Who Hates Me Most?

You are your own worst enemy.

How many times have you heard that phrase? If you’re like me and surrounded by smug do-gooders who consistently like to point out the obvious (as if this somehow grants them brownie points in life), then you’ve heard no doubt heard it countless times and felt the need to dryly reply, ‘yes, I am aware, nobody can hate me more than I hate me!’ with all the light-heartedness of somebody about to enjoy a root canal.

If there’s something us people who’ve struggled with our mental health are well acquainted with, it’s that joyful thing; self-loathing. After all, it’s so ridiculously easy. Who hasn’t hated themselves after an anxiety attack has ruined a well-deserved night out? Or after a depressive period has wrecked a relationship beyond repair? Who hasn’t wanted to pull their own brain out and scrub it clean off its deformities because why the f**k can’t it be normal?!

I have. When the OCD held me in its grip (ha, who am I kidding, I still walk hand-in-hand with that bitch everyday), I despised my mind for falling victim to its tricks on a daily basis. I wanted nothing  more than to chuck my brain in the bin, where it belonged, for being a thoroughly useless organ. Like, hello? Your job is to keep us going and instead we’re on the point of dehydration because we can’t drink out of the cups in the house because you’re convinced they’re contaminated? Also we can’t wash them because you say the dishcloth and the tea towel are dirty, too? What is this self-sabotage and how about you give it up?! Needless to say, Brain and I were not on good terms and I still don’t feel sympathetic towards its shenanigans. On my great journey of life, I haven’t reached that milestone yet.

What I have done, however, is found a peace with my younger self.

Like many people reading this, my mental health issues started young. I was fourteen when I was officially diagnosed with depression, but that bitch reared her ugly head the year before and the OCD, well, I’m beginning to think she’s a parasitic twin.
The depression, however, hit me around the face. I’d been a happy child. Relatively normal parents, normal upbringing, no bullying; my backstory is poor. And then, when I was thirteen, I was attacked twice in the space of a month by two different gangs of teenagers. It had never happened before, it has never happened since and I understand if you found it unbelievable. So did many people at the time. But, with God as my witness, I assure you it is the truth. Those incidents robbed me of my confidence and sense of security and, as the months turned, I developed PTSD, experiencing flashbacks and a sheer terror of leaving the house.

(This was also the time when the grooming started – I had a really shit year, that year! – but let’s not get distracted. Here’s an insight to that here; The Adult Looking Back)

This depression lasted for three years; the entirety of my final years within the education system. The most important exams I’ve taken were held during those years. The main bulk of puberty hit me during those years. We can all remember those teenage years and mine took place under the umbrella of depression, during a time when mental health wasn’t discussed as openly as it is today. A lot was lost during that period; I was pulled out of a fairly prestigious school, in case it was contributing to my stress. My grades suffered and so my final exam results reflect this. This had an adverse effect on my further education: I have never been to university. I was rejected, folks, and I was bitter about that shit for years. (Ha ha, joke’s on me, still am)

Now, personally, I feel there’s too much pressure on teenagers. The idea that one can know, for sure, what one wants to do at the age of sixteen (as it was in my day) is, frankly, terrifying. I did not figure out that writing was my jam until I was…twenty-two. A full six years later. And that’s relatively early. Some people don’t figure it out for decades. So it seems insane that teenagers are expected to be confident enough of their future plans to stack over £12,000 on them without having had any chance to live. Combine this with a mental health problem, which is becoming more and more common among teenagers, and it is of little wonder we have a society fueled by their own self-loathing.

However. Recently I have decided to look at things a little differently; firstly by alleviating the blame on myself. I didn’t give myself depression. As they say, shit happened and my brain did not know how to cope. It had never experienced anything like it before. The depression was a response to my circumstances with a mind that did not know how to process them. A shrink once said to me that the mind is like one of those baby shape toys. You know, the circle fits in the circle, the square in the square. But when shit happens, that shape can’t fit. The brain doesn’t know what to do with it. I like to think of it as a plague within the mind, pressing its smoke up against functioning areas and contaminating them with its negativity.

The more I look at it, the more I don’t think I gave my mind enough credit. Ultimately it saved me. I had dabbled with the idea of suicide and given it serious thought, particularly during the third year and in the run-up to my exams, yet my mind refused to crack. It still believed, deep down, that there was hope. The little girl I’d been before shit happened was still alive and deserved the opportunity to realise herself as an adult. I didn’t recognise this almost split-personality for another eight-odd years but I believe that’s where it began; where I began to differentiate the depressed me and the me I believed I could be.

It was this depressed me that I hated for all those years. This pitiful, worthless version of myself who allowed herself to lose her school place, who didn’t bother to try harder at her exams, who forfeited her future education and the opportunities it may have provided. Nobody hated me more than I hated me. As time went on and I watched friends graduate from the school I’d left, glowing results in hand, off to universities to begin their lives, my bitter resentment towards myself flourished. I was the walking, talking definition of you’ve let yourself down. As far as I was concerned, my brain has SPECTACULARLY let me down. It had all but SABOTAGED me. What an absolute f**king bitch. Aided, of course, by those well-meaning do-gooders who’d tell me I was “too good for a low-paid job” and “wasted not attending university.” Yeah, thanks for that, give the old hate crowd another flag, why don’t you?

And then, in 2015, a year after I’ve come to the realisation that writing was my path in life, a song lyric caught my ear. Originally sung by the Beatles, a cover version of Ticket to Ride by The Carpenters had fast become my favourite song, along with this line in particularly;

“Before he gets to saying goodbye, he oughta do right by me.”

This lyric, slightly altered by my fair hand, I wrote about a picture of myself, a school photo taken when I was eleven, before any shit happened. Before you get to say your goodbyes, you’ve got to do right by me. It was the first time I’d acknowledged that 1) wrong had been done to me and it hadn’t been my fault and 2) I pitied the depressed teenage me rather than hated her. It became a goal for me then, a life-long one if you will, to balance the scales. I explained it to my husband as: “it has to have been worth it”. Those years lost, spent suffering under the rain cloud of depression, losing so much (and that’s another thing. People are like, ‘not going to university isn’t everything’ but that’s not the point. To me, it is a loss and FEELINGS ARE VALID. Another shrink phrase), they all have to have been worth it. That depressed teenager has to come up on top on eventually. I’m not saying I want to be as successful as JK Rowling or as rich as Bill Gates. I aspire to neither of those. It is merely a message to the girl with the black eyeliner from ten years before, the girl who carried on even when she didn’t want to; you gave it your all for those years, I’ll give it mine for the rest of them.

Lola Deelay of Of the Light and the Dark

Enough

the biggest lie

your eating disorder will ever tell you

is that you’re

almost there

that there is a set point for your happiness,

which you will reach once you just

lose that three pounds

or 

drop another two sizes

or

run an extra mile

and it distorts the truth so seductively,

so believably,

that you listen

and push your beautiful body

to limits it should never be forced to face

for the sake of obedience

and the hope of being 

enough

as every day you lose more and more

not only of your skin

but of yourself

in a neverending search for satisfaction

that the voices will mask as

achievable

and 

obtainable

and

the answer to all your problems

yet when you look in the mirror

you see only inadequacy

for no reason except that

you are lost in a struggle

to be better and better

until you are

the best

and anything below that is 

weakness

and ultimately

failure

even though

you are straining toward an unattainable goal

and the

reality

is that

you are never more powerful

than when you choose to argue back

and simply say 

no–

that you will not give in,

and that the mirror’s image shows

someone flawed,

but 

real

who is

strong

and

whole

and a

fighter,

and the hardest part

ultimately becomes the easiest

when you simply

stop listening

to all the lies you have been fed

in place of the sustenance your flesh has longed for

and whisper to your beaten down reflection

the revelation you have been rejecting all along–

that you have always

been

enough.

The Little Girl in the Mirror

The little girl sits in her room, her face illuminated by a screen, the room dark apart from this one square of light. She plays melodic, dramatic songs, songs you’d never hear on the top 40 or on the commute to work. Her slim figure is drowned in an enormous black hoodie, the sleeves of which cover her hands down to her fingers, revealing chipped and bitten nail polish. In all senses, the girl is no different to any other thirteen year-old, holed up in her bedroom, connecting with the internet world far more than her real world. It’s what teenagers do, so they say.

But this thirteen year-old is still a little girl and she’s researching suicide.

The year is 2005. Mental health is still kept firmly behind closed doors, along with sexuality and gender identity. The term ‘suicide’ is usually only spoken of by mentally healthy people, commenting on the selfishness of the act as if the decision was an easy one and not a last resort out of desperation. The little girl knows this, because she has heard her mother make such comments, and that is why she conducts her research alone in her room. She knows, because the world has told her, that she is being incredibly selfish, but she has to disagree. The world will be a much better place once she has checked out of it.

I watch this little girl look at pictures of gunshot victims, of people run over by trains, of souls hanging from their cupboards with their eyes bloodshot and glazed and I want to smack my hands over her eyes and pull her away before the images can sink in. I want to shield her from these images, to keep her from the sadness that perpetuates the world, even though she is now aware of it to such depths, they horrify me. I look over her shoulder as she looks up the success rates for hanging, slit wrists and overdoses and I think, you are a child, what are you doing, why is there no one to save you?

Because nobody knows. Nobody can know because depression is shameful, suicide is shameful and you cannot be seen as selfish, as inflicting your pain on others, because what a horrible person that will make you.

So I kneel down beside this child and I turn her desk chair towards me. I grip hands that I’d forgotten had been so tiny once. I run my thumbs over bare fingers, where one day I will have rings to symbolise my marriage and the birth of my daughter. I look deep into her eyes, eyes that haven’t seen the wonders I have seen, and tell her the honest truth. She has yet to read her favourite book, hear her favourite song or see her favourite movie. Chances are I haven’t either, but that potential is there, isn’t that exciting? I tell her the world extends far beyond the four walls of her bedroom. I explain that one day she will understand; that her brain is trying to process things too great for it, beyond its potential, but it will grow and it will develop and it will understand. I grip her hands and I promise her that, one day, she will outgrow her mother and will be confident enough to make a stand, to talk about mental health without shame and to stare down anybody who dares to label it as selfish. I swear that, with time, she will understand what has happened to her and she will regain her power and realise she was not defeated then and she will not be defeated now.

I tell her with absolute confidence that, in life, everything is temporary and in death, everything is permanent.

I hold her frail body close, remember the times when my shoulders were as narrow as my hips; a body of a child with a brain desperately trying to figure out things that baffle adult minds. I turn the computer screen off and nudge her away from the desk and promise, with the certainty of one who has walked this path before, that all she has to do is get through tonight, for tomorrow will take care of itself.

Additional Info; In case you didn’t guess (you probably did), this is a ‘sort of’ letter to my own 13 year-old self and what I wish I could do/say to her.

Restoration

i would be lying
if i said recovery was easy–
if i pretended it didn’t bother me
that my tiny waist has expanded;
that my clothes still fit, but fit “differently;”
or that i am no longer “the skinny girl”
with the pale skin and perfectly flat stomach.
between obsessive calorie counting
and the regained curvature of my legs
i am falling apart
trying desperately to remember
the lightness of my emaciated frame
and the feeling of my ribcage on my fingertips.
every day holds a temptation
to simply give in and avoid the kitchen
and i long so strongly
to shut my lips against anything
besides water and herbal tea.
it is a seemingly unending battle
and the only thought sustaining me
is that i cannot afford another relapse
or a desire to live this way forever–
in constant fear of something
that is necessary to survival.
truthfully, I was so worn of being
unable to hold up my head when i woke
and tired when i climbed the stairs to my bedroom.
though mentally weak,
i cannot deny that my body is healthier than it has been
for a long, long time
and deep down, i know that it will become a great deal easier
to accept the healing i avoided for so many months
the more i take care of
my precious, malnourished being
in spite of myself.
with this reflection, i continue fighting
and looking forward to restoration–
not necessarily of my figure,
but of the depths of my mind
with the knowledge that i am living
exactly as i am supposed to.
so through all of the tears,
the empty wishes,
and the anxiety i face daily,
i will continue smiling at the strength,
capability,
and power of this exquisite body
that i have dragged through hell and back
with the understanding that, because of this struggle,
i am becoming a better version of myself
than i could have possibly imagined.