On this day two years ago I was despondent. My dad died, my dog died, there was a grisly boating accident. I tore my fingernails off. "I wake in the night and I cry," I wrote in my journal, over and over. And on another page, "It hurts." Over the page. "It really hurts." And then "It really ****ing hurts."
Oh, trust me, I did try to get better. I researched recovery; how it takes 45 days to change a habit. "By the 11 July I will feel different," I wrote. Hollow chuckle. I certainly did feel better by 11 July - two years later.
See, this is the inconvenient truth no one tells you. Getting better takes a long time. The medical establishment would like you to pull yourself together using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the McDonald's of psychology - "think happy thoughts" - because CBT is quick, and thus cheap. But real change takes more than uplifting affirmations with pictures of hot air balloons and rainbow unicorns; it happens on a deeper level and it takes time.
A year later I was still writing: "I hate that I still feel like this. Will I feel like this forever?" Seven hundred days later, I do feel different. I am a different person. Actually, I feel good. Really good.
I know I imposed on you, my kind readers, when I was in the slough of despond. So it occurred to me I should also get it on the record that I got better. But it takes a while. It turns out you can't have a short dark teatime of the soul.
There may be someone out there who is reading this who may be where I was then. You just want to get over it.
But the paradox is that the more you want to hurry things along, the longer it takes. It is only after you have grieved for long enough, however long that is, that a small ray of light will break in upon the gloom. Nothing much will have changed, but one day you realise you feel okay, that things have moved on.
You realise you're not looking to the past anymore, you are planning for the future. You feel hopeful. In my case, for example, I may have lost my mum and dad, but thanks to their frugality - they thought buying a jar of Bengal chutney was a bit of an extravagance - I am using the money they left me to do a writing course.
But I would not have got here with a quick fix. "Band-aids don't fix bullet holes" (Taylor Swift).
So, I'm speaking to you, sitting there, dazed in the rubble. I am giving you permission to ignore anyone who tells you to get over it already. Go only as fast as the slowest part of you feels safe to go. Instead of berating yourself for not getting over it more quickly, it helps to be realistic about how long it will take, and to know that going astray is to be expected.
Real change takes more than uplifting affirmations with pictures of hot air balloons and rainbow unicorns.
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Recovery does often mean re-covering the same ground over and over; relapse is part of the process.
You will only let go and move on only when you are absolutely convinced it is time to let go. And by then your friends and family will be batshit bored with hearing you talk about your boring misery.
Suck it up, folks.
Our dark-phobic culture frowns on people acknowledging their suffering. When survivors of any traumatic event are interviewed, the answer everyone wants to hear is that they are just grateful to be alive. And if they have lost their home the correct response is: "It was just material things."
No-one wants to hear a victim say "I may be alive. But I'm devastated. I've lost everything. I don't know if I can go on." But perversely, it is only by acknowledging the bleak truth of your situation that you can transcend it. Samuel Beckett captured this contradiction: "I can't go on; I'll go on."
Instead of seeing your symptoms, your pain, your feelings as alien and something to get rid of, recognise they are understandable and meaningful and potentially useful.
You are not weird and defective and bizarre to feel the way you do, however long after the event. Don't judge. Nothing is wasted. The quietness and sadness of depression can help you get in touch with the deeper parts of life.
I still sometimes have bad days. But even then, I feel hope.
Because I'm here, I chose to stay. And I know I'm not alone.
I know now grief and loss are part of the human condition.
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