Smile – it’s good for you
I stopped writing in September.
Life threw me a curveball that just knocked me sideways, sent me reeling and left me staggering, struggling to suck in a breath, shocked, dazed and battered by nervous energies. I stopped sleeping. Which sent me even further into a fizz of delirium.
I was made redundant. A five-year career that had been going swimmingly well just came to an end.
It was an acutely stressful experience but one I started to recover from after 3 weeks. I got a new job in the same company.
But the experience left me shaken and questioning the status-quo of my life. I focussed on the fact I’ve written and published seven novels – with a great deal of sacrifice of personal time and fun. Why, I asked myself now, was I working on six new novels – more or less concurrently? What had happened to all the fun in my life?
I decided to stop writing to give my brain a break. To find fun things to do that would help ease the pressures of shock (new job, new paradigm, new stresses) on my mind.
What I discovered in the space left behind was the raw dismay of a life with nothing much else in it.
And the realisation that the last 3 years have been so crammed, non-stop, creatively product heavy… not just because I’ve been boiling over with ideas (I have): but because I’ve been running from the pain of bereavement that happened in 2006 and 2009.
Then… blam. Something else happened. Totally unexpected and nothing to do with work. Connected to the legacy of the death of my parents.
Already on a low-ebb this new trauma just flattened me.
Strange how life can do that to you. One minute you’re on top of the world, feeling strong, vibrant and invincible, and then next month you’re falling. It all depends on the strength of the foundations you’re standing on. For me, my foundations were undermined and riddled with flaws and weaknesses from issues I’ve managed to avoid tackling for years now. But I didn’t know this yet.
I stopped sleeping again, a situation that became its own unique, destructive and hellish thing. At one point I went 10 days without sleep. Life ceased to have meaning or any pleasure. I was a zombie during the day, and a writhing, sweating, traumatized sack of sleepless skin and bone during the night – going to bed in a state of dread and nervous apprehension because of the endless nights I suspected lay ahead. A self-fulfilling prophecy. A vicious cycle of worrying about not sleeping causing you not to sleep.
Once again, I began to recover. Once I’d overcome the problem with sleeping; trick, go to bed at 8 o’clock, no TV, read a book with a large whisky, read and read and read until you feel your eyes closing. And then go for it: lie down, drift off, try to sink through the portal of slumber. It worked. Getting back into a normal sleep routine my sanity and sense of self started to return. People at work commented on how lively I looked again.
And then, unbelievably, two weeks ago something else happened. A thunderbolt of trauma straight out of left field. This time I plunged even further into despair. And this time I thought I was broken beyond repair. I’ve never experienced such a bleak state of mind. I’ll spare you the details but I was barely able to function: i had no energy, no interest in doing anything – and the smallest of irritations seemed to threaten to push me even further over the edge.
The terror now was that this was the start of something really serious. An actual mental health problem. What was wrong with me? Why was I reacting so adversely to the normal bumps-in-the-road of life? Time to look for help.
I spoke to a counsellor and bingo. Within 20 minutes she had the problem nailed. Unresolved issues around the death of my parents. That’s such a nebulous term until you’ve actually been through it. Nobody tells you this at school. Probably just as well.
Other things I’ve been doing that have helped – tips you might want to try?
I’ve talked with my friends. I’ve been open and honest and I’ve explored all the gritty details of fears and regrets. Don’t bottle stuff up. It just goes down inside, twists, mutates and comes back out later even stronger and often in ways you can never predict. So talk.
I talked with myself. I looked into the very heart of my mind and I forgave myself about a few things. Sounds silly and a bit simple, but the act of openly verbalizing the words, “I forgive you for…. ” have a profoundly positive mental effect.
I learned that my problem with sleeping stemmed from my biological systems going into fight or flight – a massive and continuous surge of adrenaline – every time my mind rolled through the various traumas going on.
I picked up breathing techniques from mindfulness – http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm this helped refocus my mind on relaxing rather than getting carried away on the surges of emotions and worried thoughts.
Accept what’s happening without judgement or despair. Accept like an observer would, witnessing these events from a detached point of view.
Write the letters PMA on the web of flesh between your forefinger and thumb.
Positive Mental Attitude.
Everytime you feel yourself sinking into a dark groove – look at your hand and remind yourself. PMA. All the way. It helps.
I started using Facebook – selectively!!! – to seek help and support from people I really know. The selective bit is important, I feel. You can click a custom button of Facebook posts, and specify exactly, by name, the only people who can see your post. This isn’t ticking a box that says, “friends”. This is you typing in by name each person you feel can help you. Rather than shouting out to the world – oh woe! oh woe me! – I just put out a note to a few people saying: I’m in a difficult place and could do with some support. It worked. And it worked without sharing personal stuff to the rest of the world.
And if you’re open to psychological reprogramming through contemplating archetypal images (Major Arcana of Rider Waite Smith Tarot deck), then get into using the tarot. Not for fortune-telling. But for giving your mind a journey to follow towards self-repair.
So I’m 3 months into the worst time of my life.
I’m not yet writing again – I’m giving myself time to actually recover before I plunge into the arctic waters of polyphasic sleep and writing every day at 4am and 7pm.
I’ve never experienced such a horror show of different calamities happening so closely together, one after the other. I don’t blame myself for falling down. I understand and forgive myself – in the circumstances.
Today I’m smiling.
Hopefully it’ll continue, but even if it doesn’t I’ve learned that the dark days do not last forever.
If you’re going through something like this right now, grit your teeth and have faith in the quality of your spirit and mind to find the route to recovery – even if you just nudge it onto the right path by stating you have the will to do so.
That’s why I wrote this post – to show that it’s possible to crawl out of the darkness with a smile on your face.
And never underestimate the state of feeling normal.
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