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.