Day 11 – sunshine and roses

For christmas, I got a little voucher for a hot springs spa. I’ve only been to a hot springs spa once before, two years ago, with a friend, shortly before christmas. It was really nice. So when I opened the voucher, I thought, that this is just what I needed. Maybe one or two days, without worries, sorrows and everyday activities. As one dear friend put it so nicely just a few weeks before: a time-out from working on myself and rebuilding my life. I was expecting to go there either alone or again with a friend. I would have been totally fine with that. Regained independence wise, you know. I was really surprised, when my boyfriend started to look at offers for the weekend and out of the blue suggested, that we go, for two days, spontaneously, together. I was astonished. Thunderstruck. Who are you, and what have you done with my love? It was kind of new for him to be the decisive one, something I always wanted, something that my therapist and I determined to be really important for me. The more decisions I have to make, the more I feel in control, the more I am made to take charge, the more overwhelmed, exhausted and overburdened I feel. But important and conclusive at the same time, which made it almost impossible for my old self to just let go. Sometimes, no matter how strong you are, how controlling you may be, how self-contained you think you are, it is nice to hand over the reins, to feel taken care of, to feel spoiled and treated like someone who matters, whose well-being matters. When my boyfriend and I had some sessions together with my therapist, this was one of the topics I brought forward. I was hoping, he’d understand how important it is for me to have someone determined and equal in my life, to have at least one place, where not everything depended on me. Turns out, he did not only understand, but really thought about it and incorporated my wish into his everyday actions. So much more, than I ever expected. He’s the greatest.  And so he decided and booked a room for us. Just like that. I was happy, but I couldn’t really show it the day before. Depression lies. I was shortly before cancelling, but I managed to gather enough positive energy the day before, and so, off we went.

On the train ride there, I felt really excited, like a little kid, which has to do with the fact, that I was very familiar with the train route. My family lived close to the hot springs spa for a few years when I was very little, but we took that train so often, that I remembered almost everything about it. I pressed my face against the window to not miss the road leading to that small village we lived in and I didn’t. Yay! I have almost only good memories of that place, our family was still intact and relatively happy then. I also saw hares, deers and even a pheasant on the train ride, which furthermore lifted my spirits. I love animals. I love nature. So exciting! Enough about that now, let’s start with the actual blog purpose – the challenges. It won’t surprise you, that this trip challenged me in many ways. To go away for a weekend, to leave my own four walls, is something that still takes courage for me, but it wasn’t as bad this time, I had great, protective company. When exiting the train, I realized we weren’t the only guests that day and time making their way to the hotel, but we decided to walk there, as it was sunny and beautiful and we’d be doing a lot of slacking around in the next days anyway. My old fear of being the last to arrive, to be overreached, to get a worse room, because of the others, to arrive at the spa a few minutes later and to, of course, miss something really huge (please, don’t ask me what huge thing one could be missing out on at a spa) overtook me, and I lamented about it a bit on the way there. It did help, that my boyfriend dismissed these worries and we had a little laugh about it even. When we checked in and went to the room, I was relaxed again, as it was very nice and I felt confident, that we had exactly the room, that was supposed to be ours. Next challenge, bathing suit. I am pretty aware, that amongst us, I probably won’t find a single person really confident with his or her looks in a bathing suit, or even naked. We all have our problem areas and low self-esteem concerning our bodies, so I won’t bore you with a long explanation of why this is difficult for me. Moving on.
The silly girl I am at times, at the moment believes I can only go outside, if wearing make-up. I feel more confident with it, like not giving anyone a point of attack, when seeing my face. I didn’t wear a lot, I am not that silly doh. Once in the hot springs, it took me an hour or so, to let go, but then I felt relaxed and more sure of myself. With a devil-may-care attitude, I washed all of the make-up away and even dived underwater, which makes my hair look very weird and leaves me looking like a poodle, who was out in the rain for hours. How some people manage to look elegant, beautiful and really pretty when swimming or diving is beyond me. Sigh.
For a quick afternoon snack, hotel guests can go to the lobby to have a soup and fruit. When I was there the first time, my friend and I were told, that it was totally acceptable to eat while wearing the bathrobe, the hotel gave to us. This time, no one told us, and my insecurity got the better of me and I wanted to go there fully dressed. In between a hive of half-dressed people in bathrobe, we looked like dorks. Moving on.                                   When we went to dinner, after a really nice, relaxing afternoon, sparkling clean, with elegant clothes and make-up on (me, in case you were wondering) I again felt nervous. Entering a room full of people, where usually all eyes are on you, because, you know, people like to stare, being seated maybe very close to another table or even at a table with someone else, being watched as you sit down, get up again, is usually not my comfort zone. I never can be who I am in these situations. I try to adapt the habits of everyone else, I am afraid to laugh, to talk or to, you know, just sit comfortably on my chair, concentrating on my company. I constantly check the room for everyone else, what they do, if they are not looking at me, if I do a good job of being as pleasant, low-key and as invisible as possible. Also, where would our table be located? I like to sit with a wall or window in my back, I guess that’s because our ancestors had to battle all kinds of wild animals and leaning against a cave wall, usually means, that at least you weren’t going to be attacked from behind. I do not like if my table is located in the middle of the room, next to a pillar (I need space, come one!) or very close to another table. The table we were led to was very close to being perfect. The only thing worth mentioning, challenge wise, that evening, was that you had to get up to the buffet to get your appetizers. Silly as we were, we went to the buffet separately. Not very clever. I managed though. More to come in the next blog entry. Hope you are staying with me.

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Day 10 – the one with the spontaneous get-together

My boyfriend has this one friend, he totally connects with. They play the same instrument, worked in the same orchestra, they have the same hobbies, and they went on a lot of longer and shorter trips together. I really got to know him a little better, when he introduced us to his girlfriend, a truly wonderful girl. Before meeting her, I always thought he was a loudmouth and, you know, a typical guy. But as soon as both of them found their way to each other, things started to change. We went out a few times, had them over for brunch, went to their place – you know how it is. They invited us to their wedding, almost two years ago and it was wonderful. In his speech, the evening before the wedding, he addressed all of his friends and how they all come from different places in his life. Some he knew since kindergarten, some, like my boyfriend, appeared later in his life and that this coincidence developed into beautiful friendships very quickly. Touching stuff, really. It was a really good night for everyone. The wedding itself was gorgeous, great people, great venue, a beautiful bride, a very loving groom, a lot of fun. It was less fun for me than for my love, as I was already rapidly approaching my breakdown and found it hard to socialize with the other guests. I was doing ok the evening before at dinner and later at the hotel bar but on the actual wedding day, my pixie dust for talking to people, feeling comfortable in my own skin, joining in, chattering and enjoying myself was pretty much used up. I stuck to myself mainly and went to bed around midnight. Of course I wish, I had been feeling better that day, but that’s not the point now. I missed or spent a lot of evenings miserable or alone, but no time for feeling sorry for myself.
After the wedding, I didn’t see the both of them for a long time. My boyfriend saw them regularly, but I was spiraling down fast and couldn’t bear the thought of seeing people, going out or doing anything but sitting on the couch, as soon as I got home. After my breakdown and the diagnosis ‘burnout’ it took me over 6 months and 3 months in therapy, to talk to my friends on the phone or managing to meet with people again. And the three-month before starting therapy, I felt worse with each day, needless to say, I stayed at home the whole time, in the dark and grim embrace of depression. Not a lot of people realized, what happened to me (and I didn’t let them in or shared my sickness), and I didn’t even tell my family for three months what was going on. These friends of ours were the only ones, except you, my dear friends who read these sentences now, to step up, go to my love and ask him, what was going on with me. They noticed, I was no longer going out with them and my boyfriend, they noticed, that they hadn’t seen me in months. When asked, he told them.
They reacted with care and well wishes, sent hugs and regards and always made sure to ask how I was, even though we only spoke once on the phone.

My boyfriend had planned to see his friend for some weeks now, and when I was back in the city, he told me about his plans. I was ok with that, it was still very unsure and way in the future, nothing triggered my panic yet. The day after my boyfriend was so sick, he reached said friend and, surprise, surprise, he wasn’t busy and invited him to his house, to meet his baby daughter for the first time. He then simply told me, he needed to get some fresh air today and that he wanted to go visit them. I was not unprepared to that, but boy, was I unprepared! I panicked a little, and started, as I always do, when feeling uncertain or not in control, to clean, vacuum and readying myself. I realize, all this cleaning does sound a bit obsessive, but the vacuuming was absolutely necessary. Truthfully, my flat is not as spotlessly clean as you may think. Shut up, now. There was one thing I wanted to do that day, a challenge or a test of courage, if you so will, and I told my boyfriend, that I wanted to do that first. I am not going to tell you about that test of courage – it went well but it’s private, but afterwards, I felt tired, ready to go home and relax from life. I couldn’t very well back out though, our friends knew of my condition, they looked forward to see me now, that I am much better. A girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. The baby girl was adorable, I held her and laughed with her most of the time. I still feel nervous around people, even people I know I like and I know they like me back. I worry too much about my impression, possible topics I could talk about, yadayada. And, I don’t know the both of them really well. I really like them and we always have a good time and connect, but we never talked about ourselves a lot, I know most about them from the stories of my love. So I stuck with the baby mainly, but her mother was very kindly asking me a few questions about how I feel now, and in those minutes, I really let go, opened up and talked a bit. For the rest of the evening I was more relaxed, contributed to the conversation, had a few laughs and – accepted the invitation for dinner, as it was already late. I usually am very, very uncomfortable staying somewhere for more than an hour and spontaneously accepting a dinner invitation, that might take heaven knows how long, is not something I do. For a minute I even regretted it, but it turned out to be really ok. I look forward to seeing them again and I did feel comfortable at their home. I do worry about being boring, having nothing to talk about, being awkward, being just the appendix of my boyfriend or not being accepted or liked or appreciated, but bear with me – I am working on it.

Day 6 – Sunday, Funday?

Yesterday’s challenge once more showed me what I can do already, and what is still hard or tempting for me.
It’s sunday. The flat is clean, sun is shining, no to-do’s, no commitments – time to unwind. Yours truly felt the hike from the day before a tiny little bit. I decided, that it was a good idea to stay at home, after a week of challenges and many outings. You, my dearest readers, might know me, the real me, so well by now, to realize, that a day without projects, may they be cooking, emptying the cupboard, reorganizing the shelves, planning or plotting anything really, is quite difficult for me. Mainly because I am still in the process of filling the gaps, that have been filled with work previous to the breakdown. You might want to call these gaps hobbies or socializing or going out or anything really. I never liked the word hobby. It sounds like hubby, another word I passionately hate, and for me is linked too much with stuff like model railways, remotely piloted aerial vehicles, embroidery circles or fishing. Brrrrrr. That’s not at all what I am talking about. Interests, however, is a word I can live with – not financially spoken, of course. Although…but that’s a story for another day. When depression slowly embraces you with its dark hug, you lose interest (great word, don’t you agree) in pretty much everything. Not even the basic instruments of survival, eating, drinking and sleeping, are of any interest anymore. That’s not a conscious choice, it happens, without realizing it. You basically don’t say yes to life anymore and everything that is linked with it. Activities are too exhausting, too challenging, too frightening and too useless. I got thirsty, as other people do, but in the worst days leading to and after the breakdown, answering to that primal need, meaning to get up and get a glass of water, was a task, that easily took me 2 hours, or more. It took a few years to get to that point, and in these years, I lost the ability to read, to take photographs, to listen to music, to join a yoga studio, sing in a choir, go out for drinks, kit a hat – you name it, I lost it.
I’ve improved greatly in this regard. Two weeks after christmas, I read my first book in about 4 years. I almost cried. Nonsense, I did cry. And then I started to quench my thirst for more by reading every book, that I got into my hands. Mostly detective stories, I’ve always loved them. And they don’t contain a whole lot of really heart-breaking stories, emotions or sadness – which is really, really good right now. High-five, inner book reading fanatic, we are back! I started to knit again, I cook, I bake, I read, I listen to music, not excessively and only light, easy-going soundtracks, but hey, music! Like books, music was THE part of my life for years. Losing that is like not being able to breathe but there is nothing you can’t do against it. I am grateful and really happy for all these great things, slowly finding their way back into my life.

So there I was, yesterday, without any challenges, jobs to do, or books to read (dumb mistake, I know). I was faced with a day of enduring silence, resisting the urge to keep myself with anything, saying hello to the thoughts, that try to convince me, that I am worthless, if I don’t do anything to justify my existence, if I don’t try to ease the life of those around me, even if they didn’t ask for it, if I don’t make up for imposing myself on someone by being absolutely welcoming, bringing gifts and being the beaming, bright self, that I am not these days. I keep busy, to avoid these lies depression tells me. Big challenge for me. A perfect sunday challenge. After sitting around a little hopeless, with nothing to do, I decided, that some indulgent hours in the bathtub were in order. You know, nothing fancy. Washing my hair, having a face mask, using some bath melts – normal stuff. My lovely friend from the other side of the world reminded me, how important it is, to spoil oneself and to allow someone to spoil yourself. Not an easy task, when your inside screams, that you aren’t worth it, that you don’t deserve to be spoiled, that there are much more important things to do, thoughts to have and plans to be made, that feeling better, relaxing for half an hour, is not something, that should happen to you. Depression wants your life to be misery. In the spirit of challenge, I told my inner voices to shut up and had a bath. Glorious! I would have been quite happy for it to have been my only challenge that day, but life offered me even more.

A friend with a balcony called, inviting myself and my love over to introduce the season of the balcony together. Even though this friend lives basically around the corner, I kid you not, it doesn’t take much more than 50 steps to get there, that’s not something I had intended on doing. Not for the long walk, obviously, or the company (what are you guys thinking!) but for the quite simple task of putting clothes on, making myself presentable and – imposing myself on people. Not to speak of the insecurity, that takes hold of me, when people’s eyes are on me, when I am expected to make conversation, when I should listen and show myself in the best light possible. (Fear not, this will be a thing of the past soon!). My love accepted the invitation, without giving my insecurity enough time to object and so there I was. It took me quite a while to get dressed and ready (hurrying up or being on time is still a struggle), but I went there and what can I say, I had a lovely afternoon. My friend’s sister, one of my closest friends, came over as well and we talked, chatted and even laughed! They both, actually all of you, my dear readers and friends, know about my journey and the state I am currently in, they both have accompanied me through the past year, and they are absolutely great about it. I felt accepted and loved, they were happy to see me, happy that I was there, happy to talk about whatever topic.

Even though, I don’t yet have a life filled with interests I really love doing (hell, I need to find out first, what they are!), I have really good friends. They may be few in number, but each one of them is worth at least 20 of the friends, other people have. I still have to go a long way, to get to know myself, to see who I really am, to accept my strengths and talents and to get really comfortable with myself and to say yes to life, with all its colours. And my friends help me a great deal with this, in their own different ways. I am extremely fortunate to have all of these amazing people in my life. (Although I still struggle to understand why they chose me, me of all people, to be their friend. Someone is going to kick my butt for that sentence.)