The Chapter Where I Finally Confront My Biggest Fear
There’s a very, sweet and millennial irony in “finding yourself,” whilst backpacking on the other side of the world. Having just kayaked half-way around Halong Bay in Vietnam, my boyfriend asked if we should stop to admire the view. As our kayak romantically floated across the water, something about the stunning foreignness hit me - I felt completely numb by it all. Although the experience was pretty enough for a humble brag on Instagram, instead I was left confronting my deepest fear: my mental health was starting to deteriorate, again.
With a past history of dating shitty boys who’d ghost as soon as I mentioned feeling down, I’d grown used to silence replacing what relationships once were. With my anxiety replaying the worst case scenario over, and over again, in my head, naturally, I was nervous to tell my boyfriend how I was feeling… or even the lack of what I was feeling. I didn't want my numbness to ruin this experience for him, too.
However after he realised something was up, I ignored the throbbing anxious thoughts in my head and confided in him. Obviously, being the incredibly caring and understanding person he is, he held me tight before telling me we’d get through it together. And we did.
He spent the remainder of the holiday trying to accommodate whatever mental state I was in that day. If I was too anxious to physically leave my bed, that’d be okay - we’d order room service and have a wee little cuddle whilst watching Netflix in our cosy little wigwam. This familiarity with our usual weekday nights helped drift away from my feelings of being overwhelmed before transforming into feelings of being underwhelmed. I’d suddenly be hit with guilt over the fact I was stopping us from seizing every opportunity in a foreign country. Within an hour, we’d be zip-lining, caving, hiking, riding a motorbike or partaking in any other cliche gap yaaaah traveller experience.
And although I still felt hollow during these tailored forms of self-care, it felt different this time, as I had someone rooting me on through it all. Now, looking back at the trip, I’m beginning to see the possible shitty experience for what it was: a test which not strengthened our relationship, but also made me confront my mental health.
Since my teenage years, I’ve had depressive and anxious periods which would appear out of thin air, usually every couple of months. Whilst sometimes this meant feeling down to the point of numbness, it also meant that sometimes I’d feel so anxious that the simple task of leaving my bed would end in a panic attack. My usual coping mechanism would consist of isolating myself from the world, cancelling all social plans and spending any possible moment in bed. I’d scroll endlessly on my laptop until I fell asleep, woke up, and then do the whole thing again. The days would fly by, sometimes even weeks, and then eventually one morning, I’d wake up feeling “normal” and be ready to face the world again as if nothing had happened.
But it’s different now. I’ve got a full-time job in something I care about, and can’t just hibernate in my room like I so freely did at college and university. I also have a boyfriend, and therefore have another person’s feelings to consider (even if he is low-maintenance, and always has the best intentions for me). Both of these positive factors are challenging how I approach my mental health. Now, instead of hibernating in my room and waiting for it all to blow over, I am working my ass off to confront it for the first time:
I am being more open about my mental health.
Not many people know that I sometimes suffer from depressive or anxious periods. But after seeing inspirational women like Amy, Charlotte and Hattie, speak so openly and eloquently about their own experiences, I’m beginning to feel more accepting of mine.
On a day to day basis, I am also trying to be more honest about my feelings. If I’m having a bad day, I let those it matters to, know without going into too much detail. Whilst I’ve always been worried that people would find it painfully boring, or see it as a weakness of mine, since opening up, I’ve realised that actually, people do care.
I am encouraging myself to socialise more, even when I don’t want to.
Instead of hiding away in my room, I am making a conscious effort to see my friends. Sure, I’m usually nervous before meeting up and worry that I won’t be any fun but 9 times out 10, I’m totally fine and end up having a whale of a time.
I have made a mini-sanctuary for when I do feel down.
Over the space of the past month, I’ve completely redecorated my bedroom. The walls have had a lick of paint, I’ve bought a new carpet, and my room now resembles a jungle with the number of cacti and house plants its hosting. The theme is very simplistic with touches of bohemian, making it the perfect mini sanctuary.
I am trying out different coping mechanisms.
Since decorating my room, I’ve spent a lot more time reading and writing (and watching Friends, if we’re being realistic), which have become two of my favourite self-care hobbies. I’ve also realised that walking and making to-do lists are two things I find highly therapeutic. Being productive makes me realise that “okay, everything may be falling apart but at least my make up brushes are clean, and I’ve prepped a delicious lunch for work tomorrow.” Whilst I sometimes can’t control my mental health, being productive gives me a sense of control over other aspects of my life.
I am remembering what I am thankful for.
Whether it’s my pooch, being tagged in a meme or Netflix for confirming a second season of Queer Eye, I’m realising the importance of gratitude.
I am finally asking for help, rather than running away.
This is something my stubborn and independent self never thought I’d do.
I am no longer ashamed of my mental health but instead, voluntarily walking into the whirlwind of working with it. Here’s to being a living, breathing human who is more than just her anxious or numb thoughts. I am ready for the chapter I never thought I’d confront.