Friday, 30 January 2015

This Shadow Life - Living for Others

I wrote this for every person who knows what it is like to live for the sake of the people in our lives that we love too much to hurt. This is my tribute to the struggle that you and I face every day.
It is also for the people that we are living for. I hope that you might read this and appreciate the selfless agony that we endure so that we can stay a little longer and force a smile for you. 

One of the strangest things about my experience with depression and PTSD is that while I was completely suicidal for many years, and something I still am at times, I have always known that I would never do it.

When I became depressed I spent a huge portion of my time thinking about suicide. I used to drive at night without my headlights on just hoping for an accident, or hope for a murderer to walk through my front door and save me the trouble.
I even researched and planned what I would do if I ever did go through with it. But even with all of this, I kind of also knew that I would never let it happen. I would turn my headlights on before the really tight corners. I know that if that murderer ever did walk through my door I wouldn't go down without a fight, and to this day my suicide plan has remained nothing more than a list of steps in my head. I would never do it.

I have always kind of wondered how I can want to die so badly but still know I will never do it.
I think it's because of all the people that I would never want to hurt like that. I can't even begin to imagine what it would do to my parents and my brother and my extended family and my friends and even all the people who just know me from school or whatever.
I am living for everyone who's lives would be changed forever and for the worse if I went through with it.

This is something that I can sit and think rationally about now (hindsight is a wonderful thing) but at the time I resented it like you wouldn't believe.
At the time I felt pretty much nothing. My body had shut down and numbed itself to most emotions so that I wouldn't have to feel the agony of what I was going through. So I didn't really feel love for my family, but I knew that I loved them. The love was just buried deep inside me with all the other feelings that were too real to touch. If I felt the love I would also have to feel the loss, the pain, and the overwhelming agony that was constantly threatening to suffocate me.
So I never let myself feel it, but I acted on good faith that the love was still there. This meant that when my mum came into my room with tears in her eyes and pamphlets on mental health in her hand that she had printed out at work, I was so ashamed of what I had done to her. I was so sorry and I knew that I had to do better. Even just thinking about that moment makes me cry as I write this.

So I tried to be better. I tried to drag myself back out of the darkness. I tried to smile and laugh and spend time outside of my room. I tried to listen to top 40 instead of rock, metal and screamo, and most importantly I tried to always wear long sleeves to cover the cuts on my arms. I don't kid myself into thinking that it was always believable, but I think I did a pretty good job.
Unfortunately looking better on the outside never changed how I felt on the inside and I resented and hated everyone that I was living for. I hated how they were asking so much of me with every  look in their eyes, but how, somehow it was never enough.

I felt like they had taken everything from me. Even though it went against everything that I wanted to the core of my being, it was never enough for me to just keep breathing for them.
They took everything that I was using to cope with what I was going through. I know they just wanted what was best, but I often think it was what was best for them, not what was best for me.
I know that it hurt them to see me hurt myself, but in wanting me to be whole they took all the things that I use to survive. They would see me cut and start to cry. I would see them cry and want it to stop, but the cutting released the pressure. I would tremble and sweat and shiver. My mind would stumble and fall and spiral and explode and fly. Then the blood would flow and that perfect calm would flood back into my bones.
It would give me the strength and the focus to force one more smile, to make a convincing laugh, to survive another day.
After they made me stop all I had was the heavy music that my parents hated, played quietly through my headphones (so they wouldn't hear), and sung by people who screamed so that I didn't have to.
It drove me mad having to live like that. Having to hide how I felt so that I wouldn't keep hurting everyone. It was far too much pressure for anyone to have to take, let alone someone going through the hell I was living in.

My parents always told me that I could be whoever and whatever I wanted, but I don't think they meant it. I know they would never say it, but it made them sad to see me who I became. It made them sad that I wasn't the bright, happy little girl I used to be.
At first I was too lost in my sadness to care, but after that day with my mum I started learning to adjust to the pain that had become a part of me. I became strong enough to remember who I used to be, the person my parents need me to be, the person they wish I still was. Even though my world had changed, it's centre shifted to an unmarked grave where my broken heart lies, I learned how to live each day for the people I love. I learned how to breathe for them. How to leave my skin unmarked for them.
It killed me, but I learned how to keep on living for them.
I knew that they should never have to feel the way that I did, and I learned to live so that they would never have to.

My problems were my own, but somehow my parents problems became mine too. I was stretched to the limit being who they needed me to be. Every second I was dreaming of that moment when I would finally be allowed to break. To shatter into a million trembling razor pieces.
It was selfish of me to want to die. I know that. But it was also selfish of them to want me to stay, and I wonder if they knew that.
They asked me every day to deny myself the one thing that I wanted in life. They asked me to bear the pain of existence with a smile and a laugh, to blend in with everyone else, when I was nothing like everyone else.
With every breath that I took the pain was real. I know they needed me and so I shall stay. I just need them to know the price that they were asking me to pay.

I have always been someone who will put everyone else's needs before my own, so it's been really hard, but I want you all to know that I have now started learning to be the person that I want to be, not just the person that everyone needs me to be. I have started to embrace who I am, scars and all.

This story is my own and yours is probably somewhat different.
The people you are living for might not be your parents. It might be your partner, your children, or your friends. However, our pain is similar.
Unfortunately those of us who bear the emotional burden of depression and suicidal thoughts, often have to bear the burden of living for the sake of others as well.
We have to be strong for the people around us so that they don't ever have to experience the same pain that we do every day.
We have to live for them, even if it kills us.
I think that it is the last and greatest gift that we can ever give and very few will ever understand what it cost us or appreciate the gesture.

Many of you might even think that you can't relate to my story at all. But I promise you that you can. 
Everyone walking this world is fighting a battle with something, and they are doing it for someone they care about. My burden of living for the sake of my family is the same as a person going to a job they hate to support the children that they love, or a kid battling through homework to make a good life for their future self. 
Our struggle is the same, we are just fighting different things for different reasons.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

This Shadow Life - Being Kind to Yourself

Positive change starts with positive thinking, and one of the most important changes that you can make is learning to be kind to yourself

I have found that it is really easy to get into the habit of being really negative towards people. It's something that I used to be very guilty of. I would see someone and instantly pick them to pieces in my head. I didn't think that it changed me on the outside, I actually thought I was pretty ninja about it. Like I had this stream of venom flowing through my brain but a friendly smile on my face. 

My dad was also pretty negative, not in an intentionally unkind way, just really cynical and jaded about everyone and everything. I have always been really close to my dad and so it didn't take long for this habit to rub off on me. Experiencing depression probably made it easier to slip into this habit too. My head was already such a dark place so much of the time, it was easy to start projecting that out onto everyone. Interestingly I was kind of proud of it. I was proud of being cynical. I liked being like my dad and it felt like I was able to see through everyone's bullshit.

After a while the things that my dad would say escalated a bit and started to bug me, maybe because he did it to people that I have some things in common with or maybe it was something else entirely. I don't know. 

I finally noticed that although always priding myself on being someone who didn't judge anyone, thinking like my dad was causing me to judge everyone. And I mean everyone. The girl with the unwashed hair, the boy who incorrectly pronounced a word, the teacher who was boring me, the parent scolding me. No one was immune to my hateful thoughts and criticism. 

This was also when I realised that all the judgement and negative thoughts I was having were ruining my life from the inside. They made my head into an awful place to live. A place of merciless criticism, insults and negativity. 
It certainly wasn't making me any friends either. No matter how ninja you think you are, people have a way of feeling those secret negative thoughts. 
As an added bonus, the judgement didn't stop with the people that I saw on the street or at school or in my day to day life adventures. I was so into the habit of hating everyone I saw that it didn't stop when I looked in the mirror. Just like with everyone else I would think of or see myself and without hesitation proceed to rip myself to shreds. This made me feel worse about myself, which then caused me to think more awful things about everyone else, which made me think more awful things about myself. It was a vicious cycle that it took me a really long time to escape. But I did escape.

When I started noticing all these things I resolved to change. I decided that I would stop thinking awful things about everyone. This was a hard thing to do at first. I would look at someone and find that I was criticising them without even consciously deciding to do so. So I decided that when that happened, I would counteract it by making myself stop the awful thoughts, really look at the person and find at least one interesting or beautiful or positive thing about them and think about that instead.
It is important to notice that I didn't reprimand or get down on myself any time that the negative thoughts slipped in. I just stopped them where I could and focused on the positive. 

It was a slow process at first, but eventually the kindness and positive thoughts started coming to mind easier and the negative ones occurred less and less. Of course I still get annoyed at people and that might make me have a little tirade of nastiness in my brain, but I think that's normal and natural and not something to try and stop. You have to be able to express your feelings at times like that, but it's important not to let it slip back into needless and unwarranted negativity. 

Eventually I noticed that I was able to follow the same process when I looked at myself. I learned to be kind and positive, if not all the time then most of it. This ended up helping a great deal with my mission to overcome my depression. It helped make my head a much nicer place to be (most of the time)
We know our faults better than anyone else so it's really easy to tear ourselves down. Sometimes they are things that other people have pointed out or things we notice ourselves, and somehow they are always the easiest things to believe. But there is so much more that is beautiful and interesting and perfect, if we can only learn to see it.

Good luck. 
xx Sasha

Monday, 26 January 2015

This Shadow Life - Eating Disorders as Self Harm

I recently read a very interesting, through provoking, and emotional post by Katie Arbre of Our Wolf Song (a fantastic blog that you can check out here). In the post Katie very bravely talked about her eating disorder and though our disorders are quite different, I found that we had a few important things in common.

I don't like eating. I don't like eating in public. I worry about what I am going to eat when I go out for dinner with friends or whatever. I often lie and say that I have already eaten just so that I can avoid the situation all together. I actually kind of despise food. I have done so since year 5 (about 10 years old) when an older girl at school made fun of my weight and the unhealthy food that I happened to be having for lunch that day. On a side note, that girl has gained a pretty significant amount of weight in the decade or so since, which leads me to believe that at the time she probably had her own insecurities that caused her to lash out at me. But anyway. I digress. It made me hate food, feel really bad about myself, and feel really self concious about eating. This resulted in me developing some weird food habits like not wanting anyone to see me eat, ever. Not wanting to take bites out of food (to this day I either eat off a fork or pull things apart with my hands first and put the little pieces into my mouth). Hoarding unhealthy foods and sneaking off to binge eat. Plus I hate the sound of people chewing.

Then my trauma happened (totally unrelated to my food disorders) and my self hatred increased exponentially. I despised myself. Enough to cut and burn and tattoo my skin.
At the same time, my weird food habits developed into me swinging between pretty severe anorexia and bulimia.
I have always just thought of my eating disorders as relating to wanting to be thin and not getting picked on or stared at, and I always just thought the hate and anger that they made me feel was because of my weight and the fact that I had succumb to an eating disorder in the first place.

Then for some reason the post of Katie's made me think about my disorders in a different way and I realised that for me, my eating disorders are a form of self harm. Sure I want to be thin, and sure I hate that I let my food habits get that far, but more than that it is punishment. It is self loathing. It is anger and hatred not at the disorders or the girl that first pushed me in their direction, but anger and hatred towards myself.

My name is Sasha and I self harm by cutting, burning, tattooing, starving, binging, and purging. 

This might not seem like a big revelation to a lot of people, but to me it is huge. I never thought of it like that and now that I have, it's totally changed the way that I will deal with it.

I used to try and deal with it by forcing myself into a strict regime of eating a relatively normal amount of healthy foods. I got an app on my phone that told me how many calories I should eat in a day and I tried my best to stick to it.
Now I have begun researching scientific papers on how I can deal with my eating disorder as a form of self harm. It's already proving to be super helpful.

I would like to encourage anyone else with an eating disorder to go on a little self discovery journey like I did (only if you are in a mental position where that would be safe of course). Try to think about how your disorder started, if there are times when you are more or less inclined to starve or purge, if there was a point where things escalated for you like they did for me, and most importantly, think about the feelings that go with all of these ideas. I know that's the super cliché doctor line of "How does that make you feel?" but for me it was examining my feelings that made me realise what I was really dealing with and how I can help myself get better.

Things are looking up. :]

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Just a Chapter

I thought I was the story of your life,
now I realise that I am just a chapter.
Just a chapter you can leave behind,
one that doesn't really matter.

I thought that we were the climax,
that we were the happily ever after.
Now I see I was just a passing fancy,
No more than a single chapter disaster.

In my story you are one and all,
you are every word upon every page.
I curl up and read you over and over.
Crushed in a self constructed cage.

I watch you just keep on writing,
pages flying you further from me.
Racing towards the end of your story,
to some girl in the distance you see.

I hope you read the book again one day,
and feel me in every word upon your pages.
Kiss me again with ink stained lips,
and feel me echo in you through the ages.

When the taste of ink is getting old,
and you have read me too many times.
Know I'm still curled up and loving you,
reading you in every one of my lines.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Full Moon Rising

The full moon gets to rising
and sets the world aflame.
Wild blood starts racing,
through even tamest vein.

The mist settles slowly,
onto grass and leaf and skin.
Walk through liquid moonlight,
and feel the madness begin.

Tread soft through the shadows,
grudge any sound you make.
You don't know is watching,
don't know who else is awake.

Civility stripped from bones,
as the full moon is cresting high.
Join the wolves in howling,
to the lonely silent sky.

Skin shivering with instinct pure,
black shadow falling behind.
Bare silver teeth in starlight,
hunt and ye shall find.

The rush of adrenalin pumping,
stalk and chase and devour.
Give yourself over to darkness.
Revel in the witching hour.

Black wet blood in moonlight,
covers skin so shining pale.
Eyes glow fever bright,
watching over mountain trail.

Patient, waiting hunter,
merciless killing beast.
Pick your teeth and wait for more,
of the full moon madness feast.

Rippling electricity,
the dark is torn with cries.
Lunacy of those who live.
Agony of those who die.

The full moon sets in treetops,
then disappears without a trace,
we are all left alone with nothing
but cold reality's embrace.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Bright Light

Soft as the dawn
Silent silk wings
Trying to shake off
The darkness clings

Invisible chaos
Wings beating black
No way forward
No turning back

Can't see ahead
Can't see at all
Fly every direction
Rise and fall.

Hopeless wandering
Nothing to guide
Collisions unseen
Twist my insides

Light in the distance
Heart set aflame
Race ahead, find
From whence it came

Hope renewed
Brightest flare
Find something good
When I get there

Glow brighter
Not far to go
This blind race
Is all I know

Chaos, crashing
Flying high
Fighting for light
In endless sky

Lightning bright
Ever moving
Wrong kind of light 
Nothing soothing

Heavy steps
Steal wavering spark
And now, once again
I am alone in the dark