Twenty years ago this weekend, I dived off the platform into the murky waters of mental illness. Twenty years! It does seem like a long time ago, but twenty years? That is a good chunk of my life down in those muddy waters, trying to hold my breath and not drown. I celebrate that I didn’t drown, but twenty years?
I had won a weekend holiday in Queenstown (a tourist trap for kiwis and plenty of overseas tourists). My boyfriend, D and I chose this particular weekend to take the trip because it had been my birthday during the past week, we had just got engaged the weekend before, and we both needed a break. Over the past couple of months I had Glandular Fever (mononucleosis) and was still feeling pretty fatigued. A weekend away (from Auckland where we were living then) was just what was needed.
The weekend started okay. We flew to Queenstown and picked up a rental car. We were feeling pretty lucky to have won this weekend because money was tight and it’s not something we could have afforded. I had been off work for about six weeks and was only back part-time.
But life was pretty good. I was a career girl in a job I loved, I had shifted to Auckland the year before and so had finally escaped the stalkers who had plagued my life. I had good friends. I owned my own home, I was a committed Christian who was at church twice on Sundays, and most of all I loved the lifestyle I had. But wow! How life can change? Twenty years on and I am a completely different person.
Back to our weekend away, I wasn’t really aware of anything but at one point D said to me that I had been really negative all day. It wasn’t about anything specific, just everything. I hadn’t realised but now that he mentioned it, I started to realise he was right. So I stopped talking. That seemed like the best way (at the time) to fix the problem but by the end of the day everything had got too much and we were back in our hotel room, me bawling on the bed. For hours. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.
D had no idea what was wrong, or even why I was crying. Neither did I, really. I just knew my life had crashed somehow and I couldn’t stop crying. The glass in the mirror had shattered, and somehow I knew I couldn’t put it back together again.
And so began 20 years of mental illness. It seemed my mental health had got on a plane to Queenstown, but didn’t come back. First, I was diagnosed with Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Next, those two triggered Anorexia and that became a whole different ball game as not only my mental health but my physical health was under fire. Much later came the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Adult Attachment Disorder. It seemed like once it started, there was no stopping it.
As I said earlier, up until that weekend it seemed like I had life together. Sure, bad things had happened in my life but I had held myself together and survived. The thought that I would dive into the mental illness pond was the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t anything anyone else seemed to expect for me either. My parents had only recently given me a birthday card which said “for the woman who has everything“. I never thought of myself that way, but life was pretty good at that stage. I assumed it would just go on that way.
But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it? Really, I had a lot of things go wrong in my life and my strategy was to hold it all together, rather than deal with it. The years of stalking had a price to pay, and now I know that when the trauma ends, that is the time the effects of it really hit. Until then you’re just fighting for survival. But I could finally relax. Perhaps it was finally safe to let go and cry. But then I couldn’t stop.
I remember in the early days reading a book about a woman who had depression for two years. I was appalled by the idea of two years of this hell. I couldn’t consider I might be depressed for months, let alone years.
Contrary to popular opinion I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I also don’t believe that, as I was taught as a child, I should be thankful for all things. What I do believe though is that I can learn from all things. I have learnt many things across that twenty years. I have learnt that kindness and compassion extend to all people, regardless of who or what they are.
I’ve learnt a lot of things I’d rather not have learnt too. But that’s how life goes. We don’t always get to pick and choose. I’ve seen a lot of things I’d rather not have seen. I wouldn’t choose this route. I would never choose mental illness over health and life, but having gone down that route I choose to let it be.
I finish with this thought. For a (very) long time I wished for my life back. I wished for a return to the ‘old days’. I know that’s not going to happen now. This is my life as it is. That old life is gone and wouldn’t be relevant to me now anyway. I went to Queenstown as one person, and came back as another. If twenty years of mental illness has taught me one thing it’s to live one day at a time and accept what I have. I won’t always have the answers to why, but I can just let it be.
“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers…To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy…If I try self consciously to become a person, I will never be one. The most real people, those who are able to forget their selfish selves, who have true compassion, are usually the most distinct individuals”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet