Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
I wish I didn’t have to write this post. I wish I didn’t know what I was talking about, but the fact that I do makes it so that I must. I wish I could just give you a 10 steps to mental health -kind of story today, but I can’t. This post is going to be messy, full of questions, and still kind of raw.
The last couple of weeks have been somewhat rough for me. I had some curve balls thrown my way, and with school restarting found myself feeling overwhelmed again as well as exhausted really quickly. There are different factors that contributed to the situation, but they all added up to something I hadn’t felt in quite a while: repressed anger that lingered and started to interfere with my ability to function in a healthy way. I recognise the feeling from the beginning of my depressed stages. As a student, I suffered from depression for a few months (was it six months? A year? I can’t even remember). I cut myself sporadically, had suicidal thoughts and developed other unhealthy patterns such as locking myself in my room, drinking and pulling out of my social life.
Whereas my depression felt as if nothing mattered at all anymore, as if I was completely drained from all energy, the past week I’ve felt mostly really tense. It didn’t take much for my children to trigger that anger. I drove more tensely than I usually would. I found it harder to connect to my partner.
I also found myself drifting towards unhealthy patterns and behaviours that are quite unlike me, such as eating junk food at school, drinking a glass of wine (I usually don’t drink at all) and watching stuff that matched my emotional state (and thus reinforced it).
The worse part, however, was that I also didn’t do the stuff I needed to do in order to relieve the tension. I stopped taking care of myself. I didn’t clean up, eat healthy, rest or exercise enough. And all the while I just felt this anger harden me. I felt how hard it became to open myself up, to be gentle with my children, to be warm to my partner.
When I sat in the chair yesterday, waiting for my therapist to join for my session, I wasn’t feeling particularly keen either. The rage inside me had no intention of lowering its guard. I wasn’t going to loosen the leash.
Of course, that’s not how the session went down in the end. I started talking through the pain in my throat, forced out the words and pushed against my own resistance. Most of the session involved EMDR. I spent a lot of time shaking, crying, diving into the stuff my anger was trying to protect me from: that I felt alone, and hurt, and scared, and angry with myself, and guilty, and like I was a bad person. Like I was a bad child. We went back into my most severe trauma, and I touched upon the pain briefly, only to feel how the anger inside me quickly restored the walls around that pain to shield me from having to go through it for too long. That’s the irony of it, right? The anger wants to protect you, but it is so destructive that at the same time it does more bad than good.
It’s really hard to fight yourself, especially when you’re constantly being bombarded with thoughts that tell you that your anger is your only strength. Your own mind becomes a minefield with thoughts you can’t trust and feelings that don’t actually reflect how you consciously feel about yourself, your life or the people in it.
So far the only real solution I have found is to deal with the underlying pain. It’s really tempting to try and escape it. I’m happy at work because I’m not focussed on how I feel when interacting with other people. I can focus on what my students need or want, and leave my own mind and body behind for a while. In the same way, we sometimes fill up our schedules completely to avoid, subconciously, the possibility of a moment in which you’re left alone with your thoughts and feelings. Other people, video games, work, tv,… they all make for really good distractions, but in the end, YOU aren’t going anywhere. Your mind won’t stop nagging you. Your body will keep signalling something is wrong. You’re stuck with you, with all of it, including the pain.
I find it easiest to deal with the pain in smaller steps. A therapy session here, a short journal entry there, a blogpost when the time’s right. It takes time and courage to let the sadness and fear rise to the surface. I’m just so incredibly grateful I don’t have to do it alone.