying to myself. There was a sense of freedom and, for a short time, the symptoms of burnout began to ease off. In a moment of exuberance, I told my Tai Chi teacher that I was now ready to commit to instructor training. Since then, I’ve realised that I had given myself no time whatsoever to recover, and no time to process my feelings of grief and loss. I was still fragile, and I pushed myself to the limit once again. It’s so ironic, because Tai Chi has nothing to do with pushing; it has everything to do with flow. Needless to say, I wasn’t in flow at all. I was attending three or four classes a week, which is pretty acceptable if you’re not already completely fatigued, but far too much for someone who is already precariously wobbling towards burnout. I would push myself to attend, even if I wasn’t feeling up to it, and, once again, I managed to abandon myself and ignore my true needs. I had also begun giving Tarot card readings at a local cafe, which felt like a good idea to begin with, but I soon realised that you can’t hold space for others and tune in to higher realms if you’re running on empty and not at all grounded.
Unsurprisingly, I “hit a wall”, and had to stop – everything. I broke down, mentally emotionally and physically. My body burned again, I began experiencing severe headaches, and nosebleeds that would last over thirty minutes, leaving me feeling drained and dizzy. I stopped doing readings for people, I stopped facilitating healing sessions, I stopped my Tai Chi training – and, I felt like a failure for doing so. In short, I felt as though I had fucked up every area of my life, and I hit rock bottom – a place I never thought I’d visit again. And, at the time, it didn’t feel like a “visit”. I felt like I was stuck there, and that I would never get out.
Depression and anxiety are those places that feel like death and dying. This may sound dramatic, but if you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you’ll know that it feels as though you’re about to die. You know that it’s completely irrational, sitting on a bus or walking down the street, feeling as though you’re about to die. Nothing has happened, and nothing is about to happen – aside from the possibility of blacking out from the lack of oxygen. I remember, years ago, sitting on a bus, feeling the terror and panic of an anxiety attack. I felt as though I was drowning, as my sense of hearing was dulled, my vision blurred and my heart raced. I felt as though I might throw up, and that brought even more of a sense of panic, because I knew that everyone would know that something was “wrong” with me. Panic attacks are hell. Thankfully, after years of learning techniques, researching, meditating, and attending therapy, I’m able to breathe my way through times of panic. Most of the time, I can attend a group, a class or event, and feel great – sometimes, I can barely focus on what people are saying, because my head is spinning and I can hardly breathe. Thankfully, the former is becoming my “normal” again.
I mentioned the words “dying” AND “death” because I also wanted to touch on depression. Depression isn’t feeling sad. Depression is a void of sorts, because it is a place beyond sadness. It’s a place of having given up. Maybe not completely, because I truly believe that there’s always hope within a person, it just sometimes gets buried to the point where we can’t find it. And we either reach out to someone to help us to find that dim and barely flickering flame, or we succumb to the darkness altogether. I’ve known people who have given in, and I remember the pain, blame and carnage that was left behind. If you are feeling this level of despair, and you feel like you “want out” of life altogether, remember that it’s never too late to reach out. As trite as this may sound, it’s true.
I’ve experienced mental health challenges for most of my life, and that’s not something I say lightly. Infact, as I typed that, I realised how hard I find it to admit that sometimes. I’ve only recently begun to completely admit that to myself and own it. I’ve always had a depth of feeling and sensitivity that made me feel different to a lot of other people. I know that a lot of the depth of feeling and sensitivity has fuelled my creativity over the years, and I also know that I don’t have to feel absolutely awful anymore in order to write a creative piece! I’m blessed to know many other people who feel this way, and who have faced (and continue to face) their own challenges. I met these people by being honest about the way that I feel, and have felt over the years. Coming from a space of openness, authenticity and vulnerability is the only way in which we can truly connect with others. And yes, I know that this is scary, but the risks we take with this pay off in a big way.
As I continue to experience recovery, I know that it’s possible, with the right support, and the awareness to know when you need help. That’s part of why I’m writing this blog. From the outside, I know that not many people knew of the hell I was going through internally this year. I took a step back from social media, and didn’t see as many people for a while, but people do that all the time, right? Sometimes we can’t see how much another person is suffering inside, because they’ve become so adept at “putting on a brave face”. This has certainly been one of my party tricks over the years. I’m aware that I can be having a full-on meltdown inside, and be able to carry on as if nothing is happening. I don’t want to continue doing this. I would rather be open, honest and vulnerable, as frightening as that is. And, if there aren’t any people around whom I trust enough to be this honest, open and vulnerable with, I would rather retreat to a safer-feeling place and breathe deeply until it all passes over – which it always does. Nothing is permanent.
I am aware that I have learned many lessons in 2018, and not in the easiest of ways. It’s been a bit of a running joke for me that I tend to have needed to be slapped around the face by something in order to “get it”. I’m feeling much more determined to stay as centered as I can now. This year has been quite the detour, or as my therapist put it – a huge party (albeit not much fun) and I’m still getting over the hangover. If I’ve learned anything in 2018, it’s that I don’t need to push and pull things into my life in order for it to work. Feeling into what I need and want, and taking inspired action when the feeling arises, works best. Most of all, I’m learning and accepting that I am OK as I am. I don’t need to change anything about myself in order to be loved and accepted. It’s all about me really accepting myself as I am, without the masks. My true self, my core essence, has always been there – regardless of the stories that have played out on the outside – no matter what my outward appearance is, or has been.
But that’s another story, for another time.