It’s been a while since I’ve written any worth reading or a huge personal update; even my Facebook page has been relatively low-key and non-personal since my return from Africa, so I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you why…
I am still recovering from Africa
It makes it sound like I was in rehab or I’d had an accident but if you were following my daily African adventures on Facebook, you’ll know that I was incredibly (mentally) ill when I first arrived and on the whole, found the holiday to be quite traumatic and detrimental to my mental health. The first week was hell. I was severely burnt out from my anxieties and depression leading up to my solo adventure and given that I’m a highly sensitive person, being in the thick of a bustling city such as Cape Town was not my smartest move. It took me going into the wilds of Kruger National Park on safari to calm down. There was nothing but the Milky Way, nature and wild animals to ease my mental pain and after 4 days of no phone signal or internet, I felt ready for my second week and I enjoyed myself.
Coming back, however, I was exhausted. Travelling when I was as mentally ill as I was was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and I was very thankful that it was over but it took the end of the holiday and getting back into routine to give me the time and perspective I needed to examine how I really felt about everything. To mentally unpack everything I had seen, felt and experienced. To realise that, despite how I felt whilst in Africa, there were pockets where I really had enjoyed myself.
I’ve been sick
Now, this isn’t the nicest part of the update but a necessary one unfortunately. In my first week of arriving in Cape Town, we all know I struggled mentally but what you didn’t know was how physically ill I felt. Hiking Table Mountain went out the window the day I arrived because I felt so lethargic, not helped by my lack of appetite and therefore lack of eating, all of which I put down to the heat despite knowing that I had not only lived, by ran in the strong Australian sun. By the time I came to my safari in Kruger, I got so sick I didn’t eat for 36 hours and my body was still trying to get rid of any food and fluid in me and whilst it took me 10 days to really settle down physically and get a normal appetite back, several weeks later and I’m still struggling.
I can often become exhausted and dizzy after walking quickly up small hills or even flat paths, my appetite is all over the place (which is resulting in fluctuating weight loss and gain) and I’m so exhausted I often find myself on the toilet cubicle floor at my office just to give me 5 minutes for the room to stop spinning and to find the energy to carry on with my work day. I even fainted in the office recently which, whilst everyone was lovely and caring, still had me feeling exceptionally embarrassed but I did, as ever, what I always do in these situations; told everyone I was fine and sat back at my desk to continue working. I’m currently waiting on tests and specialist appointments but I have no shame in admitting that there have been several occasions where I have got home after a long day with bad symptoms and bawled my eyes out because I’m so mentally exhausted with it all. I really am sick and tired of feeling so sick and tired all the time despite everything I’m trying to do to counteract it. What’s worse is that these symptoms and diagnostic path I’m going down are reminiscent of getting diagnosed with my liver issue so my memories of that time are bringing with it some serious health anxieties. Despite this, however, I’m still managing the next point…
I’m working hard on my fitness
In November last year I joined the gym across the road from work with the aim that I would get ‘beach body ready’ before heading to South Africa at the end of January. That ideal quickly went out of the window given how erratic (and bad) my eating habits were at the time so whilst I was in the gym often, I wasn’t losing much weight or toning up because I was living off sugar to keep me functioning. Yes, I’m highly aware of the irony in that statement.
Fast forward to the New Year and whilst, at this point, I was (and still am) heading to the gym 3-4 lunch times a week, I added in a boxing class and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. Weirdly, I don’t enjoy watching boxing or violence in general (I’m a highly sensitive person so it’s too much for me) but I can absolutely see why boxing is a popular sport and I’ve really seen a vast improvement in my reaction, speed and strength in just a few short weeks of dedication. This love of new found strength and cardio power brought on the desire to include something else into my gym sessions so, last week, I had my first ever weight-training session with a personal trainer! Why? Because I want to be strong. Sure, it will be nice to tone up and define my muscles but I want to have physical strength. To be able to complete pull-ups and press-ups without feeling weak. I want my body to physically show the strength that I also carry mentally. So, for the moment, my work-weeks not only include 8 hours of busy work-days but 2 self-designed cardio routines, 1 boxing class and 1 weight training session. And you know what? It’s making me feel sexy as hell right now which probably explains the next point…
I started dating
Or it should say – ‘started dating again’. Somewhere around October/November last year I somehow found the energy to date a guy for about a month but the spark fizzled out quickly and with my travels coming up, my mental health took a real nosedive until I went so looking and sounding presentable enough to date went out the window. I’m very happy to say that I’m dating again and more importantly I’m kissing Princes, not frogs. It’s nothing serious but the most important aspect is this; I’m having fun with it – an element of my life that has been absent for far too long.
Weirdly, now that I am dating and discussing aspects of my life such as work and my writing, it’s helped me become busy with something else…
I’m on a journey of emotional self-discovery
Allow me to be even more self-indulgent in this paragraph but now that this episode is coming to a close (I hope) and I have the mental strength and capacity to look back on the past 16 months without wanting to reach for the pills, I am finally allowing myself to realise what an incredible woman I can be. That may sound conceited but allow me to explain:
When you’re in the depths of hell, quite rightly, friends and family will want to lift you by trying to assure you what a loving, strong individual you are but your mental illness won’t allow you to hear or accept those words. They go in one ear and out the other. For every good thought they try and light you up with, the depression and anxieties counter it with the most blackening thoughts. But now that I’m finding myself again, I am starting to finally hear what they were saying. Starting to accept how incredible it is that I continued to work. Socialise. Travel. That I’m still alive.
Because let me assure you, not only did I not think I would make it through South Africa, I didn’t even believe I would make it to New Year. I almost didn’t but that’s another article for another time when I feel strong enough to revisit those memories and write, once again, with brutal honesty.
I say it’s an emotional journey because looking back on ourselves and our lives is often a painful experience but it’s also now one of beauty. I knew I was seriously ill last year; much worse than I ever let on to people but now that I’m beginning to reconnect with my old (bubbly) self again, it’s hearing other peoples words that bring tears to my eyes. It’s hearing mum say “it’s so good to see you laugh again” and Skyping with my girlfriends who tell me it’s “so good to have you back”. It’s knowing that despite all my fears, worries and anxieties that people would leave me; they didn’t. They may have given me space which I understood but they were still my cheerleaders when I achieved a personal milestone and a support when I didn’t have the strength to leave my bed. Now that I’m on the mend, I can look back and not only see how incredibly ill I was but how incredibly resilient and strong I remained also. I can look back and realise that contrary to what my mentally ill brain taunted me with, I achieved a great many things even if I consistently felt like a failure which perfectly explains my next pieces of news…
I am busy working
This has been a weird one for me lately but only in a good sense. For those that have been following me for a while, you’ll know that I spent 6 years in a job that resulted in me having a nervous breakdown that left me with PTSD even 5 years later. When I began this job in January 2016, my self-esteem was so low that I didn’t even think I could make a diary appointment without fucking it up…shout out to being in a psychologically abusive work relationship with your boss! It took me all of last year to slowly have my confidence built up. To be told I wasn’t just an amazing employee but a popular person throughout the office. My depression wouldn’t let me hear or accept any of the beautiful words I was continually told, however. That was until I went on holiday. Before Africa, the most holiday I had taken at once was 3 days (I thought it would be a waste of money travelling when I was so ill) and coming back after 2.5 weeks, I had emails and cards from colleagues telling me how much they’d missed me and 2 weeks of lunch dates with people wanting to hear about my adventures and catch up.
I have never felt so loved in a workplace. To know that I am genuinely cared about as a person (not just an employee). Worried about. Missed. Respected. It’s not something I’m used to and whilst I still struggle to accept kind words and compliments about myself and my work, it’s so refreshing to have my self-esteem built up instead of torn down!
I’ve been listening
For a great many weird and wonderful Universal reasons, I’ve spent the last few weeks listening to others who are struggling. Whether it’s you beautiful folk who have reached out through Facebook messages or emails, new people leaving heart-warming comments or colleagues seeking me out to be their counsel, I have become a confidante and unofficial therapist to many. For a couple of weeks I was left mentally exhausted each night due to the amount of people I was helping (in my physical and online world) but you know what? I will never complain about exhaustion caused by listening because if my tiredness means that someone else’s world feels a little lighter for a little longer that day, I will dedicate my life to it. I will happily take that exhaustion if it means that the other person feels less alone and more comforted knowing that someone is there for them.
Listening to other peoples struggles may sound, ironically, like the most depressing job in the world but I feel honoured. Honoured that women and men (!!) have allowed me to see their vulnerable, honest selves. See the struggles that they don’t share with others. Honoured that they then thank me for being there when all I’ve done is listen.
Every time I consider shutting this website and my Facebook page down, the Universe sends me an email from you. Or a colleague. Or a talk with a friend and reminds me that whilst I may never be a success to many, I have been a success to many individuals and maybe that’s enough!?
I’ve been making life decisions
I’m moving!! You may not know a couple of things about me – firstly, I can’t yet drive (life…never needing to…etc, etc) and the second is that because of the first reason, my current commute to work in Exeter is at least 2.5 hours every day on the bus. It makes for a very long day especially when I’m struggling but, ironically, being so sick last year meant that I didn’t care. I had too many other things to fill my head with and so, every day, I put my earphones in, listened to melancholic music and took my butt to work but I hate where I live. There is nothing but a lot of old people on the backdrop of nice scenery and whilst that was a huge hatred of mine (i.e. there was nothing to do), I knew I was too ill to do anything about it. There was simply no way I could have lived alone (even in a shared house) when laundry sat on my bed for 2.5 weeks because I didn’t have the energy to put it away.
I knew, even before I left home (Australia), that I needed to leave my home-town but knowing and having the mental ability and energy to do it are two entirely different issues. I now feel ready to make that leap. To move in with others. To try somewhere new. To begin to network and…moving on to the next point…
Finally push forward with my business ideas namely opening an Etsy store to sell mental health related products. I suggest you sign up to my newsletter if you want to be one of the ones in the know on that front. I finally feel I have enough energy to move forward both with my writing in general and with my ideas. Enough energy to have the ‘life year’ I wanted last year but was too ill to do.
So this is the State of I.
I still have a long way to go and I know that there will always be another serious depressive episode in my future (after 17 years of this shit, I’ve learnt how It and I work) and that, ultimately, I think my story/life will always end by suicide but my hope is that I am in remission, of sorts, for now and it remains that way long enough for me to make some personal, physical and mental headway in my life.
Thank you for not leaving.