What is a story? Is it a construct created to help us idealise the version of events we wished to happen? Or is a medium of expression to enable us to view our past in a therapeutic way? The truth is your story is what you make it. A story shared for oneself has the ability to conjure up buried emotions to the surface, that lay dormant in the shadows of survival. It creates a healing process, not only for the individual, but for those in similar situations who feel lost.
Looking at my current present, and returning to my past enabled me to create my story and look upon the events I have went through ,that have made me who I am today. When I look back I see myself as an individual who was always negative about absolutely everything and my self-esteem was practically non-existent. I hated catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and my mind would say “You are so ugly; I don’t know how anyone likes you.” Every living second back then, a voice of hatred dominated my mind. I was always fixated on my lack of value to my friend group and the catastrophising pain that occupied my stomach. It got to the point where the pit of my stomach was constantly full of tangled rope never unknotting. I used to pretend everything was okay, washing my tears away. I just wanted to cease this agony that haunted my fragile mind. I began to experience what I now can label as panic attacks up to three times on a daily basis. This was definitely a frightening experience, with each one I genuinely thought I was going to die. The situation escalated; the symptoms intensified. I turned to poetry to try and express to others how I was feeling and that’s when I wrote Panic:
The haze of vibrations,
Striking the eyes,
The body bewildered.
The severing rings,
Piercing the ears,
The face punctured.
The hammering thuds,
Commanding the body,
The chest consumed.
The digging thorn,
Claiming the butterflies,
The stomach furrowed.
The shadowing grasp,
Perplexing the thoughts,
The mind disturbed.
You, lost and helpless.
I began to withdraw from social situations. I avoided everything to preserve my calm state of mind. However, the only creeped into my safety net more. I tried to sleep, my mouth became dry, and heart began to race and my mind into overload. I cannot count how many nights I spent at the door with my mother trying to catch a breath, from the palpitations that riddled me. I entered the realm of sensory overload, where voices became ringing and my vision blurred, my physical body detached.
I started to self-harm in the physical sense we label it as, but is your mind terrorizing you not self-harm in itself? It helped me feel a level of control I suppose in the early days. It ceased the pain for a short period. But the thoughts came back racing and never gave me a second to understand. It was a coping mechanism for me, but it only distanced me from seeing the value of myself.
The lack of education around mental wellbeing made this a more difficult experience. It made me feel genuinely lost. But when I stopped it all started to make sense. My mother brought me to the GP and I was diagnosed with panic disorder. The doctor explained these recurrent sensations that dominated my body were signs of an illness. I was overwhelmed and conflicted in thought. Now aware of what I was suffering from, I sat in shock; it all made sense.
From a young age I suffered from bullying, something that deconsolidates a child’s sense of self. I recall being the one never wanted, the isolated one. The one who wished to acquire laugh from her peers, to fill the void of self-esteem. But in return, I was physically beaten, the laughing stock. The tall, ugly girl. A label I found difficult to retract upon the loss of my best friend.
I lost my granny, my idol. She lived with me for what seemed like my whole life. I recall the final declaration, “There is nothing more we can do.” These syllables became cords of barbed wire, strangling my heart and furrowing my stomach. I still feel the butterflies being crushed, when I realise, you’re not here. In my mind, I hold an image of your suffering. It clings like a leech with no means of movement. The person I spent every waking movement with was suddenly taken from me. Around the same time, my mummy was suffering from breast cancer. Something she concealed but I was aware of.
From then on in, I became exposed to what is a real problem for many in the NI, alcoholism. The thing is addiction doesn’t have clear cut episodes; relapse felt like falling back to the bottom of the mountain and always occurred with no obvious trigger while recovery became more like an unfulfilled wish. My uncle, he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and self-medicated through the use of vodka.
When I entered my 20s, my feelings became more complex, but I could not ignore it. Feelings I never stooped upon; resentment, frustration, and anger, I call them the triangle of loss. In that moment I was angry at the fact I had to see so much and the more I learnt about addiction my tongue was no longer rusted and trapped. I felt betrayed by our society in a way because it is a normalised part of life here and it is just assumed “everyone experiences it.” Yes, I suppose we are all addicts on some level, but unaddressed addiction escalates and metaphorically robs a part of the individual’s identity. I always looked up to him as a child, a second father figure in my eyes. There were times when he drowned in the alcohol, and he smashed to the floor. The noise ruptured through the wooden planks and jolted my body from the sofa. I sprung up from the sofa and my eyes were met with the sight on the floor; his eyes vacant; the blue glint absent. His pupils shrunk and your mouth lay gapped. The panic I felt made me vomit up all my dinner from my sleep. I understand is a messy illness, not nice and neat with one physical fix.
We now recognise these events I experienced as adverse childhood experiences; deeply distressing experiences occurring before the age of 18. ACES help highlight risk factors to both mental and physical dysfunction later in life but do not have be definitive. I experienced emotional dysregulation like many my age. However, alongside loss this emotional dysregulation feels like your self-destruct button is trapped on the ‘on’ switch. You feel like your world is crashing down and rationality seems like an impossible mechanism to grasp.. Retrospectively, I did get through as can many of you, who feel lost in the emotional turmoil as an adolescent. This is a period of extreme change, where your body is completely changing its chemistry to fit your evolutionary purpose. But the thing is to remember this is a short period and although you may feel so lost, you will find your purpose in this tunnel and it will provide the light for the journey that is the rest of your life.