It's funny how things start isn't it?
6 years ago I was somewhere I never in a thousand years imagined I would be, yet there I was, unable to function, barely able to string a sentence together and fearful that I would never see the other side of what was occuring. I did not believe I would ever be able to scratch my way back to the surface and have a life again that even slightly resembled 'normal'.
I had always been the 'strong' one, the one to step in and help wherever I could, the one who didn't say no because I didn't want to offend or hurt anyone, the one who always tried to make things easier for others by taking on more and more, the one to try and ease someone else's burden. It wasn't a need or desire to be liked or a call for attention as that holds no interest for me, it is just how I have always been. If something needed to be done, I'd do it, if help was needed I was giving it before the question was asked, if I felt someone was being treated poorly I'd try and rectify it. I thrived on doing 'stuff' and being 'that person', the ever dependable one.
Hindsight is such a powerful thing and when looking back all the 'signs' were there but back then I didn't know what those signs were and even if I had know, I'm fairly certain I would have not paid much attention as all of that applied to other people. Not me because I was the 'strong' one.
My body knew for a long time that something had to give as I kept getting sick ALL THE TIME. It was trying to tell me that I needed to stop taking so much on and that I needed to breathe. Trouble was ... I wasn't good at listening to those signs because, again, I was strong, none of that applied to me.
After quite a number of years - upon reflection probably well over 10 years - of ignoring every sign thrown my way to look after myself my brain simply decided 'enough is enough' and took drastic action. I was shut down. Literally. I went from being the person who could handle anything for anyone to the person who could barely remember how to boil the kettle. I became the person who was scared to move from where she was sitting because 'something might happen'. I couldn't remember how to make a cup of tea properly let alone do anything for myself. This from someone who used to handle anything and everything. I had been a radio announcer, television presenter, corporate video presenter, voice-over person, small business owner, the person responsible (read that as being the only person) for the entire IT/tech side of a business with offices in Sydney, Brisbane and South Korea. I had the 'perfect' life, I was 'successful' and I was 'strong'.
Until I wasn't. I didn't fall down a rabbit hole, I plummetted over a cliff and shattered into a million pieces. My brain literally shut-down and made it so that I was incapable of doing anything. I became numb. I could not feel anything beyond numbing terror. Joy, happiness, fun did not exist. When things happened that in the normal course of events create any kind of emotive response I felt nothing. Nothing. No happiness, no sadness, just numb emptiness and a desire to go to sleep and not wake up until this had all passed.
I was desperate to understand what was happening to me (after all - I was the strong one) and read everything I could on the amygdala and hypothalamus. My amygdala was in hyper-drive and 'protecting' me from everything and every possible scenario that could occur. It even conjured up scenarios that were truly exhausting.
There was an extended period where I felt like I was 'separated' from myself. I could see and hear what I was saying and doing but I felt like I was merely an observer. I felt like I was walking beside the person who had become me and try as I might I could not be seen or heard, this other person had taken over my entire being. During this period I found my mind going to places far removed from where I would ever have thought it could go. I would wonder what it would feel like if ... how would it be if 'x' happened. I will be clear that these were not thoughts to consciously cause myself harm but there I was wondering how a certain experience would feel (like falling off that building, crashing into a tree, stepping lightly into the path of a car).The person beside me could experience it and then I would know, after all, I'd still be here. It made perfect sense. The by-product of this is that years later it gave me the realisation and deeper understanding of what was possibly occuring inside the mind of those who have perhaps gone that step further and 'seen how that feels'. I firmly believe that there could be many many times where a person hasn't intentionally meant to harm themselves, they were merely 'seeing how it felt'. When we're in a 'rational' state of mind this makes no sense as we know it will cause harm to ourselves and pain and so much more (particularly to our loved ones), however when we're not in that 'rational' state we hand on heart believe those thoughts are in fact normal.
The deeper I fell the more my brain began to feel like it was a black void and 'mushy', it felt damaged and bruised. If I tried to think about how to do something simple for myself it kind of hurt. I couldn't read the paper, watch TV or listen to much of the radio. Everything became a trigger that could cause pain. I could not answer phone calls or respond to texts as a call or text meant something bad had happened and I knew that my head would explode. The only 'light' I could see from inside my head was a small pin-prick of light located just behind the midpoint of my right ear. That pin-prick was what I clung to. At least it wasn't complete darkness.
It was around this time that I knew I coudn't get out of this abyss on my own. I had been clamouring around the bottom and try as I might my clawing to get out was not enough. My husband had been doing everything he could to help me but until you put your hand up and acknowledge you need help there's not a lot anyone can do, after all, you still believe that you are handling it. I was (still am to some extent now) a control freak and the fact that this was something I simply could not get control of was absolutely terrifying. I had spiralled all the way to the bottom and could not stop spinning.
I cannot begin to tell you how terrified I was going to the 1st appointment to ask for help. In the state my mind was in I just knew that I would be taken away, locked up, heavily medicated and never see my family again. After all, I had heard the stories of how my Great Grandmother had been admitted to a psyche hospital, all the horrifying and brutal treatments she endured to make her 'better' and how after her last 'visit' she was never the same person again. It did not matter that this did not make any kind of logical sense because when the abyss has consumed you regular logic is no longer your reality.
I am so glad I was wrong. Initially it made me angry that one of the very rare times I desperately needed help and actually asked for it the raw truth and reality was the only person who could really make this better was me. My Dr, an amazing Man, explained that what had happened to my brain can be likened to a filing cabinet having its contents strewn around the room. Everything was still there, we just had to slowly, methodically and carefully reassemble the filing system one paper at a time. Focus on that one paper and not be concerned with the rest lying around. We worked at it for some time as I was fiercely resistant to medication (you know, all the bad stuff I'd heard) and wanted to beat it 'on my own' (that 'I'm a strong person' thing kicking in again). After a time when it became clear I was not making any progress despite trying so bloody hard I accepted that I did indeed need further help. This help involved medication and a psychologist. I will be honest, taking the medication scared the crap out of me as again, I'd heard so many bad things. I recall being pretty angry when I was told the medication was also used for depression. That pissed me off. I wasn't depressed! I was scared, I was anxious, I was on hyper-alert ALL THE TIME. The insides of my body had been contstantly shaking from fear for well over 5 months. I didn't read about what side-effects the medication I was prescibed could have because at the time, my mind would have seen me develop every single one of those side effects and then try it's best to protect me. I gave my husband the leaflet, asked him to read it and keep an eye on me for any of them.
The medication I was prescibed, once it kicked in, enabled me that tiny bit of clarity and focus I needed to stop my mind from darting from one awful scenario to another and to begin to put my filing cabinet back in order. I was told I had a mild dose which worked for me. I got the occasional brain zap which was very unsettling but with the clarity it gave me I was able to start to work my way out of the abyss and slowly piece the shattered pieces back together again. Ever so slowly that little pin-prick of light in the back of my mind began to get bigger. I knew that not all of the shards would piece back but that's not a bad thing. One of the shards I left behind was the shard that made me always say yes no matter whether it was a good idea or not. I know now that it's OK to say no. It's OK to put yourself first, it's OK to want to protect your own space, it's OK to step back and not try to hold all the pieces. It's OK to just 'be'. It's OK to not anticpate what everyone needs and to let them fend for themselves.
My husband got me back into the yard, feet on the ground, hands in the dirt and I began looking after our veges and herbs. Getting back to nature cannot be over-estimated. It's the little things that have the biggest and most profound impact. He also got me back using power tools! This was no mean feat and if you saw my first few attempts you would understand what a big (and potentially dangerous for him) undertaking this was. His, patience, faith, belief and trust in me is something I will forever be grateful for. I didn't trust myself with the power tools but he reminded me that I was capable and I could do it, we just had to retrain my brain.
In my case I did not need the medication long-term. The time I was on it however gave me the focus to start to get my filing cabinet in order, throw out the files that were of no consequence and replace those files with others that really matter.
When I finally felt I could venture out on my own again (by this time I hadn't driven for many many many months) I booked into a natural soap making workshop. My entire being shook all the way driving there, my mind kept telling me that I should go home where it was safe. I sat in the car for quite a long time when I arrived not knowing whether I should go in or not, the car was safe, in there I possibly wasn't. I felt certain that everyone would see that I was broken and a shadow of a who I used to be. I decided to thank my mind for trying to keep me safe but let it know that I could do this and that I was going to do it. Turns out, not knowing anyone meant no pre-conceived notions of me as a person, no-one cared what I had done before, we were all there for one purpose, to make soap. Thus the genesis of Simply Indispensable.
It's ok to not be ok. There is no shame in asking for help. Medication is not a bad thing. If you have an infection or a broken limb you seek help. Just because what is happening in your head is not visible does not mean there is not something that could use some attention and help. It took a lot, lot longer than my time on medication to get everything sorted and clear in my head. I will be brutally honest and say that coming through to the other side of this is without doubt the absolute hardest thing I have ever experienced. It was exhausting, terrifying, traumatic and emotionally draining. My mind was convinced that I would never see the other side and I had made preparations, I had everything notated so that when 'it' took me my family would not have to suffer more than I imagined they would. I knew it was an inevitability so I clinically prepared things as best I could. Occasionally now I find notes I'd writted with hints on how to do things, where things can be found, what is the best time to buy certain stuff. Just little tips on making life easier for when I was no longer around.
What occured is something I would never wish on anyone but what it has done is given me greater empathy and understanding and for that I am grateful. I still have the occasional trigger alert but I now know what to do and what works for me.
If you suspect someone you know is facing difficulties reach out, they may not be able to talk to you (they literally may be frozen in fear) but let them know you are there for them. Even if it's just to sit beside them in silence. Let them know they are not alone. Enlist some resources that can assist them and help you to better understand. Here's just a few.