I haven’t blogged in a few months. Very unexpectedly, not long before last Christmas, I found myself dealing with very particular and nasty intrusive thoughts. It has led me on a journey of self discovery and new attempts to heal past hurts.
Yesterday, my Facebook memories reminded me how fragile life can be. Three sets of photos appeared. In the first, from 2008, I am at a party. I am smiling but my eyes look frantic and the smile is plastered on. I look very together on the outside, I am slim and made up, but the inner disease I was feeling is very obvious to me.
The next set was a year later, in 2009. I had been seeing Pete for a couple of months and we are at a party with his friends. I still look together, slim, made up. The smile is the same but the eyes are relaxed. I look safe.
A few weeks later, we were to go on holiday, to the south of France. When we arrived back from holiday, I found I couldn’t get out of bed. All the pain that I am suppressing in the first photo had started to rise up and demand attention.
I had no idea how long it would take for me to feel “normal” again. I took a few weeks off work sick. That turned into leaving my job, my home, my city, my life as I knew it. By the end of that year, Pete and I had bought a house together that could be a safe place for me to recuperate in. Because once I felt safe, once I had that security so evident in the second photo, the waves of grief kept coming, they kept rising up and demanding my attention.
It became a new phase of my life, one that lasted for three and a half years, until I fell pregnant with my son.
The final photo is a year later again, 2010. I am 24. It is me and Pete in our friend’s kitchen, I am holding our dog who is six months old, and who has become my faithful companion as I have journeyed into my emotional pain over the past nine years. I look fragile, dishevelled, there isn’t any spark about me and Pete looks very protective. But I look real. My face is bare and I’m not trying to hide anything. It’s all there to see.
These photos, they reminded me how we never know what is to come. We can try so hard to keep it all together but our experiences have a way of catching up with us.
When I started breaking down, I believed that my depression was unexpressed emotion and that if I allowed myself to do what came naturally, if I didn’t try to manage or avoid the pain and I cried as much as I needed, then I would start to feel better. I believed that my pain had come to teach me, to set me free.
I had another breakdown, later, a year after my son was born. That was much harder because I had to focus on him as well as look after myself. But at the same time it was easier because I had to do it, for him. He gave me a fight I didn’t have the first time.
When I had that second breakdown, it was totally different to the first. They were different experiences, and had different accompanying mental health issues. I thought I had done something wrong, that it was happening again, because I had worked so hard the first time and come so far. But as time went on, what I discovered was that my pain is like layers. One layer might be resolved but there is more underneath.
It was easier, the second time, because I had done it before. It didn’t feel easier at the time, it felt horrendous and I thought I might die, which I didn’t think about the first time. But it was easier, I had tools and coping mechanisms and I believed in my ability to find a way through. After about 2 years I started to come out the other side.
And now, the things that troubled me enough to cause those breakdowns feel at peace. They no longer trouble me. But I know that there is always more. And it didn’t surprise me this time, when I started to have thoughts. Disappoint me – honestly yes. Every time a new issue comes up, I never know how long it will take to resolve and resolving it is never in my life plan.
But this time, it has been about three months now and this has been much more gentle to work through. I can keep functioning, I have more confidence to handle my mental health, I feel like a fighter. I can compartmentalise things and keep going all day and then find the thoughts hit me once I sit down and am tired. I am recognising my triggers more quickly, I have accepted what is happening more quickly. It’s just practice.
I have a new diagnosis to add to my list, OCD. I find labels very comforting. The first time, I was given my BPD diagnosis, and it validated my experience. I stopped feeling so weak, I started to trust and accept my pain. It has been the same with every diagnosis. It gives what I am working with a name. These thoughts are not real, they are OCD. It gives me an identifiable experience to talk about.
Back in 2010, I felt so lost. I had taken these huge steps to try and reform my life and I couldn’t see the outcome. I didn’t know anybody who had walked this path. I just knew I had to learn to listen, and I started prioritising that. There were so many years where it felt like walking through sludge. Nothing had any colour, my sadness was still so heavy, I was working so hard and trusting but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. There were no tangible changes. Life was very quiet.
Things did change. Now, I feel like I struggle to keep up with the changes. But I do, because of that earlier, slower work. The foundations that were laid. I used to think often of the story Jesus told about the house on the sand and the house on the rock. The house on the sand was washed away and the house on the rock remained. Well, my house of the sand was washed away. And I had to allow a house on the rock to form, one that could withstand the turmoils of life.
We don’t know what turmoils lie ahead. When I look at the challenges the world faces, it seems glib to say that my inner house is now stable enough to withstand them. I don’t feel like my house is rock, yet. But I can almost now see how it could be. I do see that my house wobbles less with each new crisis. And from that, I gain great comfort. Each crisis, while painful and impossible feeling to start with, has become in the end a gift, to allow me to find my way through and beyond the underlying pain. And I see that this time. I have been surprised by the things I discovered as I have sat with my intrusive thoughts. But that’s a story for another day perhaps.