August 25th 2015. I have been writing my blog for a year today. A year of writing and a year of sanity. This blog as well as Morning Pages have helped me regain my mental health and has started to return me to the person I used to be.
Let me share with you something that I’ve only told three people in my life; my doctor, my priest and my partner.
In January 2014, on an early and frosty morning, I saw a little girl. She was wearing red boots, a little blue puffer jacket and had her beautiful blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. The young girl was screaming. Not a human scream, but one of fox cubs in the night calling to their mother. A distressing, dying scream of someone in great pain. This continued every day for over two weeks both in my lessons and out the window of my classroom. What’s more I knew this girl didn’t exist. She was an illusion, a mirage, a figment of my imagination. I needed to make it stop, to make her bloody screams end.
For 7 years previously I had been a PE Teacher and a boarding tutor in a state boarding school. I had returned from teaching overseas for personal reasons. When I came back to the UK I decided to do one thing. As fully as possible engage with school life in all aspects. It helped that I worked for a truly inspirational and great man in boarding. I worked bloody hard. I was successful. I took on more and more responsibility within the wider school. With boarding duties during the week and on weekends, running school fixtures on Saturdays and occasional Sundays, there were times when I would work close to a 100 hours a week, 7 days a week, for a month at a time. I didn’t care as it gave me the certainty, direction and a sense of worth in my life that had been desperately missing. However I have realised certainty should last only so long.
Starting the working day at 7.00am and then finishing at 11.30pm I was still wired and could never get to sleep. I got into the habit of having a *few* drinks a night to ‘take the edge’ off so I could get to sleep. I would wake what felt like minutes later. Work. Drink. Interrupted sleep. Work. Drink. Interrupted sleep. The holidays were no longer enough to get me out of a downward spin. The phantom of that young girl brought me out of it. She was a signpost to the destination my lifestyle choices were taking me. I’m glad she appeared because on reflection I’m not sure I would have wanted to see what was at the bottom of that spiral.
I want to thank my doctor. His kindness and support from the very beginning was overwhelming. Not thinking I was lying or faking, but taking everything I had to say to be genuine. The suggestion of writing was his and it has helped greatly with my own self-awareness and self-observation. I began to see my emotions and the actions they brought. This in turn allowed me to see a bigger picture and ensure that I wasn’t defined by behaviours that weren’t beneficial for me. Stopping them is difficult, complex and requires a daily focus even now and probably for the rest of my life. I still occasionally return to them it times of pressure or stress, but I started to develop the capacity to notice them and put in strategies to stop them overtaking my life.
I want to thank my priest. I had lost my faith many years ago, and I know it will never return. My priest understands that, but even after 15 years of not seeing him he didn’t turn me away. Being able to talk about life, meaning and purpose with him, was uplifting. He made me see that my worth wasn’t in how I was valued at school and through my job. It was in my daily actions. It was being open and honest about the relationships that I built, not just in the workplace, but beyond with my family, with friends and with my partner. It was being open in developing new relationships and the uncertainty and risk that might bring. It was in the small things that I did daily that people didn’t see. That there was worth inside me without some form of validation from my colleagues.
I want to thank my partner. Her patience and wisdom has been faultless at all times. At first she helped me reconnect my body and my mind. A kick start to try to get both fit for purpose. Then she made me see that it wasn’t about saying no, or saying yes. That it’s never that simple. It was about finding out what was really important to me and making the best decisions I could based on that. In doing that I became the person I was, with faults and problems. Not the one I thought others wanted me to be. And she loved the one I was, with all the baggage that I bring.
I believe it was the certainty that I was looking for that lead me down a self-destructive path. With absolute certainty comes a surety of step on the journey of life. However it narrows your view. You are so intent on the next step, the path is all you see. You never see your immediate surroundings or the destination you are taking. It means you don’t get to experience any of the wonders that your journey takes you by. It also means you don’t get to see if you have taken a wrong turn and set on a path to a bleak and desolote destination that could ultimately trap your wellbeing and happiness. The other end of the pendulum swing is chaos. I’m not sure this is a path anyone of us really wants to tread down or experience. However we need to gently swing to small moments of uncertainty in our life. Yes they may make our heads spin, but to get back to a firm footing it requires for you to take in the view before you start back down the path again.