To Feel Free
It’s a concept all of us can interpret in entirely different ways. To feel entirely free.
Initially for me ‘free’ meant running away from a toxic situation and finding another way, another life entirely – dropping my old one off the face of the planet. As years went on I had developed the ability to deny my teenage years of ever existing – that was another life, no longer mine. Never did I anticipate that that choice would have me in my adult life, feeling more trapped than ever. Sitting in a doctors surgery, a mother of two, an adored wife, owning our third home and having a life very much considered as both happy, healthy & wealthy – awaiting a diagnosis I had never anticipated, an illness unseen. PTSD. The initial guilt I felt was endless but the relief of knowing, well I was surprisingly overjoyed. I was no longer lost nor alone in my thoughts.
There’s been a predominant question that circulates in my inbox and whilst I’m often at ease with answering personal questions – I felt a slight resistance when it comes to my experience with counseling and the details of my past. There’s no big answer as to why I’ve not shared it all yet, in fact it’s very simple. I’ve not finished my journey. I feel, I’ve felt – that I cannot entirely discuss my experience because I know I’m yet to truly feel the end results of true clarity. All I know is, if this current stance of utter happiness is how I feel in the wake of it, I can only imagine how europhic it will feel to empty those last remaining boxes as it calms entirely and I can walk bare foot on the waters edge, fearless.
Recently I’ve been reading a book which I hadn’t quite anticipated would be a trigger for me, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.’ Today I finished it. I had announced last night that I was taking a day off social media after I’d felt a surge of negativity sweeping over an online platform that I happen to love. You see I feel a slight urge to protect those that at first glance appear to ‘rub up’ another because I know, deep down – they’re probably the ones hurting the most. I get this notion to help strengthen those effected by an-others abuse rather than join an army of anger. I want to save people but sometimes, I cannot. I felt old patterns emerging and before I knew it I had this deep sense of wanting to help, to ease tensions. Now however I can identify when I am approaching a situation in an unhealthy way – where I am in fact just being triggered by my own personal traumas and trying to ‘fix’ a person that in fact, I cannot fix. The real fix is me. A child, a little girl with no voice – trying to use mine.
Our minds are incredible and intellectual things, I hadn’t appreciated it so much until I had realised how my own mind had spent years ‘protecting’ me. Fortunately for me it did not push me to mistreat others but it had me misinterpreting how life ‘should’ be and how I should respect myself. Quite the opposite to mistreating others, I found myself on regular occasions trying to save others but at the detriment of my own safety and happiness. Receiving and accepting abuse to the point I believed it was all warrented. I deemed myself worthless and put myself to the end of the line. Every time.
Reading this character’s story in the first few chapters, at the stage I am at with my mental health journey had me WILLING her to reach out and talk. I felt her pain, I knew her way out and at this point she did not. It was apparent that the reason I had opened myself up last year to Instagram was because I instantly knew there would be many more Eleanor’s out there. More of me. Unknowingly living an unfulfilled life, ruled by trauma and fear. You see, as the book neared the end, I was able to go on her counseling journey. I nodded as she explained how her first sessions felt. The anger as the counsellor extracted information and then asked her to leave with open wounds after a mere 60minutes. I remember this feeling well, ‘How was this meant to fix me?’ It was cruel, it was inhumane?
Those initial sessions reflected the same pain that started it all, the pain my mind had worked so incredibly hard to protect me from. Here’s the thing, the body doesn’t forget – even if the mind bids you to. I soon understood the concept of leaving me after each 60minute session however as soon I was reunited with my family. I felt light, safe – aware of the weight that had lifted for the first time in my life. This feeling was entirely new – the only way I can best describe this counseling journey would be to ask you to picture yourself as a young adult, with a tonne bag on your back with hundreds of bricks inside. You have never seen it and you have lived your whole life up until this point, not even knowing its existence. Each session with my counsellor – she’d remove a couple. In the grand scheme of how many bricks I had accumulated in that bag, a few removed didn’t seem that much initially. Once I was living with the images I’d once forgotten, once things began to resurface – I could see and feel that these bricks were in their hundreds. It was, it is a slow process BUT I felt that tiny weight ease off each time I left her room. My sessions doubled and as time went on, to this day I could not begin to explain in words, how ‘free’ my life had become as that bag was emptied by its hundreds. I truly began to feel I could fly. I wake now grateful, that I had the opportunity to feel the real value of freedom, having carried such weight for so long. To live in the present like never before.
Depending on what stage I was at with my PTSD journey, before reading this book – I’d have interpreted it very differently. Maybe I’d have been scared, conscious that I needed to seek help, angry with myself that I hadn’t or confused and questionable as to whether I needed such help. To read it when I have however has left me feeling entirely uplifted and motivated to finish my ‘story’ as it were. Following this fictional character through her struggles and finding myself immersed in the life she had found herself in, entirely controlled by traumas in her past – had me reeling to cut ties entirely with my own.
I finished counseling when we made our move to Devon at the end of last year. I tried a few FaceTime sessions with my counselor still based in Yorkshire but it was all too easy for me to avoid discussions. I wasn’t in her ‘safe room’. I was in my home with my beautiful family and I could feel myself protecting them – refusing to allow myself to discuss those situations or events in the proximity of my current life that I had fought to get to. No way would I bring this into my haven, no way would I allow it for a second longer to step foot over my door. That was the excuse I gave myself and so, I stopped talking.
This book has been published in such a prevalent time. We are all talking more openly about our struggles – there are thousands of individuals dedicating copious amounts of their time to raise awareness of this once hidden topic of Mental Health. We are walking into a revolution whereby mental health, I believe – will be taken just as seriously as our physical health. One step, one shared experience at a time. We are not there, that I know but I am 100% taking it upon myself to be part of the movement. In return for the bricks that were slowly taken off my back, I will plant seeds and help this movement grow.
Looking back prior to my counseling, I have spent years in physical pain. I have been treated for physical health issues that I now know all spiraled from an untreated mental illness. Had I the education, experience and knowledge I now have thanks to people sharing their own experiences and mental health being a topic now being readily available to read about, I could have freed myself sooner. I am in the best place I have ever been but I am also more aware than ever of my mental health. I can very quickly establish where I still need to fix internal emotions. My counseling stopped at a very critical time, it hurt too much to speak the words I needed to. I wasn’t ready and now I am. This week I plan to start what will be, the last chapter of this journey and that part, I’m willing to share. There’s no holding me back now. I already know that living, truly living involves dealing with the hard shit too. I refuse to let it sit near the memories I’ve made with my beautiful family, there is no room anymore. You see, I need that space for all the memories we’ve yet to make. So as hard as I know it will be, I can no longer sit alone with these images that need spoken about. These last bricks need unloaded in order for me to fly with my family.
If you feel the need to talk, to want to talk. It’s because you do. Whether that’s to a friend, a family member or in my experience – a professional. From my own experience I spent years surrounding myself with the wrong people, talking to the wrong people until I believed that I did not have a problem. My problems were not that bad, they were minor in comparison to others. Comparison being the most dangerous thing of all. In fact, my only understanding was that I was the problem. There are many who do not know what to say, there are many who think they do but can cause more harm than good. That is why I learned to be ridiculously careful of who I allowed in my circle. The circle I began with, was filled with broken people with broken ideas of how life should be. When I changed my ideas, when I recognized there was another way of living, of seeing – the right people came to me. The fatal comments that became my constant, “You are worthless, you are nothing, nobody loves you,” were soon swapped. The world began telling me how amazing I was. The more I was told it, the more I believed it until finally, I allowed myself to be around the people who spoke such wonderful things and I shut out anyone who dared say anything but.
I wept when I heard these words by my counsellor, a human outside the negative bubble I had wound up in;
“Heather, it was not your fault. You were a child, trying to survive. A victim of mental abuse, sexual abuse and grooming. A child with a child’s brain making decisions based on a child’s mindset. You survived the only way you knew how. You did not deserve any of it. You are stronger than you have been made to believe you were. You are kind, you are compassionate. You are a good person.”
This was a far cry from the lesson I had taught myself, the lesson I had been taught; To own MY mistakes. To accept I alone had made bad choices and that the life I wound up in was a life I got myself into. That was the illusion. To blame myself entirely. Not until I had children of my own, did I question this. That is when everything changed for me. I seen their innocence – then I seen my own for the first time. I had been blaming a child, crying inside of me who simply needed help, to be told she would be OK and what she went through, what she felt – was not right nor deserved.
To summerise my experience of counselling;
It saved me, it enabled me to live entirely in the now. I was able to love, the right way and experience the value of true friendship. A life without fear and a new found gift of confidence which in turn has given me the ability to make the right choices for myself and my family. To walk away from what is not helping us grow and to remain open to the thousands of incredible humans in the world wanting to climb along with us. There is always and will always be room for new people in our lives – I have truly felt the value this with our lifestyle. The constant moving has led us, every single time – to meet the most beautiful of people. All willing to work together to make one another’s lives frickin’ wonderful.
We slip, we slide and we fall. What I’ve learned however is that an act of kindness can so often, if not always – be the difference between wading in the mud or getting up and starting over. Never underestimate the value of a simple smile. A touch to a strangers arm, a look of concern. A hand to cross the road, a laugh shared. Every day my inbox floods with your kind words, every day I push myself to be that act of kindness. Through my captions, through my voice or my actions.
My life made me – me. There is no regrets, only lessons learned. Lessons I plan to share for the rest of my life, so that others who fall know long before I did – that they are NOT alone.
There is never a day goes by where I do not remind myself of the faces who unknowingly had a part in making my life what it is today.
Thank you to everyone who has held my hand along the way. Let this be the words that inspire you to hold yours out too.