So it’s been a good while since my last post, and much has picked up since then. I have been recovering steadily and although I still have weak moments that leave me feeling vulnerable for a few more days after an attack, I am able to cope. I just have to remain focused, and ensure I incorporate structure in my life. While a fair bit of surprises and unpredictability can be fun, the comfort of a routine is next to none when I feel like I’m on shaky ground. Okay, well, that and being around those I love. No better medicine than that, really. So to say it’s been quite the year would be an understatement. I was on an ethereal high at the start of the year, only to come crashing down just a couple months later to what I can only describe as the depths of mental hell. It could have been worse, of course. But when life is throwing you off the deep end, you can’t imagine that anyone could have it worse than you. I don’t know whether this is terrible to say but it definitely isn’t with malicious intent…but it is kind of reassuring the hear that others have been through worse. Not that I’m glad it happened to them, but it gives me hope to know that overcoming the terror of my struggles is a possibility. The fact that I’m still here proves that. I’m still slightly unhinged, for sure. Trauma will do that to you. But for the most part, I remain in tact…just with a few kinks here and there. If I was a robot, I suppose I’d use the word “glitchy” to describe the feeling. But I’m getting there. Recovery in itself is a challenge that is painful, but as with most things that cost you, it’s worth it in the long run. I suppose I’ll leave it here for the meantime. I hope to get back into a habit of free writing…but first, to return to my love of reading. Till next time x
So I’m back here in my usual retreat – the Starbucks on Riverwalk and as always, I’ve got a decent 30 minutes on the clock of free wifi so here my fingers are tipping and tapping away in their dance across the keys. It’s been a while since I’ve been back on here. I assure you I’m alright. That things haven’t taken a turn for the worse and I’ve completely withdrawn into a cave never to return. Quite the contrary actually. Things have dramatically improved. Now to be clear, my symptoms haven’t completely disappeared. I still struggle. I still have spikes. But I do manage it better. I have more courage. I was watching another of Steven Furtick’s inspiring sermons on YT again. He really has a great power to communicate the spirit and message of Christ. Very admirable. Anyway, this particular video was titled A Haunted Heart. I won’t spoil the entire sermon for you (though advance apologies if that happens anyway – it’s unintentional) since I do recommend that you check it out. I just wanted to share a bit of it which I resonated with. See, Steven emphasized some of the things that might lurk in the shadows within us and haunted our hearts – be it guilt, sorrow, helplessness, offences, or a threat (our perceived fear of what MIGHT occur),..and put it in such a simple yet profound way when he explained just why it was we were so weighed down by these things. Because we avoid it. Or we try to chase it. We resist it. And as I have continuously reiterated if not on here, then in my head – that whatever we resist, persists. Instead of acknowledging or sitting with these uncomfortable feelings, we do everything in our power to lock it up somewhere, maybe in a cupboard or sweep it under the rug…we do whatever we can to get rid of it, to not deal with it. And here’s where we lose. Because as Steven demonstrated by surprising his family behind a door in an attempt to scare them, the only reason we have this reaction is because we’re not prepared…so what if we were? “Be prepared to be scared” Steven quoted one of the haunted houses that he passed by. If we were to apply this same principle…to be aware of our fears, look them in the eye, understand them, and prepare for them…what power can they have over us? I can truly relate this with my own encounters with the demons I face in my pure O. Initially, I resisted. Tried to push away the thoughts. Tried to overflow myself with the thoughts, hoping they would eventually wither away. I did all in my power to run, to hide, and I screamed in pain. I screamed in agony. I screamed in despair. And I screamed in fear. I wanted to die. Fear paralyzed me. Until CBT came in, the king of therapies (IMO – subjective reasoning of course), which taught me to see the thoughts for just that. Not to hide but to hey, just look at them…see that’s all they are. A thought. An urge. But not you. It’s there. And it’s within you so you can’t run from it. All you can do is see it for what it is and prepare. Prepare yourself to deal with it. And so with my spikes, which still put me in a spot of discomfort in which I have to fight within myself to not loosen my grip on reality and keep myself held together, I at least know what it is I’m up against. I know that I have to label it for what it is. To see it. To know that it’s my OCD, not me, To breathe. Be mindful. And eventually refocus and do as I can not to devote too much attention to it so as not to fuel the fear and have it overpower me. I’m still learning. But I am getting better. I have much to say about the last few weeks I’ve been AWOL. But seeing as I intend to stick to a strict schedule of getting out of here within 10 minutes, then off to the pool for an hour’s swim session and then to study for my upcoming exam on Tuesday…that will have to wait. Here’s my bit of free writing for the day.
So I’m feeling elated at the moment! That’s a big word and one I didn’t think I’d be using, much less feeling any time soon given all that’s passed, but that’s life for you. One moment you’re down, and the next you’re back up again – though maintaining that is a challenge on its own and one that must be tended to if I’m to sustain this stability. The majority of the intrusive and disturbing thoughts my OCD has previously taunted me with have almost completely subsided. They’re still there, but their presence is faint and they don’t distract me from the tasks at hand for any extended period of time as they used to. I shiver when I think of all the days that used to pass where I’d be just waiting for them to exhaust me completely so I could sleep and seek temporary refuge from the horrors that played in my head throughout. I heave a sigh of relief. Fuck, I’m out on the other side of the tunnel. Finally. Jeez. Didn’t think I’d make it. But I did! Whoop, whoop! Hooray! I’ve just taken my first step out into the light and I am overjoyed! Am I 100% cured? No. But I’m out of that hell-hole, and I’m getting back on track with my life. With my goals, and my dreams. Especially in regards to restoring my personal integrity and respect for myself. I’d previously screwed myself over by committing acts and behaving in a way that violated values core to my identity, and I’ve been paying for them ever since. I’ve learned my lesson and so I fully intend on reestablishing my principles to ensure that never happens again. Right – now my dreams, and my goals. I am so relieved my initial focus, drive, and sense of direction have returned to my studies and work. I envision myself completing this degree, completing a TEFL (ideally abroad – thinking Thailand), and eventually finding employment in SEA countries. That’s what I want by the end game, though I’m not pressuring myself to follow that path immediately or directly. Alternatively, I may just complete the diploma first, as I’ll have to assess my financial situation to see whether or not I’ll be able to continue on with my studies. If not, I’ll try to find employment ideally with a school that places importance upon Christian values before resuming my degree and seeking employment abroad. In the in-between time, I’d like to volunteer abroad teaching as well. That way I can combine both my love of teaching and travel together. At the moment, school is packed so I’m planning to rack up the dough this summer (gonna grind!) so I can volunteer or teach abroad in the time I’ll have in the second semester next year. I’m gonna map this all out as soon as I get a whiteboard to stick on the wall in my room. I am determined to remain disciplined and focus on achieving these goals and will not be deterred. Messy entry. Rushing free writing because I feel the need to get it out now. Just a bit distracted given that I’m in class. But boy, does it feel great to have this certainty of what I want again. Fuck yes.
A few wise words from Pastor Steven Furtick’s 3 Habits of a Healthy Heart:
Real lasting change has to happen in your heart. It can’t just be in your behavior, you really just have to change your beliefs.
Your habits create the condition of your heart.
Healthy habit #1: Know what to hate
Healthy habit #2: Know where to hide
Healthy habit #3: Know how to hope
Healthy habit #1: Know what to hate
Sometimes before you can make a change, you have to be motivated by…I know it’s a strong word. It’s not very pastoral. You have to hate it!
So as I continue to embark on my journey of recovery and self-discovery, I’ve decided to have a good think about what it is I hate in order to ensure I keep from doing just that…so now, for a little brainstorm:
I hate procrastination.
I hate to lie.
I hate to cause pain.
I hate apathy.
I hate to sell myself short.
I hate giving up.
I hate injustice.
I hate mistreatment.
I hate selfishness.
I hate broken promises.
So that came out rather smoothly. Looks like I know what it is to build on.
Healthy habit #2: Know where to hide
The expectation of no attack is a setup for disappointment, but the psalmist said, “I set myself up for success because I designated in advance where I would hide when the attack came.”
Where do you hide when it gets hard? You’d better set it up in advance. I’m running to the places where there’s real protection, not the illusion of protection because some of us hide in places that seem safe…Elijah went and hid in a cave because it seemed safe. It was far away from Jezebel, and she was threatening his very life. This is an Old Testament story that’s worth reading if you haven’t read it because the whisper of God came into the cave as Elijah ran from his calling. Are you running from the conflict or are you running into the conflict? Because the place of conflict is the place of calling, but you have to be comfortable hiding in the midst of hardships to know that God is your refuge, your strong tower in the battle, not from it. And Elijah ran south as far as he could go. He went into a cave and spent the night, and the voice of the Lord went in the cave and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah? Why are you hiding here? Why would you choose to hide in the place that would keep you confined when your calling is out there? Did I not protect you on Mount Carmel? Did I not send down fire from heaven? You can hide in plain sight when you trust in the goodness of God. I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, but I won’t experience life in dead places so I got to know where to hide.
Blame was her hiding place. What’s yours? Elijah had a cave. She had blame. I wonder, do you hide behind low expectations? This one is really common because if you don’t expect much, you can’t be disappointed. And so you learn how to hide behind this fake smile. You don’t really have a whole heart. You have a fake smile to cover up your half-hearted interior life. And we hide ourselves from even those closest to us. And we hide ourselves, because if I hide behind an image I present, I don’t have to deal with who I am. And the call of God is coming forth like the voice of the Lord went into the cave. The voice of the Lord is coming into your heart today, saying, “Come out. Come out of hiding. Come out of fear. Come out of low expectations. Come out of hypocrisy. Come out from this fake spirituality. Come out, come out wherever you are. You know when you hide in the shadow of the Most High, you can abide under the shadow of the Almighty! I have a shelter! I don’t have to hide behind anything but God!
So I get that with this habit, we’re supposed to embrace the conflict that we’re in instead of running away or avoiding it and to trust in God as we do so…though I’m not exactly sure what that entails. If I’m attacked again, do I recite scripture? Pray? Simply trust in God? If God is my shelter but how do I hide behind him? With…hope? With faith? That’s what I grasped from it. Then comes knowing where it is I currently hide when the going gets tough so that I can know not to retreat there. Where do I hide…I hide behind fear. I think that’s my main hiding place. I hide behind low expectations. I hide behind a lack of belief in myself and so I don’t push myself out of my comfort zone. A sucky realization I now note, but hey it’s a realization nonetheless! It can kinda sting to be so honest with oneself, but if anything it helps me to become more self-aware and as a result, contributes to a boost in my confidence.
Healthy habit #3: Know how to hope
The psalmist doesn’t say in this particular instance, “I have hope”. He says, “I hope.”…It’s not just something I have; it’s something I do. It’s an active hope…It is a way of living…What does hope do? Hope puts its hand to work! Hope, not just in my heart. Have you put your hand to what you’re hoping for?”
Hope. It’s not just something I have; it’s something I do is how Furtick has summed this up…so what do I currently hope for? Well, I think it goes without saying that I hope to recover from my mental illness and prevent a relapse. That’s the first priority.
So how do I put up a hand to work for this? As I have been doing I suspect, with therapy, medication, books on my condition that help me better understand and learn strategies to manage it, through socializing, going to church, and to keep pushing on with the day despite the adversities I face. This is a difficult one, for sure. Because it’s something that needs to be activated, and not left to stagnate.
Well, this talk has given me some food for thought that I’m grateful to be able to mull over. So I guess it’s a good thing to ask and check in with yourself. If you’re set on change, what is it that you hate? If you feel attacked, where is it you hide? Is it where you truly find refuge? And your hope…do you act on it?
Back in Starbucks – my usual retreat here on the island whenever I hope to get some good work done. I’ve been feeling pretty great the past few days. Save for the morning, yesterday flew by without many disturbing intrusive thoughts, and today is even better. I’ve someone dear to me to thank for that. Because of their support, I was able to have my most normal day so far and spend a wonderful evening with my best friend and her boyfriend talking about anything and everything from rape (yeah, I forgot how this came up), reddit, airline companies, landlords in HK, and so forth until we left the bar for the Thai place on Riverwalk where M, Maya’s boss busied herself with interrogating her boyfriend about his life, and their plans for their life as a couple. “What are you going to do when you get to Holland?”, “Are you guys going to get married?”, “When are you going to get married?”, “Why are you even going?”…and on and on it went. Boy, did I feel thankful to not be put in that hot seat. Maya, seizing an opportunity to leave, grabbed it and went over to another table to catch up one of the girls she worked with. So it was left to him and I to deal with the onslaught of questions that rained down upon him. Well, mostly him. All I could do was smile apologetically and try not to laugh. Sorry, bruv, you’re on your own here. Chinese ladies are hard to sway, and I wasn’t about to get in her way. Seeming to sense this, he relented and answered as much as he could as fast as I could. I did not envy him. Anyway – back to today. Went to church, sang my heart out and stayed after to grab lunch with everyone and celebrate Father A’s birthday seeing as we couldn’t while he was in Jerusalem for the past two weeks. It was nice to get to know a few of the other people there a bit more. They’re all very friendly and caring. I’ve seemed to have made quite the mix of friends in the last few months – from priests, nuns, monks, to travelers here and people I’ve met on my travels, and not to mention all the health professionals I’ve been working with – my psychiatrist, therapist, and social worker, etc. Oh yeah, how could I forget forming a closer relationship with one of my lecturer’s too when she opened up with struggles with her own mental health. Life just doesn’t seem to stop throwing you all sorts of things. Where was I before I trailed off…right, church. We’ll be heading to the parish in Cheung Chau next week instead, I can’t quite recall what it was they had going on there but sister M (yeah, another M), did mention there being something special and that she would attend so we decided we’d tag along as well. After all, I haven’t been on CC for a while and a change of scenery would be nice. Still pretty full now from all the food I stuffed myself with at the church. I could and may do with a nap before I continue on my already overdue assignment (though I should be getting an extension approved if I’m lucky). Oh yeah, just remembered I’d found out today that Father J (the Father I’m closest to) will be leaving at the end of the month to embark on his sabbatical and won’t return till probably the end of the year earliest so I’ve to make sure I get to see him in time before he goes. Yawn. Sleepy. Think I will definitely do with that nap after watching another Christian talk by Pastor Steven Furtick. He’s really good at what he does. After, I’ll ride back home for some quick shut eye before I pick myself back up again to work.
Whew. So here we are. I’ve been avoiding this thus far. This is the last place I want to be, but the exact place I need to. I’ve closed my eyes and again I’m back in the dark. There she is, I see her in the distance on a spotlight of her own. She’s clasped her hands around her legs, clutching them tightly to her chest. Her hair is long, and unkempt. She sits in a flowing white dress, drenched in sweat. Her head is down. She’s blocked herself off from all that lays around her, barricading herself in her own invisible bubble. I slowly take the steps to walk up towards her, careful not to startle and gently place my hand on the back of her left shoulder. She jolts forward with a terrified yelp, twisting her body to face me. She’s trembling all over and her eyes mirror my own, which are filled with fear. It’s just me. She takes a deep breath in and out, before positioning herself back into the block of a ball she was in before my arrival. This time, she faces me. She starts to cry. I notice now the scratches on her arms and legs. The tinge of blood on the tips of her dress. I’m so sorry. I slump down on my knees before her and gently lift her head to face mine. I move her hair out of her eyes and see that they’re welling with tears. No doubt they’re bloodshot from a lack of sleep. My body aches with grief. I pull her close to me and embrace her. We’ll be alright. We’ll get through this. We will. I hold her tightly, trying to convince myself as much as her that I won’t lose her. As we touch, flashes of what happened the night before come to me. Attack after attack came for her. She wailed, she screamed, she struggled against the hidden enemy. Even as I watched it happen just then before me, I could hear her cries for it to PLEASE MAKE IT STOP! at the top of her lungs despite these memories carrying no sound with them, for we are one and the same. And so as this happened, I was experiencing it right then and there again with, and as her. As me. I writhed and wiggled in pain, jolted upright, and then back against the ground again, under the immense pain before I screamed back up to the black sky for relief. I was left panting and breathless from the violent brawl. My entire being cried in agony. It seemed to go on for hours until I crashed forward onto the floor before me, exhausted and drained. I felt the heaviness of the knives that dug into my back and the little bit of strength that had remained wither away as the blood trickled down and emptied my body. I came back to the present and saw her then closed eyes open to fixate on me. She smiled. You’ve got a sick sense of humor. She laughed, almost as if to say – how do you think I get us through this? Let me see. Her smile dropped and she turned her back to me, as she gently lifted her hair up and over the back of her dress before unzipping it to reveal the scars to me. I reached my hand forward to touch the holes in her back. I flinched as I felt the sting of the pain the knives had left in us. I hung my head. I am so sorry. I choked. I could barely manage to get it out of me. She zipped her dress back up and now it was her turn to lift my face up to meet hers, ironically. She didn’t open her mouth, but I already knew what she wanted to say – Stop. Let it be. Your faults are just as much mine. But I should have listened to you. I shouldn’t have neglected you. Maybe then you, we, wouldn’t be in this right now. She smiled again. Let’s just get through this and learn from it. Her words floated through the air. It’s funny. I had always previously believed that I was the stronger one of us. Even now, as I had come to comfort her, she had instead reassured me. I used to judge her harshly for the unfailing love and naivety she offered up to the world, denouncing those qualities as weaknesses and regarding her as a liability. I realize now that she’s far braver than me for to open yourself up again and again for whatever hurt may come your way takes far more courage than to stand back and shut off the rest of the world. I’m nothing without her. She teaches me to love even when I’m in pain. To forgive even when I’ve been forgotten. To believe when all seems hopeless. To be kind when mistreated. To give when all others do is take. Still, we need to strike a balance. There must be some boundaries. She tilted her head and again, smiled. You’re awfully smiley today. She let out a feeble laugh. I’ll leave that up to you, to take of me, of us. You’re the wall that keeps us protected. But you’re the foundation that holds us up. So listen, and listen closely next time. Don’t push me away, ignore, or try to numb me. Don’t be afraid, and follow me. Trust me. That’s a tall order. It’s the only way we’ll survive. We need to strike a balance, no? Now, it’s my turn to smile. You’re right. A light shines down behind her in the vast darkness that surrounds us. She looks over her shoulder towards it and takes a stand before me. She reaches down to help me up. It’s time for you to go. Will you be alright? She nods her head in turn. Come back when you can, and take care of all the affairs of the outside for us diligently. We embrace one another and now under the shine of the new light, I can clearly see through the dress the bruises that mark her battered body. But before I can say another word, she pushes me with such a force that propels me straight into the light. Go. I’ll be fine. She puts on a smile. And then as I begin to fade and come back to the world I inhabit outside of my soul, I sense the upcoming onslaught and watch her smile fade as she does too. Then, as I come to, the last things I hear are a whisper. You do your job, and I’ll do mine. Have faith. I take a deep breath of my own and prepare to face the demons of the day.
I’ve been doing a lot of free writing as of late and I admit that it has been incredibly therapeutic, more so than anything lately. But this time, I’d like to borrow a few words to share instead. One of the things I do to help myself feel less alone in all of this is to watch TED talks on people struggling with or who have overcome their mental illness. It helps to know that what I’m experiencing is not an isolated incident, that some people have been through exactly the same as I have, or faced similar obstacles. So here are a few words that I really resonated with from two videos I watched today. The first one is from “Crazy” Girl– On Surviving and Thriving with Mental Illness | Kaitlyn (Kaity) Gee | TEDxHarkerSchool. Here are a few wise words from the courageous Kaity Gee who struggled with ADHD, anxiety, Bipolar II/manic depression:
That’s a common misconception by the way, that having a mental illness or struggling with mental health means something is wrong with you…And I felt so lonely. I was hungry for answers but mostly I needed someone to talk to. The mental illness community doesn’t have a designated meeting time at long lunch. It doesn’t have a classroom or a place of worship. People are so ashamed to talk about this that you only discover it when you’re incredibly close to them…We’re all affected by mental health, but somehow society has attached the stigma to mental illness. I was embarassed for being so messed up, and I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone else.
That’s the thing about being treated for mental illness. It’s not an exact science. They can put you on the pills. They can slow your heart rate down. They can get rid of those racing thoughts at night, but they will never be able to erase the memories. They will never be able to get rid of the basis of the demons you faced the night before.
I am not my illness. I am not my struggles. I am an individual with a name, a story, passions, a history, and a personality. Staying myself was a part of the battle, and I have declared war.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, really. And I could say the same for how the equally courageous and admirable Eric Walton has expressed himself and his struggle with bipolar disorder here: Surviving with a Mental Illness | Eric Walton | TEDxBoise
I’m still that kid who is so afraid of myself that I try to isolate from everyone, afraid that one of these days my rages will end up hurting someone seriously and permanently. Scared that one of these days I will follow through on those threats of suicide that I give in my rages. Scared that I won’t be able to stop myself…It’s like being trapped inside your own head. You know those scenes from horror films where they show it from the killer’s point of view or whatever and you see the guy walking with a weapon. That is what a rage feels like. Except instead of looking through someone else’s eyes, I’m looking through my own. I hear every word that comes out of my own mouth and I am disgusted because it’s not me.
The medication was only one piece. It was the capstone of the arch. I had to build the arch around it. And now I’m here at the age of 16, after having survived my struggle and I’m sharing my story even though it’s not quite over yet because my fight won’t be over until the day I’m in a coffin. [Having] died of preferably old age. And the message I want you to take away from this story that is still going on, is this: yes, I have a mental illness. No, I’m not inferior to other human beings. No, I’m not crazy. No, I shouldn’t be feared…
While I don’t have the rages he experienced, the thoughts and images my pure O haunted me with instilled an equally destabilizing fear that I would lose control and hurt myself or worse, someone else, despite virtually no evidence of past violence or desire to do so. As you can imagine, my anxiety and depression escalated as a result. I still marvel at how I survived the first few weeks of medication because it’s as they say, it got worse before it got better. And just as he said, the medication is only one piece. Which is why I am trying so so hard to rewire my brain with CBT, stay social with friends, get up and go to work, go to school, and just do virtually everything that is the complete opposite of what my thoughts are telling me to do. It’s a struggle. But I’m getting stronger each and every day because it’s a battle that I don’t give up despite how much I want to occasionally and how close I come to doing so. And I am more fortunate than anything to have positive and loving people in my life who stand by me, believe in me, and love me even when I can’t. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. Most especially my family. I don’t say it or show it enough, and I should. But I’m incredibly grateful to my mother and father. This has affected them just as much as it has affected me. Despite the distress, confusion, and exhaustion it has placed on them, they have never wavered in their love and support for me. They’re one of the main reasons I’m pushing myself to so hard to get through this. I refuse to let this control me and my life. I’ve no idea what God intends for me, but I intend to stick around to find out and to, of course, carry out good works through how and whatever I do. That’s a vow that I’ve made to myself – that no matter what comes my way, no matter how many obstacles I have to overcome, no matter how many times I get hurt, that I will not let it turn my heart cold. Even if it means I have to leave it open until it bleeds out. The world is lacking in kindness and suffering from complacency as it is with all the problems that plague us, and I fully intend on ensuring that I do not let my experiences try to numb me and leave me in a state of apathy. I will not give up. And future me, if you do ever feel like that again, come back here and read over what you’ve written in your moments of strength. You have it in you, don’t forget it. I love you. So don’t ever, ever give up.