“From here on it’s day by day” my therapist said. It was in November last year when my story was posted on the Libero Community Blog. I ended the article by saying I was in a place where I was in more control of my anxiety than I had ever been. What I wrote was true, but unbeknownst to me, as I was writing my story, I was a few weeks away from the worst two weeks of my life.
It had been about five years since my first severe episode of anxiety.
I had just arrived in London to begin a new adventure. I felt strong and optimistic about the future and life seemed to be taking an exciting new direction. There were times within those five years in which I had felt low and had a few “wobbles” in regards to my anxiety but for the most part, I felt the worst was behind me and I could only go from strength to strength.
Once I was in London, I decided to share my story with Libero.
I am not sure what prompted the decision, but a part of me suspects it may have been because my new circumstances, the job pressure, the leaving of friends and family, and the hustle and bustle of London had already begun to trigger my anxiety and made it a prevalent issue for me again.
Five years is a long time.
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As I wrote my story, I found it a dry experience. I attached no emotion to the process.
I thought perhaps my story could help someone else going through a similar experience but maybe in a strange sort of abstract way, it was a subconscious preparation.
Maybe I was writing it for myself.
A few weeks later, my world came tumbling down. Imagine running full speed into a brick wall. Yeah, it was like that.
I entered a world of darkness that I had long shut out and forgotten. My 2008 episode had been a terrible experience which I thought would never return. It was back with a vengeance.
The triggers were extreme stress, unaddressed pain and issues in my life, a new city, and the grief of leaving my friends behind, which I perhaps didn’t allow myself to feel.
I experienced severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts that incapacitated me and plunged me into a depression. Leaving my room was an act of sheer willpower. Every morning was the grueling decision to get up and keep going. I was very afraid. Being alone in a new city made it even harder.
As I write this, I contrast how it feels to when I shared my 2008 story.
I’m finding this hard and scary to write. It is still so fresh and raw, but even just being a few months into my recovery I’m finding that looking back is helping me pick out some important things.
At the time. it was so dark. It’s weird how it actually feels like physical darkness. I had a sort of tunnel vision and my memory of the time is vivid yet selective.
However, there were moments of grace, moments I can see now I couldn’t see then.
During that time I begged God for an angel. Looking back, He sent me many. I had a friend in central London. In some ways, she saved my life. I’d only really known her for a couple of months but she let me tell her my story in all its messiness and irrationality and she listened and she didn’t judge me.
I would go and sit with her during the day because being by myself was hell.
Those were little moments of peace that gave me enough breathing time to plunge back into the depths and get through.
I randomly met people who had had similar experiences. A man I had just met told me he could lend me money if I needed it because he understood what it was like, having been institutionalized for depression himself. A psychiatrist agreed to meet with me to hear my story free of charge. He even paid for the dinner.
My lowest point was the morning I went to the emergency room. I thought my life was over. It’s a strange experience going to the emergency room for a mental illness. I saw a psychiatric nurse and spoke to her for 2 hours, fully expecting her to say, “Ah! Into the psych ward for you!” But she didn’t say that. She listened and was sympathetic and encouraging. I left feeling a little more hopeful.
I decided to return to South Africa and a week after the emergency room I was on a plane back home. I stayed with my mother for three months in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and it was a peaceful, recuperative time.
Prior to “the breakdown” (as I call it), I had made an arrangement with Lauren Bersaglio to write for Libero. I forgot about it completely during the weeks of struggle but once I was home and safe I realised I had an article to write.
I started an interesting process of writing about recovery while in recovery.
It has been tough, but knowing I have a story to share somehow gives me a resolve to face my anxiety and not be victimized by it.
It’s a public statement saying, “I’m broken but am trying to find my way through and I believe I can do it.” This is a terrifying statement to make, but I am grateful for the opportunity.
I returned to Cape Town at the beginning of March and had my first session of therapy in my second week back. As I finished telling my story to my old therapist he said, “It’s day by day from here, okay?”
He’s right. You’ll be reading this in April (I am writing it in March) and I can’t even see that far ahead but that’s okay.
Day by day Seb, day by day.
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