The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
– David Foster Wallace
I want to dedicate this piece to the artists who left a legacy but endured insufferable mental illness.
I have to write about how I feel, you see. I have this urge, that when something so emotionally staggering occurs, I must write to express all the hurt, the joy, the revelations I experience. And so I write to you today, after requesting to book an appointment to see a well-armored therapist. I am ecstatic… relieved… at peace.
I am getting help not because I am hopeless and without refuge. I am not begging for a shrink’s counsel out of utter despair and desperation. I have been conscious this whole time. No, it is more about me consciously choosing to gain a new perspective in order to gain a new way to live. Learning a new way which has not been taught to me through conditioning and life experience.
See, there is only so much you can do on your own, when you aim to Live exceptionally and truthfully. I moved to Russia in February last year, because I could not move forward in that total environment. I wanted to get myself back, but I felt I couldn’t around family and friends, and everything familiar that goes with it. I wanted to make the changes necessary so I could be an entrepreneur and empower myself through the way I lived. I never knew why I had to leave countries to change.
So, I go and continue on this journey. One month in, I struggle for self-assurance. Two months in, I give up what is causing self-harm and free myself, I get accepted into the course and university I want so I can pursue my entrepreneurship dream, and I coincidentally fall in love. I become ill in April: nausea, shivering, weak limbs, dizziness, pain. And by June, I marry my new love in the early days of a Romanian Spring.
I had struggled with severe depression and anxiety for nine months since May of 2017. My health was in question throughout with no healthcare services I could rely on, and I was isolated and living in Romania for five months out of the nine. Stresses of not working, getting a permit, and being socially shut up with the disappointment of not being able to accept a study placement, exacerbated the problem. This continued on when relocating to London in October. Still sick, unemployed and isolated, my depressive states included manic episodes, thoughts of suicide, and a load of sleeping. My depression has always been a circumstantial one, where I do not cope with situations that rid me powerless and inactive.
I pushed on by studying short courses, reading books, supporting my husband’s career, exercising, following a good diet and developing a routine. My health continued, however, to be my depressive anchor. Symptoms kept adding on, paranoia grew and I was crying a great deal. I tried so hard to self-manage, but there was so much fear and uncertainty that it was hard to stay consistent. I believed, after so many new symptoms had appeared, that my future diagnosis will be either chronic or terminal, and I would not live the dream I was pursuing and had left home for, a year ago.
In December I was suffering from an episode and I called a therapist out of desperation. It would have taken four months to use the public mental health services where I was then living in London, and my GP was intent on ignoring my requests so as to minimise his budget and time. I told the therapist everything, everything I had been through in the last several months. He asked me “what in your childhood has made you so reliant on validation and structure?”. His question felt right, but I did not know how to answer it. I remained stagnant but curious.
Things changed for me, only yesterday, after my fifth appearance in the ER. With a local health service I could finally depend on, I was able to cancel out the fear of having a serious illness. I felt so free and happy, I talked continuously to my husband with thanks, apologies and hopes that I could now envision as part of our future. I now just wanted to go for it all. And what was more, was that I had come out of this battle ok. My breathlessness disappeared and I couldn’t wait to spend the next whole day, wondering and exploring, sporting a wonderful lightness. Nine months I had been living with those fears. And a lifetime I think I had been waiting to feel so cleansed of internal conflict.
For a long time, I envied successful people that seemed to live without much concern. I envied people who had simple, fulfilling lifestyles. Pulling myself back up, each and every time. Overthinking to manage. I am not saying it has been right. But that day was just perfection as I could think of nothing that troubled me, that made me stress and fear and hurt. That broke me down and insisted I struggle. Because I found an unconditional love and soulmate, I had no self doubts, no things to work on. Life, at that moment, was everything it should be.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!
– Hunter S. Thompson
I shared what was for me, a monumental stepping stone, with my parents in Australia over video chat. My husband by my side. Since the start of my depression in Romania, my father had growing concerns. Concerns that really were not new to me, as I have battled with depression since twenty and dealt with my parents’ depression since my teens: he is concerned with my stand against anti-depressants and has always questioned whether I can manage on my own.
My Dad responded to my current happy news in a similar fashion and suggested I consider my mental health. He proceeded to tell me my depression is genetic, that I need to consider medication and therapy. He tried to appear diplomatic by telling his advice is merely optional, but became irritated that I did not seem to look at my depression, nay my life, the way he did. It seemed, there are always internal conflicts to be had, until I die, if I suffer from depression: to struggle for the sake of no struggle in the long-term. This begs the question, why are we told There is no end to our mental suffering? Why are we supposed to be contained by it?
At the time, I could not believe what I was told to consider. Self-management and sufficiency does not live here. But I acknowledged his points, and moved on. We continued to chat about everything else in general, and our video conversation ended in laughter and positivity. It was 2 30 am London time, so my husband and I tried to get some sleep. Anxiety returned. I had breathlessness and some of those nagging health symptoms reappeared. I was starting to unravel the answer to that therapist’s question.
My husband was frustrated, not understanding why I was so broken by what my Dad had said. Because he knew I did not believe the assumptions he had made and I could take or leave the advice. But that is not how my father works, and that is not really what it meant. There was no diplomacy, really, in all honesty. This was an imposition that has and will continue to press on. And my celebratory announcement was ignored. My subconscious understood my father very well, my mind retreating to its habitual defensive state. I no longer felt free. And those feelings I was enjoying and embracing, soon subsided. All I wanted to do was share my joy, and the outcome both shocked and disappointed. I was not expecting this. Once again, I was locked into a deep depression.
And soon, I realised the answer to my therapist’s question was exemplified in my father’s recurring impositions and the hostility and forcefulness and instability that ensued inside of me. I love my father dearly and we are very close. But at that moment, I knew the limitations I put on myself subconsciously have been because of the limitations my parents have put on me. My parents did the best that they could to raise me and my four other siblings. But we are all only human, and we have flaws. And those flawed coping mechanisms will impact how your children perceive life issues and deal with them. And the children need to find out how this affects their lives and foretells their future. I now understood that I could not stay like this and get what I wanted. No matter the challenges I overcome, the optimism I exude and the adventures embarked on, I have a limited perception.
But let us not see this as something we must passively come to terms with, something we must carry. Awareness should be used constructively. And if you are aware of who you are and what your life means to you; you can separate and clearly distinguish what you want vs. what holds you back, you can then calculate what needs to be done to reconfigure yourself. You can keep your identity and make proper use of it. So, I feel blessed right now to be here when many do not get this far or live to see the day. I feel free not to be so conflicted, repressed and frustrated.
That way of living as I have is now void, because I am wanting to build and not to struggle as I have any more. I was taught to be resourceful but not to self-manage. I have been taught to be tamed by external factors; to adapt but not to act differently; to feel overwhelmed and not know how to cope. I have been only taught to swim, not to soar. So thinking about this all, how plausible is it for me to follow my dreams and become what I aspire to be? I would say, not much.
I need a new way and I need someone to teach me. I look to a therapist as my teacher, as I seek to break old behaviours and boundaries so I can push forward. I do not know what will become of me- what things will change and remain. I know I need to do this, that I have endured and persisted to get here, and it is my own choice to act.
Here are my key discoveries:
- Some things about you may be so deeply ingrained in your abilities, you have never understood why you cannot do and be what you want
- You need to free yourself, before you can go beyond your taught perception, beyond the life you were conditioned to follow
- When people said to me, you cannot escape your problems when you travel- they come with you: they are partly correct. Deep issues do follow you and may strengthen. But you are on your way to confronting them in order to overcome and that will happen with time and stripping back. Going home early, is when you choose to escape
- You are not defined by depression or by others. If you know yourself, stick to your accomplishments and your capabilities. You are stronger than you know to get this far
- Try to always be conscious. If you feel like you are doing and getting things you don’t want, but do not know why, keep delving into yourself to understand what has become of you
- Going to a therapist does not mean you are weak or dependent. It can mean that you are self-managing while being independent, resilient, adaptive and resourceful: you need the right tools to become an unstoppable mother fucker!
- And lastly, Maya Angelou:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.