The next chapter of my life has been on my mind for months. I haven’t blogged since March. Every time I sat down to type, something made me stop tapping the keyboard. The constant nervousness that my openness about my mental health will somehow hurt me. A sense of not being articulate enough. People being bored of hearing me talk about mental health. Coming across as needy or playing the victim. I went dark last year for several months after a severe mental health episode which challenged me and some of the people around me. This year saw my second period of the blog going dark. I’ve been trying to come to terms with a lot of processing and with who I am. Who I really am. I may be making progress.
After falling seven times and rising for an eighth last year, I’ve worked hard. Therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, medication, meditation, diet, sleep, fitness, being more social, setting better boundaries, learning more about health, daily journaling, and four senses techniques. Whatever has been suggested, I’ve done it. I am due to start EMDR therapy later this month. I’m a flawed person, but one thing I can do well is practice positive habits. Two weeks ago, I hit two milestones on the same day. Four years to the day since my last drop of alcohol, and on the same day, my 1,000th consecutive daily meditation.
I can’t for certain be sure what has helped me most. Perhaps all of these factors, perhaps none of them. All I know is that I’m in a better place. A much better place.
My recovery would look like an upward saw tooth profile if sketched on paper. Making progress, but with the odd setback. That’s to be expected. An external event caused a major setback in the summer, and I went from telling people I have never felt as positive in my whole life straight back to nocturnal panic attacks and crushing self-doubt. But I’ve stayed focused and pressed on. When I feel any inner tension or anxiety, I turn to one or more of my tools, and it centres me. I can feel anxious or depressive states coming on, and intercept and deal with the threat. I’ve made a few mistakes and repeated negative behaviours but have resolved the issue quickly.
I’m careful not to become complacent, though. This deep-rooted illness has a way of whacking me on the back of the head when I’m not looking. The darkest moments have been terrifying. Awake in the middle of the night, heart racing and pouring sweat. Anxiety attacks which have left me wondering whether I was conscious or not during them, almost out-of-body experiences. Over the years, more than once, I have seen a pale horse and its rider, his almost seductive call to join him on the journey.
So why the blog-free period? A lot is going on inside my consciousness. Unravelling of memories and behaviours and emotions. Dealing with a lot of my self-damaging thought patterns. Facing up to thoughts and memories that haven’t been dealt with healthily over my life. A place of dark thoughts and fears. Meditations on my mortality. Wrestling with my need for self-loathing. And dreaming of hope and possibilities. Reflecting on the potential for the next chapter.
Somewhere in this period, the thought I might not be as bad a person as I have perceived myself to be for most of my life has entered the edge of my consciousness. I started by pushing it away. My life script has been I’m a bad person, and people don’t like me. Any achievement has been pure luck and had nothing to do with me, the bystander. Compliments or positive words to me or about me have made me very uncomfortable throughout my life, to the point I feel physical discomfort.
Good professionals and a good personal support network have helped me in this respect. My negative self-talk is very well honed, and I can see off any positivity through several complex defence mechanisms. That’s starting to break down somewhat. One knock-on effect of that is I have become more social.
One important outlet has been a cycling club comprising the most diverse and accepting bunch of people I have met in my life. A blessing to me. I’ve met such a fascinating group of people, and it has trashed my concept of people not accepting me, not liking me. Interestingly, I’ve met several people in the cycling world who have been very open with me about mental health and have had more open conversations in this culture than anywhere else. Ranging from a legendary pro rider, to weekend warriors such as me. It appears that openness on the subject begets reciprocity.
In general, I’m more open and social and engaged. I met two people I hadn’t met for some time today while walking around London. In both cases, the conversations were warm and affectionate, and I realised I was paying real attention to the gift of these good friends. I expect one or two readers are wondering why I’m describing basic, everyday social interactions as though it’s something special. It all depends on where your starting point is. I’ve thought of myself as a weapons-grade introvert. It’s recently been suggested I’m not a neurological introvert, rather that I have trained myself to function that way as a protective mechanism. Possibly true. Probably true.
The second positive coming from the change is starting to think about the new chapter in my life. I may die in the morning, but the statistics would suggest I have the thick end of twenty years to go. That’s a long time, and I can spend it doing what I’ve done to date and, at some stage, sitting on the bench to watch my last years drain away. I’ve decided the next chapter is my prize for resolving not to be beaten by anxiety and depression and the darkest thoughts. In dealing with the mess of my psyche, I realised that my self-administered prescription for the rest of my life is not a given. I have thought it’s a given, as I have been unconfident and afraid of contemplating alternative directions.
Does it mean a complete change of direction immediately? Certainly not. I have been enjoying the notion that there is much more to do in life; it excites me. The anticipation alone has been invigorating. I would wager few people would expect some of the things I would like to do. Will do. That’s part of the excitement. It’s a list of part-formed possibilities, and turning and examining them in my mind is my secret pleasure.
I’ve been up and down many times in my life. The ups have tended to leave me mistrustful, believing the universe is playing a cruel trick on me, raising my hopes before slamming me to the ground again. The lows have been incredibly bleak, places of fear and isolation. I’m blessed to be in a positive period. I have to believe it’s different this time. The kiss of death for anything in this world is the ”it’s different this time” phrase. The difference this time is my newly learned ability to separate emotion from fact. To not push away any self-affirming thoughts with my elite-level corrosive inner voices. It’s a semi-formed skill for me, so the student needs to keep working.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the start of the next chapter in my life. When I find out who I really am. Accept who I really am.
As a footnote, today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone. If you know someone who you believe may be having suicidal thoughts, talk to them. Please.
Also published on Medium.