For as long as I can remember, I have used things to keep me safe from the way I feel.
When I was very young, I can remember opening as many books as I could find to page 99, because it was a safe number: the highest one before one-hundred. I would be safe, you see, if I looked at that number, for ninety-nine minutes or hours or days, and by the time that passed, I would have done it again, and the cycle would continue. I wouldn’t finish things – skipping the last steps on the stairs, or leaving the last bite of a meal – because as long as there was something still to be done, I would be safe. Nothing could get me as long as something was incomplete. I couldn’t articulate what it was I was keeping myself safe from, but I knew it was vital.
As I got older, other things took over: I started plucking hair out of my body for hours on end, I started self-harming, I started drinking, I started drinking and self-harming and having risky sex and all of that was keeping me safe from whatever it was I was trying to avoid. I still wasn’t sure what it was, but it seemed closer than before, the shape a little better defined. I knew that I didn’t want it any nearer to me than that. If I gave myself time to think about it, then I might be able to see its face, and I knew I didn’t want that.
But then I went on anti-depressants for the first time, I met my amazing partner, I started writing, I got my degree. I had friends around me to cushion me from whatever it was, the bad thing that was constantly waiting for me. I even forgot about it sometimes. Of course, there were other times where I would lay awake in bed all night long and feel it using the stupidness of my overtired brain to creep up on me, but that was okay. It wasn’t always. It seemed to be fading away.
But, this last year, I have had to come to terms with the fact that whatever it is has returned. For about eighteen months, I’ve been using a variety of mechanisms to try and keep the thing at bay. I tried bulimia, self-harm (again – so passe), drinking, working too much. But those things weren’t even the fun versions of trying to keep myself safe, and I got bored of them. I suppose I forgot what they were trying to keep me safe from in the first place. So, I got healthy – I quit puking up my guts four times a week, I stopped hurting myself (long-sleeve shirts? In this summer? I don’t think so), quit drinking, cut down my work to less insane levels (by my standards, at least).
And now, it’s here. Whatever it was I was trying to keep at bay all this time suddenly sort of appeared in my life with little fanfare – not sliding out from beneath my bed clothed in shadows and death as I thought it would be, but wandering into my living room right in front of me and handing me a cup of tea and settling itself in for the long time. I’m not well, and I haven’t been for quite a few months now. I spent a lot of this summer very depressed, and I’ve also been dealing with terrible health anxiety – as I write this, the sides of my breasts are healing from bruises from the examinations I give them three times a time, and there are scratches on the back of my neck where I was certain I could feel a tumour and just pull it out with my bare hands. There’s a lot going on in my head, all the time, and without the things I used to soften the edges of my brain, I can feel them. All of them. The end of my journey was not dropping all those things that were bad for me, but figuring out what they had been covering up in the first place. Everything I had been using to cushion myself from The Thing is gone, and now it’s here and I have to deal with that.
And the thing is: I am. And that surprised me. Because I had assumed all my desperate attempts to keep this thing at bay had been because it would kill me. But it hasn’t. I’m here. And it’s hard, a lot of the time, because I don’t feel well, and I can feel that not-wellness bubbling up inside of me when I cancel plans with my friends and I sleep for sixteen hours or none at all and when I believe things that I know aren’t true. But I’m also on medication – anti-depressants, anti-anxieties – and some days, they’re enough to make me feel normal. Yesterday, I cleaned the house and finished my book and I felt happy, actually happy. My partner, my friends, my family have tapped astonishing depths of understanding and compassion that I didn’t think I was worthy of until now, and for that I can only thank them. Last week, I was referred to psychiatry; I’ve never done anything like it before, but I’m excited to begin. Nervous, sure, but excited.
Because whatever it is, it’s here. I’m still not really sure what shape it takes yet, or what name I’m supposed to call it by, but it’s here. And I’m ready to meet it.