It is my birthday today.
I was meant to be off. I woke up in a panic, having remembered that I forgot to complete a work task the previous day that involved a patient who was at risk. I couldn’t do anything about it from home, so I went in to the office and sorted it out. I came home and cried. I have been struggling a lot lately, and it seems that when I am struggling I immediately attack myself for it. I call this part of me the Attack Creature because I find it helpful to imagine it as a thing, to be able to notice when I feel its claws lashing at me. This morning the Attack Creature was in full force. Also birthdays have always been difficult for me; something about the focus being on me really freaks me out and I find the whole thing very stressful. This morning a few people wrote me lovely messages and I started feeling even worse. On the one hand the thought of performing a happy person for other people felt very impossible, on the other being actually honest about how I felt seemed utterly terrifying, because I would certainly make these lovely people miserable and they won’t like me anymore. Sitting on the floor crying, I wrote my thoughts down. Writing things down has been such a helpful tool for me lately; I can observe my internal processes and also make some kind of sense of them, and I calm down in the process of doing this. If I am unable to even write, drawing is usually still possible and helps me in a similar way.
So I thought about why I feel so miserable about telling other people that I’m struggling. The conclusion I came to was that I believe that if I do, people will judge me negatively for it. In my mind, I seem to believe that suffering makes me something. Essentially that it makes me a bad person, or unlikeable, something along those lines. And these two things; feeling bad (suffering) and the conclusion that I am a bad person have been indistinguishable in my mind since I can remember. But today, as I was writing I actually managed to unstick them. I truly saw that my suffering is one thing, and the Attack Creature is another. I also wrote to myself that just because the Attack Creature is trying to stab me with its painful criticisms and judgments, this is not the only route I can take in this situation. I wrote to myself: THE FACT THAT I AM STRUGGLING AND SUFFERING DOES NOT MEAN I AM A BAD PERSON.
Next, I tried to unpick why other people’s attention and care felt so overwhelming. I figured that I am ashamed of my own struggle. It follows that if I asked for help or expressed what was going through my mind, other people would know, and their reaction would make it very very real. Other people knowing would mean I can no longer pretend it’s not there. I am ashamed of my Attack Creature. I thought if anyone else sees it, they would turn away from me, because it’s an awful, dark thing to witness.
And then I remembered that the only way to dissolve shame is to bring the shameful thing into the light. If nothing else; even if others don’t accept it, showing the world what feels shameful makes it possible for me to accept it. Which is the point at which I can set myself free. Which is when other people’s opinion stops mattering so much. And so I thought what if I accept the Attack Creature. What if I accept it as a part of me, but it still doesn’t get to define me as a person. So here I am and here is my Attack Creature.
Writing things down and unpicking them a little created a subtle shift. I was able to think ‘what could I do today to take care of myself?’ I tidied and hoovered the house because the mess was distracting me and I couldn’t think straight. This made me feel better. In the meanwhile it stopped raining and I got on my bike and went for a long walk in nature. Being around plants and open space gives me a sense of perspective and expansiveness like nothing else. I walked for a long time, it started raining again, then hailing and then the sun came out. I was walking in beauty. I only came across one strange man who didn’t smile or say hi, which made me uneasy. Worse yet, when I casually looked back after some distance between us, he stood afar looking at me, which really made my heart jump and I walked very fast after that. But slowly I calmed down and stopped at a couple of spots to warm my face in the bright sunshine. I arrived back home cold, with fingers so frozen they hurt like hell, but feeling content.
I had a shower and as I was walking out the bathroom I remembered these bath flower things I got as a present. I ran a bath; I never do that. It was So. Fucking. Amazing. I sloshed around in some hot water that was made pink and purple by the bath flowers as they dissolved into gloopy shreds and listened to my favourite podcast (Made of Human by Sofie Hagen.) The water smelled like lavender and rose, and the sun was shining through the bathroom window. I looked down on my body and felt very grateful. I thanked my legs and torso and arms and all the weird organs inside for making it possible for me to walk through beautiful nature. I realised I felt compassion towards myself; a skill I have been working on for years, and one that can be so impossibly tricky to access when things are bad. What a fucking achievement. I am a year older, I am learning, I am feeling a continuous onslaught of powerful emotions, and I am more and more able to contain it all. Happy birthday me; may you be a kind, soft container for all your experiences for however long you can.