Not Feeling Anything Real
I’ve realized over the last six years that I have this ability to refuse to feel my feelings. I’d trained myself so well that I was convinced I was a completely different person; always right, in control, independent and confident. It wasn’t until I entered therapy, had a breakdown, and actually had no choice but to face my fears that I saw just how much stuff I had bottled up over the years.
I’d say that I’ve been through the worst of that transitional process, the realization that life simply was not and was never going to be the fantasy I had in my head, and worked hard with my therapist to change my perspective and rewire my brain.
I left London in May of last year to come and travel in New Zealand, possibly settle, and I remember this voice inside saying ‘you’re finally feeling good about yourself, do you really want to go and shake it all up again?’ and I nearly didn’t go. However, I trusted the even deeper gut feeling that whispered ‘go’, and so I did.
The year before, I had set off to Australia for a year, thinking that by going away, I could fix all my problems and prove to myself once and for all that I was a decent and capable person. I was running away, I had had enough of facing my fears and decided that I deserved to live my life. I told myself that I would meet the perfect man, find the perfect job, and that just by taking that leap of faith that things would work out; as if the world owed me a reward for all my hard work. This was another big wake up call for me.
I spent ten months in Sydney, frantically trying to find that perfect man and that perfect job, and, with the prospect of my visa coming to an end, I had another mini-meltdown. I was so afraid to return home and turn back into that person I once was, and lose the person I felt I had found out in Australia. Although this chapter of my life didn’t go the way I’d hoped, it was another experience that humbled me and reshaped my perspective.
Take A Chance
My whole perspective was different on coming to New Zealand, the fact that I was not as excited or as sure as I had been about Australia threw me a little. I got on that plane really hoping that I was doing the right thing, and not running away again, but that voice was whispering ‘just give it a go’ and I realized that I wasn’t running away anymore. I realized that I was just living life, trusting the future and seeing what happened, possibly for the first time ever.
One thing that I have truly come to understand is that if you do something hoping for a certain outcome, you are bound to be disappointed. I still have this realization every day, with my partner and with my job, and I constantly have to remind myself to be humble, grateful and stop expecting things to be a certain way. My respective trips to Australia and New Zealand are a stark reminder of this.
Since I was just living life, I was much more open to new experiences, and to take life as it came. I found a job and a partner within the first two months of my time here, and as much as I hated the phrase ‘it’ll happen when you least expect it’, it rings so true. That’s the thing though; it’s only when you stop expecting and start living in the moment that life brings you these gifts.
It’s not easy though, staying authentic and preventing yourself from getting carried away with “when” statements; ‘when I get that house/car/job/partner then things will be perfect’. In fact, when things are good, I cling on to those good feelings for dear life because I am so afraid to face the next hurdle, and find myself saying ‘I’ll feel better when’, and I’m back to square one. I’ve lost myself, I don’t know how I actually feel and I begin to self-sabotage.
I convince myself that I am worthless, unable to perform in my new job and doomed to push my partner away with all my neediness and irritability. It’s awful, and suddenly I am back in my therapists’ room trying to hide away in a dark corner and crying. It happens so easily and so suddenly, and it is so easy to forget how I got myself out of that corner.
I feel so ashamed because from the outside it looks like I finally have everything I want; my partner, job and visa to stay in New Zealand, but those external things can never make up for the inner pain of feeling truly worthless. I have spent a good chunk of my life hating myself; nothing I ever did was good enough, I was never good enough, and it is a dangerous and devastating message to hear. Shame and self-hatred are the most detrimental things a person can feel.
I always remember sitting at home with my family in our back garden, in the depths of despair, telling them that even though the sky was blue with a few clouds, all I could see was black. No one could help me, anything anyone said was like a stab in the chest or a blow to my body. I felt like I was not a part of this world, as if I was in a fish bowl and everyone was looking in wondering what was wrong with me. I felt completely alone, and a freak, and all I wanted to do was to not exist anymore, just so I didn’t have to feel the pain.
It’s not a nice memory, obviously, but it’s a useful one, and a memory that I go back to when I get a bit lost to remind me of how far I have come and what is possible when you put your mind to it. From the day I got to New Zealand, I have been active, exploring or doing an activity I enjoy. In winter, I have been skiing and hiking, and in summer I have been surfing and windsurfing.
I started skiing in December 2010, and have loved it ever since. The first time I went was a baptism of fire, where I had a lesson on the first day (I had been a couple of times before, but not properly) but then quickly became a tag along with the experienced skiers. They took me down what were apparently blue runs (slopes for beginners) but felt more like The Wall in the Swiss Alps, with moguls galore and snowboarders nearly lopping a limb off as they sped past.
I was terrified, but the main feeling that came up for me was anger, something that I hadn’t really felt for a long time. I felt stupid, pathetic, a loser; like everyone was better than me and what was the point of trying. I had a few tantrums with expletives and flying ski poles, but the next day, and every day that I have been since, I picked myself up, got my gear on, and tried again.
It sounds so simple, but for me it has been life changing, and I’ve only just realized it. Skiing brought up feelings that I simply had forgotten about or didn’t even know I had, and having something physical to focus on and observe has been so helpful for my anxiety and depression. These conditions are mental, and so of course cannot always be identified from the outside, by others or by the person suffering, and so mindfulness and reality can be a real anchor when you are struggling to find yourself again.
Those tantrums in the snow were not just frustration with my failings at skiing, they were with myself, and all the anger I had hidden from my family growing up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I’ve taken up skiing and windsurfing out here in New Zealand, I’ve noticed the pattern when things aren’t going so well in my life.
…And Staying Active
I’ve just taken on my new job, which I have found extremely stressful, and have been feeling increasingly needy with my partner as a result. If I’m not feeling good about myself and insecure, I begin to self-sabotage and both push people away whilst also wanting them close for reassurance. These are classic symptoms of anxious-preoccupied attachment disorder, whereby “in order to get close to someone and have your needs met, you need to be with your partner all the time and get reassurance” – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship
I went windsurfing last week and the week before, both times I felt like a complete beginner again, getting knocked off my board by the waves and constantly losing my balance. As a result, I lost all my confidence, and the second time I went I had a bit of a panic attack and just sat in the water for a while as I couldn’t stop crying.
My partner came over to me and I felt so ashamed of myself that I didn’t want him to see my face so I turned away. The second time he came over I let him gently encourage me to try again, he said, “this happened the last time but you got back on, you know you can do this”, and I listened. It took a few more tries, but I accepted that I was struggling due to the high winds and big waves, and just took myself back to the basics of staying on the board and steadying myself.
My pride was hurt and my ego bruised, but I was glad that I hadn’t given up and had listened to my partner to just keep going. The next time we went, which was this weekend, just two days after the second difficult session, I was nervous and afraid that I had forgotten everything I had learnt and was starting right back from scratch. However, as my therapist reminded me many times, two steps back does not mean all the way back to the very beginning, it means you will come back quicker and stronger than you did before.
I got back up, and with a few tips from my instructor, and a couple of falls, I felt myself getting my balance back, trusting the wind to push my sail, and remembered why I had enjoyed windsurfing in the first place. I suddenly felt elated, full of joy and so grateful at the fact that I was able to be out on the water in such a beautiful country with my loving and caring partner.
I realized that these activities, that I find both thoroughly enjoyable but very challenging, are so healthy for my soul. I didn’t realize quite how bad I had been feeling until my second difficult session of windsurfing when the frustration overwhelmed me. It was a healthy release of difficult emotions, something that I have struggled with my entire life, but have perhaps finally found a few outlets.
I wouldn’t say I’ve lost any weight, or look any slimmer, but I feel a lot fitter and mentally healthier, and those things are so much more important to me than how I look in my bikini. It would be nice for my body to follow suit, but as my mentor says, a healthy mind leads to a healthy body, and focusing on my mental health will lead to a healthier lifestyle and body.
Life seems to have this ability to give you exactly what you need at the right time, if you are able to stop trying to control things, and just let life unfold. I am learning this on a daily basis, and have been since I arrived in New Zealand nearly five months ago. It’s the reason I came out here; to experience life at it’s most raw, basic and invigorating.
I wanted to strip myself of all the comforts of my home life, such as my family, friends, job, home and culture, and whilst I haven’t quite had the courage to go to a country where I don’t speak the language, this has still been a test of my courage and will power.
Since I arrived, I have met people from all walks of life, and watched how I interacted with these people, trying to observe the feelings, thoughts and emotions that came up for me. The thing I noticed the most was my inability to hold on to myself when in the presence of certain people; I always knew that I was a chameleon, I just didn’t realise sometimes it can be to my detriment.
Having come to a new country, where I knew no one and only had my belongings with me, I had no choice but to get out of my introverted shell and talk to people. Unfortunately, my insecurity and need for connection overwhelmed my voice of sanity, and I wound up clinging on to people who were not the best for me, and fit in with my codependency patterns.
Old Habits Die Hard
I was pretty shocked and disappointed in myself that I allowed this to happen, and saddened that once again, I could not help these people find peace. I cut the ties and moved on, with more ease than I expected, and began to place the fear to one side while I cleared some space in my mind for my inner voice to be heard.
I physically had to remind myself why I came here by standing in front of the mirror and telling myself that I would be ok, that I came out here to explore the world and allow life to just take over for a change. I saw myself cling to people, situations and things, and each time I had to remind myself that I didn’t need any of them, that I had all I needed – me.
It’s upsetting to start fresh somewhere and realise that the things you thought were the faults of others are actually the result of your own self-sabotaging actions. It’s also the place where the most reflection and personal growth can occur, and the place where life can become the most breathtaking.
Change Starts With You
I am learning to take a long look in the mirror when I feel myself reacting to others, because really, if you are in a good and stable place in your own life, the actions and words of others can’t really affect you. That is something that I carry around with me every day, and ask myself constantly; “what is this bringing up for you?”.
There are a number of people at my job and in my social life that I really struggle to find a connection with, and yet these people are drawn to me and I to them for some unknown reason. I find myself wanting to understand them, to find a way into their world and to help them find the freedom and happiness that I am finding, but I can’t find a way.
I then come up against an internal wall, and that age-old message of ‘you’re no good’, which stems from the inability to help my mum while I was growing up, rears it’s ugly head. I feel like a failure, this innate belief that my sole purpose in life is to make this person reach their full potential…but I can’t do it, and this therefore means that I am no good.
It’s such a detrimental message, and one that I find creeps up on me like a ninja, sending me subliminal messages about my incompetency as a human being. Before I know it, I am the biggest pile of crap that walks the earth, and I hate the very people that I wanted to help because they have made me feel this way.
The hard truth is that I am just not that powerful or important, and their problems are not mine to fix. I need to put that abundance of energy into myself and cultivate the healthy and nourishing relationships in my life, rather than finding my worth in the success of ‘fixing’ the lives of others.
It seems silly that I have had to come halfway across the world to find this out about myself, but it’s been one of the most useful exercises I have experienced as it has shown me how deeply embedded these habits and beliefs are. I am seeing my pattern of behaviour in all it’s glory, but the amazing thing is that I have the choice to change it, which so many other people do not have.
Be Kind To Yourself
I therefore remind myself that this pattern is going to keep on recurring, and that I must not make things worse by judging myself for falling into it each time. Instead I must simply be aware, and just observe my corresponding thoughts and feelings when I do finally notice it. I have to stop trying to control everything and just allow life to unfold.
It’s tough catching those fleeting thoughts and feelings that arise during interactions with others, and it’s impossible to stay on top of them all at once, so I just have to be patient and trust that it will get easier as time goes on. These people with their problems are not mine to fix, and I know first hand how excruciatingly difficult it is to acknowledge ones own problems, let alone try to resolve them.
This leaves me with a constant conundrum of how I should fill my time, where I should focus my energy and whether or not I need to realign my direction in life. This should of course be an exciting venture, and it is when I feel good, but when I am in the place of anxious uncertainty, it looms over me like a demon telling me I am wasting my life.
Keeping myself on the path of authenticity is no easy feat, but it is without a doubt 100% worth it. While I have been out here, I have found a job which allows me the space to learn and create, a partner who cares deeply for me and our relationship, and have lived my dream of skiing nearly every weekend since I arrived.
My natural habit is one of high alert, constantly looking for the next problem to be fixed, because that is how I have grown up. However, I have been fortunate enough to realise that these behaviours are a product of my environment, and not necessarily who I am. I have sifted through the myriad of learned behaviours and found myself again, so much so that I am able to see when I am being unreasonable and creating a problem to be fixed where none existed in the first place.
Be In The Now
Self-sabotaging is extremely detrimental, and something that I was acutely aware of when I came out here. This is my daily battle to stop trying to control everything, to look for problems where none exist, and to remind myself that life is happening right now, so none of the things I fear are actually happening at all! Life is unfolding as I spend my entire time preoccupied with what could happen, rather than what is happening.
The sadness I feel when I realise how much of my life has been spent like this is overwhelming, but I also feel total and utter joy at the realisation that there is another way to live; fully, authentically and in the present moment. These moments of clarity are when I am able to stop focusing on my fears, preoccupied with the past and future, and enjoy the present moment as I allow life to unfold in front of me.
It’s a vulnerable place to reside, but I have discovered that once you allow yourself to be vulnerable, life provides you with everything that you need, just when you need it.
I’ve recently started cleaning up my exercise routine and getting either to the gym, a class or working out with friends, and this article really nails my mantra when it comes to working out; start slow, progess steadily and keep a routine: