I wrote this post some time ago, but I wasn't sure how I felt about sharing it. But so many people reached out to me after my last blog post on the mental health issues of junior doctors that I decided to share this too. Knowing that you are not alone in your struggles can be reassuring. I have found so much strength from other people's stories, and the fact that other people draw strength from my writings makes me brave enough to share stories like this.
I am one of those people who zone out intentionally and refuse to zone back in. I like to think that staying in the bubble is safer. But when your mind is hurting, those walls can become very dangerous. The happenings of the last year made me see that very clearly. Every thought of life outside the bubble used to scare the living daylight out of me. I dreaded the idea of what I'll find outside of my comfort zone, outside that 'safe space' I had created. For the longest time, the thought of being vulnerable or just being seen threw my anxiety off the charts. A lot has happened and changed in the last two years. Sometimes, I can't believe how fast and how slow this one year has been for me. I have had some very long days and even longer nights. Days that I cried myself to sleep and woke up crying, days where I would stuff my face with comfort food, and days when I had no appetite at all. Days when I would wake up and go to bed with migraines. Days when I felt nothing and days when I felt everything. It's interesting how being numb can bring you relief. I preferred not to feel anything. All I wanted to do was hide from all of it. Still, in healing, I have been forced to dig deeper and fight emotions and fears I tried so hard to bury- those emotions that hurt so much, they're physically painful. I hope that I'll be bold enough to tell the stories (of how many times and into how many pieces your heart can be broken in such a short period) and the lessons I learned from them one day.
Before the chaos of the last 12 months began, I took up some side projects and made commitments. I had figured I could manage juggling work, a master's degree, and these side projects. I imagined it'll be hard work but it'll be fun and a learning curve for me. Then boom! Things started to fall apart. Everything became so stressful; I was crying half the time and couldn't concentrate. I was failing courses and had to ask for extensions or extenuating circumstances to at least keep afloat. It was a life-changing period for me. I had to dig and find the strength I didn't even know I had. I tried to be strong, to carry myself through every day. And believe me, I tried, but I realized I couldn't do it all on my own. I usually try not to burden the people around me with my struggles. So even if I was suffering inside, I still did my best to smile all the time and hold it down. But it became more than I could handle. So many things were happening all at once, I was struggling to keep up. Never before had I lost myself or control of my emotions and situations around me like this. But like Henry David Thoreau said, "Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves."
Things were getting particularly messy, so I confided in a friend. We have been friends for many years, but we never really 'talked.' We had some difficult conversations about everything I was going through. Those talks dared me to dive deeper, grow, let go and build back. Looking back now, I thank God that I found the courage to be open and honest about those feelings. I wasn't ashamed to cry rivers and have breakdowns. I let all of my emotions out. Those conversations held me down and saved me from the absolute lowest point in my life. That was my cry for help. She constantly reminded me of how smart, beautiful and important I am to my friends and family and all the things I could be. She gave me a different perspective every day and helped me see how I could cope with anything. She had a positive answer to every drip of negativity that came rushing to my mind. Maybe I didn't realize this at the time, but she saved me.
I talked to her almost every day for months. She held me accountable. She never once invalidated my feelings. She acknowledged my pain and struggles and pushed me to fight back and do better. I am pretty good at smiling through the pain. Most days, I just 'gave the world the sunshine,' but there were days when I looked how I felt. I could remember one morning when my boss told me my scrub shoes look happier than I was. Looking back now, it's funny that he didn't offer any help or support. As long as I showed up to work every day, nothing else mattered. But his comment made me realize that I was really at my lowest. I was so low on energy, self-esteem, and positivity that my art of 'giving the world the sunshine' failed. I usually consider myself a strong person, but there were days when I was tired of being strong. My friend prayed with me and prayed for me. I needed to find peace, to forgive, accept and commit to my future. I needed to prioritize myself and my mental health. This process required bringing to the front thoughts and feelings that I tried so hard to disconnect from. But I needed to heal, and she helped me get better, one conversation at a time.
Every morning I gave myself a pep talk before heading to work. I'd look at myself in the mirror and say, 'I am beautiful, I am strong, I am smart, I am important.' I'd write down affirmations on sticky notes and put them on my study desk. I saved inspirational quotes and put them on photo widgets on my phone's home screen to remind myself that I am a warrior. I persevere with grace, and I always rise. One of my best friends sent me a bible app to share a lesson she had been reading. Well that app carried me through the dark gloomy days- the days when I can't put to words how I felt. It had plans for every kind of situation, and some days, I felt those lessons were explicitly meant for me. I tried to keep busy and distract myself from my emotions. Some days I succeeded, and others, I didn't. But in doing so, many things fell into place. I came to realize that everything is happening for me and not against me. I learned to heal and choose myself- to take care of my mind.
Self-care now means being grateful, taking deep breaths, refocusing on what makes me truly happy, and just living my truth. I choose to focus on the positives. A few months ago, I bought a gratitude journal. Every day I list three things I am grateful for; friendships, family, hangouts, long walks, phone conversations, work reviews, a beautiful sunset, passing a test (or a resit). Anything at all that made the sunshine a little brighter for me goes into that journal. I stay away from whatever compromises my peace or doesn't serve my purpose. I cannot begin to say how grateful I am for all the support I receive from my friends and family.
The last year took me through a journey of healing, rebuilding, transformation and self-discovery. In the end, after all was said and done, I became stronger and more confident. I found the strength to chase down my dreams and go after the things that make me happy. I am evolving, growing, becoming a better version of myself every day. I have become better and more fearless in expressing myself in writing. I am less anxious when I have to speak in public. I set healthy boundaries, and I am not afraid to say no. I have rediscovered my worth and my value. I am now able to put more energy into my mental well-being and my growth. Every day, I do my best to create a life I love, filled with joy, positivity, grace, abundance, and grounded in values. I still have low days, but I am not where I used to be. Now I have all the tools I need to pull through those days- self-reliance, compassion, support, communication. I work. I run. I read. I write- sharing my stories one at a time. I am finding myself.
So far, I have learned that chaos forces you to reevaluate things and people around you- it forces you to reflect and grow. And oh, it's hard! There are days when all you can do that day is cry into your pillows and try to figure out how to move forward. And that's okay too! There were times when I thought I had taken two steps forward, but one trigger took me five steps back. Just like a game of snake and ladder, except now the snakes are shorter, and I know my way back. I'm here, alive, moving, fighting against all the crap my brain throws at me sometimes. It's been very messy but I have figured some things out through all of this, learned more about myself and the strength I possess and am still working through the rest of my struggles. Sharing this post is me acknowledging that I have come a long way, and things are changing for the better. It's been a hard, stomach-dropping but empowering journey. You know how they say sometimes great things need to fall apart for even greater things to come through.
If you're reading this and going through a difficult time, I hope you find peace, and tranquility, and your mind and body heal. Be gentle with yourself. Sending lots of positivity, love, and light your way, and I hope you have a beautiful week ahead! ❤