Current Affairs, Life Updates, Original Writing

Mental Health: Uncut

[Writing this post took all the balls in the world for me today.]

On the 18th February, I cried for hours. And by hours, I mean from approximately 5pm to 1am. It then concluded with a grand finale of a monumental panic attack in which I forgot how to breathe and thought I was literally going to die. (PSA: I know I have the tendency to be dramatic but this is actually in no way exaggerated!)

This is what mental health looks like.

I have a terrible habit of bottling up my emotions, and I guess that partly stems from being an only child – I am in no way blaming anyone but myself for this terrible habit! It’s a life-long lesson I am slowly beginning to fully comprehend. I also suffered an extraordinary amount of psychological abuse during high school (ironically, mostly from teachers), and that impacted both the perception I had of myself and the way I lived my life. My social anxiety most probably is a result of being punished weekly at secondary school by teachers who viewed my insubordination as a threat to their authority. (Fun fact: I hated teachers who thought respect was their automatic right, simply because they were responsible for our academic education.) They broke down every single piece of me until my identity was entirely consumed by the failure they enforced upon me. Now, I know it sounds like I’m bitter and resentful, but I do believe I have earned the right to own the effect they had on me. I never truly accepted my secondary school experience as traumatic until I developed an eating disorder at the age of sixteen.

My general anxiety (which I define for myself here, through my personal experiences which are in no way universal, as random bouts of extreme nervousness, worrying excessively over minor, minor issues which I exacerbate in my own mind to become something huge etc.) is a part of me I’ve learned to live with for a long time. It’s like a scar; I know it’s there, I can feel it with me all the time but more often than not, I’m able to live peacefully without it sabotaging my way of life. I guess on some level, everyone has a form of general anxiety. Some have it worse than others. However, there are days where I can feel my anxiety digging its claws into my skull and tearing everything to pieces. I’m left feeling exhausted, worn out and emotionally numb.

This is exactly what happened on the night of the 18th February. Being as busy as I am, amidst the chaos of my final year of university whilst simultaneously juggling a job, I don’t have time to process my own thoughts – the good, and the bad. Having a health condition which causes moderate to severe pain daily also massively plays into my anxiety, and the two are inextricably intertwined. Undergoing my surgical procedure nearly one month ago, and having to deal with the agonising consequences of a rather horrendous recovery whilst trying to catch up on missing a month of university took quite a toll both physically and mentally. That night, I broke; I felt my body physically break. I cannot quite describe it in any other way. I screamed obscenities at the ones I loved the most, blamed the world for my problems, cried then felt absolutely nothing. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise just how painful that breakdown was. I saw no way out of my own head; I was drowning in my thoughts and that manifested into physical suffocation. I could not breathe.

I guess the aim of this post is to draw attention to the silent sufferers of mental health and to raise awareness. If you’re struggling, drop me a message. Drop someone a message. Don’t suffer the weight of your world on your own – God, I cannot stress this enough. Don’t be someone you’re not just to impress a few people. The social concept of ‘fitting in’ is so fucking overrated. Don’t suffer in silence. For so long, I created a facade of myself: one that’s strong and fearless and brave and all of that bullshit. But there are times like this where I remember just how vulnerable I am. I’m not anywhere near as strong as I want to be. I’m not always the person you see on Instagram every day. And that is so, so okay. It makes me human. 6 years on from the operation that changed everything (gallbladder cholecystectomy) and I’m still learning so much about myself.

I’m done with pretending to be brave for the sake of others. I’m done with pretending to be someone I’m not, and it’s truly the most wonderful feeling in the world. At 23, I’m finally finding myself. I’ve spent 6 years trying to forget the pain I went through, but I’ve never really forgiven myself for it. My body has been fighting itself for years, and it’s time I showed it a bit more understanding.

A little more self-love.

A x

Standard
Original Writing

I have a grossly romanticised vision
of what we are like
and what we could be like
and it sickens me
because reality chases me
and wears me down
and tears me away
from the nostalgia
I’m so desperately trying
to create
in my own
head.

Standard
Current Affairs, Original Writing

‘Afflicted’ – A Netflix Original Series

I did all of this work just to get sick and not be able to live my dreams

A new Netflix series aired recently surrounding the stories of people suffering from chronic illnesses, undiagnosed or “unspecified” by medical professionals. Symptoms were extreme, leaving most of the participants of this docuseries unable to perform any of their daily activities.

Each person differentiates themselves from another through their symptoms, and the symptoms present themselves as different illnesses entirely – from the offset. The words “psychosomatic” and “Lyme Disease” are thrown around often through the episodes, suggesting a potential link between the participants, their symptoms, and the disease. I’ll leave the opinions of other participants to the general public, however. There’s one person in particular that I want to focus on.

We’re introduced to Jake in the third episode of the docuseries; an aspiring musician whose career was suddenly cut short due to the onset of symptoms linked to Lyme Disease. The beginning of the episode features Jake’s struggle in articulating his current symptoms to the camera, and as the episode progresses, the viewer is lead to understand the events which took place in his life but most importantly, how his life has been dramatically impacted because of his illness.

22 minutes into the episode, I had to stop watching. Any documentaries featuring people struggling with chronic illnesses hit a nerve, so to speak. The intention of this post, however, is most definitely not to associate my condition on any kind of level with those in the series. This post was to highlight the unimaginable trauma of those who may look physically well but are struggling with an uncontrollable and unpredictable illness, of which there is no cure yet and treatment which consists entirely of trial and error. Watching a relatively young man’s life turned upside down due to something both entirely out of his control and entirely unanticipated is definitely heart-wrenching. To see the ambitious light in his character gradually diminish – it puts everything into perspective.

Learning about stories such as that of Jake’s really makes me realise how lucky we are, how lucky I am. I can call myself a survivor, but am I really battling a condition of no known cure? No. Has my life been stripped from my hands overnight? No. I agree with one thing, in particular, the docuseries mentioned; those who are sick have a tendency to associate their identity with their illness. They’re not just a person anymore – they’re a sick person. I, too, have fallen victim to enshrouding myself in self-pity when, in retrospect, my health is improving, I am most certainly not bed-bound, and I do not rely on medication to essentially live. Those who have suffered from chronic illnesses, and/or chronic pain can definitely identify with the overwhelming trauma it leaves one with, even once they’ve overcome the worst of it. And perhaps this motto isn’t the healthiest to live by, but the documentary showed me how people undeniably have it much worse than people such as myself. Granted my health isn’t the best it could be at the moment, I’ve learned that relatively stable health is often taken at face value.

I intend to bring myself to complete the rest of Jake’s story. And he’s taught me just how lucky I truly am, to be able to live my life to its fullest potential – he’s given me perspective. I sincerely hope from the deepest of my heart that his story has a happy outcome.

The transience of life is all too often overlooked and underestimated. We have an overwhelming ability as a society to conceal ourselves behind issues which are ephemeral in comparison to others.

The series, in general, verges on the side of sensationalism as opposed to information and fact, but the stories of the participants raise some interesting questions in relation to chronic illnesses, pain and an array of unspecified symptoms.

A x

Featured image: Afflicted, Netflix Original Series (2018)
Standard
Original Writing, travel

Marrakech 2017

From the alleyways to the Atlas mountains, my trip to Marrakech was one of astounding beauty and culture. I was inexplicably lucky to have my parents take me to Morocco to celebrate my 21st birthday, and although it took off on a rocky start, it’s safe to say I had an amazing time absorbed in the culture and traditions of the city. My parents really outdid themselves with the choice of Riad and its location, as well as a perfect birthday dinner. I couldn’t have been happier.

On our first day in the city, we visited the captivating Secret Garden: it was beautifully tranquil, surrounding us with trees and plants of every kind. As you’re all probably well aware, I am no stranger to intense heat, and I absolutely loved the climate. It reached roughly 30 degrees by the time we arrived at the garden, so whilst my parents climbed up the tower, I sat in on the terrace overlooking the gardens and it was absolutely perfect. The gardens were kept in perfect, pristine condition with seats scattered across the grounds and quaint water features here and there. Did I mention the heat?

Unfortunately, as a result of relatively unmanaged asthma and weak lungs, I landed myself in hospital that same evening with an asthma attack, and spent the better part of that evening and the following day attached to oxygen tubes and a nebuliser. My dad was adamant we ought to leave back home for England so I could receive proper treatment, since my breathing was incredibly laboured but I refused to leave only 24 hours into our trip. With some IV steroids and 18 hours of oxygen tubes and nebuliser treatments, I recovered and discharged myself with albeit fragile lungs, over the moon to finally be able to breathe again. That night we ate in a picturesque Riad courtyard (a traditional, Moroccan house) relieved after the events of the previous night.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

On our third day in Morocco, we visited The Majorelle Botanical Garden. Walking around in 30 degree heat is no small feat, but the gardens were beautifully landscaped. It didn’t take us long to explore the whole place, plus there were no places to really sit down once we’d finished but other than that, it was a fantastic experience and made one forget where we were.

The fourth day brought us to the Atlas mountains, one of the adventures which really heightened our cultural exploration of the country. The air was fresh and cooler, with a perfect breeze and the views were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was a picture-perfect landscape of rolling snow-capped mountains amidst green hills, with small Berber villages dotted all over. Visiting the Berber villages really took my breath away; a 9000 year old heritage preserved within the mountains, where they live a life of complete simplicity. No one had phones, computers, or any electronic device and the children were blissfully happy playing with each other amongst the animals on the hillsides. The feeling of content was contagious despite their minimalistic style of living, and it saddens me that they rely solely on tourism to preserve this historic, authentic heritage. We visited a Berber household, and I cannot describe just how accommodating and hospitable they were. We were greeted with warm smiles, fresh bread and mint tea without any hesitation. What struck me the most was seeing young, perhaps six-year olds, begging for money for to buy essentials since they only relied on tourism to get by, and the look of sheer pleasure and happiness on the ladies’ faces when we gave them money made my heart hurt. I urge as many of you as possible to visit the Berber villages if you travel to Morocco – it puts things into perspective and makes one realise the luxuries and privileges we, in the West, take for granted.

(A quick note – buying gifts from the Berber community itself is much more beneficial for their livelihood than in stalls and markets in the alleyways in Marrakech. Of course there is plenty of choice in the alleyways and it’s an enriching experience but the Berber communities make all their gifts by hand, from carpets to plates to jewellery. Buying from the communities will help preserve their heritage and support the families.)

We explored the city on our fifth day, wandering through the markets and alleyways and venturing into the square. There’s quite an exciting buzz in the square, whether it be during the day or at night, with countless events taking place across the area. I personally, however, do not approve of the treatment of animals in the square, where monkeys were kept on chains for entertainment for the tourists. Other than that, it was rich in culture and a fantastic visit. We travelled by horse-drawn carriage across the city, passing the old and new town. I highly recommend it as it’s a brilliant way to see the sights of Marrakech without trekking in the humid climate. The only downside is to be weary of the pollution, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition: the majority of Moroccans travel on motorbikes and travelling on a carriage will result in the inhalation of these fumes.

The final day took us through the alleyways one last time and we immersed ourselves in the art of Marrakech, from hand-painted plates to canvas paintings. I was beyond excited that my dad bought me a canvas – the artists capture the essence of Moroccan culture and landscape perfectly in their choice of colours.

It was with a heavy heart that we left Marrakech and it’s intertwining of Eastern values with Western influence. The people were so accommodating and polite, always looking to help us in any way they could and offering us the best bargains as well as little gifts and presents along the alleyways. The only hiccup was the pollution, as it does hang heavy in the air, but I’d love to explore more of the new and old towns if (or when!) I return. A special thank you to Patrick and Caroline at Les Trois Palmiers El Bacha Riad for taking such great care of us, and to their staff for their overwhelming hospitality and kindness, always ensuring we were happy and well looked after. I’ve never come across such lovely people.

A x

Standard