By Melissa Goddard
For me I guess it all started when I was around eight or nine years old. I started to feel unsure of myself; I began to wish I was invisible. I started to wonder if everyone else was smarter than me and that they were all secretly laughing behind my back. It’s odd to wake up in the morning, the same as always, go to school, the same as always – but feel suspicious of all your classmates; not the same as always. This anxiety began to eat at me and I got angry. I thought everyone was “fake” – yes, at the age of nine.
My school picked up on it – teachers kept asking me if I was OK. Soon other adults picked up on it too. That’s when I was told “you should go and enjoy yourself with everyone else” like it was a miracle cure.
Another “cure” that never worked was trying to make me play with kids I’d never spoken to before in my life. My anxiety levels went through the roof to the point that I would just shut down. I felt like I had no energy, no voice and no aspiration to do anything. It was like I was down a hole. When I was back with my friends, who were always my friends but I had become suspicious of, my anxiety levels went back to “normal.” I could talk and had normal energy, I just thought they all secretly hated me.
Secondary school. Anxious and suspicious of everyone, I spent the first two years of secondary school a very angry girl. By Year 9, between the ages of 13 and 14 I’d burnt out completely. I just couldn’t see the point any more. There was no enjoyment. No fun. The teachers and their patronising teaching methods annoyed me, the school-girl politics annoyed me and PE was just a ridiculous subject forced upon me. I had no energy, no enthusiasm and few friends. The other kids picked up on my moodiness, and naturally used it as a stick to beat me with.
It came to the point that if I couldn’t get a counselling slip or forge a sick note for PE, I would just accept detention and not bother showing up. You see, the few friends I did have saw me on my good days. When I was still a bit witty and a bit silly and randomly danced to pop punk; they wanted me to be like that more than I was silent and staring at the ground. They practically dragged me to see a school counsellor. Thank God they did.
Fourteen years old was the worst. It got to the point where I barely ever slept; I would sit in my bedroom at 1am, with the radio on down low so I wouldn’t wake anyone. I would often sit with my legs dangling out of my bedroom window, watching the city go by. Even in the middle of winter. I just couldn’t tell the difference between a hot or cold day; day or night. I was struggling to feel anything, ever, at all. It was just a void of nothingness.
Randomly a surge of anger, sadness or fear would surface like an overwhelming raging storm; I would angrily spew silent self-hate in my head, before fading back to nothing. Unfortunately for me, this was 2007. Emo was in fashion, so naturally most people thought I was just attention seeking or joining some kind of weird cult. The last thing I wanted was attention and every time someone asked me if I was in a cult I would just roll my eyes and say nothing. It was too much effort to get into that conversation.
Sinking further into the void, I spent a lot of time “zoned out” and unable to string thoughts together coherently. When I wasn’t zoned out I spent my time listening to music, reading about philosophy, drawing and occasionally writing the odd bit of poetry. I was often asked why I always drew girls crying in monotone. Art is often a reflection of the artist. People told me to draw something happy, as that would obviously cheer me up. I was expressing myself in the only way I could manage, but people didn’t understand that. It’s OK, I forgive them. They were not inside my head and I never told them. How were they to know?
At the time I felt like I should just stop drawing all together and I threw away all my poetry to try and escape the stereotype. I mean, really, I wore black all the time (I had brown hair and wore minimal makeup). I was quiet and moody and wrote poetry and drew sad pictures. Even I knew how that looked to the world…
The problem is, I stopped expressing myself and became further repressed into myself – and I felt like an endless, bottomless pit of nothingness. The famous downward spiral. I felt like I’d never feel anything ever again and suddenly it dawned on me that I may spend the rest of my life never experiencing life in all its colours. You would hope that one would begin to heal with that realisation. No, I stayed the same but with a repeat record that I was not feeling normal and I needed to feel something. Anything, just feel something. Watch a comedy, not finding it funny. Watch a tragedy, not releasing any tears. What the hell is wrong with me!? Accidentally scrape my hand on a wall in my way home…. Ahh, I can still feel pain. So then the self-harming began. I won’t describe this period at this time. Not now. I’m not ready. But it was pretty bad.
All I can say is that I managed to get a very good school counsellor. She was sad when things got bad but she was never fearful or judgmental of me. She really got me talking and I trusted her. She listened and when I was too low to speak she would talk to me about memories she had or books she’d read that she thought I might like. She encouraged me to draw whatever the hell I liked. She gave me pep talks and she actually made me giggle. If I ever mentioned that I was interested in a subject or that I had a new philosophy book she would ask me all about it and she boosted my confidence. In Year 9 I went to see her almost three times a week. By Year 11 I saw her once per fortnight, sometimes because I felt low again, sometimes just for a rant but most of the time because she would send me a slip to see her for a catch-up. To make sure I was still OK. I finally understood that, actually, I am fine with who I am. I can draw whatever I feel like. I can make jokes, and if someone laughs I can accept that I am funny and it’s not just a pity laugh. I still had anxiety, I still had waves of depression; sometimes lasting a day, sometimes lasting a month. The fact was though, I was on the mend and I knew it.
Well, in a few months I turn 24. I cannot believe my darkest time was 10 years ago. I can finally say that I’m better now, and I have been for a while. It took a long time, sure, but you cannot rush it or force it. It was a gradual process of self-acceptance, gratitude and love. Life is back to the sunny Technicolor days like it was when I was seven. I tried lots of new things. I read a lot of spiritual books, philosophy, quantum physics, history and books on neuroscience. I adopted the mindset of not keeping anything that does not make me happy – including fake friends, objects I disliked and clothes that no longer fit the way I felt.
It’s always trial and error but I always keep a journal of my journey. Every few months I read my journal and I highlight ways in which I’ve grown or changed and I think of 10 more things I’d like to try. I always take the time to congratulate myself when I finish a project and I always list three good things that have happened that day. There are always at least three things, always – even if it’s just a kiss from my daughter, a kiss from my husband and a lick on the cheek from my dog. Apparently that’s called self-care, I always thought self-care was just washing your hair or cutting your nails; no, self-care stretches beyond the physical and into the mental, emotional and spiritual.
The only thing I can say to anyone going through the darkest times is this: you are worth more than you can imagine. You are living, breathing potential and you have more purpose to the world than you will ever be able to know for sure. You absolutely, 100 per cent can come out of the other side of this, and don’t ever think for one second that you can’t. You can. Keep talking about it and keep doing those things you enjoy. Make space for your hobbies and interests. Know that there are people out there who want to support you and please, I know it’s hard, but don’t let them bring you down. You are so much better than that.
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