I struggle to find the words to describe this year, as everyone else does. I started the year by graduating and celebrating my birthday; and by the end, I would be seeing friends through social media and feeling disconnected and isolated. This year was tough for many, yet here is the year through my eyes.
I mentioned previously how I see January as a trial month, one where you decide whether you’ll stick with your resolutions or leave them behind. I’d had no intentions of leaving behind the progress I made the year before, but “best laid plans often go awry” as Robert Burns would say. 2020 was a year of dramatic change, and whilst I realise the irony of a trial month, I hadn’t quite pictured this year turning out the way it did.
On Monday 16th March 2020, England entered its first lockdown. We were faced with something truly unprecedented and one that has affected everyone in a variety of ways. My thoughts are with everyone who has had their personal struggles during this time, to those who have lost loved ones and to key workers who have helped this country in more ways than we’ll know.
My story, I know, is one of millions, but I thought I would share it as a reflection of my journey as I have previously. For me, it is a good way to digest the progress of a year, what I have learnt, and as I am also one for nostalgia, I can look back at this to see where I come from.
At the start of the year, I closed two chapters in my life. I graduated and I saw my relationship end shortly before lockdown. My emotions were suffering from severe whiplash and in turn, my mental health took a nosedive.
I was no stranger to this feeling, anxiety and depression being old ‘friends’ of mine. It’s like an old coat you put on, one that drowns you, and yet feels oddly familiar at the same time. Like a coat, it can change a look and the way I began to view myself now changed, drastically.
My motivation to do the things I loved, including writing, dwindled. Everything became an effort. As soon as I climbed out of bed, a weight pressed down on me. My smile became more forced, one word answers seemed to be my currency and I preferred the company of my bed.
I let the side down. My friends and loved ones were suffering battles of their own and yet they all seemed to manage okay. I no longer felt like I was able to offer them anything, I was of little help; and I couldn’t even comfort them because their was a screen or some form of distance between us.
With the chaos that seemed to be growing, it added a further distance and it seemed like we were all little boats in a raging sea. I knew many others, like myself, tried to weather all this as best we could – but I felt like I had no right to be struggling. Was how I was feeling and what I was going through really compare? Not just to the community outside my doorstep, but to my friends and family too.
After a discussion with my doctor, and a seven month wait, I went to my first therapy appointment. It threw up a lot of issues, that I needed to focus on – some of which I am still working on; it’s why I won’t devulge too much, as some of it is still raw, but I do want to speak about how I found my experience.
Therapy, I’m aware, is not a salvation for everyone. For years, I had tried and failed to engage with it so I know it’s not as easy as sitting in front of a strange and off-loading. There must be a balance of the right practitioner and for when you are ready to fully embrace and succumb to it. To work on the issues you struggle with.
I’ve found that many of the sessions I’ve had to be quite painful and I’ve spent many crying. The lessons I’ve taken away seem almost simple in principal but much harder in practice. My mood scores have yo-yo’d and I’ve faced many a setback along the way.
It did, however, become a safe place for me to talk without fear of being seen as weak or being a burden to others. I could express all the feelings I hadn’t realised I bottled up and address some serious issues; without adding further worries to people I knew would be going through a hard time too. I feel like it also helped me build back up and find a way forward.
When I started to sink under this weight, I noticed I pulled away from my family. I didn’t want to bother them with my problems and a part of me didn’t want to admit that I needed help. That I was exhausted. My relationships began to feel the strain of the quiet evenings, the short one word answers or their messages being unread. How can you talk to someone who won’t answer?
I felt guilty. I wanted to be better and to be back to myself, be the person they loved, but I didn’t know how. If I talked to them about how I was feeling, I felt like I’d only be adding to their problems. I hadn’t realised that by pulling away, I was actually doing more harm than good. They were worried about me as much as I was worried about them, a vicious cycle.
It eventually became something I worked on in therapy and gradually over time, my relationships improved. Things may never be what they were, but I think it’s safe to say that those who do care understand more now. I am learning to communicate more, set up boundaries as well as learn that it’s okay to ask for help; and I think it’s something I will keep building on.
I’m not gonna pretend it’s as easy as talking, that doesn’t always fix everything. It isn’t that easy. I know I still need the help of my doctor, but I feel that I have a support system in place. I’m not alone anymore. There’s someone there holding my hand when it’s tough, which is what I wanted all along. Talking for me was a good starting point to help me know where to go next or what to do. It even helped me and others process what happened and deal with it in a healthy way.
Everyone’s journey is different, that is something I’d like to stress. What works for me, may not for you and vice versa. I do hope though that everyone has at least port to turn to in a storm. A lifeline. Especially as we’re trying to find our way back to a ‘new’ sense of normality during this pandemic. I hope it’s given us food for thought in encouraging us to seek the help, support and love that we all need and deserve.
My sessions are nearly at an end, I’ve two more left. It has taught me a lot and I know that I can always come back if I feel I need to. I have learnt a lot about myself in nearly seven months of therapy. The main being that it’s okay if I take some time to focus on myself, that it’s not selfish or vain to do so. It doesn’t mean you are diminishing or not acknowledging the struggles of others – you’re just doing a little work on you to help you be there for others; and weather the storm a little easier.
I will always be grateful to my therapist. She’s given me the tools I need to help embrace all the parts of myself, no matter how broken, in order to better myself as well as help me cultivate healthier relationships with those I love. I feel like I have my friends and family back in my life and I’ve opened myself up to someone new, my boyfriend. I am a step closer to the person I want to be.
Take care and stay safe,