From a young age, I’ve always been very pedantic. My pens had to be in colour order, things had to be put back exactly how they were found and every paint stroke had to be exactly within the lines. I’ve always been a perfectionist. As I’ve grown up this has manifested into a mindset I apply to every area of myself; from the way I look to the things I achieve — I always need to be perfect.
I was also a very anxious kid. When I was around 6 years old I started to develop tics which have never left me. I had about 4 or 5 at one point when I was around 9 and they’ve ebbed and flowed over the years; throat clicking, twisting my wrist, clearing my throat, twitching my nose, sniffing, a sort of spasm/jolt in my diaphragm which has been the one that’s stuck. Nothing too drastic to get in the way of everyday life but they’ve never gone. Throw hormones into the mix and it’s no surprise I’ve ended up where I am today.
People don’t have any idea what it’s actually like or what’s actually going on inside my head. That’s either because I hide it really well or because we’re not quite there in our education of mental health — I think it’s a combination of the two.
To the world, I’m quite ‘normal’. I have a lot of very good friends, I have a good job, I’m charismatic etc. I present well, I’m outwardly quite confident, I take care in how I dress, I strive to look good, I hold face, I laugh, I work hard. I put all my energy into my exterior and call it self-care when in actual fact it’s the complete opposite.
I put energy into my appearance because, like most people, I try to appear perfect. I try to stay skinny, I spend time on my hair and makeup, I spend money on a good skincare routine, I post selfies and pictures online to prove to the world that I can actually look good and that I’m worth peoples attention. But as my expectations of myself are so high the reality always falls flat. I look vile, I’m ugly, why would anyone ever want to be with me? Why would anyone even want to look at me? No one can see the gross candid pictures my friends get of me because that would ruin the perfectly crafted image that I chose to present to the world.
I throw myself into my job because I love what I do. I devote myself, I pour more of my energy in, I spend hours on my laptop proving that I am smart and capable even though deep down I feel like a complete failure. I put so much pressure on myself to be this ‘incredible’ person and it’s completely unattainable. I’m not as smart as the people I work with, I don’t think in the way that they do. They all think I’m terrible, they’re all judging me. The depression kicks in and so does the anxiety, the fear of exposing the failure I really am.
Right now I can’t take care of myself, so I put the rest of my energy into the people I care about instead. I talk to my family, I take care of people, make sure they’re fed. I support my friends by taking on their problems and offer advice, sticking with them through thick and thin. I’m their rock, they need me and I am validated — because I can’t validate myself. I hate myself so much and don’t believe I’m worth the air that I breathe so I seek that validation from the people around me, I make myself small in the presence of people who take advantage of my compassion, I put time into ‘friends’ that don’t give back and deplete whatever remaining bit of energy I have left — I look for people to love me because I don’t love myself. But I can’t crack. I’m their rock. If I collapse, so do the people I care about.
Inevitably I hit rock bottom, I do something stupid and hurt myself and snap out of it. I punish myself, I don’t eat properly, I sulk, I sleep all the time. Then I have an epiphany. I change course, I run in the other direction and get myself back on track. I go out, I eat better, I talk about everything and I’m ok again, put the lid back on the pot. Until an opportunity presents itself and I self-sabotage because I go from 0 to 100. Every. Single. Time.
It’s been like this since I was about 15, that’s the first real memory I have of ever realising something in me wasn’t quite connecting, just going around and around in the narrative above. I’ve spent the past 8 years of my life going over and over, figuring myself out, finding my triggers, pulling apart my thought process and understanding why I always get myself into the same situations and why I behave in the way that I do, but it’s never helped me. I get to the top and then I fall. It’s exhausting, but it does prove to me that I have a strength that I take for granted, and despite everything I may endure on a daily basis I’m a lot more capable than I think I am — but I can’t give myself the credit.
It’s been 8 years and I’m sick of it. I want to change and I want to get better, I’m sick of letting my insecurities govern my life, I’m sick of them holding me back from my full potential and throwing me into situations where I just end up hurting the people around me and the people I care about most. I have tried going to therapy many a time but I always end up lying my way out of it. I know that a therapist can’t fix me, that comes from me, but whenever I start to open up that box I freak out and run away.
I spend my life running away from being vulnerable, because it exposes my imperfections and re-enforces that I will never meet the expectation I have of myself, I will always be a disappointment.
Exposing who I am, what I’m thinking and what I’m really feeling makes me vulnerable. I’m opening up for the world to see, whether it’s being honest with a therapist or honest with the people around me, it’s terrifying. In that moment they have the power to dismiss me, to reject me, and those insecurities and those fears become real, everything I believe is confirmed. I am a failure.
You could tell me I’m beautiful 100 times and I’ll never believe you, I’m so far gone from connecting with that thought it’s like you trying to tell me the sky is red; but if you tell me I’m ugly just once, I will believe you. My insecurity is confirmed. I’m vulnerable, I’m exposed, and everyone can see me.
That little voice always rears it’s head when I start down the path of recovery; “You don’t really want to get better do you? You don’t deserve to. You deserve to always feel like this because you are nothing and you shouldn’t even be alive, it would be better if you weren’t.” And I always listen. I tie it to my mental health getting the better of me, my hormone imbalance striking again. I will always be this way, I’ve accepted that, these are my burdens to bear and that’s just what it means to live with these mental illnesses, to live with this awful fear that everything is going to end at any moment so I constantly have to be at 100% to make the most of it before it’s ripped away.
Right now I’m burnt out, I’m sick and my tics are back in full force for the first time in quite a while. I did something out of character the other week and I’ve been punishing myself so my anxiety levels are through the roof and I’m not able to sleep properly, hence why my nervous system is in such a state. The cycle is coming to an end and once I’m over this breakdown I’ll go right back to the start. I’m seeing my therapist soon and I’m scared because I’m getting to that point where things are starting to open up and I don’t want to go. I know I’m in a state and I really need to see her this week but again, I want to run away screaming because that’s just how it goes.
Why does this voice always pop up? Why do I want to run away? Why am I dreading going so much when months ago I was begging my Mum to help me find someone because I don’t trust myself, and I need to work through all the things I’ve been repressing?
Because I’m afraid of who I am without all of this. For the past 8 years, this is all I’ve known, this is who I’ve become, and I don’t know who I am without it.
To me, it’s just like in any fictional story where a war is underway; battles are fought, people are lost, those remaining band together to defeat evil and live in peace. Eventually the story comes to it’s climax in an almighty battle and the Sun shines down on a new world, now the war is finally over.
... So now what? That’s where the film's end, where the books end. No one tells you how to pick up the threads of a new life once everything is over.
Who am I once my war is won?
I know how to exist as I am right now, I know who I am and how to navigate life like this. I have battles to fight and a common cause to rally behind (basically my motivation to ‘get better’ and not want to kill myself every day) but where does it leave me? I’ve been on this journey for a long time and it’s shaped me into the person I am, it’s all become part of me, so if it ends I don’t really know what to do or where to go after that. It’s unknown and it’s something I cannot control.
That fear of the unknown and lack of control is what keeps bringing me back, why I always run away back into my cave and hide. I wonder if I’m alone in this or if maybe this is a truth for so many other people, some that maybe don’t even know it yet. I’ve tried to visualise and personify this so many times in art and poetry but it’s always shifting and moving, forever eluding me, being this evil, mysterious thing that keeps me anchored.
I may still be a very long way away from the end but it’s a reality I’d not quite faced up to before. One thing I do know is that not being honest with myself and the people around me causes more harm than good and I have finally learnt that lesson.
It’s debilitating to keep everything locked up inside, everyone can agree on that. I felt an incredible weight fall off me when I wrote the article on my experience with Abortion, so I think that’s why I’m writing this now, it really is cathartic to get this out of my head, off my chest and into words. I don’t know if I’m writing this to shed some light on mental health or just because sharing it really is helping me understand and start to open up to be comfortable with being vulnerable.
“The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”
I suppose none of us ever really know what to do with ourselves, we’re all stumbling along trying to figure it out. Clarity doesn’t always come and often it’s fleeting but maybe all we need is a glimpse to nudge us down the right path. I really don’t know what will happen going forward, one day I hope I can break this crushing expectation of myself to be perfect. Maybe I will win my war, maybe I won't, and if I do then I guess I’ll just have to find out what’s waiting on the other side.