I’ve been away for a long time, I know. But I come at you with a long text post, no pictures and fully intending to be completely honest for the first time. Please bear with me; it was very hard for me to write this – it’s been on my scheduled posts for a few weeks, it was deleted several times because I couldn’t go through with it – and I am finally in the clarity of mind to make it public.
I was lucky to grow up with an extremely supportive family. There is no one in my close or extended circle of relatives that I don’t love. My parents are the people I love the most, they have always gone above and beyond their possibilities to provide me with the very best things in life – education, food and rent, freedom to make my own decisions, trust, loyalty, and an overwhelming amount of love, care and friendship. But being born and raised in a city like Lisbon, where everyone knows each other, if not by face at least by name, there was always a tremendous pressure on me to be perfect; not just from myself – I always pushed myself to excel at everything I do – but also from my family to not discuss or disclose the darker, harder parts of my life. There was so much that I was kindly asked to hide, things most people I know would plaster all over social media, but I was taught from a young age to ‘never air my dirty laundry in public’. And sometimes, in order to be able to send word to all of my friends, I’d have to carefully edit my Facebook privacy settings to exclude members of my family – my mother, my aunt, my cousins, my childhood friends who are the sons of my parents’ friends. I took so much care into editing my life to seem perfect not to the outside world, but to the inside.
Yes, I go to therapy. That enough should tell you so much more than I let out. And that therapy is essential to my wellbeing, and a key reason as to why I even have the peace of mind to write this right now. The decision wasn’t easy – therapy is a long process and not a quick fix; good therapy is expensive; and, most of all, it is admitting that you are not, in fact, perfect. That you struggle. That you are not as in control of everything as you try to make it seem like you are – to both yourself and others.
The thing is, however, that so many people go to therapy. People in my family go to therapy. So many, if not the majority of my friends, go to therapy. That says more about the state of the world and what is required of us in our day to day lives than it says about us, the patients. I pay to have someone listen to me vent for an hour, and I can only tell you it’s money well spent.
Yes, I struggled with depression. I still do. I only started getting better in the last two months. Before then, I can’t even place when it started. Probably in my teens, and it got progressively worse throughout high school, my two year hiatus of University in Lisbon, and it spiralled out of control while I was in Rome. I can tell you exactly when it reached its peak – this year, between April and August. You might say “but I have you on Facebook; you looked so happy in all your photos and I couldn’t tell a thing from your statuses; the same with Instagram, Twitter, etc”. The truth is, what we don’t say is often the clue to who we truly are. If I don’t air any dirty laundry in public, then odds are there is too much of it to even hang up to dry.
I was in a relationship for two and a half years – that part everyone knows. What not many people know is that the last year wasn’t very good. I know better than to disrespect the person that I was with but, plainly put, things just didn’t work out, and I was trying very hard to make them work out for a whole year. I wanted so much to be happy, but at some point we changed and our personalities just didn’t agree with each other. It was harder and harder for me to tolerate certain behaviours, and I was noticing it was becoming harder and harder for him to tolerate the person that I am. The pressure of trying to salvage a relationship with someone who – whether consciously or not, I will never know – constantly made an effort to put me down and belittle me, while miles and miles away in another country, trying to deal with the fact that I was too preoccupied with the difficulty of my studies (finding myself out of my depths in the realm of English academia) to build relationships and make friends… It was too much. I exploded. A better way to put it would be, I broke.
From April to August, I was truly, completely broken. I was trying so hard to control absolutely every aspect of my life, to keep it all within the guidelines and standards that I had set for myself, that I completely lost track of who I was or what I even wanted out of life to begin with. For a long time I didn’t know myself and I thoroughly hated whatever it was that I had become. I was so utterly and completely lost. Even my parents, who so vehemently wanted to deny that something was wrong with me, that I was just stressed, became very concerned. I started struggling physically as well as emotionally. I began to lose sight of any valid reason to stay alive – after all, my life was crumbling before my eyes, and all I felt was that I was wasting my parents’ money in trying to pursue any kind of life at all – and many times I genuinely wanted to die. Not to hurt myself, not as punishment, but to relieve everyone that I loved of the bother that was, essentially, me.
My panic attacks increased in frequency and intensity. More than once I pulled out my own hair. I tried to throw myself in front of buses and cars. I lost count of the amount of times I passed out, lost consciousness during a panic attack, or how many times I cut myself – on the arms, on the legs, anywhere that would not leave a mark, because I did not want anyone to see. I had spiralled for so long and I had finally reached rock bottom. After weeks of calling the mental health emergency response service, taking occasional trips to the ER to beg the doctors to stop me, to give me something, anything, to make it stop, not for me but for my parents. Because I didn’t want to hurt them, I didn’t want my wonderful loving parents to lose their only child. Not because I thought anything of myself, but because I knew, regardless of my self-loathing, that losing me would hurt them more than words can express. I was put on antidepressants, on top of the anxiety medication and sleeping pills that I had been on since 2011. The cocktail of medication numbed the pain, and the panic attacks and bouts of self-harm decreased. At first, I was relieved, but then I realised it wasn’t just the pain that was being numbed – in reality, I stopped feeling pretty much anything at all. Nothing negative, but nothing positive either.
The hardest thing for me, as a person, is admitting failure to my family. I need their approval to survive. So you cannot imagine how heartbreaking it was for me, someone who holds their academic excellence as the only thing truly valid in her existence, to go up to the course leader for my MA and admit that I was having serious problems. That I couldn’t complete my assignments. That I couldn’t do… pretty much anything; I could barely shower or eat. I wouldn’t leave the bed for weeks. It was when my course leader asked me to ignore school, ignore the assignments, and tell her whether I was okay or not – that is when I realised I needed help. I don’t like asking for help; I avoid it at all costs. I was given so much on a silver platter my whole life that asking for anything ever feels like taking advantage, being greedy and ungrateful for the things and opportunities I was given. But I needed help. I needed to save myself before anything truly serious happened – and I was edging, ever so closely, to that point.
I started going to therapy.
In August, I ended my relationship, which I now realise was causing me most of my pain and distress.
I quit my horrible part-time job, which I didn’t like or need and took simply to prove to myself that I could do something other than study.
I managed to slowly stop taking my medication – because something inside me told me that I was ready, that whatever came up now I could deal with it without needing the numbness – and it’s been months since I last took anything that wasn’t a herbal supplement.
These past few weeks, for the first time, I have felt truly, completely happy for the first time in my twenty-five years of life. And this is not an understatement.
My parents called me the other day, saying they were proud of me, because they had never seen me so happy, so driven, so independent, so in control – just when I have stopped trying to control everything.
I tried being social for the first time since Easter, I went for drinks with the Brighton Girl group and Pippa, the lovely human that she is, pulled me aside to tell me how much she appreciates me and how proud she was of me for managing to sit there and have a laugh with a bunch of people. I stared at her and tried incredibly hard not to cry.
My mother was over for a week and we had so much fun, and I was so happy. I went on vacation with my parents in August and I felt so free and energetic, more than I had ever felt.
My friend Nell came over to stay with me for four days. I can honestly say that was probably one of the best weeks of my life. Every second I was around her was pure, unadulterated joy, and she is such a light in my life, I don’t know how I lived without talking to her for so long. Tiffany visited me for a week in August right after my breakup and she was so sweet, so patient, she introduced me to many things that have helped me stay happy, and we have grown so much closer since then. Tony came to see me in Brighton and brought me the most amazing birthday gift. All the friends who message me and tweet me every day – Diana and Alycia, you are particularly special – you make a much bigger difference than you might think.
Recently, I found myself chatting to strangers in coffee shops. It was amazing. I felt I was finally coming out of my shell. I felt interesting, like I had actual things to say that weren’t small talk – discussing films, music, photography – and it was so fulfilling to see that these people actually actively wanted to keep a conversation with me.
So what does all of this ramble amount to?
Well, consider this my coming out story. I am admitting, openly, that I went through a lot. That I struggled. That I am flawed. That I am not, nor ever was I, in control. I suffered – a lot – and pushed myself very close to the ultimate edge. I was there, standing, looking at the void, more than once. And you know what? I’m not ashamed to admit it. I am proud that I went through all of that. I am proud of myself because I survived, because I powered through, I fought this darkness that for a long time took such a complete hold of me that I had all but given up on breathing. But I fought it, so very hard, and I like to believe that I won.
I am so incredibly blessed, and I realise this now. I have the most amazing family, I certainly have the best friends anyone could ever ask for and, if I may say so myself, I realise now (25 years later) that I might not be as much of a waste of air as I told myself I was. After all, if I really was the person that I convinced myself to be, would these amazing, kind, dedicated people still be in my life? Probably not. Thank you to everyone in my life. You do not know, and you will never truly realise, how much I appreciate you being along for the ride.
This all to say, we need to talk about feelings. More often. Openly, without shame. Because being flawed, having problems, not being in control of your life isn’t something to be looked down on; it’s what makes you stronger. Your pain doesn’t make you inferior. If your story is anything like mine, it’s your pain that makes you better.
I am in a better place now that I ever was, and I had to hit my darkest, be at my lowest, to fully rid myself of what was toxic in my life – both internal and external to me – and claw my way back up to the surface. I feel much different now than how I felt months ago. Back then, I was cowering in the bottom of a very dark well; right now I feel like I am standing on top of a very tall mountain.