Day 17 – Once more, with feeling

As I will depart from the city soon again, I used day 17 to reflect on my time in the city (again, I know, I know, get a life, girl!) and to meet with my step-dog and his owner. Step-dogs are a thing, you guys. A very nice thing. In this case, his name is Paul, he lives with his owner relatively close to me and we are in love. I used to walk him a few times a week previous to the breakdown and he even spent some weeks in my flat, when his owner was away. I love dogs. I really do. This one is a special case. His owner is a friend of my mom and consulted me with dog questions when she first got him one year and a half ago. So naturally, we bonded (Paul and me) and we met up more often (his owner and me). I didn’t see him at all in the past 9 months, I couldn’t just leave without seeing him once at least. We set up a date for the afternoon. Great incentive for me, to really get up, have a shower and to welcome the day with determination. Although I love that dog, I usually do not feel comfortable enough to sit around at his owner’s place for hours, just chatting. So I was prepared to leave after an hour or so. But guess what, I stayed for almost 3 hours. It was a nice day, we sat on the balcony, the dog was sleeping at my feet, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I didn’t have problems with talking or listening and I even just sat there and listened to the birds. In many ways, the breakdown made me more calm. Inside. I always was more of an introverted person, but I lacked the inner peace and calm. I always counted the seconds, striving to do 100 things at once. This was different, it felt different. That was nice.

When I left, it was almost time for dinner, I love it, when I don’t have much resting time in between reunions (I am totally aware, that this sounds super odd after the first sentence and all that inner peace and rest stuff, but it does make sense to me, just roll with it). I don’t get tempted that way to stay at home. My friend and I treated ourselves to a dim sum feast (I just had breakfast, but I am getting hungry again, just thinking about it) and after dinner, I did something spontaneously. I invited her over to my flat for a night-cap. Just like that! I am getting better at this social stuff! Although I almost fell asleep after the second homemade nut liquor, it was a nice evening. One more day, then it’s back to the countryside-time. I have mixed feelings about this.

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Day 16 – an unexpected treasure

Day 16 – time really flies when you’re having fun, or, in my case, a lot to reflect on and even brave the odd challenges along the way. I got up ok, determined to avoid another binge watching incident. I did, what I (now) always do in a situation like this: write a new blog entry (I am still behind!). What followed afterwards was a matter of hours, I kid you not and I will also spare you the technical details, but I managed to salvage some of my lost data. It’s magic! Not really, I used a software, and thankfully, it almost did, what it was supposed to do. I will have to look at each file and reorganise it (400 gb, no biggie), but not now, this task won’t run away. Relatively proud, I walked away from the pc after salvaging a few files, without spending even more hours to organise and browse through everything. Why bother with a gruesome task, when there is so much more to do.

In my case, that was risking another gruesome challenge. I sat down, trying to identify why I didn’t feel as good in the city, as I hoped. It could have been way worse, but also, a bit better. After the excitement of the first few days (home improvement – I definitely need more excitement in my life), I felt like spiraling down, without any means of stopping it. The energy was down, the mood was down, the lust for exploring anything was gone, I went to the great outdoors only three times in three weeks, I didn’t sleep as well, I made myself a smoothie only once (once – in three weeks, when it previously was a daily thing), I felt exhausted once again, desperate, sad and depressed at times. Even though I had my little book full of challenges, things to do, places to visit and so on, I never even picked it up anymore, everything seemed too hard, too much effort and to scary. Time to meditate on that. Without the actual meditating – laying down on the sofa serves me just as well.

Some people may find an epiphany through meditating – I didn’t. But I compared my days on the countryside with my days in the city and realized a few things. The city, my own flat, my friends, my love, my family distracted me a bit. A distraction I don’t have at the countryside as much. That’s not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, I went to the city as some kind of holiday and trying out new things, to reconnect with my loved ones and that’s what I did, mostly. I meant, that having these many distractions and temptations at once, is still too overwhelming for me. It showed me, that I am not ready yet, to throw myself into the hectic life. I am not yet as well as I can and will be and I am not able yet to look after my own needs in a more hectic surrounding. I still need the quiet and alone time to be able to put myself first. I still lack interests, stuff to do, things that keep me busy. In those moments, when I felt lost, I didn’t know what to do and I looked for comfort in what I knew to have worked in the past, to silence the inner nagging voice: improving the flat, cleaning, organising, watching tv, playing games. Basically doing and thinking about anything else, than me. I didn’t actually watch tv or played a game, but the temptation was there. It could have been so easy to just let it all slide and retreat to a world without challenges, without having to work on myself. There’s a few things I can’t quite put my finger on. I get up more easily at the country side. It’s easier for me to make a smoothie, have a nice breakfast, to ready myself for the day, to go out, do some grocery shopping, to have a walk. That last one is no shocker, there is nature everywhere basically. I have more energy, at least it feels like it. I think in a way, I feel safer. Of course, spontaneously booking that yoga course or talking to people, really talking to people, is still a problem for me, even at the country side. If you, dearest readers, have any input for me on that matter, please, feel free to contact me privately or share here. Many brains think better than just one.

Still some work to do! I am looking forward to what it feels like at the end of the rainbow. I aim to think about my fulfilled desires, how it will feel, not the hard, rocky way to reach them. Feel free to remind me of that, sometimes.

Day 12 – sunshine and roses (continued)

The next and last day at the spa went similar to the first one. Some small challenges, a lot of water, sauna, food, and quiet time. It wasn’t as easy for me to let go, relax and be alone with myself as on the first day. I experienced some hours of heavy mood and sulkiness, but I even managed that, with a loving helping hand. I guess, you can’t turn off and on depression as it pleases you. Even in the most wonderful places and circumstances, the embrace of the grey cloud can get its hold over you. It does help me a great deal, that the people around me now know, that this is not a bad temper or foul mood, but a mood change, that I don’t want and often do not know why. Before the breakdown, no spa, no dinner, no nothing had any effect on me, in a positive way. I wouldn’t have appreciated it. I would have stayed at home. And if someone, out of the wish to ‘help’ me and make my day better or life easier, and took me to dinner or somewhere else, I would either have cancelled or not enjoyed it. Before the burnout, if my mood changed, I would pressure myself a lot to ‘get out’ of that mood for the people’s sake, that have to endure this, even though it’s a nice day or what not and they took a great effort to make it a nice activity. That never helped and it got worse and worse, often ended in tears and fights. This time, my love realized something was wrong, asked me, told me, that I didn’t look as relaxed as I was yesterday and if I wanted to talk. It’s these small things, that make it really possible to deal with depression. It took a bit, but after a while, I felt better. I appreciate that a lot. And I love, that I can enjoy beautiful things again. The world is much more beautiful, if it’s not only gray and black.

As I sat in an outdoor hot spring pool, I noticed a couple in my age, that seemed very nice. They would laugh with each other, make funny things, and smile at other guests and seemed to enjoy themselves. Most other couples kept to themselves, did look a bit grumpy and avoided to get in contact with anyone else. Can’t blame them. But at that moment, I was reminded of a really tough challenge for me, a challenge, I really think is quite essential for me. The challenge of talking to strangers, to discard the cloak of invisibility, to melt the ice fortress I built around myself and to set a purposeless conversation in motion. I have tried this with my therapist already. A few months ago, my challenge was to small talk to the bakery lady, the cashier at the supermarket, you catch my drift. Anything, that goes beyond a hello and a grim face. Now, the challenge is a bit more. See if a conversation develops, to take interest in other people and so on. I am way better already at this. If people approach me, I do no longer hurry away or pretend to not have seen or heard them. I can talk and react to other small talk and meaningless conversations. But to initiate a conversation, to get out if my snail-shell and take the risk of actually approaching people, is a major problem for me. And my major, I mean gigantic, enormous, bodacious, humongous, immense. I am going as far as to admit, that I haven’t spoken to a person, that was unbeknownst to me, not even to friends of friends, in many years. I exchanged glances, said hello, introduced myself and would then stick to people I know or myself. Due to depression and the burnout, I can’t even remember, what it is like, to show an interest in other people. My therapist is great that way. When he gave me examples for great questions to ask strangers, I realized, he doesn’t react to people (oh, Italy, that’s nice, I was there once, blabla etc. ) he shows a real interest. He would ask: ‘What did you like in Italy? What made your trip so great? How did you feel, when you arrived there?’ and so on. A totally different approach. I found that pretty interesting and stunning. When I thought I was engaging in a conversation and showing interest, all I did, was to react and talk about my own experiences, to create some kind of relatedness. Showing real interest is something else. Really getting into a conversation is something else. Later that day, I told my love, that I thought, this couple was nice, he agreed, and I secretly thought to myself, that I would try to talk to them. I ran into them 4 times, I never spoke to them, smiled at them or showed them, that I recognized their faces. I kept to myself and pretended they weren’t there. I don’t know what I waited for, maybe a sign, an inviting smile, I don’t know. But I regret, that I didn’t manage to take this huge step, even if it was only to have said ‘Hi, nice weather’. I wasn’t looking for a friendship or anything. I won’t ever be a very outgoing person, and I am not planning to ramble with as many strangers as I can find. But I want to step out of the shadow. Just if approaching strangers serves as a test run for talking to friends of friends, the neighbour girl or that interesting person at the yoga class. Not that I have been to a yoga class. Yet.

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.

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 9 – Soft kitty, warm kitty.

I woke up to a quite unusual sound, like a belling call from a stag during rutting season. That couldn’t be it, so I got up to see what lunacy came off in the bathroom. Unfortunately, no stag party (I am easily amused),  it was my love being quite sick. That can only mean one thing. Get the poor thing back into bed, make tea, check for fever, cancel on work and to nurse him to death, or to healthiness, more accurately. Right? RIGHT? That’s what yours truly would have done a year ago. Forget all about my needs, my plans for the day, my own health; basically putting someone else’s needs before mine – even though they did not ask for it. I am not talking about letting the poor thing rot on the sofa, till the suffering becomes too great. I am very caring, let me assure you. Excellent nursing practise was given, no need to file a human rights complaint. I just paused for a minute, after I made tea, got some pretzel sticks, checked for temperature and made sure, he was as comfortable as he could be, regarding the situation. Was it really so easy for me to jump right back into my old patterns? It is a relatively small thing to care and nurse your love for one day, but for me it was a symbol of everything I did and sometimes still do – putting everything and everyone else before myself. At work, I used to take as much responsibility and assignments as I could, when everyone else’s plate was already full. My own plate included, but hey, how can I be regarded as a valuable employee or colleague, if I don’t work my butt off, if I don’t put in as much effort and passion as I can? After work, I went home to take the lead there, too. I was exhausted, but nevertheless, I cleaned, I organised the place, I bought groceries, executed everyday commodities and prepared dinner. Eventually, after dinner, I allowed myself to relax, and that meant going straight to bed. No one demanded of me to take control over everything and manage my life, others lives, work and household. Of course, someone has to do these things, and I am so much more energetic and efficient, no one else can do, what I do, right? I am tremendously valuable. I made myself tremendously valuable to everyone, my family, friends, colleagues. I only felt valuable, if I worked to exhaustion, sometimes, till I heard a ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ – and if that wasn’t the case, I worked harder, longer and busy as a beaver.
Your day is already jam-packed? Of course, I will look after your kids or run some errands for you! Can’t make it to the shops or the post office before they close? Why didn’t you say so earlier, I’d love to do that for you! (No sarcasm, I really loved to do these things – only then I felt loved in return, too). That would have been fine, if not my own day would have been jam-packed already as well. Since years. I never stopped for a second, not realizing how deep my exhaustion went over the years and how automatically I jumped into my pattern of helping, doing things before they even were asked of me, working, cleaning, listening – performing ‘normally’. I never even took my holidays at work – I am way too important and happy to go away!
Those memories came back to me on Day 9. I was determined, to be a good girlfriend, valuable nurse but not to let my love’s sickness interfere what I had planned for the day. He made it relatively easy for me, as he was pretty much passed out the whole day, stayed awake for minutes at tops, just to have a sip of tea, to assure me, that he was alright, needed nothing and was feeling much better already. He made it quite clear to be honest, that he wasn’t a child anymore, was well enough to drink enough fluids and to call or ask for help, if he got worse.
Right, so, there I was. Not really needed. Fighting the impulse to think, I was only a good girlfriend, if I stayed home and forgot about everything else. After I washed the dishes, made the bed – pretty much, did what I could without disturbing my love and what was needed to be done, I was a little restless for a while. What to do, what to do? If you remember, I had made plans, the day before – and that’s what I set out to do. I went to a place, I never go alone. Usually, because I felt like ‘ooooh, but we need to share that experience’, often because I can’t carry all of that junk and always, because I just didn’t go there alone, as the independent being, that I now am. Decisions have to be made together, the tiring journey there, is much more fun together and, after all, it wasn’t just for me, that we had to go there, we needed stuff or inspiration. Are you catching up already? Yes, I am in fact talking about a trip to Ikea. When I got worse and worse, these trips usually were as fun as a ride in hell. Everything about it made me tired, exhausted, cranky, aggressive or desperate. I ended up hating to go there, but, you know, we both back then worked a lot and neither of us had the time or nerve to go alone. Us couples need to stay together, in good times and bad.
I am really relieved, I no longer think that way. I went there, knowing what we needed. Not only was the trip there much shorter and pleasant, than usual, I didn’t feel angry, exhausted or aggressive or overwhelmed for the first time in years. I got my stuff, even walked around and browsed a little and carried everything back home. That part wasn’t so great, as I forgot the real huge bag we have at home and was struggling with carrying 10 kilo on each arm. But I managed. Without desperation, tears or anger. When I arrived home, I was tired, I won’t lie, and I felt pretty much deadly exhausted. But instead of following my usual pattern of nursing, cooking and hovering around like a bumblebee, I sat down, and relaxed, gathering strength again. Honesty, I promised you, though, so, ok, I went grocery shopping that evening and made a meal for myself and my love, but come on, the man was sick! Show some heart, you guys. It could have gone way worse. And he was back on his feet the day after – without my constant nursing. I guess the world does keep on spinning for a day, even without me. Hard to accept, but a good lesson.