These little things make the path to recovery.
I am trying really hard to recover from my mental illness. I start to tell people that I have one, for instance. But the improvements come slowly.
I recently discovered a fascinating and ironic behaviour of mine.
I always had the guts to go out and do whatever had to be done. I was brave and willing, even if it was scary, dangerous or laborious. I say it had to be done because that obligation feeling moved me.
I was born in Spain, and there, I graduated as a nurse. There were not that many jobs at that time, so I looked for them abroad. I moved to the UK barely speaking any English, and I started to work there as a health care assistant and then as a nurse. It was hard, but I only had a couple of thousand euros to survive, and I couldn’t borrow it from my family (the cause of my current mental illness). I am not comfortable around people, so imagine how difficult it was for me to learn my way around in a new country and learn a new language, which you can only do talking to people. I was scared, but I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of even thinking about it. Now I know that the difficulties I experience when forming relationships with people (work, friendship, etc ) come from my trauma. Back then, I assume it was one of the many defects that needed to be fixed.
My boyfriend decided to come along. I must say I am fortunate enough to have met him. In a sense, he taught me to talk. He always suspected I had some trauma, but I didn’t open up entirely about it until recently. He supported me in my personal way of going through life: fighting myself to attain what I was told must be achieved. I didn’t think I had a choice. I never felt I had one before, anyway. Life cards were dealt, and I was playing, ignoring I could swap some of them.
Challenge after challenge, I forced myself to become an open person. At least, according to my perception. In reality, I created a personality to hide my past from anybody I met me. I recently talked to a friend who wanted to know what was going on with me. He wasn’t sure if I had a mother or a father or none. I had never talked about them. I always avoided the conversation with some weird joke. That’s how big of a wall I build. Nevertheless, I succeed in my efforts to be “normal”. I functioned as an extrovertive woman and managed to work in a multidisciplinary team at Cambridge Hospitals, no less.
Pushing myself this way broke my mind into two pieces.
During this time, I stayed in close contact with my family, receiving from some of them their abuse and from others their emotional neglect. Deep down, I knew their behaviour was not appropriate, but I wanted to be understanding and show how much you can do if you show empathy. My Christian mother told me to turn the other cheek, and I didn’t want to lose hope in its power. I was trying to excel to be seen by blinded people. I was dancing with no audience, and then I broke a leg with only my husband as a witness. For him, it was like listening to opera. He didn’t understand a word, but he could feel the emotions.
I engaged in therapy, but I kept my mask on, so I didn’t improve much with this first psychologist. We tried moving countries, but ironically this brought me closer to my sister and, therefore, to my pain. As if they waited for the right moment, the demons I was hiding in the deepest of my soul started to knock at the door. I was experiencing powerful emotional flashbacks, impossible to be ignored. My mental energy ran out, and I went full crazy for nearly a month.
I was raised with the belief that family can not be broken, no matter what. You had to stick with it and forgive everything. You simply didn’t talk about it, and time would leave it behind.
Spoiler alert! That doesn’t work when no compassion or respect is added to the formula.
These two pieces of mind I talked about earlier were: my family beliefs (based on surviving in this cruel, horrible world) and my personality (seeking a peaceful life). Only that my personality didn’t have space to grow, and this mask I created instead was becoming too heavy to carry. I was investing large quantities of energy in it, and it wasn’t bringing me any joy, even if I was doing something that I might like.
I was trying to put together a puzzle that I didn’t know what it was.
If there is an advantage to going crazy is that your whole self shutters and you have the opportunity to inspect and analyse the broken pieces before putting them back. That is what I have been doing ever since. Of course, you keep choosing some that don’t fit, but you will notice it much sooner than before if you maintain focus. And this story is about an essential piece of mine. And probably familiar to most of us.
Since I was a child, I have loved being in nature. I belive most people that are recovering from trauma can relate to this. I feel great pleasure only looking at a sprout or listening to animals moving across the vegetation. I like to pack lunch, walk several kilometres until no traffic can be heard and sit enjoying my crashed piece of fruit and excessively hot peanut butter sandwich. It shouldn’t be too tricky, right? Not after I moved countries twice. Not after I learned two foreign languages. Not after I went skiing down a red line the second day I ever skied.
But it has been challenging. I did all those things for someone, with someone or because, out of obligation, I thought I had to. I never did it just by myself because I wanted to do it for myself. My family was happy for me to do all sort of grown up activities, like looking after a drunk father, as long as they benefit from them. When it came to me going out to play around the village, oh, that was dangerous. I must say, safety in Spain is not a concern unless you have a controller mom, then crossing the street on your bike it’s forbidden.
These last couple of months, I have been taking time for myself. I stay at home most of the time. When my husband is free, we sometimes visit a natural area, but he is not so much into walking long distances and my dog is small with painful legs so we are bound to that. I could go by myself but it’s as if I don’t feel entitled to go out alone. I walk my little dog around the neighbourhood because he needs to pee. I make sure I clean or cook something every day because I feel like I am a good woman. I try to write further in my next book, feeling time pressure. I don’t seem to do stuff outside if I don’t find an obligation to do them.
The other day I was frustrated and going through an emotional flashback when I told my husband I couldn’t spend enough time in nature because of them. Well, that was not taken nicely, and neither it should. I was projecting my inner-child frustration, my fears. After a talk, we agreed I would spend time in nature whenever I wanted. He can work from home and he didn’t mind walking the dog during his break.
Here I go! I am going to be the adventurous woman that I know I am!
No, today the weather is not perfect.
No, don’t be selfish, today you have to help at home.
No, you are probably too tired for such a long walk.
Excuses started to pile up. I was not doing what I wanted, and now I could not even blame anybody for it. Maybe I didn’t want it hard enough. Why would I behave like this otherwise?
Still, the desire for natural adventure remained. So, yesterday, in perfect weather, after my husband ensured me he could perfectly handle everything by himself, and I was so rested that had gained some kilos, I found myself with no excuses and an open door.
I took my bike, and I cycled to a close-by protected area. Yes, I don’t even live that far from nature. That doesn’t mean I didn’t spend that time thinking: Maybe cycling there and back is enough. Those words… Those words sounded familiar. I am going to keep going and see what happens. I got to the forest and parked my bike. I was happy already. I could hear the birds, and my eyes were filled with green. It was a great idea.
And after a few kilometres, again. Where do you think you are going? This is going to take too long. Sure you have things to do at home. I stopped. I sat down. If you go back now it’s still going to take you a while to get back. You are going to get tired, and then what? Go back!
I battle myself for a few minutes. I wanted to go further and discover the area that I could never go with my husband and dog. But this voice… This voice wouldn’t let me go. You are a lazy girl, you should be at home working. There are children who don’t even have a home and you are here playing.
Ok, this is becoming a little bit too hostile, so I am just going to ignore the voice and keep going forward. Just a little bit. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing the entire route. I bargained. I will walk a little bit further, and then I will turn back.
I got up. Where do you think you are going? You are not going to make it. You will come back disappointed and with your tail between your legs. I looked at the path I had in front of me, and I started walking, focusing on the nature around me. Each step took me further—just a little bit. I stayed focused on my surroundings. I began to forget about the voice. I could only hear life. Woodpeckers. Magpies. Blackbirds. Mouses were moving under dry leaves. Treetops were dancing with the wind. Fawns. Oh my god! I saw four fawns on three separate occasions. Each time I would freeze to see them pass by gracefully. It was beautiful. I could feel my energy filling up along with my self-worth and pride. I was finally out there. I was getting tired, but I didn’t care because it was only physically. I was not wearing my personality mask. My soul was light. I felt one step closer to myself.
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