[Picture of me, paranoid and scared to death yet somehow at the fall head of the 2nd highest waterfall in the country, by Aisha Nazim.]
This is more for me to come to terms with things than it is anything else. I recently found that opening up and trying to explain things to someone else helps you see clearer what you were just speculating – the age old ‘if you teach someone something, you’ll understand it better too.’ In this case, myself.
I’m not sure where this all begins. Quite likely when I was 12, and things in our family changed in a way that no one had expected, its effects persisting to today.
I’ve felt like saying anything that even remotely implicated by family members would somehow imply didn’t love them. On the flipside, this pains me so much more because I can trace my disastrous emotions back to their words and actions.
If you’ve found that I apologise one too many more times than necessary, even in situations where it wasn’t really my fault or I could have done nothing to alter the outcome, it’s because I was made to believe everything was always my fault. Your sister doesn’t understand because she can’t, she’s sick. So don’t upset her with anything you say. Your father doesn’t understand because he doesn’t know your sister’s condition like we do. You’re the only responsible person who’s in control of their emotions and senses here so of course, it must be your fault.
That started that. Gambling my emotions and sensitivities to keep other people happy, so that it won’t upset other people. You’re the one it’s convenient and logical to hold to account so it’s your fault.
This was the start of the spiral, now that I think of it.
When you study psychology for a good 5 years, it’s not possible to go without turning the lens on yourself, applying what you learn and find to how you think and feel. Lecturers joke about self-diagnosis and all of us know the DSMIV is sometimes off the mark but it’s terrifying to research and find your everyday self echoing with the patterns and possibilities of some conditions. Not in an overthinking and appropriating sense but in a epiphanic realisation – they’re talking about me.
It hurt to read case studies and theories on anxiety and depression and to identify with them. When my A/L classmates laughed on learning Beck’s theory, wondering out loud ‘how the f can someone just think like that’, I would think ‘it’s honestly not that hard to feel like your world is crashing in around you, that you’re the reason why it’s happening.’
How do you explain to people that some days are just bad, that the only things that come to mind – and overcrowd it – are thoughts and reminders of everything you don’t have and everything you’ve done wrong and the worst, every small way that everyone has ever wronged you. It hurts. Hurt that sitting in the bus on the way home, digging your nails deeper and deeper into your skin so it leaves red welts and scars a few weeks later doesn’t help. [All to the soundtrack of this and this song.]
What’s almost as bad as not knowing how explain this is finally, finally opening up to someone about it and having them just offhandedly go ‘well I hope you feel better soon’ as if it’s a cold or fever I’m temporarily suffering from. Not some all-pervading decade-long struggle with myself – emotions and feelings – that I could use a few kind words to get through, even for a little while.
Especially when the person is someone you love. As in, in love with. [Well. I couldn’t say it to their face for reasons that go right back to my point but if I can type it here, might as well acknowledge it.]
To not be in control of how you feel and react is like your own mind, heart and body have betrayed you. The way words and sights have tears in your eyes in a split second. The way reliving certain conversations and ‘what ifs’ leave you sobbing into your pillow for no other reason than it just happens. Because no matter how much you deny if in your mind, you still feel it in your heart and once all is connected, your body does the reacting.
That crippling anxiety that manifests in everything. From the complete numbing stress that overtook me on the first day of a semester, panic that I would not be able to complete what was due of me to make it through the university year, would freeze me and leave me feeling helpless.
It’s not a fun past time, to automatically see the worst possible negative consequence of everything you do and don’t do. To jump to that ignoring the middle possibilities. To envision falling and cracking your skull open when you scale a mountain or a rocky seaside cliff. If I’ve managed to get over the fear of those physical spaces [not get over but put aside till the thrilling adventure was done with] then one would think the more abstract stuff would be automatically next,
Wrong. It makes you second guess every word you speak to someone else. It still does. It makes you rethink something before you feel it, for fear you should or shouldn’t be feeling something, that feeling or saying something wrong has the possibility to upset someone else. That maddening qualifier – does it upset or inconvenience someone else – means you are the last person you are thinking about. Always.
I opened up to a friend recently about the possibility of having an eating disorder. If we’ve ever met and you’re reading this you’d probably laugh and think no, she can’t possibly have an eating disorder, look at her size. Someone sent me this poet’s piece and it felt too real. Everyone would ask me how I’d lost so much weight while away and I would casually smile it off, saying that I didn’t have a Lankan mum to force food down my throat at that time and they’d laugh. No it wasn’t gym or a diet or God forbid, a boy. All those cries of tell us how you did it, I’m sure they’ll die down when I say that it came from years and years of insecurity about my body, that I did what I needed to do to feel good about myself even just by a little sliver. Every meal outside the perfectly-planned roster I had for myself made me panic completely, that I was going to be fat again. My mum’s jabs that I’ve put on since I’ve come back don’t help, it just meals I’ll make up an excuse for eating soup that day. My college mate-turned-bff’s jokes about my anxiety pushing me to weird, overthinking extremes are, I realise now, not jokes.
For as long as I can remember I’ve hated the way I’ve looked and been shamed for being fat and dark by both men and women. If it meant cutting off a few meals for a few years, I was willing to make that change. I drink green tea after every meal – I don’t even know if it works physically for sure but somewhere in my mind, when I read what it could supposedly do, it stuck and the pattern hasn’t changed since. Irrational, yes, that’s what makes this what it is. Fear that too much could revert me back to my old self, fear that too much would mean taking more out of my savings and the possibility of financial issues. I overthought all my actions during my years away – my friends you jab me for it but it was my fault for not letting them know how I felt, about not wanting to burden them with that.
My disgust at my body would melt away when held by person mentioned above, the love and stuff bit, but that ended leaving me back at the start with my anxieties. Their anvil of logic and rationale hitting and shattering my rock of emotions in seconds, especially when I found out there was a pretty, petite white girl who came along a few months later. Why does it hurt you so much, my friends ask, I thought you built walls. I do, strong ones at that, which is why it burns more to tear them down and have that vulnerability on display, only to be left soon after. We’re people who think with our hearts so naturally it upsets us when others don’t do the same.
The only parts of my body I like are the tattoos. I can’t explain each one in detail to everyone who asks because they mean so much, things words can’t say. But they are things I chose to make part of me, small screams to break the low hum of nerves that pervades my everyday. I can walk about with them on show in the way some can walk around completely comfortable in revealing clothes [which I can’t do]. I’m not going to use the word empowerment but inexplicable ways, they give me something to be confident about.
Recently, I watched a play titled ‘Next to Normal’ and at the very end, we’re brought to the startling revelation that the supporting character, who has been helping the lead character wrestle with demons, gone to hell and back as they went to therapy and kept spiralling, is dealing with demons of their own. I wanted to reach out and hug the person on stage because it was like looking into a mirror. People assume that those who support others and be with them through their struggles must be strong of heart and mind. Incorrect. We’re like that because we’re fighting the same thing and we identify – maybe not with the same situation but with the same situation, we’ve felt that too. That empathy helps us do the job. It is possible to be a high-functioning depressive – you just have to be good at hiding what you feel and better at forcing yourself into occupational tasks to keep your mind at bay, excellent at holding yourself together and not breaking down when someone else breaks down to you.
You know how people randomly tell others to stop being so sensitive? To not overthink? To not worry? Those words don’t work on me anymore and I don’t think they ever have. Your heart breaks easily when its been broken repeatedly by those closest to you for a significant few consecutive years.
I don’t think I’ll ever go to my parents and say ‘Guess what, all those years of you lifting my sister up on a pedestal have left me with some pretty irreparable damage’ because I know the standard South Asian response is ‘suck it up and get over it’ no matter how wonderfully understanding your parents are. Depression and anxiety and eating disorders aren’t words that catch well. Why? Because they can’t be explained as succinctly and treated as precisely as most medical conditions can. I’ve not gone to a therapist for either counselling or medication because one, I can’t afford that and two, I’m only just openly using these words to describe the problems with how I feel. So I keep them in check with throwing myself into work I’m passionate about, getting angry about issues I need to and feeling strongly about whatever the hell it is that requires it at the moment – I learnt last year that there was absolutely no problem in feeling too much and I will make use of that to its optimum capacity. Travelling, climbing mountains, standing under waterfalls and running into the ocean. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes, standing on a rock overlooking the sea or a mountain that drops a hundred feet, I sometimes wonder what it would feel like to fly. To be lost forever in the beauty of the place so that I don’t have to ever feel hurt this way again.
Why did I write this? I’m not entirely sure. But it was first and foremost to get everything off my chest for my sake. To make sense of it for myself, to stop beating around the bush about what keeps me feeling the way I do every day. Will this change or reduce those feelings? No. Will it help me in trying to change and heal? Yes. Absolutely yes. And ultimately, hopefully to show others that it’s fine to feel the way they do and to stop the hateful voices – in their heads and around them – who are keeping them from reaching out for help. None of us are alone in this – it took me years and countless downward spirals to realise that there others who share the burden and that they all care for you. Your words are important, your story matters, you are needed in this world.
I’m not sure how to end this in the same way I wasn’t sure to start this but if you’ve read upto now, thank you. I might retreat into a shell if you bring this up in front of me if we meet in public but I do appreciate the time you’ve taken to be here.