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The worst day of my life was a Sunday morning. It was the Sunday morning I tried to admit myself to the psychiatric ward of Maudsley Hospital in London. In the end, I wasn’t admitted but I spoke to a psychiatric nurse for two hours about what I was experiencing. I remember I asked the nurse how I could ever be “right” again. How could I ever move on from the discomfort after the traumatic, distressing, intrusive thoughts I was having felt like they had permanently damaged me?
She told me I would look back on it all as just a bad time. Those words stuck with me because they were a glimmer of hope; a point in the future to look forward to even though at the time it seemed so unlikely to me.
So here I am a year later looking back on that time. And yes, it was bad.
I’ve been traveling the last few weeks and as I write I am sitting in an apartment in Paris. About a week ago I was in London. I had been nervous about revisiting that time, of entering into it again, but I thought that I’d have the strength to face it. There was a certain poetic closure for me in returning to this place of shadows.
It was tough. My brain has not easily forgotten the trauma of a year ago and many of the sights and sounds threw me back into those awful moments. But this time they were more like vapours. I could feel them as I walked through the different places but they couldn’t grab hold as they did then.
Something about London causes me anxiety. Whether the crowds of people or perhaps just the culture shock of a place familiar yet “just not.” I don’t get that anxiety in Paris and perhaps that is because it is just so different to my usual experience.
I am certain of one thing though, returning to London was important.
I don’t think I fully know why yet but it is interesting to note that a year ago I didn’t think I had any future at all.
So to return to a place where I felt completely broken, this time a bit more whole, and stand in those spots where I stood before in fear, this time with a little more peace, was a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
It was a testament to hope.
Stepping out of my comfort zone meant stepping into a place where I could fall again, but it also meant stepping into a place where I could grow.
It hasn’t been easy, but that’s okay. Expecting it to be easy undermines the pain and distress which was my reality then.
An important lesson over the last few weeks of traveling has been wherever I go, I come with. I can never hide from myself, and so sooner or later I have to face those things I am afraid to face.
Perhaps all anxiety stems from this. A fear of something. Something we don’t want to face and so we avoid it. Yes, this is what anxiety is on a symptomatic level, but I am talking more about an emotional level. I feel we tend to shelve things from the past, we put them in a box and lock them away hoping we’ll never have to bother with them again. But they always come back, and I believe that is what anxiety is. Our suppressed emotions trying to fight their way out.
Dealing with these emotions is easier said than done and this is why therapy is so important.
A good therapist will help us traverse these painful pathways in safety.
I think in recovery we can make the mistake of settling; of thinking I am better than I was and so I don’t have to worry anymore. But we need to acknowledge truthfully where we are and this can be difficult. When we do this, we have to encounter ourselves and our pain but I believe this is the first step to freedom.
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Sebastian is learning life by living it. Born in Zimbabwe, High Schooled in Zambia, and living in Cape Town, he isn’t really sure what to say when people ask, “Where are you from?” Seb went to Film School in Cape Town and has worked as a video editor for the last four years. He has battled with anxiety his whole life and has been through two severe episodes, experiencing intrusive thoughts and depression. He is on the road of recovery and has found that peace and a life free of fear is possible.
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