Something very special for you guys today – the first guest post on Absolutely Lucy and I’m so happy to share this incredibly powerful post with you guys. Reading it for the first time brought tears to my eyes and I know there are so many people out there who are struggling a bit and who need to read this to help put things in perspective and to show that ray of light at the end of the tunnel. This piece is by an amazing writer who luckily stumbled across my blog thanks to Twitter – thank goodness for social media if it means getting to find such amazing writers and sharing their work with a new audience.
Meet Nixie Dust a writer and photographer who runs two blogs including Nixie Dust, where she shares her everyday life, experiences, thoughts and ideas. Both are well worth a look and a follow – or find her on Twitter. Read on for her take on taking back control of your life and finding your own happiness:
I remember the moment I gave up. It was a grey day by the sea, slowly turning into evening, the eerie keening of the gulls pin wheeling above me. Hove is famous for starling murmurations in the early evening, and I stood watching a huge one shape shift over the rooftops, each bird in perfect harmony with the bodies of its fellows. I stood too close to the road, tyres threw dirty water up my legs as people drove home, the occasional horn blaring through the drab, grainy twilight. I didn’t care. I watched the starlings dance until they had exhausted their airy stage. They flew on, towards Brighton. I thought, ’I’ll catch up with the rest of you.’
A few hours later I was in a hospital bed, having again been admitted for suicidal ideation and planning my death. It was the first time I’d been admitted for mental health problems in a long, long time. Even when I lost the use of my legs for two years and was plunged into the despair of seemingly permanent disability at 24, I didn’t let the tide engulf me. I went to Italy despite it all, had a steady job, moved in with friends, found love, lost it again. This time was different. I’d fallen back into a bottle, into the comfort of too many painkillers, too many nights spent alone with only the rattle of my thoughts in my skull like dice in a game I’d rigged to lose. Despite every challenge I’d overcome; Valium addiction, crippling mobility problems, mental illness; I hadn’t reached the top of any metaphorical mountain. I’d been told by inspirational websites and movies and books that once I’d faced my demons I’d rise up like a hero in the last seconds of a Gladiatorial showdown and K-O unhappiness right out of the ring. But it wasn’t like that. Unhappiness was doing press-ups in another room, and I was face down in the dust still spitting teeth, waiting for an on-call psychiatrist to thumbs up, or down.
After I was released, I had a lot of time to think about why I kept plunging back into the familiar misery and hopelessness of depression. Partly, it’s chemical. I have rapid-cycling Bipolar type II, with co-morbid Borderline Personality. It’s hard to think of two conditions that lend themselves to instability more. I don’t build on shifting sands, I am shifting sands. I take my meds every day like a good patient and for the most part I’m doing alright. Most days I don’t just cope, I thrive in spite of it all like a wildflower growing in the gutter. But partly, it’s habitual; the vestiges of learned behaviours whose ‘use by’ expired long ago without me throwing them away. When faced with difficulty, my brain automatically shifts down-gear into a myopic tunnel-vision; a place where light struggles to get in, showing the same film over and over – the ‘You’re not Good Enough’ franchise, with its infinite number of sequels.
It isn’t just me. From the number, the overwhelming number, of people I know with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts; long, weary days of feeling not-enough, too-much; I’ve had a hall of mirrors to look at and learn from. Not all of these people have clinical diagnoses, because most of them aren’t suffering from DSM-V tick-box mental illness. I think that’s what’s so frightening about it – that it’s seemingly normal. Dear god, ‘Stop hating your body’ is seen as revolutionary. And even worse, it is.
But you know what? Despite the hospitalisations and walking aids and bottle-dependency, these days I’ve got everything I could need or want: Happiness. The one elusive thing I was taught I could buy, or earn, but not find inside myself: Happiness. The world can be a sticky, painful place, and I don’t have a list of ten neat bullet points like ‘let go of judgement’ or ‘follow your inspiration’ or ‘care less about what other people think’. I just have my own experience, and the one concrete thing I’ve learned about the whole deal is that old cliche (because they’re true, am I right?) that the only thing to fear is fear itself. And tidal waves and your teeth falling out and serial killers.
Reclaiming your life and your power isn’t, for most of us, a fire walk, or Everest, or epiphany. It’s a long slog through neck-high bullshit we’ve been fed since we we were old enough to realise there was an ‘I’ in here that other people had expectations about. I never had my melon merrily twisted by a self-help article that told me to ‘care less about what people think,’ as though I could snap my fingers and glide along the street, suddenly, gloriously, giving no fucks; because it doesn’t really deal with conditioned fear, that habitual depression, in a realistic way.
The last time I checked, we were all being conditioned from a very young age to care what other people think so much that their opinions about us take precedence over our own. School for most of us was nothing more than a years-long vicious popularity contest in which we pitted ourselves against each other to find out where we belonged, egged on by adults who projected their own fucked-up conditioning about self-worth onto our budding sense of person-hood. And it doesn’t stop, even when you’re an adult slaving away in a job you despise, worrying about your waistline. Everything you’re told about how you ‘should’ live your life comes purely from what other people might think about it, from the way you look to the job you take to what you eat.
The thing I’ve learned about other people’s judgement is that it always, always comes from a place of fear. Shaking out your wings reminds them of their own prison, and most people would rather not be forced to think about that. Judging myself also comes from a place of fear, because I’ve been told that upsetting the equilibrium of a self-loathing hive by being happily myself is somehow selfish. Anyone with an ounce of common-sense can see how stupid that is. As Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Where, then, do you go? You happiness seeker? You Fool poised on the edge of the Tarot card? You can’t live to please other people, and even if you could, it turns out you can’t please them anyway. All you can do is nurture the faltering little weed of defiant self-esteem that just won’t die in the face of it all. For me, it’s taking that trip despite the physical challenges, or walking out of the hospital doors again into another dawn, or sending off that new story even though I’m sure the editor will hate it. I make sure I take the time to do the things I love, with or without other people’s approval, because even though it took me years to get here, it’s true that radical self love and acceptance has absolutely nothing to do with them.
Overcoming over a decade of insanity and addiction didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t find God or build African wells or ‘follow my bliss’ and become a best seller. I just lived through it all a day at a time, taking down the bars of the cage one by one, letting a little more light in with each painting, or poem, or quiet act of creative bravery. It wasn’t extraordinary, or heroic; it was a slow dismantling of a wall I’d let the world build around me with ’shoulds’.
Let us all kick away the bricks of that wall. Let us gaze at the view when it comes down. Let us all find our happiness within. Let us all, in our smallest victories, raise each other up.