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.
So it’s a new day. I’ve been trying to wean myself off the night meds by slowly tapering off in the hope that it’ll leave me feeling less drugged up the next morning and less dependent on all this medication. Ideally, I’d only like to be on two at most, and of course eventually completely off them but it’s a process I can’t rush. I’m supposed to consult my psychiatrist before I start to taper off anything in order not to risk withdrawal symptoms and a setback in recovery, but these particular meds were prescribed to me on a low dosage, to begin with, and I am careful. I don’t recommend doing so of course because it’s dangerous though I acknowledge the hypocrisy of me saying that. Still, don’t do it. I’m doing it at my own risk. So it’s 9 in the morning now, and since I opted out of last night’s meds after tapering them down to almost nothing in the last few weeks, I didn’t have the most restful of nights. Still, I was determined not to take them even though every fiber of my being seemed to long for me to do so. It took a few more hours but eventually, I tired myself out and up and out the door I went to start the day at mass. I still wake up slightly afraid for how the day is going to unfold. It boggles my mind to remember how I used to plan my days weeks and even months in advance, and now I can barely think about the next day because I’m just focused on getting through this one. Anyway, I’ve come back quickly because I’ve to be out the door in a couple of hours again to make my way to college to meet a classmate and start working on another project due next week. I’m still getting used to traveling on my own again, but I’m making note of the small victories I accomplish each day. I should dedicate another post on that later, perhaps it’ll give me more confidence to reflect on my progress. So I’ve a decent hour left before I head out again and the morning itself wasn’t so bad. I let Rue, my cat, out for his morning stroll, or sprint – the cat just darts off all over the place eager to see and experience as much as he can before I tackle him and bring him back in (he doesn’t come easy – extremely reluctant). Well, I say let him but he just charged out as soon as I unlocked the door. In a way, it’s good for him as it is for me, to see him dashing around catching butterflies and just rolling around in the grass. Also, he forces me to exercise by chasing after him and crawling over and under my neighbor’s makeshift fence whenever he decides to infiltrate their field and farm.
(Rue basking in his newfound freedom)
(Rue sneaking into the neighbor’s…yet again)
Though I must say it’s a wonder I haven’t been at least called out or reported for trespassing just yet. I’m hoping that won’t happen, though. The old lady’s been nice thus far what with offering us some of her produce and making polite conversation every now and then, but I’ve seen how she gets when the cows decide to break down her fence and munch on her grass, and it took me aback. She looks frail but that woman’s got a lot more gusto in her than it would appear. I saw her charge after the whole herd, attempting to whack them with her hoe (the tool!) and hurl rocks at them while screaming profanities. She wasn’t satisfied until they could no longer be seen except in the distance and even then, she decided to vent what was left of her rage on the ground beneath her. It’s good I’m quick on my feet, I think to myself. As soon as I see he’s in, I hurriedly get down on all fours, scurry under, grab the cat and go. I’ve enough of a storm to deal with in my head, I could do without the wrath of an old woman, thank you. They’re not to be underestimated, I’ve learned. Rue’s a bit of a rascal, but he’s a lovable one so I find it hard to fault him. My dad just shakes his head whenever I give the cat leeway. He thinks I’m way too soft on him, but what can I say? I’m not meant to be a disciplinarian. So I’ve realized now I’ve spent the better of my post talking about my cat and the occasionally raging but kind (I note the contradiction) old woman next door but it’s what popped up, and I’m thankful for regular thoughts like this. My therapist insists that I stop using the word “normal” whenever I say that’s what I want to revert back to, but it’s difficult when I just don’t feel that way. Which is why I make time every now and then to watch up on a Ted Talk on mental illness to make me feel less alone in all of this. Of course the disheartening part of it is knowing that it may not entirely go away, especially in the case of pure O, and that the best I can expect is to manage and be in control of it. I’ll take it. Beats being controlled in turn, as it had done. Shivers. Yeah, I definitely need to spend some time making note of my small victories so my mind can drift to them and not simply all the horror that has transpassed and occasionally creeps in every now and then. I listen to Christian motivation videos each day to keep me alert and ready to take on the day. Right, I should probably make a move on getting ready. I’m going to have a great day today. I’ll do all the good things I want to do today. I hear my mother’s voice echo in my head as I start to prepare myself to get going. It’s what she tells me to say to myself each and every day after she’s managed to convince me to get out of bed (though I’ve been doing pretty well myself with this lately!). Occasionally she’ll get me up to join her on the balcony for a stretch and encourage me to scream out that I’m a strong woman and that the power of God resides within me. This lady is one tough cookie. We’ve always had a complicated relationship but I’ve come to admire and respect her deeply in the last few weeks. Her belief in me and her unfaltering inner strength is inspiring though she can still be kind of nuts every now and then when it comes to my dad (with all due respect to you, mom). I’ve come to learn a lot more about my family in the last few months, my parents in particular. A lot of things have come unearthed. Some things I wished I hadn’t known but it all kind of make sense how we’ve all turned out the way we have. Not that I’m blaming anyone, the past is the past. But it’s helped me understand them as much as myself, more. One of these days, they’ll go to counseling together after my constant insistence (and that of my therapist and psych’s) that they should, not just for themselves but so they can better cope with what’s happening with me. If they keep their word, that day will be next Friday. I’m rather interested to see how that goes. I don’t think I’ve ever known them to ever communicate with each other without hostility or some tension between them. The majority of the time, they don’t bother with speaking at all. Of course, recent events have mandated that they work together to support me so hey, good things come out of this too! I’m far closer to my family than ever before. Especially my mother. She’s been a lot more open about her past than she previously had been. It make sense that she’s the way she is, to be honest. She grew up in a military household, was the first of six children, and each time her dad had to go away he would bring her aside and tell her that since she was the eldest she’d have to look over the family and support her mother. He’d do as she did with me and bring her out to scream at the top of her lungs that she was a strong woman. She also finally told me the reason for her last divorce. Her last husband was a soldier as well and when he was away, had impregnated another woman. If it was just a mistress, I would have it slide, my mother told me. But to her, this was unforgivable. I would have stopped at mistress but there’s my mother for you. And maybe it wasn’t too out of the ordinary? I wouldn’t know. I don’t agree with it either way. Anyway, apparently he tried to come back and she wouldn’t have it. She got one of the guns in the house (she made a point of making it known that the one in her hand was superior to the one in his), and told me she shot at him, but missed. She wanted him to get lost, if the shooting didn’t already clarify that. As this was happening, his mother (who she said was kind because she acknowledged her son was wrong) had been begging and crying at her feet for her to please stop. He himself was hiding behind a tree. My mother tells me that the only thing that made her snap out of her rage was my step brother riding in on his tricycle. When she saw him, she quickly hid the gun behind her back. It kind of unsettled me to hear my mother recall this story cheerfully. She thought it was pretty funny, but she stopped laughing when she saw me staring with a concerned look on my face and told me that she knows what she did was bad, and that I shouldn’t do it (shoot at someone) before she continued on with her laughter. I laughed nervously in turn. I think I was right to be afraid of her growing up. I looked to my dad at this time, and could see that he looked particularly unnerved. Well, I can’t blame him. He’d just heard his wife reminisce shooting at her last husband and had received death threats from her himself in the past (though she assured us it was all bark and I believe her – though she still shouldn’t say it). After that, she said, she filed for divorce and that was that. But weren’t you afraid? That he’d come back? I asked. She scoffed at the suggestion as if to say he didn’t have the nerve to. I’m trailing off with my thoughts again, and whoops there goes the time, I’ll have to hurry if I’m to make it on time. I don’t like to rush but I always seem to need to. As this writing probably reflects again, I easily get caught up in what I’m doing or thinking. Oh, yeah, before I go, here’s the video I watched today. It helped me feel a little less alone. Surviving with a Mental Illness | Eric Walton | TEDxBoise
(Me on another day – climbing up to the pool)
Not a bad view, huh? Well, that’s what I thought as I gazed out at the gorgeous greenery before me. It’s only a short while ago that my dad decided to bring me to this spot that had laid hidden under my nose for all these years. It’s funny, really. There’s a waterfall on my island (just a few minutes down the hill from here!) that the rest of HK flocks to and it’s nothing in comparison to this gem of a place. By that I mean it’s much smaller and there’s barely any room in the pools…if they can even qualify as that given they’re so small, but to say call them puddles would be a stretch. Not to mention, they’ve not a sight like this to lay their eyes on since it’s on lower ground. Not that I’m complaining, of course. As a matter of fact, I quite prefer it that way. I’m glad that the path to this place is hidden among the trees and that only some of the locals (and their friends) are aware of it. Call me selfish but I’d rather the crowds stay away. This spot is my little place to retreat and relax. I find my peace here, and I’m incredibly lucky to be just a walk away. I invited one of my bests, Charlie to come over for a sleepover after work on Saturday and spent the entire Sunday soaking up the sun here on Lantau. She was happy to have a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city life, and awake to the sound of birds and breakfast in our front yard, which overlooked the fields and farms nearby. I brought her to church, this spot right here where we had an unplanned dip in the pool (yes, I did dive in with that dress) and a good read (me), and sketch (her) until we decided to pack up and grab some seafood by the beach. As I write now, I recall how magical the day was – nothing really beats doing things you love with those you love. We ended the day on a Thai massage before we parted ways. If I was better with words, I could probably convey the beauty and happiness of it all more eloquently but I’m still learning to express myself through writing. I’m building on it. Hmm…I smile to myself now as I think about how blessed I am. Yeah, shit’s been rough lately (to put it mildly) and sometimes I still feel like throwing in the towel but it’s moments like this that keep me going – moments where I realize the value of what and who I have in my life. To quote a dear friend, I have to keep on swimming. Everything is temporary, and I will get through this, far stronger and more capable than before. Much love to everyone, I hope you all have a wonderful day.
Back in Starbucks, virtually the only place on my part of the island where I get to plug in my laptop and sit for hours doing as I please while sipping my favorite drink. I was supposed to get started on another project for college but upon finding out that the due date was far later than expected and knowing I’ve the next few days off, I’ve opted to instead finally get around to ordering those books on OCD in an effort to further help myself through this recovery process. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before but when you’re going through it, you feel like you’re mad and you’re the only person that has this illness. It’s terribly alienating and only contributes to a worsening of anxiety so I’m hoping that once they arrive I’ll find some relief from not only the suggestions made to manage it but from knowing that others went through it as well, some with thoughts so severe that it effectively crippled them. It would give me hope to know that those with the illness on the more extreme end of the spectrum were able to overcome it. I’ve ordered the following books as I’ve heard good things about them (well, according to self-proclaimed OCD sufferers on the internet – don’t know anyone personally on my end suffering from it) and I should be able to expect them within two weeks or if I’m lucky, in a week: Mindfulness Workbook for OCD: A Guide to Overcoming Obsessions and Compulsions Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by Jon Hersfield and Tom Corboy, Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts: How to Gain Control of your OCD by David Clark and Christine Purdon, and lastly, Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Shwartz. Now I realize that each of those books pack a ton of information in itself and so I imagine that I’ll be working to digest and apply one at a time, so I’ll need to have a good think about which would be best to start with. If you have any suggestions and especially if you’ve suffered from pure O, I would greatly appreciate them. On another note, I really have to make an effort to manage my sugar intake. It really drives up the anxiety levels unnecessarily but occasionally, I just need something sweet to alleviate the sour mood these thoughts put me in. Anyway, I’ll be keeping track of my recovery. Every day is a brand new day, as one of my lecturers just texted me this morning to wish me a restful day and share with me an article she found useful from…I can’t remember now, let me check…a site called Bible Teachings? Well, according to the picture that she’s attached her in the chat. It’s titled God Gave You Emotions. I haven’t yet read it so I suppose I could do that now…Oh, it’s a long post. I guess I could share a bit of that later on when I’ve got through it. Definitely looks like I’ve got quite a bit to get through.
So I’m feeling strange. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’ve had a good morning and I’ve still the rest of the day ahead of me since it’s just 9 am right now. Since I’ve been up about two hours ago, I’ve had my tea, a good stretch on the balcony, and a ride down to have dim sum with my mother and pick up some vegetables for today’s meal from the market. So all in all, I’ve had a decent start to the day. I’m more relaxed than I have been previously but still, I can’t help but feel the ebb of those thoughts in the background of my mind. They may be further away now but their presence still unsettles me. My therapist says I can’t expect it to simply disappear so quick, and in the meantime, the best I can do is build upon my identity again. So she asked me – who are you? I paused. My mind went blank for a moment and I said I didn’t know. The last few months and especially weeks have changed me in a way that makes it difficult to recall just how I was before all of this unfolded. She said we could start with my name because I had once told her I liked it, “Jethro. My name is Jethro.” It’s a unique name, she said. What else? She gently nudged me to continue. “I don’t know”. Tell me about your qualities, she said. What kind of person are you? I started off slowly listing the qualities I believed myself to embody. “Kindness. Compassion. Wisdom. Perseverance. Resilience…” the list slowly came out of me, almost as if from nowhere. She nodded encouragingly, affirming each of these attributes. You forgot independent, she said. You’re incredibly self-reliant. I nodded, sadly. I don’t know why but it was almost as if I couldn’t believe any of the things I had just said or heard. This doubt, I thought to myself and still do now – where did it come from? Why…can’t I believe in myself? And…really, just who am I? It’s been difficult, I told her. To reestablish myself, to revert to “normal” ever since the invasion of the intrusive and disturbing thoughts tried to convince me that I was someone other than who I thought I was, and capable of doing things I would never dream of doing. I really felt that it almost destroyed my soul and as a result, had completely thrown me off. Now it’s like I’m walking blind, and I’m incredibly nervous that I’m embarking on the wrong path. I keep telling myself to trust and believe in myself but how do I do that when I can’t firmly establish who I am anymore? And I know I need to in order to fend off the negative that tries to convince me otherwise. My therapist acknowledged this struggle and again redirected my focus to reminding myself of who I am. “I don’t feel the same though. After everything, I feel different.” You can’t expect to, she said. She meant that our circumstances and experiences would undoubtedly change us but that perhaps I could look at it in the light that it has made me stronger. Because if I could overcome this, what couldn’t I overcome? I’m sad. The lack of belief in myself depresses me, especially when I compare myself to the previous confidence I use to have in myself though I try not to because the comparison isn’t fair. That was then, and this is now. She continued…so how do you feel now about your schooling? She asked. Previously, I had wanted to give it up – understandably…I was depressed. The depressive symptoms have improved since I’ve taken the medication though. I told her that I would finish it but that while I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like it was my true passion so she prompted me to think about what it was I enjoyed. “Learning about the world”, I told her. “I’m interested in theology. I like anything to do with culture and learning about people’s belief systems.” She nodded for me to continue and asked me what other things I enjoyed doing – she said she knew reading was one of my interests but gently probed me to contemplate what else was. I thought for a time. “Speaking. I like to speak, I like to socialize. I’m always the most confident when I feel my voice is heard. Like when I do a presentation.” Ah! Suddenly an idea came to her, she had heard of this public speaking course that a young client of hers had enrolled himself in to improve his career prospects. She told me that she thought it would be perfect for me. I said I would consider it. She also told me to consider joining a reading club since I loved to read and connect with others so to be able to come together with a group and discuss a book would be ideal for me as well. I mulled the idea over, I did like it – especially the speaking group though it made me feel slightly nervous when she said I could be speaking about anything I wanted in front of a group that could range anything from 20-50 and comprised of university students and working professionals. Anyway, so that’s my task now – to reestablish my identity, my belief, trust, and confidence in myself. It’s a process but I must admit that I’ve come a long way from where I originally was. I won’t deny that I’m afraid. What if I can’t? What if I make the wrong choices? So much doubt. Focus on the light, a thought inside my head pops up. Focus on the light. I wish I wasn’t so introspective sometimes. I feel like occasionally I should just leave my head alone and stop trying to tamper with what goes up in there, but I can’t seem to relax enough to let it be on its own, especially recently so that is still a work in progress. I should be happy, I tell myself, I’ve had a good start to the day but my fear despite me knowing that it’s irrational and simply an illusion, seems to still hold me back. “Everyone has fears. Try not to let that overwhelm you and spread throughout your life” advised my therapist. I took a deep breath. It’s no wonder people throw themselves into work, into relationships, into entertainment, into any obsession that occupies their mind. It’s a scary thing, to be left alone with yourself because then it eventually dawns on you that without all these things…you have no idea who you really are. Of course, it’s totally worse when I’ve intrusive thoughts trying to answer this for me – “You’re a psychopath!” (despite virtually no evidence to support this). I heave another sigh. Fuck off, I say. But then this is why it’s so important for me to figure out just who it is that I am. I’m a child of God, I tell myself but as I’ve said my journey through faith is a recent one and as with any growth, development takes time. I’ve come a long way since I’ve accepted Christ into my life so I suppose the only thing I can do at present is just as I did write up there – focus on the light. I’m not my thoughts. Focus on carrying out positive action. Be proactive. That’s what Father said when I last went to speak with him at the church. But then a negative thought would intrude “But what if its fake? What’s the point if it’s not genuine? What if you’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. Maybe deep down, you’re not actually a good person.” I’ve given up arguing with these thoughts, the best I can do is let them be and reaffirm to myself that I’m a good person. Personally, I truly believe (or at least used to with conviction) that people are inherently good. That I am all the qualities I’ve listed, and have always been. Ever since I could remember. This relapse and trigger of pure O has just tried to trick me that this isn’t the case. Sometimes in these cases, I compare even though I know I shouldn’t. Why couldn’t I have something external to deal with instead of something in my head? It’s exhausting to be at war within myself because if I can’t trust myself then who and what can I? I try to come back to my breath. Focus on the light, Jethro. Believe in yourself. Trust in God and remember, He never gives you anything you aren’t capable of overcoming. You may not understand it now, but it’s to grow you and prepare you for something better. This is the internal dialogue I tell myself. Anyway, enough being in the head. Let me focus on something else. Today’s a beautiful day, I should have taken a picture. I’d love to share the beauty of the island I live on. I felt strange today, as if my eyes had been opened and I’ve started to see things in a different light. A slight shift. I noted this as I watched the happenings of all that was going on around me…the people cycling along on their bikes, smiling under the light of the sun and riding back with their baskets filled with goods they’ve picked up from the market as well – flowers, vegetables, etc. etc. I watched as the elderly sat under an enormous old tree in a line of their own with products laid out before them for sale. Jewelry, homegrown vegetables, and household items. There was much happy chatter, the sound the birds chirping in the background, and some pretty dynamic Chinese opera music playing from one of the hawker’s radios. I tried to take it all in then and as I rode back up the hill home. Everyone looked happy today. I tried to allow myself that happiness as well, and to just be. But I felt restrained due to the fear I have just relayed. Don’t be discouraged, I tell myself. Slowly, slowly. Just keep pedaling. So here I am now, just resting on the sofa before I decide to indulge myself in another book on how to live a purposeful God driven life and pray the rosary. I’ve a class to teach in the afternoon so I’ll just take it easy until then. I need more structure in my life, I tell myself. If only I could motivate myself enough to make a schedule and discipline myself to follow it. Slowly, slowly. Trying to be my own coach here, or therapist. That’s the goal of CBT – to help you become your own therapist. I need to remember that while I can be my own enemy that it’s a choice and that I can choose to be my biggest supporter as well. That’s enough for today. Till next time, JT x