It turns out that I am the queen of over-committing myself at the moment, hence the epic failure to write anything during Mental Health Awareness Week except a post saying that I would write something… Well, at least I tried.
The thing is, I do still intend to write and I have loads of ideas, I’ve just been so stressed with my new job and university work recently that it seems I have time for little else. Which is both a good and a bad thing really. Good, because it means that I am at a point where I can be busy and have the energy to do loads of things at once, a concept that would have been unthinkable this time last year. Bad, because I am overexerting myself which is causing unnecessary stress and my self care is teetering towards a lower priority level than it should be.
However, this morning I woke up early so I thought I’d try and get down something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. The idea that I, Emily Storey, have recovered. I am a recover-ee, some may say.
The other day I was sitting with my therapist in her house and I was crying. YES this isn’t exactly out of the ordinary for me, but this time was different. Why? Because I was crying happy tears. That’s right, big fat I-can’t-believe-I’ve-come-so-far, how-the-fuck-did-I-do-this tears. It was great and yet funnily enough, it was the first time I’ve felt embarrassed to cry in ages. I mean if you know me, you know I cry a lot. All the time actually – if I go a week without crying I start to get concerned that my tear ducts have broken. But these usual tears are frustrated tears. They’re sad tears. They’re stressed, heartbroken, exhausted, emotional and just fucking over it tears. Crying because I’m happy is a much less common occurrence.
I was embarrassed to cry because we’d been talking about everything I’d gone through to get here. All the friends I’d lost, either through my own fault or through their being utter douche bags; then the friends who’ve stuck around no matter what, plus the new ones I’ve met along the way. The fact that I was so scared to go to university because I was convinced I’d fail and now I’m averaging a mid first at the end of the year. We talked about the timid, self-loathing girl that had sidled into her office just over a year ago and how I am so, so different now. I was embarrassed because I was (and still am) proud of myself.
It was emotional, because it was difficult to get here. I had and still do have pretty low self-esteem, so my belief that I would ever make it this far was non-existent. But I did. I’m here and I’m better than ever before and I can’t bloody believe it.
A friend who fought cancer and won (like the badass she is) once said this to me:
“Getting better is harder than being ill. People were always telling me how brave I was when I was ill. When you’re ill you don’t have a choice – whatever happens is what happens. Everything just whirls around and you’re swept up in it. Other people know what’s best for you so you just put your trust in them and let them take you along. When you’re better… the world becomes so big. You have to make choices, you have look and decide what’s best for yourself because you’re the one who knows now. You have to deal with still being you, but a different you to who you were before. You have to deal with being seen as better even when you don’t always feel it, and the fear that you’re not. Everything’s spinning around but this time you’ve got to try and pay attention and find the right way. And when you’re not in a wheelchair and when your hair’s longer, people just don’t realise. So you can’t just say, slow down, I need a minute to sort everything out, and you don’t want to either, because you’re better, right? People just look at you and don’t realise everything.”
I’d have to agree with her. Being ill is shit. It fucking sucks. By no means is it “easy” but when faced with the option of trying to get better, it can seem like the more tempting offer. Why? Because getting better requires self belief. It requires the commitment to trying your absolute hardest every single day even when it it would be so much easier to sit on the couch and wallow in your misery. You have to start reminding yourself of your bravery and strength because when your pain is no longer evident, people stop doing it for you.
I’ve done my fair share of wallowing, partially because I was so frightened of what would happen when I got better. Who would I be? How would I cope in a world that appeared so terrifying? It’s funny, because as my friend said, I am a different me to before. Not knowing who I was going to be was so, so scary back then, but re-discovering who I am, although challenging, has been super fun and incredibly rewarding. Here’s a bit of what I’ve discovered so far:
I am Emily. I like comedy and nature and dancing pretty much anywhere. In general, I’m a pretty positive person but I’m definitely not an optimist. I don’t always like being girly but sometimes I do and that’s OK. I still believe that fairies exist. I like painting my nails which is something I used to hate and my favourite food is still chicken wings even though I’m now a vegetarian (again) (the struggle is real). I am a feminist, linguist and left-wing snowflake. I’m bisexual. I still want to live on the beach one day, but first I want to get a PhD, a childhood dream which I forgot for a while. I’m not very well coordinated so I’m always covered in bruises and I have all sorts of trust issues, but I’m working on them because I now know that the past does not define your future; rather, it fuels it.
To illustrate the fairy point, this is me and two friends exploring the Dunham Massey garden via the fairy trial on a mission to defeat the evil troll. I was the flower fairy and had a ridiculous amount of fun.
I discovered that I can love who I am, without the badge of mental health defining me. It was me, for a while, and it will always be part of my story, but I am no longer the depressed girl who had a break down and lost her mind. I am wonderfully complex and infinitely interesting just like everyone else out there, only sometimes I panic when I see a police officer and parades make me want to cry. Everyone has their quirks, eh?
What I’m trying to say is: recovery is hard. It takes so much effort, it’s frustrating and tedious, and the health system in the UK certainly doesn’t have enough funding to provide us with the level of care we need. You will probably lose friends. You will not be the same person you were before you became unwell. It is an ongoing battle that doesn’t simply stop one day, but gradually gets easier and easier to fight. And oh my, is it worth the fight. You are worth the fight. You can achieve so much more than you ever believed possible, and in a way, your battles have only made you stronger for what is to come.
“I’m here to tell you that none of us have it all figured out; we are forever works in progress. The moments of brilliance in your life will always be balanced by moments of vulnerability, insecurity, and doubt. The sooner you get around to being okay with that, the happier your life will be.” – Alexis Jones, founder of I AM THAT GIRL
Some useful resources:
Most of the websites, books and podcasts that I find inspiring/useful/utterly hilarious can be found on my Things That Help My Head page. I absolutely recommend checking it out if you are struggling with any kind of mental health problems or are helping someone who is suffering. I can write motivational blog posts until the end of time but I am by no means a professional, and some of the links on there will be infinitely more helpful than I can ever be.
I would also recommend the book I Am That Girl which I will be linking to that page shortly. As part of my rediscovering myself mission I’ve found this book beautifully inspiring and it has made me reconsider aspects of myself that I have neglected for far too long.