I’ve never really been one for fashion, clothes have always been functional for me. They keep me warm and allow me to go outside without being arrested. My wardrobe is firmly stuck in the 90’s (think jeans, t shirts, hoodies and converse), I sometimes get yearnings to be a bit more stylish but they usually pass. I have noticed though that since my injury I became even less concerned about how I look. I spent a large part of the past 17 months living in pyjamas, baggy t shirts and slipper socks. Getting dressed was a function of attending appointments and the occasional jaunt to the post office, so as you can imagine I just threw on whatever didn’t smell bad and put a coat on over it.
The more I have swum up to the surface though the more I have realised that it was just another part of my withdrawal from the world. I felt like rubbish and I wanted to hide so why bother thinking too much about my appearance? It didn’t help that my energy was low and my hair was wonky, I didn’t want people to look at me – my transition to bag lady was almost complete. The clothing was just a part of it though, it was more about how I felt about every aspect of my life. I had been wrenched out of my routine, put into freefall and had begun an existence outside of ‘normal’ society. I felt lost in many senses.
I began to question everything, who I was, what purpose I served, where did I go next? how would I slot back into the real world? WILL I slot back into the real world? It’s a very confusing dizzying feeling not knowing who you are, it’s also, much like everything else about this journey, a very scary one. You exist on the outside for so long you begin to wonder if you know how to function anymore. When I am finally ok to work again how on earth will that go? I know I want to do something drastically different but it means retraining and starting again, I am grateful for the refocus that the injury has given me because I always kind of drifted before this, I went through a variety of unsatisfying jobs because that’s what you ‘did’ in the real world. Earning money was put at such high priority that you were considered a bit useless or weird or invaluable if you couldn’t do this. Well I can’t earn money at the moment, I have to rely on the welfare state to eat and pay bills and the current political rhetoric is that this makes me less than human, less than useful. I try to ignore all that though, I am useful and I can continue to be useful in my own way outside of the rat race. In fact I don’t ever really want to step back into it unless it’s on my own terms. No more slogging in a job that makes me miserable just to seem of value to people who I don’t even care about.
It’s not just in employment, it’s other facets of myself. I have had to reassess EVERYTHING. Look at my relationship with others but also with myself. I’m being totally honest here but I didn’t like myself very much. I was sad and lonely, I still am in some ways. I would often use words about myself like ‘useless’ ‘unlovable’ ‘stupid’ ‘worthless’ and that I would never amount to anything. I would do this so frequently that it was an automatic thought and so of course this is how I felt, we all know how thoughts and feelings link.
What happened is that I had the brain injury, the body and soul rocking trauma and this triggered years and years of negative self talk and things I was told as a child by significant adults and being led to believe that feelings are wrong and need to be suppressed and this my dear reader is at the root of my depression and anxiety right now. It’s been easy for me to pin it on health anxiety from the injury and say I’m scared because x happened so I need to have control over my health but it’s this ingrained need for control coupled with my impossibly high standards and me being my toughest critic that has created this perfect storm.
My core beliefs are difficult, ingrained and scary to face, so what am I doing about this?
Firstly, I’m trying to acknowledge that I’m smart and kind and sometimes funny and that I don’t have to make people like me by doing things for them. This is hard for me, my whole self esteem rose and fell on other peoples opinions of my worthiness. When people didn’t return my care or didn’t bother getting to know me properly, it cut me very deeply. I felt it was a slight on my person. Since the injury I’ve been physically unable to run around after everyone else, this has been a HUGE lesson for me, a difficult lesson to suppress my natural urge to people please and I have to see if people like me for…..well…being me.
The answer also lies in the simplest but most difficult thing I’ve ever tried. I’m acknowledging my feelings, I’m trying to FEEL them no matter how tough they are. I’m trying to remove the labels I’ve attached to them for years. Sad isn’t ‘bad’ and happy ‘good’ they are both just feelings. So if I have a sad day or a low day I’m trying to not write the day off as bad, it just ‘is’. I let the feeling be, I say hello to it and then I get on with things. You see when I was giving these things a platform or trying to fight them off because they are ‘bad’, they just clung on harder and overwhelmed me. If you just let them exist within you they go quieter and become a mere grumble. Feelings and thoughts are just that – feelings and thoughts, they cant hurt me. In fact the only thing that’s been hurting me so far is me. I suspect this is true for a lot of us.
I can see you sat there rolling your eyes going ‘yeah right, like I can just do that so easily’ well no, it hasn’t been easy and I still have days where I feel like I can’t cope, where I feel lost and scared but you see there’s that word again- ‘feel’. I get through it, I wake up the next day and start again. I’m not perfect at this but that’s ok, striving for perfection constantly makes us unhappy because not reaching that imagined top of the mountain just feeds the beast (it’s trite and a cliche but who you are IS good enough, I promise).
Make a start, try to acknowledge your feelings without judgement, try to sit still for a while and let your mind and body just drift wherever they need to. I hope this helps you a little.
I think this is the start of acceptance for me but it’s tough clearing out all that baggage, it’s tough to face it and feel it. I’m not saying I’m a zen master, I still cry in the shower but when I cry now more often than not I tell myself it’s ok to cry, it’s good to cry so cry it all out lady.