Day 19 – there and back again

It is time to go back. Back to the countryside, to concentrate on getting better, to resume therapy, to learn how to be with myself, how to be myself and to identify where this journey will lead me. As nice as the past three weeks were and as hard it is for me to leave now, I do look forward to a few things in my voluntary exile. I do already miss things from the city though. Balancing these two lives will be my challenge for the future. Or maybe just bringing the countryside into the city. Time will tell.

After I had breakfast and stuffed the last things into my already filled suitcase, I went to the station, said my good-byes to my love and expected a tiring, long journey ahead of me. When someone sat down on the empty seat next to me, my spirits hit the bottom. No, no, no, that was not how I wanted to spend the next 7 hours! I had two choices: to do, what I always do and get cranky, angry, desperate, counting every minute and wishing I had more space to myself, or to try and relax and make the best out of things. I chose the second and grabbed a book. OH BOY! I had completely forgotten, how fast time travels, when you are able to read. To be able to read again and to enjoy it, is one of the many things, I am most grateful for, since recovering. And faster than you can say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious‘ – I had the seat next to me again at my disposal and I rushed through the pages, diving into the story and blocking the world out (thank you, earphones, screw you kid behind me kicking the seat). 7 hours still are a long time and I was happy to get off the train. When I entered the train, the sun was shining and it was spring. When I exited the train, it was raining, it was cold and grey (and it should stay that way for 3 more days, but I didn’t know that yet), but I was in a relatively good mood. Why, you ask me? For the next two weeks I will take care of a very cute dog! Her name is Dana, she is 1 1/2 years old – and she belongs to my stepfather’s boyfriend. That is a whole different story.

Fact is, I knew Dana would have been sent to a shelter for two weeks, and I couldn’t let that happen. I met them an hour after arriving by train, usually a very tense situation for me, something I usually avoid completely, this time though, he behaved, and I was soon alone again, with Dana. The challenge for the next days will be to not replace my needs with the dog’s needs. I am not sure, if I went back to an old pattern by agreeing to look after Dana and I do hope very much, that this responsibility isn’t too overwhelming and exhausting for me still. The focus will and should definitely be on myself. Let’s see how I will do!

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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.

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.)

Day 5 – the great outdoors

I’ve always loved nature. I was born in a city and raised in a city for 4 years, but I actually never really lived in a city until I went to university. I spent years living in the most isolated houses, farms or flats on the countryside, playing with animals, branches and flowers instead of actual toys. I endured grim winters, hot summers and beautiful spring and autumn wherever I was at that time, as long as I could go outside, and by outside I mean taking a step behind the house to find a forest, rivers, mountains, fields or at least a garden, right before my eyes. You see where I am going with this, you clever people you. Once a country girl, always a country girl – nature sticks to you like odor from a horse shed, and if you ever had to clean a barn full of horse poop, you know what I am talking about. When I moved to the city to start my education at university, I was blinded by the abundance a city has to offer. Streets and shops took over my walks in the forest. Meeting at coffee shops and restaurants took over barbecuing outside or just sitting at the river, enjoying the sight. For a brief while I forgot what nature meant to me, how much I missed it in my daily life. I still went outdoors whenever I travelled home, went on a hike or took a bike ride. But that’s not really the same to being outdoors every single day.
In the years, that led to my break down and burnout eventually, where the lurking depression got more and more hold of me, I almost completely lost touch with my inner country girl. And when the big collapse was inevitable, I didn’t have the desire to go out anymore completely, let alone, taking a walk somewhere outdoors. Even when I moved to the countryside again temporarily, the green was not alluring anymore. Sunshine, clouds, water, rain, summer, spring, autumn, were indifferent to me. I felt no joy, when the warm summer air touched my skin, I didn’t even realize it. I still went outside almost every single day, as part of my treatment. One activity each day, no more, no less. That was the deal. So I went outside, without joy, without seeing the beauty, just because I had to. At first, I had a swim, rode a bike, walked a bit, sat at the lake, because I had to. It gave me nothing. Over the course of many months though, something changed. Grass seemed green again, sun was something to look forward to, a swim in the lake had an almost irresistible allure and when I looked around, I realized, that there was reason to smile again, to breathe in deep and to appreciate the peace, quiet and calm of nature. It was great!

I am currently back in the city for a little while. Breathe that air again, see how it feels and to test, how far I have come with my recovery and treatment. At first, I was very energetic and had a lot of drive, similar to the days before. Then, something changed. I felt stressed again, restless, overburdened and almost helpless, as I didn’t know why or how that happened. I still don’t. But I am not giving up like this. Yesterday was a beautiful day. There was sunshine, springy temperatures –  and it was saturday! I took a big leap that morning, when suggesting to my love to go outside to a very big national park like area in our city. For 10 years, I have never set a foot there. Of course not, for a country girl, this is just a park. Silly city people go there, with their hiking shoes and outdoor clothing, pretending they just took a real, challenging hike! As my condition got worse, I never had the will or strength to go there first by public transport, which seemed like a day long assignment (people, hot, sticky, long!) only to walk somewhere with trees and grass, when I didn’t find that any relaxing or beautiful anymore. Hence the leap!
I went there yesterday, and it was really nice. The journey there didn’t take as long as feared, there were only a few people, not the masses of chattering city people I expected. I thought, it was going to be a moderate walk, with maybe one or two little inclines – boy was I wrong. In total, I went up and down 400 meters in altitude difference, walked for more than 12 kilometers. Dressed in a thick, woolen roll-neck sweater, of course, it was supposed to be just a little walk and it was windy outside, ok? Give me a break. What was really wonderful for me to see was, that although I spent close to 6 hours outside, I didn’t feel as if I have missed anything. A year ago, a saturday, would have been THE day, to get as much done as possible. Get up early, clean, organize, do food shopping, have a coffee somewhere, take a stroll along the near farmers market, have breakfast, go to the city and buy something or browse, get home in time for dinner and pretty much afterwards collapse on the nearest sofa. That’s a huge pile of nonsense, of course. I do believe, that you only think, that you are missing out on something, when you fail to enjoy the life you live, when you don’t live the life you want, when you are afraid, that you are always one step behind life. Feel free to remind me of what I said right now, in a year or so, when work has caught up with me again and I forgot about enjoying each moment, as it comes. Which will hopefully not happen. Close to the flat, I ran into our neighbour, who has been living next door with his girlfriend for 5 years now, and I never was able to take the step and invite them into our home. Yesterday, out of the blue, without weighing pro’s and con’s before, I asked him, if he and his girlfriend would like to come over sometime next week, for some table top games and talks. Just like that. He said yes, and I am already nervous and doing my best to maintain my zen and to fight the urge, that everything has to be perfect, including me. I will let you know, my dearest little army of readers. Have a beautiful sunday and enjoy each minute of it.

PS: It was pointed out to me, that with this blog, I once more fed into my urge to be perfect, successful and to accomplish something. I expected a lot (reader wise, site view wise, writing wise), wanted it to be perfect, only thought of the challenges as topics for the blog, when it originally was intended as some kind of public diary, where I would talk about my challenges for myself, mainly. Instead of writing an entry for day 5 yesterday evening, when I was really tired and exhausted, I chose to blog about it today. One step at a time.

Day 1 – clarity

Today is the day. The day, where it all officially starts. I kept avoiding to name an actual starting date for my 40 day challenge. I thought “hey, I did a mini-challenge today already, that’s not worth posting about it, let’s do that another day!”. Or “was that really a challenge already? Better wait, till I do something really worth of being proud!”. I was afraid of what that day 1 meant: 40 days, if possible in a row, in which I am going to face fears, inhibitions, challenges and  to do very new things for me. It also took me some time to really believe, that everything I do in these days, is meant to help me grow, enrich my life, and help me to get better. I don’t do this to impress someone, I don’t do it, because my therapist told me to, I do this for myself. What I do, what I think and know for me to be challenging, is definitely worth being posted. Even if it only is, that I managed to sit in my chair for 1 hour, enjoying the peace, quiet and silence, without my mind carousel starting to spin or phones, books, tv or cleaning having to protect me from my thoughts, fears, or inability to sit still without furiously cleaning the flat, cooking till exhaustion gets me, only to feel worthy. Now then, enough explaining, let the challenges begin!

I recently lost a job, I’ve been working in for over 8 years. A job, that filled up my life, my soul, my whole being. I loved the job, the company, the colleagues, the ability to travel, work hard, get creative do projects for good reasons. I filled the gaps and blanks in my life with the people I learned to know there, made the companies missions my missions and didn’t think it was weird, that my life consisted of just that one thing. In therapy, I later learned, why I did what I did. Why I worked countless hours, neglected friends outside the business and felt whole, fulfilled and sort of important and happy, even by doing so. I loved the challenges (ironic, isn’t it) that the job brought, the travelling, the people and most of all, I loved betraying myself with thinking, that this was it, what a full, rich and important life meant. I had no time for my friends, trying out new things, doing sports or even holidays – work is much more important, you guys! I didn’t see how I slowly lost myself. Food didn’t taste as good anymore, watching tv was the only way to switch my mind off, I had no more interest in reading, creating, cooking, meeting anyone, being. Sleep stopped to offer relaxation and rest, my relationship suffered greatly and I turned to a ghost more and more. The only thing, that kept me going, was my costume, my mask, the machinery I created for myself to handle it all, to still be able to work and seem “normal”. Concerned friends were shut out or if they kept persisting, I presented them with my perfect mask impression of someone, who can do everything, handle everything. My job, the company or colleagues weren’t responsible for my breakdown or the burnout. In this environment I was able to feed into my drive to be perfect, to work harder than everyone else, to feel a sense of achievement, that, in my eyes, was the only thing, that justified my existence. That made people like me. This performance urge, as my therapist and me call it these days, has driven me since I was a young child. Perform, achieve, do before it even is demanded of you was the only way I thought love, happiness and acceptance would come to me. That all sounds way gloomier than intended. This is the start of something new, something good, something exciting. Onto challenge number 1!

When my mask and life collapsed, I got signed off work, first for a few weeks. I told my boss and colleagues I’d be back in 2 months tops. That was 11 months ago. I am still not able to return to a working schedule or a job, let alone define what that could be. 6 weeks ago, I got a letter from accounting, letting me know that my services aren’t required anymore. No personal word, no explanation, no phone call, no warning. I was thunderstruck. 8 years of hard work, friendships and challenges (again, ironic) and that’s how the company chose to let me go? I cried, retreated, blamed myself, grieved and raged. The first really great thing about that experience was, that it didn’t hit me as hard as it could have. The months of rest, relaxation, work in therapy and steady way towards recovery paid off. After two weeks I decided, with the help of my therapist, that I needed closure, an explanation and a talk, with my former boss, to get rid of all uncertainty, fears and self-blame. So I started calling. First, with hesitation, happy, that he didn’t pick up immediately, then, more certain. I rang constantly for about 6 weeks (I spared him for 2 weeks, as he just welcomed his third child, a precious baby girl into this world – congratulations, you guys!) and tried it again today, convinced, he wouldn’t pick up again. And he didn’t. (If you think all that building up to a certain point and this is it, I encourage you, to read further.) So I decided, that this was going to be my challenge today. I was determined, to talk to him today, no matter if in person, via email or a phone call. I called the office, and hey, someone picked up! Someone I knew! I told her, that I needed to talk with our boss and she did exactly that. Not surprising, since she is someone, that gets things done. I waited for a few seconds and there …deep breath….he was, talking through the phone to me, joking that this was his first work day back, and what a coincidence it was, that I caught him just then. Long story short, we talked, for about 40 mins. I remained calm, friendly but adamant, which means, I expected of him to explain how he made the decision, why it wasn’t possible for him to call me and talk to me and why on earth he thought it was ok to end 8 years with an impersonal letter from accounting. It was a good talk and he did, what I expected of him in a respectful, kind and caring manner. I told him a few things about my sickness and my last few months, that further helped him to understand. We hung up on very amicable terms, talking about having coffee with the whole team as a sort of goodbye. And now, deep breath! It took a while, I went through a hard time, there was frustration on both ends but I managed to lead the conversation as I planned to. I was able to issue my frustration, sadness and anger, without losing it (tears, you guys, they are very hard to hold back for me), shouting, yelling, blaming or erratic behaviour. And he thanked me with caring and kindness and a better ending to that mess, than I had hoped for. I will still need to look for a new job, of course, and that is scary and will be the topic for a lot of therapy sessions, but I can brave that path knowing it wasn’t me, my work or my lack of skills or abilities, that lead to the dismissal. I can look back at those 8 years without fear or uncertainty about myself. I can look forward now.