Recently, I had become weighed down by the routine and responsibilities of life. This sounds like the most stereotypical millennial thing to say but why should that stop me? It’s true. The transition into University life has been difficult; the constant pressing down of academia on any and all of my spare time and the looming dread of deadlines and exams have been a burden. At Uni there is a constant pressure to be many people all at the same time; the ambitious person with a five-year plan, the social butterfly, the student who juggles five extra-curriculars, the party animal and the person who can survive on four hours sleep a night and powers themselves on a constant stream of the bitterest black coffee. Why do we do this to ourselves? Honestly, I have no idea. We are so caught-up in trying to copy everyone else that we forget how to be ourselves and do what we came here to do; to develop as a person.
Cynicism seems to be the most popular currency at Uni. I know that the world can be a very dark place but constantly working to seek out and analyse those dark spaces can be exhausting. I feel like in my first term I forgot to give myself a relief from all the critical arguments and debates which I felt that I had to constantly keep pace with in my classes. My course demanded that I immerse myself completely in other people’s pain or become just generally distrustful of everyone and everything in the world. That was not sustainable or healthy.
Now I have made it my mission to remind myself to actually breathe. To not weigh myself down so heavily with the cynicism of academic theory and the pressure to be a hundred people all at once. For me, I do this by looking around me and seeing what is actually happening, taking in the moment rather than constantly burying myself in articles which are telling me that the world as we know it is coming to an end or that we are falling into our inevitable doom as a species. Instead, I am focusing on issues that I am passionate about and that I can have an actual effect on, especially the environment. Living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life makes me feel productive and like I am giving energy back into the world rather than parasitically sucking it out. I am organising things that I can look forward to and enjoy, rather than scheduling work experience placements to bulk-out my CV.
I am so privileged that I can take a breath and think about what is best for me and my health. I am not having to constantly struggle to provide a living for myself or work a 9-5 job and I should take advantage of that because who knows what my life will be like in the future and what it will demand of me? For now at least, positive choices are ones which work towards bettering my mental health rather than my grades. If that means taking a path which I was not initially planning on, then so be it…
Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.
Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.
Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.
This post is largely just going to be about me – probably quite a boring topic for others to read about! Although, I’m just writing this because I feel that it is really relevant to my mental health journey and I want to chronicle the change in my perspective over time. So, feel free to instantly click-off if you are reading this, genuinely I won’t blame you!
This week has been a pretty tough one for me; from going back to Uni, to my doctors’ appointment taking an unexpected turn to suffering the effects of my own disorganisation. In the past I would have taken this week as a complete write-off and lamented the different things which did not go as well as they could have. Doing this in the past has constantly made me feel like a failure, like there’s no hope and like there is no point in trying at life because tough things appear at every turn. However, this time I am making the conscious decision to appreciate the difficulty in life, not love it but learn to like it for everything it teaches me, the new paths it takes me on and the way it challenges me to approach things better next time. Also, the difficult parts of life do not inherently have to overshadow the positive bits, they are not superior or deserving of more attention and positivity certainly should not be cast aside so that negativity can hog the limelight. So, this week I am writing a gratitude list about the positive things that have happened this week that I am grateful for:
- My mum packed lots of chocolate bars in my bag for my return to uni
- My brother landed safely back from his time in Switzerland
- I was looked after so well by my GP and nurse on Thursday who went above and beyond to help me
- I got an unexpected invitation
- I started an inspirational book called ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
- I saw a tiny wild bunny on my way to a seminar
- I tasted the most delicious flapjack that I have ever had (and I have had a lot of flapjacks over the years!)
These things may seem really small and random but when each of these events appeared in my life they made my heart smile a little broader and me more resolute to radiate positivity into other people’s lives so that they could feel that special feeling too, if only for a moment.
As I approach my 19th birthday, I’m beginning to realise the absurdity of the amount of labels people have and continue to pile on me. Whether people know me well on a personal level or not, once they get a glimpse of my history and the classifications of mental health problems which come along with it, they make-up their minds about me; I’m ‘damaged goods’. Either I am someone to be wary of in case they get swallowed into the dark, depressive rabbit hole I have been known to disappear down during portions of my life or I am someone they feel that they have to fix. However, what is glaringly obvious to me is that I am not broken!
I am going to be 19 soon, I have suffered and I have isolated myself from the world for vast patches of my existence but what is more important is that I have recognised my mistakes, I have had various rounds of therapy to learn about my brain (note: not to fix my brain) and I have come out the other side more determined to move on from my past and grow. Labels do not have a place in my life at this age. I am young and I am exploring the offerings of the world rather than cementing my place as one thing or another within it.
When people view me as ‘damaged goods’, they assume that I must be ashamed of my past or that it must have had a permanent negative impact on me and my character. What I would like to tell people is that I am a better person for what I have been through, if I didn’t have to struggle with the weight of mental health issues, I would not have learnt half of the valuable life lessons that I have gathered and continue to gather along my journey. The world has various ways of teaching us things, of pushing each of us to our limits and stretching our personal growth which comes to all of us in different forms. Whatever the world throws at us, we have the power to accept it rather than let it drag us down forever more.
Millions of people across the world have been through things vastly worse than what I have and for them I can only try to give my most powerfully positive affirmations. However, my being a more positive presence in the world can only be facilitated by laughing at the idea that I am ‘damaged goods’ and appreciating all of the negativity I continue to go through for all of the gifts I know it has given me.
Recently, I have made a conscious effort to change my perspective on what role fitness and exercise should play in my life and what mental approach I should take to maintaining my health.
In the past, I have completely avoided doing any exercise. At school, I found it endlessly embarrassing to run around and play sports in front of the other kids, many of whom would take advantage of any opportunity they had to poke fun at me and chip away at my fragile confidence. Also, I had little to no self-discipline at the time and if a sport did not come naturally to me, I would quickly give-up and actively try not to participate by hanging around the back of the court or hiding behind the more proficient kids.
However, recently an epiphany and it hit me that I am 18 and yet I get out of breath going up a flight of stairs. It’s a sad situation which makes me ashamed of my current state and eats away even further at my self-confidence. So, a couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to make myself proud for once and take control of my health-related situation. For years people have told me that exercising could have a positive impact on my mental health, from reducing my anxiety to instilling me with more energy. So, I have taken-up yoga.
For me, yoga is the perfect form of exercise. I can set realistic goals for myself, attend small classes locally and, if I feel too anxious to leave the house on a certain day, then I can practice by myself at home. I’m not pressurising myself to stick to a cardio-heavy exercise routine which I would find intimidating and disheartening because of my present bodily state. Instead, through yoga I am reconditioning my body, strengthening myself and using it as an outlet through which I can feel calm and peaceful.
I am building towards feeling more confident in my body by taking control over what form it takes and strengthening my body rather than focusing on my weight or comparing myself to others who thrive in the gym and can run easily around the streets. In the past, I have shrunk from people who spoke a lot about fitness or exercise because of my personal shame but I would honestly plead with anyone who is struggling with either their fitness or confidence to take-up a manageable routine which takes them on a gradual conditioning journey rather than pushing themselves to their natural limits.
Who am I?
The mirage I see in the mirror
Or the crayon drawing of an oversized child?
A twisted, morbid, relic
The mask of chaotic innocence.
Should I be ashamed, afraid,
Confused, depressed or scared?
Love is not written on my arms,
Assurance is not absorbed in my veins
And my heart doesn’t pump,
Not like I remember it used to.
Today, I find myself staring at my blank computer screen, the brilliant white of a draft blog post staring blatantly back at me. And I feel intimidated. What I am looking at doesn’t seem to be a computer screen anymore, it’s taken on it’s own lease of life, masquerading as the many faces of people I dearly wish will never find this indescribably small corner of the internet that I inhabit. All of these faces leer at me, telling me that my writing isn’t good enough, that everything I say is cliched and that I should be embarrassed to spend my time pouring out these immature words. So, I feel afraid to write and my hands keep hovering hesitantly over my keyboard, frozen in a panic about whether or not they can trust my mind to give them good enough words to type out.
I’ll be honest, most of these faces take the appearance of people who have taught me over the years. People who have seemed to me to be impossibly clever, even scarily so as I remember their Oxbridge certificates taking pride of place on their walls, almost as if to prove my own inadequacy to me. Their faces contort into amused sneers in my mind’s eye as they look at me with the knowledge that what I write is absolute drivel that could never impress anyone. The way they look at me feels paralysing.
I don’t whether the force of their intimidation in my head is so strong because I got my first semester University results on Friday. The crude grading of my supposed intelligence and understanding has always felt frightening to me, as if the sum of my parts is presented on that results page in a disappointingly low percentage which classifies me as simply average. Whatever the mark, results are always a distinct bash to my confidence because it reminds me of how my future is in the hands of other people who are undoubtedly intellectually superior to me and probably marked my papers thinking how basic my work was. The most I can do is stick a figurative middle finger up at these pretend critiques which my mind has twisted out of the faint shadows of people I either used to know or barely know at all and continue to write in spite of the faces which drift across my consciousness.