Four months ago I started healing.
This is what healing was like to start with: trembling knees, lungs that wouldn’t inflate properly, memories I didn’t want to remember, crying myself to sleep, crying in the supermarket, crying when people were kind, shutting down when they were not, frustration at life for being this thing you can never take a break from. I never wanted to die, but living was an obligation I didn’t want to participate in.
Healing looked like depression, healing looked like a breakdown. Healing was overreacting to small things and being bitchy, cutting people out of my life, listening to the same sad playlist and making myself cry even more. Healing was going home early from events I used to enjoy. It was being unusually quiet, it was being noticeably weary. It was day after day of just surviving being an achievement. Healing was weekly doctor appointments and usually I hate going to the doctor, but when you start healing, lifelines can come from unexpected places.
Healing came from little white pills. First one a day. Then 1.5 a day. I learned that breaking pills with my fingernails is more effective than using a knife. The pills made me so tired I was constantly on the brink of a nap and it was hard to focus on anything. But slowly they worked. The trembling eased off and I could breathe again. I was able to shrug things off that would previously have made me sob. I stabilised. I stopped resenting life for my existence. I stopped resenting my son for his existence.
The first time I reached out to a doctor, when I realised I couldn’t cope on my own anymore, I was prescribed daily yoga and a 10pm bedtime. I want doctors to offer medication, it makes me feel like a drug-seeker or hypochondriac to request it. But when I left that appointment, I couldn’t stop crying. I hadn’t realised how much I needed the hope that help was on its way, in the form of a medication so popular it’s cliche, until I didn’t get it.
In 2013 I was shamed out of taking antidepressants. “Do you really want to be so textbook?” I was asked. No, I didn’t. Being in the thick fog of depression for a year was apparently preferable to being predictable. Ordinary. Not-tough. I was prescribed prozac by my doctor after an episode where I had been taken to hospital by the police to see the crisis team. Pretty bad, right? But I didn’t take it.
Depression struck me again in the winter of 2015. I’ve been here before, I thought. I can do this. I can yoga and early-bedtime my way out of this. I can start-projects and exercise myself better. I gave myself a prescription of self-help, of toughing it out. It sort-of worked. Depression only stuck around for 3-4 months that time. Just long enough to lose a couple more friends. Then I started university, and I had hope.
But I never truly got better. Anxiety and low level depression was something I lived with for so long I thought it was normal. This year a friend pointed out that I’ve essentially been living high-stress for years, and it’s no wonder I reached the end of my reserves. Sometimes you need someone else to point out something that should be obvious.
I felt like I barely recovered from one setback before the next thing happened and I’ve been mostly-single for so long now that I didn’t even have someone to hold my hand and say “we’re in this together, it’s going to be ok.” This poem by Sabrina Benaim made me cry because I was always crying and also because it was so me. “I feel sad because nobody is in love with me. Nobody is in love with me, but everybody loves me.”
Healing started with accepting I didn’t have to be tough, that you can’t always fight your way out of mental illness. Healing was acknowledging that the phrase “mental illness” was relevant to me. Healing was seeking help in the form of weekly appointments, and insisting on those little white pills. Gradually healing began to look like smiling instead of crying. It was getting some answers, and accepting that I can’t always get all the answers.
Most of all, healing became gratitude. For my friends, who made sure I was never truly lonely and rarely alone. For gently reminding me they loved me when I felt like no one loved me. For inviting me to events or just out for coffee, even though they knew it was hard for me. For not letting me go. Gratitude to my family who reached out. I’m not used to having my family all up in my business so it was overwhelming, but good. Gratitude to my son for his eternally sweet nature. Gratitude to modern medicine.
I still have processing to do. The healing isn’t finished yet. But I have stabilised, and I have hope. The tiredness has faded, the sadness has faded, and I feel strong again. Strong enough to keep healing. Coming back to yourself when you’ve been lost under that thick black fog is such a relief. It’s like the way you appreciate breathing when a cough goes away, or being able to use a limb when it stops hurting, or hanging the washing up when it stops raining. Normality is a desirable goal when you’re feeling less-than.
I didn’t begin healing when I started getting better, I began healing when I crumbled, when I stopped repressing my feelings about my past, when my heart broke and I had to choose what kind of person I wanted to be, even when I didn’t want to be at all. Turns out I am mostly pretty cool with me, so I didn’t have to make any drastic changes.
I just had to choose to keep going, and I did, and I am.