About ten years ago, when I was mired in a bad spell of mental health – which I now know was a BPD episode – I read an excerpt from cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography Coming Back To Me, which chronicles his battle with anxiety and depression. I went on to buy the book, and it helped me and my family to make sense of what was happening with me at the time. I think everyone should speak more about mental health (WE ALL HAVE IT) but I do have a soft spot for sportspeople who open up about it. We hold them up in our society as paragons of health and strength, but they suffer in exactly the same way as the rest of us. The difference is, unfortunately, if they’re successful and famous their battles are played out on the stage of the media. Marcus Trescothick, Kelly Holmes, Clarke Carlisle, Elise Christie. They’re just a handful of the sportspeople I’ve seen open up about their mental health issues (which are often ongoing) and I think anyone who chooses to be open in this way, in such a public way, is incredibly brave.
The main reason I’ve been thinking about ‘my mate’ Marcus lately, is because of the name of his book: Coming Back To Me. I mentioned in a post a while back that one of the scariest BPD symptoms for me is depersonalisation, and an unstable sense of identity. When I am Well, I am incredibly secure in who I am, I have strong values and beliefs, I like myself, I think I’m generally okay. But when I’m not doing too well, my sense of self crumbles and I feel like a shell of who I used to be, desperately trying to be the Well version of myself, but unable to remember the steps, the script, how I usually relate to others.
I am currently working through a lot of this with my awesome therapist. I won’t go into details here – more because I don’t really understand it all myself than anything else – but a lot of it comes down to confidence. I became scared of being myself, and now the work begins to trust myself again.
Last year, when I had my breakdown/became ill/went a bit mad/lost myself, I had been busy being the Well version of me. I was content with my life choices, deliriously happy that I had just married my husband, excited about my counselling studies, pushing myself hard but coping ok. But I still got ill. The Well version of me couldn’t stop that from happening. She failed. For a long time I hated that person, and I was scared of letting myself be her again. Because despite all the lessons I’d learnt in my 20s, all the wisdom I thought I’d acquired, I became more ill than I had ever been. I’D FAILED. And for months and months no one could shake me of this fact.
But. Wait for this. It will shock you. Are you ready?
It wasn’t my fault. ‘Well Me’ didn’t bring this on herself by being happy – she got really, really, deeply ill. This may seem obvious to an outsider, but to someone who has always believed deep down that happiness needs to be earned, deserved, this is Big News. With my therapist, my care coordinator, my amazing family, my husband, I have been picking apart the contributing factors to my breakdown, and realising that none of them were my fault, or anyone’s. They just happened. A perfect storm of events, environmental factors, cognitive processes and brain chemistry that came together to create a hurricane in my mind and to erode my once-solid foundations. Terrifying, yes. But a personal failing? Nah, mate. AN ILLNESS.
Now, I am learning to forgive myself, for anything and everything. To be kind to myself even when – especially when – I don’t feel deserve it. I am learning that on days when I feel I am too much, annoying, obnoxious, loud, irritating, just generally Not Good Enough, maybe these things are not *whispers* actually true. Maybe I am just scared of allowing myself to be unapologetically myself again. Being scared is okay, and it’s very understandable, but it isn’t how it needs to be. On these days I am now more able than ever to challenge the scared thoughts and risk just being me again. I let myself laugh when I want to, talk freely, and try not to think about it all too much. I am, slowly, slowly, tentatively, Coming Back To Me. Some days it is too much, I am still too much (or not enough, who knows?) and I retreat back into my shell. But now I know that even though sometimes I need to retreat, I will come back out again when I’m ready.
It’s okay to be Me. I am not perfect, far bloody from it. And Me is made up of all sorts of things, all sorts of moods, and all sorts of emotions. Even on the days when I don’t feel like Me, those days are still a part of ME. And that’s pretty cool.
When I was in hospital, on one of my last few nights on the ward, something shifted and it was like the Real Me was there again saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been here all along, you can’t actually ever lose me. Remember?’ It was like coming home in my own mind. It’s the best thing I’ve ever felt.
Since that night in November 2018 I have known that I can, and always will, Come Back To Me. Sometimes it just takes longer than others.