At the beginning of this year, I wrote a blog post about how I was going to do things differently in 2019. As I remember it, I was going to take up yoga and stop drinking. I had a vision of becoming a sort of self-possessed highly spiritual being. I forgot that I can’t carry a cup of tea without spilling it on myself and that I get through at least one Pritt Stick a week and most of it ends up on my hands.
I also forgot that yoga and tee-totalness isn’t going to help someone who can’t admit that not everything is fine.
What actually happened in 2019 was that I forgot who I was and what was important to me and trundled off down a very familiar path that involved a lot of self-hatred and time wasted doing all the destructive things I had worked very hard over the previous years to stop doing. Add to this a re-referral to eating disorder services; being prescribed a medication well known for its destructive psychological side effects and then being refused a repeat prescription for an anxiety medication I was already taking and you start to get a picture of some of the lower points of my year.
There was no yoga and I never did give up alcohol, although I don’t really drink at the moment anyway.
I stopped blogging for a long time. I found that I had nothing to say that wasn’t either very destructive and negative or wasn’t fuelled by the belief that nobody gets better and that I didn’t deserve to get better. For a long time, I thought that nothing would change and my life became a swirling mess of anxiety and wishing that I could be someone else whilst simultaneously trying desperately to convince everyone that everything was fine and I was loving life.
What I am here to say, though, is that I have begun to believe again that things can and do change. After three weeks of finally admitting that stuff was pretty bad, and sitting in therapy sessions, unable to speak and lost in panic, my therapist suggested it might be helpful to think about my dominant nostril (you’re always breathing through one more than the other). It sounds ridiculous, but the thought gives me a tiny space to distance myself from the anxiety. We’ve recently started to work on remembering that the anxious thoughts are just thoughts and that they can’t hurt me. Obviously, this is not a recipe to switch off mental illness: the thoughts are still there, but sometimes I’m learning to question their validity.
For the first time in my life, I’ve allowed myself to learn something from therapy sessions. In the past, they’ve always been about doing the right things and saying the right things to try to make people believe that I am invulnerable and that there’s nothing wrong. Sitting down in a therapy session and being too anxious to do or say anything was, in some ways, a huge step forward: I haven’t ever let anyone in to the way I am feeling on the inside before.
For the first time ever, by letting other people see my Anxiety, I’ve allowed myself to have a go at controlling the beast within that is, after all, only me doing my best to ruin my own life. I’ve begun to think carefully about experiences I can use to calm myself: the feel of a carpet on my feet; the temperature of a space; the weight of a hot water bottle on my tummy.
It’s not a magic cure, but it makes a tiny space where I can be in control.
So, this year, my resolutions are rather pared back. I’ve learnt – or am in the process of learning – that sometimes the smallest changes are the most important. I’ve learnt that progress can be something as tiny as thinking about your nostrils or reminding yourself that a thought is just – well – a thought.
This year, I want to go to the library more regularly, just to give myself space to think. I want to read more often and I want to crochet more often without judging myself for my lack of talent on either front. They are two of my favourite things to do, and also activities that are the first to go when I start to hate myself. I need to remember that allowing myself time to do things that I enjoy is as important as so many other parts of recovery. I need to remember that it’s OK to let other people remind me of this.
And, most of all, this year, I want to let people in to the part of me I have struggled so badly to share for so long because it is there, and I am not invulnerable and I am not always fine and that is OK.
So, what I’ve – briefly – returned to say is that I am starting this year with a renewed belief that change – positive change – is possible; that it’s OK not to be able or ready to make big changes to your life; that progress sometimes happens in almost undetectable ways, but it’s still progress.
I’m back to remind you that you can do this.
But you’ve got to take the first step.