04.07.21: Not Every Step Is Forward
I'm not always able to be as strong as I'd like people to think, and this week I want to talk openly about my own situation, and how I'm struggling with my mental health.
I want to be better than this. But self-preservation is a single apartment, and anxiety has built an entire city beneath my tongue.
I wrote last month about the non-linear nature of healing, particularly when it comes to mental health. This topic has remained on my mind in recent weeks, because they have been unusually hard, and have been accompanied by the fear of going back to how I used to be - of undoing every hard-fought step along the way.
So today, I want to talk about some of the thinking patterns that come with anxiety. Not because I think it will help me to feel better, it won’t, but in the hope that someone out there might find comfort in knowing other people feel the same. Or even that they may begin to recognise - and alter - some of these patterns in their own thoughts.
Recently, I wake up and I feel anxious for no reason. With this comes an intense claustrophobia, and this can build into a panic attack that leaves me shaking and often struggling to breathe. But these are symptoms I have grown used to, and the truth is they’re not as scary as they once were. Even the panic attacks feel familiar, and I understand how to deal with them reasonably well.
But what has been difficult is the way the anxiety wraps itself through the cavities in my skull. The way it infects how I think about my relationships with the people I love.
I talk to a friend and suddenly I’m convinced they’re tired of having to deal with who I am. I talk to my parents and find myself wondering if they think they would have been better off without me - if I am a burden on my family.
And even the girl that makes me feel like I might be someone worth loving. Suddenly I wonder if she really wants to talk to me, if I’ll ever really be enough for her. Suddenly everything is like it used to be, except this heart cannot take another absence. Or at least, it can’t take hers.
In truth, I’ve also been struggling to write poetry. Previously, poetry has been something of a refuge during periods of mental ill-health, but now I write something new and I can’t convince myself it’s anything worth reading. I’ve written a lot over the last few weeks, but more of the words than I care to admit have found their way only to the flames.
Of course, I know the steps to try and deal with this thinking. The literature will tell you to challenge these thoughts, to undertake Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, to try physical exercise, to talk to a professional, or to the people that love you. All of these things are beneficial, and all of them can genuinely help if you’re struggling.
It’s just that recently, none of these approaches seem to be working for me.
But that doesn’t mean that things won’t get better. Whilst the destination is clear, the journey will rarely be a straight line, and not every step is forward. Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of a tough period, we struggle to see which direction we’re facing, and it can feel like we no longer know how to progress - or even that we haven’t progressed at all.
In these moments, it can be helpful to zoom out and looking at the journey as a whole. Remind yourself where you started, and just how far you’ve come to get to where you are now. It may not be the final destination - it may never be - but you have been moving forward nonetheless.
And that is something to be proud of.
So that is what I will do. I will celebrate the small victories, remind myself of the battles I have won and eventually, I will pull my knees from the concrete and step forward.
I guess, this was a reminder that damaged does not have to mean broken. That searching does not have to mean lost.
And it was a thank you, for always giving me a reason to take another step.
Murmuration is released worldwide in three months, and I’m genuinely excited to share it with you. To get your copy on release day, pre-order it now through all good retailers. For a list, as well as information on how to claim a special pre-order bonus, head over to my website here.