When I think of how my life should be right now, I’m hit with the reality of what it actually looks like. Now don't get me wrong, I've come a long way from the person I was even just several months ago and if I was looking at my life with a practical perspective, it is good. It is simple. I get through my days and work hard but I yearn for so much more than just 'good'. A year or two ago, finishing school, the image I had for what my life would look like is far different than what is sat in front of me today. I still feel stuck in some senses. Stuck in my security blanket that is home and a familiar job (which I love!). I've always been the 'safe one', never venturing too far out of my comfort zone but I knew finishing mainstream school and starting uni was finally my chance. Except it wasn't. I became unable to do so many things and the effects of depression crippled over me. Uni and even going back to any type of school filled me with dread and sickening anxiety. Why? Because depression convinced me for SO long that I will fail. Not that I might but I most certainly will. I suppose part of me, two years on, still believes this to be true.
When I look back to 2 years ago, although I had mild anxiety and low moods, for the most part I was the bubbly, always laughing and blabbermouth who was friends with everyone. I had high hopes for my life. Since the age of 13 I wanted to become a social worker and I had never steered away from that path. I geared all my subjects towards it, read mountains of books on social care and scoured the internet for every documentary on the subject there was. I wanted to live away from home in a big city, find love and have the perfect little family. Then depression and severe anxiety knocked me down without any warning. The bubbly person I used to be disappeared. I became quieter, I questioned everything and everyone around me, I would spend hours upon hours locked in my room in pitch black. Nothing made sense anymore. I felt as if everyone else was making leaps and bounds in their life and I was still stuck at the bottom of that hole, with no light up above. I questioned all of my worth, doubted my abilities to succeed at anything, let alone make it through University. Social work seemed like a mistake and that I wouldn't cope with the pressure. I no longer thought I was worthy enough of love and couldn’t imagine being a mother when I couldn't take care of myself. The dreams I had dreamt of since I was little seemed near impossible, like my depression was playing some cruel joke on me for believing I could be something.
I fought hard to ignore those thoughts but there was always that nagging voice in the back of my head that persuaded me I would never amount to be anything more than a continuous nervous mess. It's been 2 months. 2 months since I started thinking that uni was in fact going to be an option in my life again. That because I have defeated the darkness, I will somehow be strong enough to handle school. I want so much more for myself and never wanted to become a settler but I have, although not purposefully. I had succumbed to the conclusion that my depression and anxiety are right. Whilst writing this I've continuously put present tense, then read back through correcting it to past tense but maybe I do feel all these things, still, in some way.
In some ways I think anxiety was a huge part of my life before I ever realised it. I constantly needed a plan in place, even if it changed with my varying moods, it brought me comfort to have an idea of what I wanted in life. Now, I'm kicking myself for not even thinking that my life dreams would possibly change through time and heartache. I'm constantly wavering between different things that I want to do, even though right now I feel pretty settled in my choices. Yet, the anxiety and grief for the things I haven't yet done, at times make me want to dive head first into everything to make up for lost time.
It's hard watching life go by and feeling like you can't take part. Some days it still gets me down that I can't do everything that all my friends do or that I haven't achieved as much as some of them. But I've learnt to let life live itself, I can't control everything, as hard as I may try. I may not have gone to university last year, gone on a "girl's holiday", or to festivals etc but there's time. I have time to do all those things, they don't have to be done at certain points in life despite my anxiety convincing me otherwise. Grief comes in many forms and I believe all those that suffer with mental health, have in some ways, got to grieve. Whether it's for opportunities missed, things you can no longer do or people you have lost along the way. And just like with other grief, it comes and goes, it's a constant process of learning to live in the moment. Learning to be okay with where your life is at any given moment despite the uncertainty that comes with mental illnesses.
I am the only one who sees myself as a failure and reminding myself of this, often times makes me feel better. No one else sees what I haven't accomplished because their goals are not the same as mine. We are often times our own worst enemy but just remember you are not your shortcomings, you are everything that you do despite them.
I have a diagnosis. 6 plus years of experiencing pain that couldn't be identified. 6 years of MRIs, X-Rays, blood tests and more blood tests. I've had more blood tests in the last year than I could count which has undoubtedly cured my extreme fear of needles (yes, I used to cry BEFORE getting to the doctors and my mum used to have to drag me....my goodness I'm glad I've overcome that!). 6 years of tears, self-doubt and guilt. But mostly 6 years of pain that no amount of paracetamol, heating pads, ice packs or any other form of pain reliever I could get my hands on could cure, let alone reduce. It's been an almighty battle but a humbling one. My eyes were opened to the world of chronic pain and how it's this completely different universe from the one I used to live in. I felt like I had somehow unknowingly become the "boy who cried wolf". I knew I wasn't lying or exaggerating my pain but somehow that's how the rest of the world perceived it.
I couldn't understand how people couldn't see my pain, I felt like I was either on fire or completely falling apart. There was never a moment that something didn't hurt - and there still isn't. As I type this, I feel my eyes aching from looking at the screen and my fingers starting to go numb. Both of those things will fade eventually but be replaced by something worse. Now I feel like it has become much more noticeable but I am for the most part exceptionally good at hiding it.
Now I will say the random pains I have experienced in the last 5 years are nothing in comparison with what the last year has been like. It's been a whole different ballgame and one that I wasn't fully prepared to experience. But now here I am 3-4 weeks after my doctor's appointment and I'm ready to move forward. I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’m still weary of saying that’s what I have because to an extent I’m not convinced. I mean, I have around 90% of the symptoms present in fibro but I’m also cautious of the fact that many other illnesses have similar symptoms. That’s the hypochondriac in me coming out. I should be happy, right? After years of being in pain and starting to believe that it was all in my head, I have answers. Yet, I feel more hopeless and lost now than I did before I found out. Before you find out, there's hope that it will be nothing and I'll wake up magically feeling better. I don't have that hope anymore, in fact my pessimism towards my health has only gotten worse. I mean, it's hard to see a bright side when you know this is going to be long-term if not for life, right?
The way I live my life now is very different from a year ago. Granted, I was in the midst of recovering from my depression but I was healthier. 2-3 months after I felt like "me" again is when I thought could this tiredness and pain be something more than the aftermath of depression. I continued to be monitored for what felt like an entirety (well, it has been over a year, so no wonder I was losing my marbles slightly) until I finally spoke up for myself instead of agreeing to another type of medication and then blood tests to follow. The diagnosis process is a long-winded story for another blog post (but if something feels wrong, trust your gut!!). I was getting better by leaps and bounds mentally yet psychically I was deteriorating.
The fatigue was the first noticeable symptom that got intense very quickly. I went from being an insomniac surviving on 4 hours of sleep to sleeping 12 hours a night plus 3-4 hours during the day. There were (still are) days where I would get home from work and pass out at 7 till the next morning before even eating dinner. Then the aches and pains became more present. Migraines, constant tingling/numbness in my hands, muscle pain, weakness, nerve pain in my back and legs, sensitivity to brightness and loud noises, burning sensation on my skin and a 100 other things. At some point my stubbornness subsided and I realised none of those things were normal. But for me, they are my new normal.
Physically I don't think I've really let on to anyone how rough it has been to live with a chronic illness. On my worst days it can feel much worse than my depression. I felt hope with depression even if it was just a shred it helped me fight but being physically ill is a completely different battle. I am a positive person (for the most part - I'm sure some people would say I moan about being sick a lot but it's within my right to do so!!) and I try my best to stay upbeat but it is extremely difficult. There's a fight behind closed doors that none of my family or friends see me fight, even my mum probably doesn't see the worst of it all.
It's having to crawl up the stairs because my legs can't manage on their own. It's my hands going numb unable to do anything and dropping things - constantly. It's forgetting things mid-sentence and my memory being the same as a goldfish's (fibro fog is the worst!!!). It's having to nap after a shower because I'm so psychically tired from washing my hair. It's having to lie in a pitch black room in dead silence when a migraine hits me. It's putting sunglasses on in the shops because the light is way too bright. It's feeling like someone is holding a curling iron to my back when the burning sensation hits. It's all my muscles and bones feeling weak, sometimes too weak to bend down or pick something up. It's chest pain that knocks the breathe out of me (I did get this checked out the first time and it's related to my fibro - but please get chest pain checked out!!). It's not being able to sit or lie still for a long time without my whole body feeling stiff.
It is, quite honestly, hell on earth a lot of the time. But every now and then I'll get a pain free hour and thank my lucky stars. I think those of us with chronic pain are so incredibly good at hiding it that when we get a quiet moment, we realise how much pain we're actually in. If this is teaching me anything it's to be gentle with myself, to be kind and to listen to my body. There's a lot going on in there and my brain is slowly learning to remind me to take care of myself. I know I can be unrelenting in my complaining at times but more often than not the pain is so often overwhelming that I need to let it out. My friends, you are little gems for listening to me and letting me do what I need to do right now (and of course my mamma!). This is just the beginning of my fibro story and I plan on complaining some more and bringing awareness to an invisible illness.
I woke up yesterday feeling fine. Jet lagged and exhausted, but fine. I went to get my car fixed and by the time I came home, I was so tired that walking up the stairs was difficult. Some days my chronic pain just likes to give me a run for my money. I collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep within minutes.
Then I woke up. I felt different right away. Suddenly the world felt black. I didn't want to move, although I was in pain, that's not what was holding me back. I closed my eyes willing the feeling of emptiness to disappear. It didn't. I sat on my bed, staring at myself in the mirror - mainly staring at the smudged black make up under my eyes. My hand steadily wiped it away but my brain was begging me to lie down again. I looked out the window and felt that familiar nauseating feeling of nothingness. That feeling fills me with dread and makes me sick to the core. It fills me with fear that at any moment my world will collapse, and I won't be able to see or stop it from happening. I reapplied my make-up but still felt nothing. I didn't make the usual "I'm ugly" comments, I didn't look outside and think that the sky was beautiful and I didn't care what I was wearing. I didn't think or do anything. I felt absolutely nothing, like my mind had gone utterly numb from all thoughts and feelings.
I forced myself to work and for the next 7 hours of work and babysitting, I forged ahead. I didn't go to the toilet until I had to leave because I was scared that even 3 minutes alone would bring the nothingness back. I tried to be myself, or the best me I could be with the looming darkness in the back of my mind. I finished babysitting at 11, got in my car and within 20 seconds, I felt it creeping up again. That lonely feeling that nothing feels right and that nothing feels important. I drove around for 20 minutes before going home. I haven't done that in a long time. Driving around is what I did when I was suicidal, depressed and needed something to take my mind off things. I drove trying to feel something. Anything. It was raining, pouring down actually and thoughts flashed past in my mind. Negative thoughts, the ones you hope never to think about again.
I sat in my car outside my house for a few moments listening to the patter of rain, it soothed me but I knew, deep down I knew, that the feeling hadn't vanished. Nothingness is a feeling completely unique to depression. One I had never felt beforehand but one that I had grown accustom to. It's indescribable, no words adequately sum up what is feels like to feel nothing at all. Today I woke up and the feeling was gone. I didn't feel heavy and the world didn't seem so terrible. I went to work, came home, napped for 4 hours (#chronicfatigueproblems), voted and saw a friend for a couple of hours. I didn't have a sense of impending doom all day but part of me was waiting anxiously for the feeling to return.
Depression is unpredictable and it can come in waves. Yesterday felt like I was drowning but today I was back on my feet. Many months ago, a day like yesterday would have knocked me down for several days. I would have gone into the darkness and not wanted to come out. Although I am no longer in an episode of depression, I have moments. Moments where it all creeps up on me without warning, like a huge thunderstorm that blazes through only lasting an instant before the sky calms. The symptoms of my depression still roll in like a thunderstorm every now and then. It knocks me down and scares me but I have faith that it'll soon pass. Today I'm thankful it did. I'm thankful that I could look at the rainbow in tonights sky and see it's beauty. I'm thankful that I got excited to have pizza for dinner. I'm thankful that the feeling disappeared. Yesterday's world was not the same one I lived in today. Although I don't know when I'll be in that world again, I have to have faith that it'll only be for a moment.
Hey there, I'm Jasmine, your average 23 year old working in childcare and living in England. Maybe Tomorrow follows my journey living with mental health issues and multiple chronic health conditions, all whilst trying to have some fun along the way.
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