Last week I decided that I wasn't going to be posting on social media for an undetermined timeframe - and I'd be keeping my 'looking' (lurking?) to a minimum. Why? Because on Sunday 18 August 2019 I hit my "life limit" and mentally collapsed. The best way I could describe it was being tired… exhausted? The sort of exhaustion that works its way into your bones, and the back of your eyes, no matter how much you sleep. The sort where your muscles are tight and your skeleton is in pain no matter how much you move or foam roll or lie down. The sort where you feel your eyelids closing and the world shaking every time you stand still.
It felt hopeless. Utterly hopeless: there was no way out of the blackness that had crept sinisterly into my body and my soul.
This isn't the first time this has happened. I've suffered from a mixture of anxiety and depression since my early teens. I spent many years having breakdowns - panic attacks, depressive episodes, suicidal ideations and self-harming behaviours - in the privacy of my own home, and then putting on a brave face for the outside world, somehow managing to maintain success in the main areas of life. I called it "functionally depressive". In the years since, I have done a lot of work through great therapy and haven't had many breakdowns or periods of major depression/anxiety since.
I have learned to be mindfully aware of my Elephant and adopted non-perfectionistic self-care routines that help me move forward every day. I also accepted that the life I love can also be tiring and difficult, and that doesn’t mean it’s not a good life, nor does it mean I’m not happy.
I suppose I got cocky. I thought, "I'm tired but I'll be fine, I've managed so well". Unfortunately I didn't really remember to do self-care: I wasn't going to bed early, I ate loads of chocolate right before my period (sugar at those times tends to make my hormonal depressive states even lower), I pulled away from my husband when I felt upset or stressed (no intimacy or human connection equals anxiety from isolation), I put loads of pressure on myself to keep posting/blogging despite a much higher client load (perfectionistic expectations), I stopped foam rolling (pain, soreness, and physically under-performing), I kept searching for apartments to buy (and comparing myself to a bank's version of a "successful person"), I stopped having date nights away from the kids (stopped remembering I existed outside of service), I didn't journal when I received communication from my mother (letting the Elephant run wild)… it was a recipe for disaster.
So on Sunday, hopelessness finally kicked in. The Black Dog. The void into which all happiness is drawn because I just couldn't see a way out of the perpetual hamster wheel that I felt I was stuck on.
I felt like I couldn't breathe.
I almost checked myself into hospital. I luckily did not have to do that because I have somehow found a husband who loves me in my entirety, who reached out to my boss to cover my classes, and friends who I feel able to confide in (read: "hi guys, I'm out of action for a few days thanks to my brain imploding, please don't take it personally! *emoji to break up potential awkwardness of this message*"), so instead I just existed in my puddle of sad at home.
But I'm a therapist - How can I have issues and practice? How can I be so irresponsible as to see clients when I myself cannot function as a "normal" person? How dare I try to help people when I am a hot mess?!
Yep, I agree. I had these thoughts.
Then I remembered that the one therapist who actually got through to me was the one who still battled his own sh**. The one who still put one foot in front of the other every day, came to work, and proved to himself and his clients that life is worth living. The one who felt comfortable enough to be himself, despite not being perfect. Now, that may not help everyone, but it helped me - and it was because of him that I found my voice as a therapist and have helped my clients grow, heal, and become their best selves.
I never pretend to have my sh** together 100% 24/7. I never pretend to be an enlightened human who has come out the other side of her trauma without scars or emotional relapses. I still have to work through my perfectionism, my self-hatred, my discomfort at being unconditionally loved (needed) by my children... I am not perfect and I have issues and breakdowns and crumble under the pressure of life sometimes. No one is without issues, but that doesn't mean they're defective or useless. It just means they're human… and thank God for that, because it means we can connect, and relate, and learn from, and value one another!
This is why I'm putting this blog out there. Because if you've felt like this and feel alone; remember that you aren't… you are part of humanity: we are flawed and we struggle.
Along with that I want to share what I'm doing to get myself back on track.
Really simply, it involves putting one foot in front of the other. I spent a few days on the sofa huddled under a blanket watching Netflix or reading (escaping), I covered a lot of classes even though I felt like a failure/fraudulent for doing so (Vicious Voice: “do you really need to cover these or are you just being lazy?”) and I did work that I could handle, like seeing clients and running a PEP Workshop.
Bare minimum. No excess socialising. No social media posts. Early bedtime. Lots of water. Vegetables. An iron supplement. Prepping meals where possible (or at least having food in the fridge). Things that nourish me and give me the best chance of feeling better, even if they don’t fix it entirely.
I have done the same this week, with the addition of my classes. It’s interesting how easy it is to think, "well, I’m back to everything now so that must mean I’m fine" - I’m noticing (not for the first time!) how those standards of being ok immediately, or needing to just push on, are deeply ingrained. I have learned not to allow myself any space or compassion, but this time around I’m choosing differently.
Funnily enough I’ve projected that onto my husband this week: “you think I’m 100% better because I’m back at work and not collapsed on the sofa!”… ermmmm, did he say that? Did he infer that? Did he behave like that? Nope. But it’s easier to defend myself when the accusation is external. The truth is that it’s internal - within me - and I need to be compassionate to my Elephant instead of attacking, pushing, forcing, and demanding it.
My journaling has also been informative. I noticed a contradiction in that I wanted to escape, but I couldn’t explain what from because I love what I do, I love my life, and feel highly satisfied with all its components. I didn’t feel that I needed to reduce commitments - but I did realise that I don’t plan leisure time effectively and the consequence is that it doesn’t happen. It feels stressful to plan it (core belief: "fun *shouldn’t* have to be planned") but if we don’t then we can’t have date nights or day trips… I’m creating a reality I want to escape because I’m squandering my relaxation time.
Now that I’m in motion again, I don’t need to return to where I was before right now. I get to make some choices to keep me moving forward and reduce the likelihood that this will get severe again.
It's not about recognising a solution and doing it immediately, or thinking that a solution means an immediate fix; It's about recognising that there is something I can do, when I am ready to do it.
It's about opening my mind to be curious and creative with my life, not about forcing myself to do more, or be better.
The opposite of hopelessness is hopefulness, not action.
Action takes time. It will happen, but it doesn't have to happen right now.
The important things have been (1) reflection, (2) connection with my Elephant and emotional states, and (3) self-compassion, even if it has to co-occur with self-judgement.
…none of those things have been ‘action’ related. They all require me to question myself and allow myself to exist in a state of discomfort that I come to gradually accept as ‘ok’; something I don’t need to fight or fix.