Wednesday, November 2

Rising from the Ashes of Life

We all become a different person at some point in our lives. We grow, we change, we evolve. We learn more, we appreciate more, we move forward, or we keep looking back. But nothing is a more significant catalyst than hardship.

For some people, that hardship is an event contained within a certain time frame - grieving in the wake of death, a life crisis, things like that.  For me, however, hardship has always been an ongoing thing.  I suffer from chronic major depressive disorder in conjunction with some anxiety disorders. I didn't receive treatment until I was 21 years old, but I had already been struggling for nearly 10 years at that point in my young life. As happens with so many people, I had to hit rock bottom before I could begin to move forward. What I didn't anticipate was having to rebuild my entire life, and spending years seeking wellness.

I suppose it was naive of me to think that I would emerge from a mental breakdown as the same person I was before. I had been a very devout Catholic for a few years before I broke down. I took to Catholic theology like a fish to water, absorbing and breathing in all I could. My intellect made me very adept at theological pursuits. I endeavoured to be a good Catholic, but now, on the other side of it all, I see that I only became devout because I was running away from an aspect of myself that I had never liked or felt comfortable with. As I finally admitted that to myself, I was able to become the person I had been running from all along - my "real" self, the "true" self that I had been avoiding and denying for many, many years.

This is an issue that I will treat in several entries to come. I may perhaps write a series, because it is a difficult and convoluted subject to disseminate. The thing that really matters is this: I have found more peace and freedom allowing myself to finally be the person I was once afraid of, than I ever found as a Catholic-on-the-run. The woman who arose from the ashes of my former life was the woman I was born to be, for better or for worse. It has been difficult, and my struggles with hardship are ongoing. Some days are better than others. I still have days where I cannot get out of bed, or where I cannot see the point of even going about the simplest of quotidian activities - showering, brushing teeth, even brushing hair.

My hope is that I will eventually have more good days than bad, and that I will eventually be able to feel like a fierce, glorious phoenix rising from the ashes, shedding all that holds me down and rising to meet my dreams with open wings. Sometimes I fear that it isn't possible, but I am slowly learning to be more positive in my outlook. I am also learning how to take control of my life and begin to make things happen for myself.

One foot in front of the other, one by one.

Monday, October 24

You are responsible for your own life

Taking responsibility for the things that happen in my life is one of the most difficult tasks I find before me today. I was watching Oprah's Lifeclass on her new OWN network, and something she said really struck me: "You are responsible for your life. If you are sitting around and waiting on someone to save you, to fix you, even to help you, you are wasting your time because only you have the power to take responsibility to move your life forward."

I have never looked to Oprah as a guru or even as someone who has a lot of wisdom to offer, but sometimes you need to hear the truth from the mouth of someone other than yourself, or your therapist. When Oprah said those words, I felt the blood rush to my cheeks as shame welled up inside of me. I am very, very guilty of feeling that I am not enough to get myself through this life. I am not strong enough, I am not resourceful enough, I am not practical enough, I just can't do it alone. I keep thinking that if I could have someone to emotionally support me, if I could get my foot in the door, if I could save some money, if I could just get a break... then I could live my life. Then I could succeed.

I have very little confidence in myself, and very little self-esteem. Having to rebuild my life from the ashes of all that I once knew has been a very slow, laborious project. It stripped me of many of the things I once valued about myself - my discipline and my cleverness, for one, and my ability to memorise and synthesise information. It stripped me of the hope that everything would be okay, no matter what happens. I now live in perpetual fear of failure - not simply failing to achieve a goal, but failure to continue living my life. Failure to function as a human being. A fear of slipping back into deep depression, without anything constant or concrete to hold on to.

I suppose it stripped me of my sense of agency in my own life.  I went from someone who makes things happen, to someone to whom things happen. Everything felt out of control, and now that I have seen how easily things can fall apart, I am terrified of losing all that I have worked to attain over the past few years. I know very well that sitting back and doing nothing will not allow me to achieve my dreams, but at the same time, I am so painfully cautious and tentative now, almost reluctant. I know that I must graduate and I must acquire a full-time job. The debtors will begin knocking early. But when I think about how much work that I must do in order to get there...

I feel so afraid.

I wonder what it is that will finally allow me to master my fears and be able to live again. For now, I seek solace in writing all of this out in the hope that it will serve as a sort of therapy for me. Sometimes things only appear clear when they have been written in words on a page.

Here's hoping for some clarity.

Thursday, October 20

A window to the past

One of the hardest lessons that I have had to learn is that I don't have to hold myself hostage to the person I used to be, or to things that I once did. I have spent most of my life regretting my own stupidities and indiscretions, looking back to my childhood and idealising the beautiful simplicity of that phase of my development. I have a strong desire for control, but it only encompasses my person and my life - I do not try to force it on other people. I need to control my emotions, my thoughts, what I wear, what I eat, how I act, how I speak... all that I do. I have gone through periods in my life where I dream almost every night about re-living situations in my past and wishing that I could change the outcome. In those dreams, I feel such a relief when I find myself back in my childhood home, surrounded by those familiar walls and familiar things. It has finally happened, I always find myself thinking in those dreams. I can finally do everything over.

That is not a healthy way to live. It is no way to live at all, really, for who can move forward who stays rooted in the past?

I realised only recently that all of this vain wish for a "do-over" is holding me back. It seems so obvious to others, but to a person who has known a great deal of mental illness since puberty, it was a much more difficult realisation to come to terms with. So much of my turmoil is replayed, made manifest, and even solved in my dreams. In some ways, it feels like an eternity has passed since I was a little girl. In others, it feels as though no time has passed at all, no doubt made worse by the fact that I carry with me such vivid memories of my childhood.

And so, when I found myself in yet another lucid dream, I was overjoyed - I was finally back in my childhood home and I was getting ready for the first day of school. My mother had bought me school supplies and she had made croissants for breakfast. I had on some new clothes - sometimes a rarity in my childhood - and I was happy because they were pink and purple, my two favourite colours. As mum packed my lunch into my backpack, I looked at the time. I had to catch the bus soon. Then I realised that I had no idea which locker to place my things in, or which classroom to go to. My mother said to me, "You are 11 now, Stephanie. You should know these things."

Then it hit me - I wasn't 11 at all. I was well over twice that age.

"But I'm not 11, mum. I'm 26," I replied sadly.

"Well, then," she said, her brow furrowed. "You'll have to figure out what to do."

And when I woke, I felt as though a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I finally felt ready to move on and face my future.

Letting go and learning to forgive myself for things that have happened in my past is not an easy task. When I see all of the wasted time spent wandering through life, uncertain and longing to belong, I wish that I could have seen things then as clearly as I see them now. I suppose I ought to be grateful in some way, because all of these mistakes and memories have formed the woman I am today...

But it is a bitter pill to swallow, is it not?

Sunday, October 16

That girl is a monster

I used to be a very different person.

I suppose that is true for many of us, but it is especially true for me. I tend to divide my young life into three parts: childhood, life before the breakdown, and life after the breakdown.

I used to be many things – a happy child, a tormented adolescent, a bubbly and devoutly religious Catholic. A brilliant student. People liked me. I appeared to have many friends. Behind closed doors, however, I was slowly falling apart. So slowly, it seems, that even I didn’t realise it at first. I didn’t know anything was wrong until it was almost too late – until I was searching for a textbook among my bookshelves one day. I knelt down, staring down at my hands, and I realised that I didn’t want to be alive anymore.

It was two years before I hit rock bottom.  I crashed hard and had no other choice but to seek psychiatric help. It was five years ago that I suffered the breakdown, and I am only now beginning to piece my life back together. After all that I have seen, after all that I have suffered, I know that I cannot return to the life I once led. It was a life lived by someone with a severe mental illness, grasping at straws in an attempt to keep her head above water. Still, for many years, I struggled with the belief that I had to return to the way things had been before. I had to be perfect, I had to be impressive, I had to live up to the persona that I had created for myself when I was too afraid of being who I really am.

It nearly destroyed me.

I once heard it said that forgiveness is not only coming to accept your past, but that it is also learning to give up the hope that the past could be any different. For me, forgiveness also meant coming to terms with who I really am, the person whom I have spent most of my life running from. It also means realising that it is okay if I am no longer the person I once was – that it is okay if I don’t have all the answers, or the right words, or the “right” beliefs.

I am very different now, and I am finally learning to accept that that is okay. I am ready to step out of my past and to embrace my “new” self. I can’t begin to love myself unless I know who I am, and although I know many things about myself, I do not know everything yet. 

I woke up a few days ago and realised that I have been hiding this “new” self from all of the people who knew the “old” me – the girl before the breakdown. I have been feeling ashamed of who I am now, ashamed of being different, ashamed of questioning the world around me. Those people who once knew me... they don’t like the “new” me. They keep asking “where Stephanie went”, or “where is the old Stephanie?” Instead of telling them the truth, I began living a lie. I began pretending to be the girl I used to be for fear of being abandoned for who I really am.

I don’t think that is fair. I think I should be free to live life as I am, with all of my quirks and peculiarities. I think I should be free to embrace my doubt, my scepticism, and my curiosity. I think I should be free to grow and to change. I should be free to fly.

 I must ask myself, “Do you believe that you are worthy of happiness? Do you believe that abundance, success, comfort, fulfilment, peace, joy and love are part of your birthright, or do you believe they are not?” My life, I think, manifests what I believe, and it is time to shed the burdens of my past and embrace the woman I was born to be. I choose not to live in fear of criticism. I choose not to live in fear of rejection. I choose to be empowered, I choose to dream, I choose to hope. I choose to live.

This blog is a work in progress, an ongoing exploration of self and a quest to discover who I truly am and to share it with the world. Through blogging about my thoughts, my experiences, my opinions, and my beliefs, I hope to find strength enough to break free of my constrains, real or imagined. I want to write it all down, every little thought, hope, dream, and desire. Every mountain, every valley, every stumble and every fall. Only in writing this all out will I come to see the truths peeking out from between these lines.

I hope to become confident enough to be who I truly am without apologies, and, for the first time in my life, I hope to learn to love myself as I deserve to be loved.  I am finally okay with the fact that I don’t have all the answers, and that I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself – and that realisation has finally set me free.