As cliche as the term “finding myself” is, it’s something that I really felt happened in the last year and I say this because of how I feel and what I know now vs then. My 2017 was a pretty crazy one in so many ways with some relationships being tested and new edges being discovered, including - and probably the most important - the relationship I have with myself.
For quite some time, I felt like something wasn’t right within me and the feeling got stronger as we approached 2017; my self-esteem was grounding to an all-time low, I was full of self-doubt, and felt like I wasn’t doing or being enough for all of the people around me. I wasn’t being a good daughter, sister, friend, best friend, girlfriend, employee, colleague, or even a good customer in a shop! At times, I felt a darkness hanging over me, at other times I felt numb, misplaced and blurry. And then sometimes, I was just ok - like when you get into a rhythm of treading water, it’s not the worst but it’s not easy or comfortable either.
It took me a while to sift through and actually identify these feelings and thoughts. As a “yogi”, I always thought I was quite mindful and aware but this really wasn’t the case then. I could feel myself getting into a hole but that was just about the extent of my awareness. Slowly (ever so slowly might I add), I began to realise that I was suffering from some form of depression and anxiety.
With the external relationship and work challenges I was going through, my focus simply wasn’t on my own mental wellbeing. I was constantly distracted or distracting myself with the irony being that I never felt good enough at what I was doing. I mean, who’s good at anything when they’re not fully present and focused?!
By around Spring I eventually found the courage to talk to my family and friends about how I was feeling and to be entirely honest, it was mostly out of a fear that I’d have a terrible break down if I didn’t. It wasn’t easy trying to articulate all the feelings I had and admitting them out loud, in fact it was terrifying. The fear of sounding pathetic and self-obsessed nearly stopped me and even whilst I was talking to them, I could feel myself wanting to hold back on some details. Despite my worry and panic, the sharing helped me tremendously and their reaction was perfectly reassuring. They didn’t fuss but acknowledged, and helped by just listening and wanting to understand without pushing for or assuming any solutions. Everyone encouraged me to keep speaking to them with a few check-ins every now and then, and also suggested I try to speak to a therapist too.
I was lucky enough that with my company health insurance at the time, psychiatric treatment was covered. Going through the assessment was quite odd but understandably necessary and toneless. It involved a few calls trying to explain why I thought it necessary I see a therapist (not the easiest thing to say to a stranger on the phone!), and then a series of questions which I answered by rating on a scale of 1-5 how bad or not bad I was feeling. After the review, I was given eight 50min sessions straight away. Sitting in the chair for the first time definitely felt weird. I went in wanting a complete end-to-end solution and full compassion and yet was on the defensive, second guessing everything that was being explained about the process and about my therapist sitting in front of me.
Be warned, these sessions are not a simple upwards curve of happiness! I found myself leaving some sessions feeling elated, and other times feeling more puzzled and frustrated by the whole process. During one session, my therapist pushed and challenged me on so many points that I ended up snapping. To clarify “snapping”, I cried and spat out quite a few angry and frustrated words! This, it turns out, was exactly what she wanted to see from me. Since that moment my sessions were more productive; I eventually let my guard down and stopped overthinking my responses to her questions. I guess I finally let her see the less robotic, people-pleaser me.
It was through these sessions that I started to find my voice. The voice that’s wanted to say “no” or “I disagree” to things without complete worry afterwards, and the inner voice of quiet confidence and reassurance that how I am is good because that is me.
The honesty I’ve got with myself now is so vastly different to anything I’ve ever had. I’m able to accept more about my personality and take ownership of my considered and honest choices now. Some of these choices have had negative consequences but I’m learning to get more comfortable with that knowing that I’m creating a more honest relationship with those around me at the same time. If I feel really uncomfortable with the result (which has happened), I take a view on the choice I made which usually involves the questions: “who am I wanting to please here?” and “why did I choose that?”
There is obviously a balance to be found here; not being entirely selfish and doing everything as you please but also understanding when you feel you are compromising yourself for the approval of others. It’s a really hard one to strike and one that always moves and changes but I feel that the navigation of it is getting a little easier each time.
Looking back, the expectations I had of myself were conjured up through a pressure I laid on and accepted through a fear of judgement and not fitting in. I didn’t have my own identity or sense of self because I was trying take on everyone else’s! I wanted to be the sales-driven career woman I had built myself to be since uni, the devoted early-rising yogi, the home-bunny who always made time to cook, the one who is always up for a drink after work, the social calendar-filling Londoner I had become, the person who always made time for family. I wanted to be all these things and yet I felt unhappy when I was being any of them; I felt like a fake and really, really tired.
You can’t be all things to all people, and in reality, you can’t be all things to even one person. Truly understanding and accepting this reality has changed my life. I’m not a perfect human (what even is that?), and nor should I expect to be.
Depression, anxiety and other mental health related problems don’t just vanish. I know that as I still have those moments of shade, fuzziness, doubt and anxiety but that’s ok because I now have some tools to manage them. Mine are speaking to people, making sure I have quiet, alone time and having some form of release to step away from it, usually journaling, painting or sketching. You can find your tools too.
I never realised how much emotion and anxiety I was carrying around with me until I had someone to speak to about ALL of them. I fully appreciate that not everyone is as lucky as I’d been with the private therapy option but I want to encourage speaking up - to your family, friends or your GP if you are feeling low.
If going to a GP seems a little too big a step right now though, try calling the Samaritans or Mind from your own private space. I called the Samaritans a few times and whilst they can’t give advice, having someone to speak to and to have listen helped each time. They don’t expect anything from you, no justification or long background story to help explain - they’re there to listen without judgement and to acknowledge your feelings. That first part of acknowledgement is the key to help you feel less alone and a little lighter.