If any given picture can say 1000 words, this one might speak a million.
This was about two years ago, just days after being discharged from my last and final admission at St. Paul's Hospital. This was my rock bottom. Completely hopeless (evidently except for the little flame I could not understand!) and wanting to be dead. After failing to kill myself in one swift motion, I was thrust back into my personal hell. It felt like I had been on a spinning carnival ride for hours and suddenly flung off. How was I to contend with days that kept coming that I had not intended on seeing??
Though not the picture of health, it wasn't my worst physical state in most ways. My weight was not at a scary low, my labs had been stabilized, my ECGs normalized - but my mind was completely gone.
Two years later, during this present week, as my life keeps moving forward, I made great strides in the direction of more full integration into the world. I came out on top of all my fears. I am proud of myself but more importantly, feel incredibly connected.
For example: one day I was on my way to take care of anxiety-provoking business, I chose instead of looking at the ground and trying to focus my mind internally to find peace, to look up and notice the people walking by me. Downtown there is not shortage of people for watching!! Most people were walking quickly, clearly business district employees, talking on their cell phones or at least checking their devices for whatever reasons; a handful were out for leisurely strolls alone or with friends; there were the token homeless asking for change; and another bunch that I could not figure out beyond humans being and humans doing.
As I experienced my own anxiety and chose to look, really look, at those passing by me (some returned the acknowledgement and many didn't), I became so curious about the stories behind the faces. Who on this street was returning my smile despite an acute experience of their own pain and difficulties? How many were truly happy and peaceful despite the chaos that can be life? Who else observed the alley I just passed full of cherry blossoms against the communist-style grey building and who was too caught up? Who were these people, that I may never see again, that shared these moments with me?
It was a beautiful experience and lead to the feelings of connectivity I mentioned above.
There is a quote that says something along the lines of, “I wonder how many people I have looked at but never really seen.” I attempt to cross that line frequently; to look at people and see them. As I did just that on this day, my anxiety dissipated. I stopped noticing just me and my intense feelings and let myself connect on some level with these strangers who were all walking down the same streets as me. I kind of felt like an army was with me in these unfamiliar faces. I didn't need to talk or explain, I just had to smile at them and look in their eyes and let them see me too.
Compare this experience of stress and anxiety to my experience of the world two years ago! Little brought relief from the agonizing loneliness my eating disorder inflicted on me. Even when I looked at others, it was out from a kind of glass cage. I wanted to reach out but my hands only touched the cold glass when extended. I wanted to be held and saved and to feel love so badly but this barrier kept whatever warmth that was extended to me at a distance. I could see people trying to help but felt just that little bit unreachable - hand to hand with the glass always between.
Add stale negative air that I was breathing and rebreathing in my glass bubble, the image is pretty clear and I was suffocating.
I could never have imagined that just 2 years later, I could have experiences as I do now and finally feel like a part of the world as a whole. I am not caged and no longer do I need the walls I put up before.
I wouldn't change my rock bottom experience because it was what brought my world-wide team together. We realized in our little northern town that I wasn't going to last much longer and we needed to act.
Against what felt like insurmountable resistance in myself, I got from that time which had me taking bed baths; relieving myself in full view on a commode; and enough benzodiazapines, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants to kill a horse; to where and with whom I needed to be. For those few months I take little credit. I was challenging in my despair. I tried – or at least my eating disorder tried – to sabotage the help that was coming, on numerous occasions. I tried to convince everyone that I wasn't sick or deserving enough of this extreme measure.
The last two years held many long months of pain and fear. I look back and see how my mind resisted even when I had on my bravest face. I didn't know that I was retraining my brain sometimes just by being surrounded by the care of the team in Portugal. I went from belief back to hopelessness and frustration frequently. I asked them to give up on me too when they finally realized that I was going to be the one person that they could keep around for as long as they wanted and would never get better; not to string me along saying that I could change when they knew that I never would. I was assured that they would not torture me like that and that it was a known fact that I would recover, walk through and away from that hell once and for all by following their direction.
Well, here I am. Is life perfect? Of course not!! But it sure is beautiful and I truly feel like a part of it. Even in my scarier moments as I face many experiences that are unfamiliar or familiar with traumatic memories, I know that I am loved no matter what and having conquered the demons that nearly took my life, I know I can face all the challenges I have now and not be defeated. Being really alive was all I ever wanted and I have it now.
It feels so satisfying to be able to pluralize “years” now as it pertains to this part of my life. I imagine that this time next year, I will not even be counting or noticing anniversaries, and that also feels fantastic.
Perhaps it is warranted to put a face to the words of today (though most of my readers know me I think)...fully alive and fully happy.
And with that, I'll reiterate a phrase that I have posted before:
So worth all of it.